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Adam Václav Michna
Missa super "Již Slunce z Hvězdy vyšlo" [ The Sun has Come Forth from the Star ]

F10120    [8595017412028]
TT- 73:21     released 11/2003

    1. Pastorale (organ improvisation)
    2. Meditation on the Heavens (Fridrich Bridel)
    3. Toccatina (organ improvisation)
    4. The Sun has Come Forth from the Star (Karel Holan Rovenský)
    5. Introitus: Lux fulgebit (Graduale, 1722)
    6. Sinfonia (Adam Michna, 1654)
    7. KYRIE (Adam Michna, 1654)
    8. GLORIA (Adam Michna, 1654)
    9. Oratio (Missale / 1733)
    10. Laudate Dominum de Coelis (Alberik Mazák)
    11. Lectio (Missale / 1733)
    12. Alleluja, confitebor tibi Domine (Alberik Mazák)
    13. Evangelium (Missale)
    14. CREDO (Adam Michna)
    15. Sonata prima a 6 (Vendelín Huber)
    16. Omnes Puellulo (Alberik Mazák)
    17. Praefatio (Graduale)
    18. SANCTUS, BENEDICTUS (Adam Michna)
    19. Toccatina (organ improvisation)
    20. Pater noster (Alberik Mazák)
    21. AGNUS DEI (Adam Michna)
    22. Welcome Dear Child (Fridrich Bridel)
    23. Call to the Crib of Lord Christ (Adam Michna)
    24. Toccatina (organ improvisation)
    25. Nobilissime Jesu (Alberik Mazák)
    26. Ite Missa est / Deo gratias
    27. Toccatina (organ improvisation)
    28. Christ the King is Born (Adam Tille, c. 1657 / Karel Holan Rovenský)

Ritornello, Michael Pospíšil
Jan Mikušek - sopran, altus, cantus planus; Hasan El-Dunia - altus, tenor, cantus planus; Richard Sporka - tenor, cantus planus; Michael Pospíšil - bass, organ positive, cornett, cantus planus; Miloš Valent - Baroque violin, Baroque viola; Martin Kaplan - Baroque violin; Radek Vašina - cornett; Břetislav Kotrba - sackbuck; Ondřej Sokol - sackbuck; Jan Klimeš - dulcian; Jan Novotný - violone; Jan Krejča - theorbo; Vladimír Roubal - organ, cantus planus

Vox Bohemica, children choir directed by Tomáš Charvát (4, 7, 8, 10, 14, 18, 21, 28)
Vox Nymburgensis, directed by Jan Mikušek (4, 28)
Collegium 419 (4, 28)

What does the word ”Christmas” summon up? Some people think of frantic shopping for an enforced round of present giving, others of the end of the tax year, yet others of an orgy of television, or of the smell of carp. A very few think of the Ryba Christmas mass. All these are feelings and cares very distant from those of our forefathers. Times have changed, above all since the introduction of clocks, for clocks have brought a new ”disorder” to the way our lives are ordered. The physiologically natural human biological rhythm based on the oscillation of light and dark, warmth and cold in small and large amplitudes (day/year/age) has been distorted beyond all recognition. Life is now driven by a new rhythm and a new tempo dictated by purely economic rules. It drives us forward at breakneck speed, leaving the quiet of Advent and the quiet joy of Christmas far behind! Idealisation? Yes, but without it humankind would be quite lost, and would blunder around in circles; quiet is something we need to strive for. Music is sometimes described as composed silence, since in music pauses have their place as well as notes, and are essential. And just as we can find common principles we move from microcosm to macrocosm, so too we can find a shared dynamic as we move from the inner rhythm of the day to that of the year and the pulse of life. Christmas is one of the moments of meeting and intersection between all these measures and orders intersect. Orders of time, of space... At least such was the Christmas of our forefathers.

It is hard to express it, but I shall try... The ”Baroque” loved the accumulation of contrasts, turning-points, seams. And it is precisely on the ”seam” of Christmas that night crosses into day, year into year, darkness into light, the Old Testament into the New, the Child is born, the Moon meets the Sun, Divinity intersects with Humanity. The life-giving Sun has always been the object of cults, and in the language of symbol the ”Sun” is also ”Jesus”, and in a symbolic sense Christianity is a ”heliocentric” system. The ”parallel” between ancient and Christian mythology is, of course, loose and if we want to avoid the danger of distorting the subtle relationship of man to these things, and of manipulating man within these things and through these things, it is perhaps best to turn to poetry. Thus: ”If our thoughts, our image moves in circles (like the Sun for example) and if we know that each axis of a chord runs through the centre of the circle, we can find that one Point, that answer to all, at the intersection of all chords of the circle”. Complicated? Yes. If it were not complicated and our minds did not run along all kinds of asymmetric courses, centripetal force would long ago have drawn everything into a single “heap”. Theo-logically speaking the Sun – Apollo – Jesus have found themselves alignment at Christmas, just like the Morning Star, Venus and Mary. If we wanted to go into the matter in more detail, we could rearrange the categories in other ways, but that is not our purpose right here. Christmas is always a chance to let everything secondary go its own way, and to open up ourselves to the essential.

