‹‹ JSCM Home

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

‹‹ Table of Contents
Volume 21 (2015) No. 1

Published 2017

Bohemian Baroque: Czech Musical Culture and Style, 1600–1750. By Robert G. Rawson. Woodbridge, Suffolk, U.K.: Boydell Press, 2013. [xix, 314 pp. ISBN 978-1-84383-881-4. $95.]

Reviewed by Kimberly Beck Hieb*

1. Introduction

2. Contexts for Musical Czechness

3. The Catholic Appropriation of Czech Style

4. Music in Czech Schools

5. The Blended Nature of Czech Musical Style

6. Italian Connections

7. Conclusions

References

1. Introduction

1.1 In Bohemian Baroque: Czech Musical Culture and Style, 1600–1750 Robert Rawson paints a sweeping picture of musical life in the context of rural communities and provincial courts in Czech-speaking lands in the early modern era. Rawson’s volume complements the existing research regarding this time and place, which typically considers music at the imperial court in Prague or well-known composers with Bohemian roots who served at prestigious courts in cities such as Vienna or Salzburg, the works of whom make up a large part of the rich musical collection of the castle archives in the Moravian town of Kroměříž.[1]

1.2 Rawson opens by arguing that studies of Bohemia in the Baroque have been shaped in large part by the work of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century musicologists whose studies of musical Czechness are steeped in later nationalist constructions. Rawson contends that, despite the absence of a self-conscious idea of an overtly political Czechness, Czech identity was indeed cultivated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (47). To approach Bohemian music history from this fresh perspective, Rawson aims to dispel three prominent myths about Czechness in the early modern period: a) that the Baroque was a “dark period” for Czech language and music, b) that the Czech language was simply replaced with German in this period, and c) that the notion of a Czech musical identity was first cultivated in the nineteenth century (1).

1.3 The opening chapters provide cultural context, which is central to Rawson’s study of Czech repertoire and style. Before turning to the musical sources, Rawson explores Czech identities, the cultural milieu of the towns peppering the countryside, the atmosphere of religious conflict and conversion prevalent in Czech-speaking Europe, and music education in rural villages. In the second half of the volume his focus shifts to repertoire, considering Christmas pastorellas, secular songs and instrumental works, devotional music for the worship of saints, sonatas, and finally, music for the stage. In Bohemian Baroque, Rawson studies a wealth of Czech repertoire that has been largely neglected in favor of studying the music of cosmopolitan courts or more well-known composers with ties to the Czech lands, making this book a welcome addition to early modern scholarship.

2. Contexts for Musical Czechness

2.1 Piecing together a national narrative for a continuously shape-shifting Bohemia is not a simple task, but Rawson encapsulates a complicated situation with ease, demonstrating his extensive understanding of the cultural landscape. He constructs a blended Czech identity in the early modern period, the result of the tensions between transplanted Germans and their native Czech-speaking neighbors that color the character of the region in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The largely non-conformist Czech Christians, followers of Jan Hus, clashed particularly with the Christian Germans who seized power in the absence of an indigenous Czech nobility, who had either been killed or forced into exile during the Thirty Years’ war.

2.2 Rawson argues convincingly, however, that scholarly studies tend to focus too closely on the conflict between German and Czech cultures and languages in Bohemia, ignoring the localized traditions forged by musicians in rural villages. These towns were home to composers and musicians who would later bring their musical styles to urban areas when they relocated from the countryside to work at the prestigious courts in cities such as Prague or Olomouc. Rawson’s detailed study of the blending of localized vernacular and foreign musical styles is one of the most significant contributions of his book.

