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Music of the Bohemian Gothic

F10115     [8595017411526]
TT - 58:04     released 10/2002

    1. Christus surrexit   3:19
    2. Resultet gens angelica   5:19
    3. Flos florum - Quem elegit   3:42 
    4. Iacob scalam   1:54 
    5. Sophia nasci (instr.)   2:28 
    6. En etas iam aurea   4:57 
    7. Stola Jacob   5:44 
    8. Unde gaudent angeli (instr.)   1:49 
    9. O Ihesu vivens hostia   3:12
    10. In hoc anni circulo   3:23
    11. Serena mente   7:10
    12. Sampsonis honestissima   3:34
    13. Angelica Christi turma   8:52
    14. Buoh všemohúcí   2:33

Hana Blochová - vocal, harp, organetto
Petr Vyoral - fiddles, medieval lute
Pavel Polášek - medieval shawm, cornamuse, gemshorns, recorders, bladder pipe, dulcimer, vocal
Lubomír Holzer - percussion

Michael Pospíšil - vocal, Jiří Hodina - vocal, Jiřina Musilová - hurdy-gurdy

The words 'Bohemian Gothic' tend to make one think of a Gothic cathedral, perhaps even Karlstein Castle and the paintings of Master Theodoric or an illuminated page of parchment from a book with pointy letters and square music notes, which is decorated with a picture of, for example, King David playing a small harp. Pictures, sculptures and churches are easy to imagine, but 'Gothic music', the music that was made in this period and was a regular part of life at the time, is harder to imagine. It usually seems more alien to our ears than the visual arts and architecture of the period seem to our eyes. Moreover, no medieval musical instrument has been preserved in its authentic form, and the notation of 'Gothic music' is usually imprecise and often fails to capture all the aspects of the music as it was meant to be played. Anybody who wants to study 'Bohemian Gothic', whether a specialist in period notation or an interpreter, must, on the basis of his or her own experience, try and find its most likely form.
     Life in the Middle Ages was attended by various kinds of musical expression, each of which had its own precise task. Some kinds have been preserved in abundance (for example, the 'obligatory' plainchant accompanying the liturgy); others tended to be preserved by chance (for example 'optional' church music that is peripheral to the liturgy, light and secular music of the upper classes); other music was not written down, and has therefore not been preserved at all (folklore, improvised light music). This second group includes most of the polyphony and songs of the time, and that is what this recording is devoted to. Despite the randomness and considerable gaps in what has been preserved, about eighty polyphonic songs and roughly half that number of polytextual motets, as well as a whole series of monophonic songs of 'Bohemian Gothic music' on texts in Latin and Czech, are known to us. It may not appear to be much at first sight, but in comparison with the other countries of central Europe this heritage is on the whole a respectable sampling of the musical culture of the area. The oldest sources of this music is from c.1400; some compositions, however, are undoubtedly older. On the other hand, work in the 'Gothic style' continued in the first half of the fifteenth century, before being squeezed out by the new polyphony of the Renaissance; in the conservative milieu of some church choirs it was in fact being sung long into the sixteenth century. Most of this music has been preserved only in sources from a later period.
     Our recording includes mostly polyphonic songs. All have Latin texts written for the Church, but sometimes they seem to have more in common with the popular music of their day. One may distinguish two basic kinds of song among them. The earlier in stylistic terms are the songs with two equal voices, the conductus (En etas, In hoc anni, Resultet and Sampsonis). They were for the most part meant to be sung; their remote model is thirteenth-century music from Western Europe. As distinct from them, several other compositions seem to imitate French songs of the fourteenth century (Stola Jacob, Angelica, Flos florum and Quem elegit), which tend to have an instrumental basis; above the longer notes in the lower accompanying voices there is a richly ornamented melody based on improvisation. Today the form is known as cantilena, but in its day it was called rondellus; its secular origin, or at least character, is demonstrated by the repeated calls by the Prague synod (1366 and 1412) for songs of the rondellus type not to be sung in church. Some songs combine elements of both the conductus and the rondellus/cantilena (for example, Serena mente).
     Some purely popular tunes, when sung by poor students, were intended to be sung as carols, that is to say, longer conducta, which perhaps accompanied parts of the liturgy, such as the clerics' coming to the altar. In the case of the rondellus a certain tension arises between the spiritual content of the texts and secular-based music, which is somewhat reminiscent of paintings in the Schöner Stil, c.1400 - spiritual subject matter presented in a sensual form; the overall character and the original usage tends to be in society, outside the church.
     In this repertoire the term 'motet' (or 'polytextual motet') is used for compositions with various texts in individual voices. Most of the voices are set to texts, suggesting they were intended to be performed purely vocally. Motets belong more to the 'serious music' of the time, though not all of them. A composition such as Sophia, Unde gaudent may be easily imagined when sung as a carol.
     Polyphonic compositions may be considered to have been meant for the training of musicians, and they were usually accompanied by soloists. The intention of the two Bohemian church songs that bracket the other pieces on the recording was, however, a bit different from that. They are of the type known as the type known as the „leise“, which is religious song meant to be sung by the whole community together (that is to say, the common people), not only during the service but also during important social events. They were also sung during battles, coronations and pilgrimages.