What was Christmas like in the mid-17th century? People had just stopped keeping their heads down and were looking around in the new Central European ”peace” (look, another seam!) and trusting in better times. The emperor himself was a capable musical composer, like his son and grandson (or we hope so, and hope the reputation was not just a case of the ”Emperor‘s new clothes”, ”hype” or ”copying” that made rulers of the time look like cultural personalities). According to many historical records Advent was a time of great moral and spiritual exertion, even if only because people had to get up very early and go to the cold church to sing the advent mass. Singers in the Prague Church of Our Lady before the Tejn, were given hot beer to invigorate them and warm them up for singing… How they actually sounded for those two hours we don’t know, but the beer couldn’t have been the main motive for their singing. They must all have been looking forward to something else… Perhaps to Christmas. Anyone familiar with the typical ”Midnight” (i.e. Christmas Eve) Mass with the popular ”pastoral music” by Jan Jakub Ryba, or ”just” with carols in some small church, will understand. The experience is often powerful in inverse proportion to the number of people present. As if each of us wants to be close to the one ”n the midst” (see Matthew 18,20). Certainly each of us ”enjoys it” more this way. Certainly it was the same with musical liturgical practice in Michna’s time. What do we actually know about him? Perhaps every (more educated) Czech knows that he composed the ”lullaby”, ”Chtic aby spal”(Wanting him to sleep”). As blared out and worn out in clumsy, mushy arrangements from the crackling amps of department stores, the intentions and feelings of its author debased out of all recognition, this song will scarcely immediately convince us of the purity of Christmas as such and the necessity of music at Christmas. Another clever trick by the ”Immortal Adversary”! But when we summon up the rhythm of the rocking of the cradle, we find a Galliard dance in the song, one that always had our ancestors kicking up their heels! Let us at least set our souls dancing! Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed and let us sing ourselves!

Who was Adam Michna of Otradovice? An organist at Jindrichuv Hradec, a poet, a composer and also an ”inn keeper”, as people are pleased to hear. He knew how to make a good marriage. The records first mention him as an impoverished organist, but then his match with Zuzanna brought him taproom rights to a house (a kind of pub licence) and he became one of the richest men in the town. But to judge by his music and the historical records his heart was never overgrown with the fat (see Deut. 32,15; Psalm 17,10; Psalm 73,7 ) because when he had no children by either his first or his second wife, he founded (in 1673) a foundation to support (board and lodging) three children – pupils of the Jesuit College: descants (= sopranos), altos and tenors or violin players, who would help with the music inside and outside the church. Then he died a happy death. Clearly every musician lad was dear to him....Jindrichuv Hradec lies half way between Prague and Vienna and its position made it an important Bohemian town. It had the second biggest bell in the kingdom and could certainly find good musicians, but in fact not even the music ensemble in the main town church was of any size, and so the organist (Michna) and the choir master or cantor (perhaps also Michna?) were tied by daily responsibilities to the church and its lively daily musical needs. Adam Michna also taught the pupils at the neighbouring Jesuit school, which "leased” part of the town church because it was more important for the school and the order to have its own library than to have its own church. A wooden tunnel bridge led directly from the college to the choir (through the kitchen!), and it was evidently important for everyday musical tasks in the church. A visitation of 1670 claimed that 70 out of the 100 pupils of the college were ”excellent musicians”...But perhaps they were not always to hand, since Adam Michna felt it necessary to endow scholarships that would formally oblige at least three of them to work in the choir....Another 4 choralists, i.e. singers capable of singing choral and figural music and also of playing instruments, shared in the musical liturgy. In this country the singers (up to the end of the 18th century) were always male (apart from at convents!) and the ”descants” (boys, and only very occasionally girls) sang the high parts that the adult singers were unable to reach. In this country castrati (eunuchs) were very rare, and their parts might be sung by guests (for example in Jindrichuv Hradec in 1669 the Viennese singer and composer the Italian Filippon Vismarri, and in Olomouc around 1658 the Italian Antonio Roncone), or by trained falsetti. The alto parts were sung by boys or (in contrast to practice today) tenors with a high vocal range. Although in the case of Adam Michna‘s music they needed an extremely deep range as well... Musical instruments (violins, violas, cornetts, sackbuts) would be played by town musicians (”towermen” – since they were also responsible for the signal service on the tower), and evidently also by pupils or assistants paid on an unofficial basis (were they avoiding tax?). The college pupils seem to have participated ”en masse” only at the most important services, while the church singers’‘ brotherhood and perhaps sometimes the whole parish would join in with communal singing only before and after the service, although this ”popular” singing would last an hour or more...We can see that the music ensemble was not an ”orchestra” in the modern sense of the word, but a kind of set of building blocks. The liturgical music itself was also a kind of assemblage of blocks. If the mass was sung, it involved a symbiosis of chorale (”cantus planus”), figural music (solo, choral and with instruments), instrumental music (intradas, church or universal sonatas), organ music (accompaniments, insets and transitions, but also solo pieces, usually improvised), popular singing (mainly outside the mass), mortars (short cannons without ammunition, just for ”salvos”), bells great and small (on the tower, by the sacristy door, at the altar and in the organ). When the mass was ”silent”, the music was even more independent, like a simultaneous belt above a recitation taking place only at the altars. Everything was governed by local and period customs, resources, and the wishes of the celebrants and the authorities.

