ARTA Records - 2HP Production - ARTA Music cz en

THE CARNIVAL HAS ARRIVED (Czech Folk Carnival, c. 1680)
RITORNELLO, MICHAEL POSPÍŠIL

 


F10085    [8595017408526]
TT - 56:12     released 9/1998

      1. Fools' Battalion   1:07
      2. A Villager Invites His Friend to the Carnival      3:15
      3. Proportio   2:30
      4. Here Come the Swedes   1:55
      5. Alia (Polonica)   1:23
      6. Hey, Hey,  Let's Be Merry   3:46
      7. At the Village Fair  (I)  3:08
      8. At the Village Fair (II)  3:00
      9. The Gherkins   3:26
      10. The Song about the Reprobate Housekeeper   6:05
      11. Bergomask - Proportio   2:45
      12. Where Are You? Come Here, Janek   3:08
      13. She Kept on Walking   1:06
      14. Lilia mia, cor mio - Variatio - Proportio 3:23
      15. The Devil Gave Me This Counsel   4:53
      16. Sarabanda   1:19
      17. Women's Psalter   2:19
      18. Czech Villagers Sing about Their Woes   2:33
      19. The Cow-Herd's Song   2:41
      20. At Our Barta's House   1:45

Ritornello, Michael Pospíšil
Miloš Valent - violin, viola, vocal, drum
Jan Mikušek - dulcimer, vocal
Jan Novotný - recorder, violone, drum, choir
Tomáš Najbrt - lute, theorbo, Baroque guitar, hurdy-gurdy, small-pipe, bagpipe, choir
Vladimír Roubal - chamber organ, spinet, choir
Michael Pospíšil - vocal, cornett, dulcian, chamber organ, drum
Marek Štryncl - violoncello, chamber organ, spinet, drum, choir