2.3 In Chapter 2, “Cultural and Musical Idioms of Town and Country,” Rawson describes how music of the Bohemian countryside embodied a blend of old and new, rural and urban styles, which were not traditionally mixed in German or Italian repertories. Czech composers attempted to reconcile contradictory ideas, blending “the medieval with the modern, the non-conformist with the Catholic, the Latin with the vernacular, the rural with the urban, the rustic with the sophisticated, and religious revelation with scientific knowledge” (35). Rawson illustrates the widespread amalgamation of styles with a comical exchange between two Czech composers, František Brixi and Leopold Koželuch, one of several anecdotes that demonstrate Rawson’s thorough familiarity with primary source material. Brixi says to his fellow composer Leopold, “when I pass a church where one of your Masses is being performed I think I might be hearing an opera seria,” to which Koželuch responds by noting that when he passed by a church where a Mass by Brixi was being performed he thought he “might be passing by a pub” (37–38).

2.4 The synthesis of such varied styles within a single work, sacred or secular, accompanied by the inconsistent implementation of the term stylo bohemico in primary sources, confounds the very definition of Czech style. Rawson embraces this problem, claiming that the Bohemian style incorporates both church and courtly styles and integrates both rustic and learned music making (52). However, the long list of particularly “Czech” musical characteristics Rawson provides at the end of the chapter includes principally rural musical qualities. Rawson’s only reference to a more churchly style is the use or evocation of an alternatim musical texture (48), which leaves one to question how central the blending of sacred and secular style really is to the stylo bohemico.

3. The Catholic Appropriation of Czech Style

3.1 Rawson turns to sacred music in his third chapter, “Devotional Practices and the Culture of Conversion,” where he takes on music’s role in the Catholic appropriation of existing indigenous traditions in early modern Bohemia. For example, although the vernacular liturgy was closely associated with non-conformist Hussite traditions, the Catholics began to embrace the use of the vernacular at Mass as long as the Latin text was read first. The Mass could then reach both well-educated audiences as well as people in small towns who did not understand Latin. A Czech liturgy was particularly common during Passiontide and at the graveside, contexts that serve as case studies at the end of the chapter. Congregational singing, which was a central element in non-conformist traditions, was also adopted into Catholic practice. Here Rawson cites instances of figural Mass paraphrases composed by members of literary brotherhoods—groups of well-educated men in small towns who would lead devotion, train singers and cantors, and establish Catholic practices—that contain performance instructions for the integration of Czech pieces and texts into the traditional Latin Mass (68). These paraphrases provide evidence of a highly flexible conception of the Catholic liturgy as well as a rich body of localized devotional repertoire.

3.2 Rawson’s exploration of the integration of the Czech language into Catholic paraliturgical devotional music is particularly remarkable. He shows how Catholics usurped the Czech hymn, or kancionál, tradition, “rehabilitating” the genre to serve their own purposes, crafting vernacular contrafacta to teach and spread the Catholic faith. These adaptations often involved altering not only the texts but the music as well. For example, the Jesuit poet/composer Adam Michna assimilated Czech kancionáls to Catholic taste by adding basso continuo and ritornello instrumental parts, infusing indigenous Czech pieces with Catholic musical style.

3.3 Rawson returns to music of Catholic rehabilitation in the Czech-speaking lands later in Chapter 7, “Musical Devotions and the (Re)Engineering of Patron Saints.” In the early modern period the Catholic church actively appropriated the worshipping of local patron saints, in effect adopting existing cultural and historical practices as essentially Catholic. The expansion of cults of local saints, such as Saint Jan of Nepomuk and Saint Wenceslas, fostered a wealth of vernacular devotional settings, which embrace the convergence of rural vernacular and Catholic figural musical traditions. Rustic verisimilitude and expanding vernacular Catholic traditions, such as simple songs, figural motets, offertories, masses, and litanies are found in the musical settings honoring these saints.

4. Music in Czech Schools

4.1 In Chapter 4 Rawson characterizes musical education as yet another means for preserving and promoting Catholicism in the countryside. Jesuit parish schools, for example, were predominantly responsible for providing musical training in rural villages, where music was one of the core subjects alongside reading, writing, and math. While teaching choirboys to sing was common practice in urban communities and their governing courts, students in rural locales were instead taught to play instruments such as the violin, oboe (hautbois), or bassoon. This phenomenon was noteworthy even in early studies of musical traditions of the area. In fact, Charles Burney took notice of the presence of composers and performers from the countryside of rural Bohemian in urban centers such as Prague and Vienna, describing many of Prague’s musicians as brought “thither from the countryside” (89).

