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Harmonia Uncut: Czech Out This Christmas Concert!

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Welcome to Harmonia Uncut, the podcast that invites you to early music performances you may have missed, with your host Wendy Gillespie.  Join me as through miracles of modern technology, poof - we are magically transported to an early December evening in 2019, in a warmly lit church in Philadelphia, or perhaps it is Chestnut Hill, PA or Wilmington, Delaware - for the concert saw three live performances. The Philadelphia-based Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players are joined by four singers for a concert called “A Czech Christmas: Seasonal Music from the Moravian Court in Kroměříž.

The ensemble Tempesta di Mare is named after a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi to reflect their view of instrumental music as a vivid, rhetorical craft, capable of conveying emotional drama to its listeners. Their abiding interest on rediscovered masterworks led to this program, mostly drawn from the remarkable music library of a seventeenth-century Catholic bishop in Moravia, which is one of the three historical Czech lands. Richard Stone, co-Director of Tempesta, went to the bishop’s chateau in the town of Kroměříž and spent a week photographing the library. Tonight’s concert presents a tantalizing taste of the treasure trove of both known and unknown composers and music that he found there.

Let’s begin, as Tempesta does, with a festive Sonata Natalis by Kroměříž capellmeister, a trumpeter himself. You might hear a familiar tune - you might even know it as “Resonet in laudibus,” or “Joseph Lieber, Joseph mein,” but the Czechs know it as the carol “hush, my little angel.”  Its Czech title is, I confess, beyond my meager capabilities, so I’m really glad he called the piece Sonata Natalis!                                      

Music: Sonata Natalis

Pavel Joseph Vejvanovský’s Sonata Natalis, one of the pieces found nowhere else except in this library in Moravia, was performed by Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players, with trumpeters Perry Sutton & Brandon Bergeron.

The bishop’s library holds a certain amount of music by the most prolific composer of all time—I refer of course to the eponymous Anonymous—and much of their music in the library is both unique and of a very high quality. Here, for example, is an excerpt from an anonymous Magnificat scored for soprano, alto, tenor and bass; 2 trumpets, 2 recorders, two violins, two violas, cello, violone, continuo. We won’t hear the whole Magnificat, just the end, from the Gloria patri, to raise our spirits as we finish Vespers.

Music: Anonymous: Magnificat in G minor

Our bishop seems to have had access to lots of very talented musicians! We heard the last part of the anonymous Magnificat in G Minor found in the bishop’s music library in Kroměříž, and aren’t you tantalized?  Come to think of it, we are among the first people who have heard this music in a very, very long time. The singers Rebecca Myers, Meg Bragle, James Reese, and Jean-Bernard Cerin joined the Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players for this performance in December 2019.

The archbishop who collected this library and lived in the chateau was Prince Karel (Karl) II of Liechtenstein-Castelcorno.

Giovanni Valentini’s Sonata pro tabula, another piece unique to Kroměříž, references a custom at the Habsburg court that one course of a meal was enjoyed in silence. Once again, our library is the only source of this composition.

Music: Sonata à 8 pro tabula

Giovanni Valentini’s Sonata pro tabula was performed by Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players. You know, this might be an idea worth reviving: a multi-course meal with one course in silence accompanied by music—y ou could even try it with this piece!

Part of the fun of going off the beaten path is getting to hear languages we don’t hear very often, so how about a Czech Christmas song in its native language? The title is Matky Boží slávna nadáni, “Mother of God’s glorious gift,” and the composer is Adam Václav Michna, setting his own devotional verse.

Music: Matky Boží slávna nadáni (Mother of God’s glorious gift)

Adam Václav Michna’s “Mother of God’s glorious gift,” a poem for Christmas that is apparently still known today. The singers once again were Rebecca Myers, Meg Bragle, James Reese, and Jean-Bernard Cerin. We’ve been listening to a concert from early December 2019 called “A Czech Christmas,” whose production was supported in part by a grant from the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia.

Many thanks to Richard Stone and Gwyn Roberts, Co-Directors of Tempesta di Mare, for sharing this preview of their Czech Christmas concert with us. Lead by concertmaster Emlyn Ngai, the chamber players also included string players Rebecca Harris, Daniela Pierson, Fran Berge, and Lisa Terry, as well as Adam Pearl, organ and Héloïse Degrugillier, recorder.

By the time you hear this or very soon after, you will be able to listen to the concert in its entirety online, so we hope this little appetizer has whetted your appetite for a bit of seasonal variety.

We’re always interested in hearing your thoughts about this podcast. You can find Harmonia on Facebook, or leave a comment or question any time by visiting harmonia early music dot org.  This has been Harmonia Uncut, and I’m Wendy Gillespie. Thanks for joining me.


Archbishop Karel II of Liechtenstein-Castelcorno.

Archbishop Karel II of Liechtenstein-Castelcorno.

Last December, the Philadephia-based Tempesta di Mare created a very unusual Christmas concert of Czech music, most of which was found in a bishop’s library in the Moravian Court in Kroměříž. Splendor and pageantry seem to have been the order of the day, and the Imperial Court in Vienna was the inspiration. Singers, strings, brass, winds, and organ join together for festive music of the season.


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