Jakub Polak

Jakub Polak (Jacobus Reis) (c.1545-c.1605)

Jakub Polak (“Jacob the Pole” aka Jacob Polonois or Jacobus Reis or Jacob de Retz) was born in Poland but moved to France as a young man. He became court lutenist to Henri III and Henri IV in Paris. He was regarded by his contemporaries as an outstanding lutenist and his works can be found scattered in a number of MSS and printed sources. There is a modern edition of his collected works in tablature and notation, see Poźniak 1993 which has an outline of what little is known of his life. Where the pieces are numbered I have adopted the numbering used in Poźniaks book.


This is the first of Polack’s pieces I arranged, from a MIDI file before I knew the source. Subsequently I revised the arrangement from Poźniaks tablature version and discovered that it comes from the Cherbury MS. It appears to be the first extant lute sarabande. The sarabande is a dance first found in written sources in the first half of the sixteenth century as quite a fast dance in triple metre; then it apparently slowed down so that, by the time it became a standard part of the baroque suite, it was usually a slow and stately piece. This sarabande therefore needs to be played at quite a fast pace. Its original key on the lute is F minor (equivalent to D minor on the guitar) but I think it sounds best in E minor on the guitar; I have posted a version with some passages fingered in a way that I find gets the music to flow well, and also an unfingered version. 

Sarabande [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 06
Sarabande [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 06 (fingered version)

More recently I have arranged a few more of Polak’s pieces which do seem to be of high quality. A lot of Polak’s music requires a lute with at least 9 courses and there is a Prelude that appears to require 11 courses. Polak was quite adventurous in both using the bass courses melodically and extending his fingerings quite high on the first course. This makes some of his music quite difficult to arrange effectively for the guitar.

Branle de St Nicolas [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 07

Branle 2 [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 07

Poźniak states that this is wrongly described in the printed source (Testudo Gallo-Germanica) as Branle de St Nicolas and both this and the previous piece are given the same title and author. He therefore regards it as of doubtful authorship. However, to me, it does sound like Polak’s work.

Courante 2c [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 08

Fantasia 4 [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 09
This fantasia appears in Robert Dowland's Varietie of Lute Lessons (see Duarte and Poulton 1971)
though Poźniak has amended the piece by adding the fifth and sixth notes as the intitial statement of the theme in Varietie is incomplete.

Fantasia 14 [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 08 

Galliard 1 [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 08
Lute Galliards are mostly found with an ABC (or AA’ BB’ CC’) structure. This one is unusual in having the structure AA’ B C D.

Galliard 2 [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 05

Galliard 3 [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 09

Preludium 1 [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 06

Preludium 3  [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 06

Une Jeune Fillette (version 1) [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 09
Une Jeune Fillette (version 2) [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 07
As discussed here the first version of this piece, based on a popular French song, is very similar to a version by Daniel Bacheler and I have made the same key change. The first version is found in Delitiae Musicae and the second in Thesaurus Harmonicus.

Volte 2  [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 07

Volte 6  [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Polak Grade 06

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