4.2 Vocal repertoire was cultivated in these schools as well. Serving as an intermediary between the sacred and ordinary parts of society, the Jesuits composed pious songs in the native German and Czech languages and developed a theatrical repertoire of musical allegories representative of the elements of the Catholic faith. Students at Jesuit colleges wrote sacred school dramas for important church feasts, such as Christmas and Easter. While these genres were primarily designed to promote Catholic piety, they also exhibited the blend of sacred and secular styles central to Rawson’s conception of the stylo bohemico mentioned above. Italian styles that dominated opera houses and concert venues mingled with rural folk texts and melodies, a key characteristic of the early modern Czech style.

5. The Blended Nature of Czech Musical Style

5.1 The blending of rustic and sacred, urban and rural idioms permeates Rawson’s exploration of Czech repertoire of the Baroque in the second half of his book. In Chapter 5 he expands upon his previous research on the Christmas pastorella, which focused exclusively on the compositions of Gottfried Finger and explored potential performance contexts for the genre along with specific pastoral references in the repertoire.[2] In Bohemian Baroque, Rawson complements his earlier work, describing how the genre melds aspects of vernacular and sacred genres, its origins in Italian instrumental music, and its role in infusing local Christmas traditions with efforts of Catholic rehabilitation mentioned above (107). Pastorellas by Simon Brixi and Pavel Vejvanovský, in addition to those by Gottfried Finger, illustrate the blending of styles incorporated in the genre. Rawson cites the pastorellas of Simon Brixi as those that best traverse the gap between the rustic, provincial nature of the genre and later Italian manifestations of the pastorella in narrative motets that relate the drama of the Biblical narrative.

5.2 Another blending of styles is central to Rawson’s sixth chapter, “Melancholy Ditties about Dirt and Disorder,” which focuses on the integration of galant and rustic styles in secular instrumental music. While particular textures, harmonic and melodic idioms, and outright quotations of popular folk songs evoke sounds of the countryside, the clear AABA motivic organization of melodic forms and the use of rhythmic bass rather than a harmonic or contrapuntal bass, reflects a galant-like simplicity in the repertoire (144). In the second half of this chapter Rawson explores the works of courtly composers whose use of rustic or peasant musical idioms often blurred the line between the affectionate portrayal and the satirical appropriation of style. Heinrich Biber’s Battalia (1673), the second movement of which makes a spectacle of peasant behavior by musically conveying drunkenness, serves as a poignant example of the raw implication of rustic elements in courtly contexts. On the other hand, composers would dress rustic idioms in a more polished and refined courtly style, as Georg Philippe Telemann did in his Rondeau hanaquoise (TWV55: E2), which appropriates Hanák music from the Hana region of Moravia, casting the tradition in an artful and polished fashion (160).

6. Italian Connections

6.1 Despite the lack of documentary evidence that Vivaldi himself procured sources of Czech music, Rawson argues convincingly that Vivaldi was familiar with Czech musical styles. He proposes the possibility that Vivaldi visited Morzin’s country residence in northern Bohemia and notes that fourteen of Vivaldi’s Turin manuscripts, including autograph scores dedicated to a Bohemian aristocrat with ties to the Habsburgs, are copied on central European paper, suggesting that they may have been copied in or near Czech-speaking lands (201–2). While the physical evidence of Vivaldi’s familiarity with Czech repertoire is rather inconclusive, the stylistic evidence is more significant. Rawson explores elements of Vivaldi’s repertoire that embody “Slavonic inspiration” in the frequent use of anapestic, or weak-weak-strong, rhythmic patterns, which are found in Czech music from particularly early dates, both in urban and rural, sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental settings (214). Furthermore, Rawson describes the “Czechness” of Vivaldi’s use of augmented fourths in major and minor modes and an apparent unashamed use of the augmented second in his melodies. Finally, Rawson cites Vivaldi’s mixing of parallel major and minor keys, a harmonic tool identified by Michael Beckerman as a distinct marker of Czechness in music of the nineteenth century.[3] Indeed, this characteristic is present in Czech music significantly earlier and is also found in Italian music of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, in Vivaldi’s Concerto alla rustica (RV 151), for example.