The most complete picture of the celebration of the carnival during the time we now call the Baroque, has paradoxically survived in monasterial collections. One of the many remnants of pagan customs which originally served to appease various deities (like the Christmas or Easter carol) was tolerated in monasteries, but not particularly welcomed. The almost folkloristic, frequently inaccurately transcribed melodies and texts, originally folk music or created as such, were completed by a "professional" - an organist accompanied by 2 Violini and Organo seu Viola (i.e. continuous bass). He would set the key, rhythm and harmony to the songs, often written using indecipherable notation, thus indicating to us that these songs were also part of the monasterial repertoire. Period concert programmes, the rule of the celebration of the Bacchanalia, documents, the content and form of the compositions and the repertoire all eloquently express the fact that these songs were regularly performed. The litany Ba/c/chus, the Culpable and the Women's Psalter directly follow on from forms intimately familiar to the holy orders. During the 18th century the Slovak Roskovsky went even further: His Vesperae Bacchanales, or bacchanalian vespers, were composed as a parody of the strict form of the vesperal breviary and for those who otherwise prayed according to the breviary 365 times a year, he composed with dazzling humour a little musical game for the eve of Lent: a tribute to the patron saint of all feasting. For those who do not recognise the stereotype nor do they understand the original texts and their ingenious, however brutal anagrams, the vespers may appear in bad taste since they cannot comprehend them.
     If some people call music the breathing of the Soul, thenessential sustenance should similarly be given to the Body. Breathing involves drawing in air and breathing out again and, if we bear in mind the time and measure, there is no reason that the Carnival (Lent) should not also be part of Christian life. The carnival (from carni-vale, "farewell to meat") signalled the beginning of the journey towards the Resurrection via a forty-day fast with the mid-Lent period occurring on Laetare Sunday. It provided a greater contrast to the close proximity of Shrovetide and Lent (the period of fasting), so desired during the Baroque. In Germany, carousing began as early as the autumn, in this country at the end of November, before Advent which introduced a few weeks of self?restraint before Christmas Day; Shrovetide (carnival) itself culminated 3 - 6 days before Ash Wednesday. Feasting, drinking bouts, serenades, masked processions, public and private theatre performances all set the scene for safe criticism of that which otherwise could not be mentioned, as they do today. During the Italian Carnevale, whole bands of Pulcinelli ran out into the streets, little buffoons with blunt carpet?beaters at their sides instead of swords. During this time everything was turned upside down: the sovereign was dubbed a fool and the most wretched of the wretched was named king. Fascinating! Even our Baroque preachers ranted in their postils (collections of sermons and interpretations of readings from the Gospel) about how the period of fasting would be spent by those whose life was one long carnival.
     The selection of songs on this recording represents only a fragment of what was possible to reconstruct. We created for ourselves a kind of "story" at the table during what might be termed a mutual musical "gibe". The satirical songs pilloryvarious nuisances, the laziness of young maids, the perfidiousness of housekeepers, the dissatisfaction of wives and widows and the cantankerousness of old harridans. As is often fitting for male society, there is also an opportunity to praise the red-headed nimble little lass and even express the necessity of women in general in the drinking song "Hey, hey, let's be merry" for which no melody had been written down and only brief instructions have remained: "To be sung in the manner of Come over Here, Little Hens". Unfortunately, we are not familiar with "Come over Here, Little Hens" so we had to think up the music ourselves. This time our selection includes songs describing the preparations for feasts, recipes and so on. We had to reduce the number of verses (some of 25 and over) in order to save time, so we numbered them as they appear in the original. The planned musical notation included with the recording hopefully makes up for this deficiency. In our choice of verses we have tried to keep the story as complete as possible, however, even so, we had to abandon the colourful description of the pub brawl in No. 2, the emotional blackmail of the sleepy maid Anka in No. 12 etc.
     The entrée into the heart of the masquerade is supplied by Fatalia blazenska (a play on words using a mutilation of the word Battallia, meaning "battle" or "skirmish", with "blazenska" meaning "fools'"), a moresca of Polish origin which, of course, appears in the international repertoire and has certainly been performed in a similar guise in this country. Originally a sword dance of madmen and fools decorated with small bells, it has always been a hit with audiences. Similar instrumental hits are woven in amongst the sequence of songs. We do not have the complete text for the popular song with its Polish and Czech incipit (Netakes mý mluwel / Kdy bych ja byl wedel) written inthe style of H. F. I. Biber, which, like that of the bergomask and other famous melodies, depicts the march of (inebriated?) musketeers as they stride into battle in their Battallia - 10. We then allow ourselves to wander through various associations to the veteran's narration of rampaging Swedish soldiers during the Thirty Years' War (No. 4) and the composition for lute by Jan Stobae called Alia (Polonica) from 1642, strongly reminiscent of the Czech song "I, a simple hussar", a fact which need not be coincidental. We will find a more detailed description of rampaging soldiery in the novel Simplicius Simplicissimus by H. J. von Grimmelshausen (1666). We divided the naturalistic image of the rural village fair (Nos. 7 & 8) into two parts. We added a D minor melody from a newer edition of the song to the verses about killing animals. The remaining verses describing the preparation of cakes and the illegal appropriation of one of them we set beneath a melody in G major for which two parts for violin and continuous bass were added around the year 1678. The quaint account of gherkin poisoning uncommonly corresponds to an entry in Matthioli's popular herbarium, however, the phrase occurring at the close of the piece, "frivolous fruit is not always a thankful guest", certainly suggests something more grave. We preceded the song about the reprobate housekeeper with a small improvised passacaglia in an attempt to complete the gloomy portrayal of a desolate village priest - an intellectual who voluntarily gives up his comforts provided by a housekeeper. The pargamaska, pagamoshka or, more correctly, the bergamasca (bergomask) was familiar to just about everyone at that time. Biber's musketeers marched to its melody in the above mentioned "battle", V. K. Holan Rovensky adapted it into a song about St Joseph in his hymn book (1693) and even F. X. Brixi encounters it in his school play Erat unum cantor bonus (before 1769!). We thus improvised short variations together, as was customary for the time. The equally popular song "Lilia mia, cor mio", composed above an ostinato passamezzo bass part somewhat recalls the world of Claudio Monteverdi, his psalm "Beatus vir" (1641) or the madrigal "Chioma d'oro". Adam Vaclav Michna used the second part of the song with three beats to the bar to caricature the cries of the foolish virgins in the thirteenth song "Czech Lutes" (1653). The piano variations on "Lilia mia" come from the Merry Miscellany from Levoca, with a significant proportion from the Vietoris Codex. The style of song no. 15, "The Devil Gave Me This Counsel", already provides echoes of the 19th century and so, apart from various kinds of accompaniment, we allowed ourselves to consign the last stanza containing a moral resumé after the preceding, rather ribald verses, to the "company of Kocourkov teachers". The sarabande (No. 16) from the Vietoris Codex is probably meant as a more lively composition, however, we made use of the similarity of its beautiful melody and used it as the overture to the Women's Psalter, in other words, as a kind of "funeral march". We interpret the following song as the friendly ribbing of two neighbours and a wife's reflections upon her situation as a widow. The song has survived in part in the Premonstratensian monastery at Strahov (text, 1st voice) and partly in the Kladruby archives (2nd violin, Organo seu Viola). The "Song of Czech Peasants" is strongly reminiscent of folk music from Terchova, so we also adapted the accompaniment to suit the musical style, as with another piece, this time the robber's song (No. 19). The fact that it contains a description of the quashed Jánošík rebellion makes the song somewhat daring. According to an entry in the Košetice miscellany at Strahov, P. Vaclav Matej Steyer S. J., an educated and self-sacrificing preacher, the reputedly respected editor of the largest Czech Baroque hymn book (1683), author of a postil (1691) and even the publisher of certain works by the otherwise inaccessible J. A. Comenius, composed highly spirited texts for the "Bacchanalia" (c. 1684) to the melody of this song and others. In fact, the popular song about the poor, ragged and dirty yet contented bagpiper Barta suggests a much harsher world: the song exists in its Hungarian variant.
     To reproduce a carnival song on the concert platform or on CD is not an easy task if authenticity is our major concern. Three things have to be considered in this case: the sense, the method used and time. The first attempts above all to find and capture the idea and the mood of the reproduced work - for example, if spiritual music is performed as part of a church service or if people are dancing to dance music. The second arises chiefly from the material and then the musical prerequisites: the original instrumentation, the written music, the instruments, the performers chosen, the tuning, temperature, phrasing, ornamentation, articulation, pronunciation etc. And the third is omnipresent during live performances - the mutual reaction of performer and public (even this is subject to change!). From this point of view, we can only understand each recording as a document of the momentary state of something and only on this level are we able to communicate with it. The songs themselves, no matter how "coarse" they are, are not tasteless. The border between taste and tastelessness is determined by the situation itself and the objective which, with these songs, we can always specify with some kind of moral conclusion (even if this does not always occur at the end of the composition - these songs kept being "added on"). We tried to simulate the environment in which these songs lived - for example, on the streets, in pubs, refectories, at the close of the fasting period - each then has to complete the musical coulisses himself. The carnival could thus take the form of a serenade in which songs reeking of manure can with impunity encounter other (would-be) elegant, if a little rough hewn, melodies in order that they make us better and purer, like real anecdotes.

Michael Pospíšil 

© 2HP Production, October 2017
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