At Christmas three successive masses are celebrated. First the Midnight Mass, then the Morning Mass and then the ”Rough” or great, main mass.

Our attempt to reconstruct the period Christmas mass was focused on the second mass, that is the mass In Aurora (”For the Morning Star”). We know how difficult it is to reconstruct any historical event, even if we had all the accounts, lists of participants, pieces and so on. We can only try to reach back for the sound of the time experimentally. Perhaps we can touch it, perhaps not. But let us try.

The modern category of ”serious music” (the usual Czech expression for classical music) is misleading. It is meant to suggest music of quality, good music. But most earlier music was purposeful, needful, accessible, and so in the best sense of the word ”popular”. Whether it was dance music or church music, it was alive and so contemporary, just like ”jazz” today, for example, and not at all like the productions of members of the Union of Composers...Even the notation of music and ordinary technical and social musical practice had more in common with the jazz model than with the pure music of today. Although the ”RITORNELLO” ensemble is actually a small group, it is an open community that in some respects operates in the same way as ”Michnian” ensembles. We have tried to put together both the ensemble and the programme in the same way as it was done 350 years ago. We have chosen period instruments, a period venue and musicians familiar with the period style. You will be mistaken if you expect the period ensemble to be led by a conductor in the modern sense. You might occasionally find the organist or cantor (i.e. teacher = singer) beating time here and there, at other times singing or at least starting the piece, playing the organ, violin or other instrument, but his main job is to copy down the notes. The instrumental pieces or entrances (”Ritornelli”) were led by instrumentalists on the cornetts, violins or trumpets. At different points the ”conductor” was the tympanist, or the lutenist, or lead-in singer. The duties in our ensemble are distributed (but do not clash) in the same flexible way, and it is only the writing and collection of notes that falls to just person, the capelmeister, i.e. me. ...

And it is as capelmeister, dear ”listeners” that I shall offer you a sort of ”screenplay” of our project to help you to get a sense of our aims, feelings and sounds and to invite you sometimes to sing:

The quiet of the last moments of Advent flows into the bass fermata (the ”harmony of the spheres” of the pastorale that forms the prelude 1. The ”Birdsong” register (several submerged bubbling pipes) that organists used to have at their disposal, is supposed to create the illusion of a new dawn. Bridel’s Rozjímání o Nebi [Meditation on the Heavens] 2, composed to precede the morning mass (”in Aurora” – ”To the Morning Star”), is long. In the original it has 133 verses designed (unbelievably for some, but paradoxically as an aid to faith!) to be sung in full. Only thus, of course, does it become an aid, a genuine meditation, and anyone who has truly experienced the litany will understand. Given the limited length of our recording, we have reduced the number of verses to a mere seventeen, but the Ritornello web-page offers the full text for your own ”self-service” contemplation (that is the whole point).