6.2 While Vivaldi’s influence in the development of the concerto in Czech lands is undeniable, Rawson argues successfully that the line of influence was not strictly unidirectional. He finds Italian musical idioms and the Vivaldian style in the works of Czech composers Antonín Reichenauer, Josef Gurecký, Jan Dismas Zelenka, and Jan Zach but also argues that Czech music influenced the more prevalent Italian style. To support this latter point, Rawson presents evidence that musical characteristics commonly understood to be solely Italian, such as the use of parallel keys and an emphasis on melody, were actually common in Czech music before the later Italian adoption of these traits (213).

6.3 In the ninth and final chapter of the volume, Rawson explores the relationship between Italian and Czech styles on stage, focusing especially on the repertoire and performances in rural areas. He studies two provincial Czech theatres in detail, that of Count Franz Anton von Sporck, the subject of a survey by Daniel Freeman, and that of Johann Adam von Questenberg, whose court was more successful and produced Italian opera seria, German Singspiel, and Czech-language “operas.”[4]

6.4 The theme of integrating distinct cultural elements that permeates the volume culminates in this chapter in Rawson’s discussion of the melding of German and Czech styles and languages in František Antonin Miča’s serenata for the name-day of Questenberg, Der glorreiche Nahmen Adami (1734). The piece contains sections in both Czech and German, and Miča makes careful use of particular compositional techniques when writing in each language. For example, the Czech arias of the piece are “fiery and virtuosic” and composed largely of a vocal melody doubled by colla parte violins and a rhythmic bass, while the German language sections of the work are contrapuntal and more elaborately scored (240–42). This piece serves as an ideal case study supporting Rawson’s description of the wide-ranging characteristics associated with the stylo bohemico, the diverse languages and styles of which reflect the very nature of the blended Czech identity Rawson describes in Chapter 1.

7. Conclusions

7.1 This volume provides a detailed and thorough study of music of the Bohemian Baroque. Rawson’s understanding of the complex, blended culture of the time and place is noteworthy and provides an ideal backdrop for the discussion of the musical practices and repertoire. Moreover, his nuanced discussion of the role assumed by the church in the region and the Catholic appropriation of local, Czech styles and traditions illuminates the climate in which much of the sacred repertoire was composed, learned, and performed. The one inadequacy of the book is the lack of a central narrative; the individual chapters read like individual journal articles lacking connective tissue relating one chapter to the next. Furthermore, the ordering of ideas within each chapter is not always straightforward, and the transitions from one idea to the next are often rather abrupt, issues exacerbated by the inconsistent formatting of subheadings.

7.2 Despite the organizational shortfalls, Rawson successfully dispels the three myths regarding Czech music of the Baroque presented in the introduction. First of all, the vast and varied repertoire considered in Rawson’s book, as well as his documentation of the active cultivation of musical education and extensive instrumental instruction, proves beyond a doubt that the Baroque period was surely not a “dark period” for Czech music. The use of the Czech language by composers and librettists and in sacred and secular contexts, even in the same piece, clearly demonstrates that German did not simply replace the Czech language in this period. Finally, the notion of a distinct Czech musical idiom, defined by its integration of a wide variety of styles, was indeed cultivated in the early modern period, long before the nineteenth century.

Copyright © 1995-2018 Society for Seventeenth-Century Music. All Rights Reserved.