1. Christus surrexit - Chorus nove - Christus surrexit - a three-voice Easter motet; the melody of the introductory song Buoh všemohúcí/Christ ist erstanden is quoted in the tenor voice; it was written perhaps in the mid-fourteenth century or even earlier, as is suggested by the archaic part-writing. 'Christ hath risen from the dead. He hath covered our sins and hath taken whom he loves to heaven. Lord, have mercy.'
2. Resultet gens angelica - a two-voice song of the conductus style, from the fourteenth century and intended for St Martin's Day; the last words are a pun - the innocent Latin verse (mire negans) can be read as being German (mir ene gans = mir eine Gans), which then become a request for a St Martin's goose: 'A goose for me, a goose for you, take your goose and eat it.' The song was probably originally meant to be sung more as a carol than in the church.
3. Flos florum - the best known cantilena; from c.1400; the words in praise of the Virgin, on motifs from the Song of Solomon. 'Flower of flowers among lilies, which scorns the vanities of the world, O daughter of the royal counsellor, joyous when he himself honours you in the heavenly palace.'
4. (Iacob scalam -) Pax eterna - Terribilis - primarily three-voice motet for the Feast of the Dedication, composed by Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz (c.1400-c.1480); together with O Ihesu vivens it is the most recent composition on this recording. 'How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. Surely the Lord is in this place' (Gen. 28.17, 16).
5. Sophia nasci - O quam pulcra - Magi videntes - a three-voice Christmas (Epiphany) motet, similar in style and period to the previous composition. The two-voice O quam pulcra - Magi videntes is original; the Sophia voice was composed later and added on. 'Oh what a beautiful thought - the shepherds saw immediately what signs came out of the heavenly palace through the Virgin Mary. The magi, seeing the star, said to each other: That is the sign of a great king. Let us go and find him and bear him gifts.'
6. En etas iam aurea - two-voice conductus, perhaps from the mid-fourteenth century; the first four strophes are about Christmas; the rest is of the meaning is unclear; the beginning makes a reference to the solstice. 'Behold, the golden age which has begun to riot and Saturn's kingdom repeats in the spring. With poetic presentation and mystic understanding that is the true wisdom of Solomon - the Son of God. 
7. Stola Jacob (that is to say, Scala Jacob [Jacob's ladder]) - a cantilena from c.1400; its corrupted text is in praise of the Virgin, probably meaning: 'Jacob's ladder [...], clothed with the sun art thou [Mary], pronounced, for thou art devout, praised art thou, most holy, thou art glorious, in order to protect us from the demon's dreadful curse.' The composition is of a purely instrumental nature; perhaps set to words later.
8. Unde gaudent angeli - Eya dei ierarchia - Nostra iocunda curia - a three-voice Christmas motet, perhaps from the early fifteenth century with an onomatopoeic imitation of trumpeting. The name Nicolas, perhaps the author's, is concealed in the words. 'Our merry court sings songs in joyous harmony, till our voices rise to the stars. Let ours hearts be led and guided by firm hope, let us during the service celebrate with pure mind and sing the praises of the true God on the day of His birth.'
9. O Ihesu vivens hostia - Ave caro Christi - a two-voice motet for the Feast of Corpus Christi, perhaps from the early fifteenth century and sung during ceremonial processions; the same melody was later used for a ceremonial procession, on the same melody as the Czech song Buď Buohu chvála čest [Praise and honour God]. 'O Lord Jesus, alive in the Host, reconcile thy high places thanks to the law, grant us health, the essence of the poor, give us ever-lasting life, for a memorial of the Lord, strengthen love.' 
10. In hoc anni circulo - a Christmas song, whose conductus melody is evidently intended as a carol. 'In this circle of the year life is given a generation, for a child is born to the Virgin Mary. The word has become flesh through the Virgin Mary.'
11. Serena mente - a two-voice Christmas song, perhaps from the mid-fourteenth century; the instrumental part was perhaps always meant to be without words. 'With clear mind rejoice, people, invoke the wondrous new fruit which was given wondrously by the wondrous to a wondrous thing in the beginning.' 
12. Sampsonis honestissima - an Easter song in the conductus style. 'Samson's most noble prophecies to the Resurrected came to pass with glory refashioned by worthiness, so jubilation to the supreme Redeemer. Hallelujah!'
13. Angelica Christi turma - a song in the style of the cantilena from the late fourteenth century, dedicated to St Margaret. 'Thou art praised by a host of Christ's angels, praised as a wreath of the throne, O Margaret [pearl/teardrop of the sea], thou art become beautiful. O virgin of purity and truthfulness, turn us toward the mysteries of heaven.'

14. Buoh všemohúcí [God Almighty] - an Easter song, composed as a paraphrase of the sequence Victimae Paschali; it shares the melody of an earlier German song, Christ ist erstanden; in Bohemia it was made by popular by reformist preachers in the second half of the fourteenth century - Konrad Waldhauser, for example, had it sung in native German during his sermons.

Martin Horyna

Jaromír Černý, 'Vícehlasé písně konduktového typu v českých pramenech 15. století', Miscellana musicologica 31, 1984, pp. 39-142. (Tracks 5, 13, 14 and 15.)
Jaromír Černý, 'Die Ars nova-Musik in Böhmen', Miscellanea musicologica 21-23, 1970, pp. 47-106. (Compositions 3, 9 and 11.)
Jaromír Černý, Vícetextová moteta 14. a 15. století, Prague: Supraphon 1989 (Tracks 6, 7, 8 and 10)
Martin Horyna, 'Hudba a hudební život v Českém Krumlově do poloviny 16. století', Miscellanea musicologica 31, 1984, pp. 265-306 (Tracks 2 and 4)
František Mužík, 'Christ ist erstanden - Buóh všemohúcí', Miscellanea musicologica 21-23, 1970, pp. 7-45 (Track 1)
František Mužík, 'Úvod do kritiky hudebního zápisu', Acta universitatis Carolinae, Phil. et Hist., Prague, 1961 (Track 12)
Dobroslav Orel, 'Hudební prvky svatováclavské', Svatováclavský sborník II/3, Prague, 1937 (Track 16)

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