Michna was first and foremost an organist and the linking prelude was his daily bread. This is why we have inserted an ”authentic” improvised Toccatina 3 at so many different places. Here the special ”Dulcimer Star” organ register (a kind of ”roundabout of little bells”) used on major feasts could be employed to best effect, especially given its symbolic association with the ”Morning-Sea Star” Mary. The collective singing (perhaps you will join in) of the song ”Jiz Slunce z Hvezdy vyslo” [”The Sun has Come Forth from the Star”] 4 intoned by the cantor used to be one of the few universally ”legitimate” musical contributions of the public to the service. The introit Lux fulgebit 5 is (apart from the recitations and mass responsions) is the only residue of the chorale (cantus planus) on this recording. We are very much aware of the simplification that this involves. The Sinfonia 6 ”si placet” = “If it pleases”, is a refined transition from what is, in this particular Michna mass, a very rare 2-time (human) beat to a 3-time (divine) beat. The bizarre combination of the high (at this period actually the highest) notes of the violins with the deep ”block” of the sackbuts, and the integrally composed acceleration (and passage to three-time, again with the help of violin ”tiratas” or upward runs, in thirds) of the main motif of the mass seems to signify the combination of the human and divine. This is of course a subjective interpretation and I cannot force anyone to agree. Nonetheless I feel that precisely these ”details”, which were universally employed in the music of the time, were not unfamiliar to Adam Michna (see for example the Czech Lute 1653 and its many-layered symbolism) and make his work ”unobtrusively brilliant”.

I see the Kyrie 7 as a stylised processional chant with a lead singer (a tenor) and repeating choir. This is the approach taken by Alberik Mazák in his five-part mass of 1650 or by Marcin Mielczewski (+1651) in his mass ”super: O Gloriosa Domina”. In Mnichna‘s middle mass Christe, which was written in what are known as hemiolae (i.e. in a three-time twice as slow rhythm inside the constant three-time measure, providing as it were an elegant “augmentation) he also suggests the combination of the human and divine principles...

Gloria (Et in terra) 8, a hymn starting with the words of the Christmas tidings of the angels, he moves over to a different treatment of symbolism, and his own rhetorical figures of emotional theory. The externally simple structure of a monothematic parodic mass is internally very rich. Seemingly it is just the harmonic treatment of the parts, sometimes using ”fleeting” imitation, that by its movement logically and wittily illustrates the meaning of individual words, phrases and ideas. There are definitely no grounds for considering this music primitive, naive or stupid. .

The Oratio (= prayer) 9, Lectio 11 (= reading ) and Evangelium 13 are recited from the altar, and in the old liturgy only a small group of singers in the choir or from the gallery gave the responsions to the celebrant.

The motet Laudate Dominum de Coelis 10 on psalm texts employs the form of processional song already mentioned. The indication of authorship ”F(ratris). Alberici” undoubtedly refers to our friend Alberik Mazak, and it should be noted that another, printed and therefore authorised version of the same text is very similar to our version.

The ”Alleluia verse”, Alleluia, confitebor 12 by the same author is a rare example of an intimate monodic solo motet at a period from which few have survived. Here the illustration of the text is much more obvious because the sober accompaniment does not cover the rhetorical figures even in the marginal passages of the part.

Today the sermon comes after the Gospel but in Michna’s time it was given outside the mass, and so the Credo (= ”I believe”) 14 follows on immediately. Rhetorical figures, still employed to a much greater extent than in the Gloria give life and imaginative variety to the otherwise dogmatically formulated apostolic creed. In the middle of the Credo, and so in the very centre of the mass and the Christian faith as a whole, stands the solemn Et incarnatus est (” and he was made flesh…”), again in even measure. The martyrdom Crucifixus is illustrated by ”the death knell” from sackbuts, the resurrection by fanfares. The one universal Apostolic Church is illustrated by the singing parts in unison and also with fanfares, and at the menacing point of the Christ‘s coming to judgment on the Last Day the soprano sinks to the ”subterranean” note of G...A grand succession of images!

The Offertorium (= offertory) offered a substantial amount of time for long appropriate compositions, sometimes more than one, and instrumental, for example. The opportunities emerge as all the more ample when we imagine the bringing of gifts, as in an animated crib scene in the style of St. Francis of Assisi. … Sonata a6 15 by Michna’s colleague, the organist Vendelin Hueber at the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna, is one of many suitable pieces. Several mentions in the records, the diffusion of his pieces and the fact that he dedicated one collection of motets to Mikulas Reiter (as did Michna and Mazak) suggest that Hueber may have been Czech. In any case his very fine and today under-rated music rests in the same archives alongside the music of Michna and Mazak… The contrasting minor motet by Mazak, Omnes Puellulo 16 for solo voice and two instruments once again employs the blending of a three-time ”rocking” rhythm inside a two-time measure as well as echo effects conjuring up Eternity and the Infinite, and ends with a very brief hymn with an easily remembered melody over an ostinato bass ”ala la Folia”.

