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Carolus IV. Rex et imperator
Schola Gregoriana Pragensis/David Eben
Hana Blažiková (soprano, harp); Jakub Kidlíček, Monika Reslerová (recorder), Jakub Eben (percussion)
recorded 21 - 24 September 2015, Church of Saint James the Greater, Zbraslav, Prague, Czech Republic DDD.
Texts and translations included
SUPRAPHON SU4193-2 [69:13]

For many centuries Bohemia was a centre of music in Europe. Names associated with it are, for instance, Jan Dismas Zelenka, the Benda brothers and various composers of the classical era. The present disc carries us to a much earlier period: the 14th century. Bohemia was ruled by Charles IV (1316-1378) who was crowned in 1347. In 1355 he was also crowned King of Italy and Holy Roman Emperor. With his coronation as King of Burgundy in 1365 he became the personal ruler of all the kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire.

During his reign Prague became the capital of the empire and as Charles was a great patron of the arts, Bohemia developed into a cultural centre of European stature. The period of Charles's kingship is considered the Golden Age of Bohemia. The present disc sheds light on several aspects of this episode in Czech history. The programme is divided into six chapters.

It opens with "Charles and France": the king was from Luxembourg and spent his youth at the French court. In this chapter we hear the music he might have heard during his time there. It includes a motet by Guillaume de Machaut whom he may have known personally as Machaut became the secretary of his father, King John of Luxembourg.

The next chapter is called "Charles and Relics - The Feast Day of the Holy Lance and Nails". Charles's strong interest in relics is well documented. The main items in his collection were related to the crucifixion of Jesus. The four pieces performed here are all about the spear with which a Roman soldier pierced the side of Jesus at the Cross. Its importance is summed up in an excerpt from a homily by St Augustine (Lectio de homilia deati Augustini): "He opened his side, to suggest a gate is opening onto life through which the sacraments of the Church flow to us". Pange lingua is not a setting of the commonly known hymn with that title. The opening line again refers to the spear: "Sing, every tongue, sing to the glory of the spear". It testifies to the differences in the liturgical repertoire between various regions in Europe.

The third chapter is devoted to "Charles and the University". Recently a collection of vocal repertoire has been discovered which is connected with Prague University and student life. Two spiritual songs which combine free chant rhythm with passages in regular rhythm are included here: Salve mundi domina and Rubus incombustibilis. Another musical centre at the time was France; its influence, especially in intellectual circles, is documented by the virelais Je languis and Sois tart. Prima declinatio is a student song. "Its lyrics represent a series of intellectual puns based on parallels between Latin grammar and theological thought" [booklet].

Musical life in Prague was not only influenced by France but also by Germany. In the fourth chapter, "Charles and Courtly Poetry", we meet Mülich von Prag, a Meistersinger from the first half of the 14th century. His Nu siht man aber beide is followed by some songs in the vernacular which are influenced by courtly poetry. Otep myrhy uses images from the Song of Songs and can be interpreted both as a secular and as a spiritual song.

The fifth chapter is short but very interesting. "Charles and the Slavonic Liturgy" sheds light on Charles's interest in the liturgy in Old Church Slavonic. In 1347, the year he was crowned King of Bohemia, he founded the Emmaus monastery in the New Town of Prague with the aim of promoting writing in Slavic and the celebration of the liturgy in Old Church Slavonic. For this purpose Benedictine monks from the northern part of the Croatian coast were invited to Bohemia. The repertoire of the monastery has been lost but in the Ljubljana National Library several fragments have been discovered which are assumed to originate from the monastery. The Alleluia Veselite se is the only piece which has been preserved complete and is recorded here for the first time. This chapter opens with a reading in Church Slavonic from another source with music from the Emmaus monastery.

Lastly: "Charles and the Worship of Saints". The veneration of saints was another important part of Charles's spiritual profile. This was inspired both by personal experiences and by political considerations. Here pieces have been chosen which are related to 'name patrons' of Charles and his sons Wenceslas and Sigismundus. Letare pia Aquensis ecclesia is a responsory for St Charlemagne and is followed by a song in the vernacular and an antiphon in Latin for St. Wenceslas as well as a responsory for St Sigismundus. The programme ends with an isorhythmic motet, Ave coronata, another testimony of French influence in Bohemia.

This is a highly fascinating musical document of the Bohemian Golden Age of the 14th century. This repertoire is largely unknown, certainly outside what is now the Czech Republic. It shows the blessing of the dissemination of interest in early music. For musicians from elsewhere it is much harder to find their way into the sources which were explored for this recording. There is also the language which is difficult to master: here we have native speakers who guarantee a completely idiomatic performance of the pieces in the vernacular. They contribute to create a differentiated picture of musical life in Prague in the 14th century. The local sources also bear witness to the variety of the liturgical repertoire.

The Schola Gregoriana Pragensis is a specialized ensemble which has already a considerable number of recordings to its credit. Plainchant is the core of its repertoire but that is not the only kind of music they sing. The members of the ensemble have fine voices which shine in some of the solo pieces. One of them is Hasan El-Dunia who takes care of most of the French items. Hana Blaziková is one of the bright stars of the Czech early music scene and here we hear her as a singer and as a player of the harp. In some items we also hear recorders. Individually and together these singers and players deliver splendid performances.

For reasons of repertoire and performance this disc deserves the label of Recording of the Month.

Johan van Veen

[Charles and France]
Cantio Plebs Domini [3:41]
Alleluia Virga Iesse floruit [1:54]
Ave virgo singularis, sequentia [4:26]
Guillaume DE MACHAUT (1300-1377)
Dame je sui cilz qui vueil - Fins cuers doulz, motet [2:57]
[Charles and Relics - The Feast Day of the Holy Lance and Nails]
In splendore, antiphon [2:12]
Pange lingua, hymn [2:27]
Lectio de homilia beati Augustini [1:17]
Vibrans miles, responsory [2:55]
[Charles and the University]
Salve mundi Domina, cantio [2:29]
Je languis, virelai [2:40]
Rubus incombustibilis, cantio [2:03]
Prima declinatio, cantio [4:16]
Sois tart, virelai [1:48]
[Charles and Courtly Poetry]
Nu siht man aber beide [3:45]
Otep myrhy [3:09]
Anjeliku rozkochaný [0:38]
Dřěvo sě listem odievá [4:01]
[Charles and Slavonic Liturgy]
Lectio in festo s. Cyrilli et s. Methodii [2:59]
Alleluia Veselite se [1:45]
[Charles and the Worship of Saints]
[St Charlemagne]
Letare pia Aquensis ecclesia, responsory [2:01]
Stola Jacob [1:08]
[St Wenceslas]
Svatý Václave [1:12]
Laus alme sit Trinitati, antiphon [5:00]
Quae est ista [1:36]
[St Sigismundus]
Ecce Sigismundus, responsory [2:23]
Ave coronata, motetus [2:57]



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