The sung – recited Prefatio 17 leads into another angelic hymn, the Sanctus 18 this time from the Revelations of St. John, the holy ”Clamouring of the Angels” one to another. Another improvised Toccatina 19 with peals of bells represent a kind of ”bridge” across the sacred rites, during which trumpets sounded or cannons were fired...

Mazak’s marvellous Pater noster (= “Our Father...”) 20 is actually a combination of two separate compositions – the few notes of the recited ”Lord‘s Prayer” and a simultaneous sonata for three instruments.

The Agnus Dei 21, = the end of the litany that originally ”opened” in the Kyrie returns to a simple, beyond the illustrative, contemplative, simple musical form. The main motif here appears in the augmentation – in the hemiole, as a kind of integrated summary of the mass… We have accompanied the Communio (= ”communion”) itself with an inserted song by Fridrich Bridel Zavitej k nam Dite mile (Welcome the Dear Child) 22 in a two-part (vocal part and bass – here instrumental) version from the small ”Jeslicky, stare nove Pisnicky” (Christmas Cribs, old and new Songs” hymnal of 1658. Bridel-the poet once again has the adoring Sun and Stars dancing. And the next, today little known Mnichna song K Jeslickam prekrasneho Detatka (To the Crib of the Wonderful Child) 23 could perhaps have been sung at communion too, given its text. It is a beautiful example of Michna’s melodic and poetic genius, which actually ”saved the Czech language” for us. It is not those who speak a language together, but those who sing together in a language who create a nation!

The short contemplative improvised Toccatina 24 is a kind of ”organ bridge” to the Postcommunio 25 reserved for meditation. Mazak’s mystical motet Nobilissime Jesu (= ”Most Gentle Jesusi”) for two voices in echo, once again plays with reminders of Eternity and the Infinite, and we have entrusted it (in the spirit of the period practice transposed into a quartet) to two altos and two organs. The celebrant’s formula of dismissal, the Ite missa est 26 concludes the Latin part of the service, and the rest of the singing belonged to the people. The organist’s improvised essential Toccatina 27, once again variegated by ”dulcimer star” is a prompt to the crowd, and it was a long maintained practice that the cantor should make an uncompromising start to the song. Faithful to the tradition of today, the symmetry of our concept and thematic kinship, we have not hesitated to place the song Narodil se Kristus Pan (Christ the Lord is Born) 28, melodically similar to the song ”Jiz Slunce” (”Already the Sun...), at this point...the organist‘s glorious postludium certainly accompanied the ”shepherds” home again...


I believe in the perfection of every song in its own environment and situation, as in the fresh idea. Some music ”bears” being removed from its ”fluid” and can be played even....by computers (- the worst toys are those that play by themselves, without us ”children”!...). But for that very reason I find its fragile “non-travelling” sister music more interesting. She gives us more opportunity to find ourselves mirrored within her, unwinding her ciphers is a more authentic process, and after being played such a piece remains as it were ”back in its wrappings”, wreathed in mystery for its next discoverers. When deprived of its holy twilight and dawn, its clouds of incest, when boiled down into a kind of ”specimen”, liturgical music languishes and even perishes. That is why we have tried – with a certain licence – to return Michna’s Christmas Mass to its context, at least as far as the ears are concerned. For the other senses our dear ”listeners” and guests will have to find sustenance elsewhere an in other ways.... Bu ”thinning down” Michna’s mass (which is of course usable even at times other than Christmas) and by inserting ”Meditations”, songs, sonatas, motets, chorales, preludes and so on, we have paradoxically actually ”thickened” its form, creating a kind of ”homeopathic tincture of the Mass” to enhance the effect of this form of forms.

Michna’s mass, very minor and deliberately monotonous as it is (but by no means stupid), becomes a great and even the greatest musical form precisely when it is placed in the context of everything ”that belongs to it”: in the ritual itself and in music (chorale and chorale recitation, improvised inputs from the organ, motets, psalms, the Alleluia, sonatas, the unison singing of the whole parish...) The wittily interwoven main motif of the notoriously well-known song is properly ”wrapped”, the words still illustrated by rhetorical mini-figures etched on ivory, and for anyone who knows the song well and understands the meaning of the text it is a real feast. All the more so because while the musical ”Baroque” offered a complete ”Gesamtkunstwerk” with many meanings, it also left room for the free fantasy (imagination) of its consumers. Bon appetit and Good Morning!

Michael Pospíšil, written in America in August 2003

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