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Jan Ignác František Vojta (2nd half of the 17th century)
Musicus salutaris

   F1 0141  [8595017414121]   released 5/2006

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J.I.F.Vojta, the doctor of medicine was contemporary of the famous Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. Apart from notes in the university records, written in his own hand, we have no other primary-source information about him. Vojta was the house physician of the Benedictines at the Church of St Nicholas in the Old Town, and he lived in the Tyn quarter, near Tomas Baltazar Janovka. In his day, he was a recognized composer with his own pupils. Just how prolific a composer Vojta was, we don’t know. We have knowledge only of 27 of his compositions, of which only seven survive – in Brno, Prague, Vienna, and Paris. All are recorded on this album.

La Gambetta
Elen Machova – violin, viola, viola da gamba, Vera Mikulaskova – viola da gamba, Monika Knoblochova – harpsichord, Miloslav Student – archlute
Hana Blazikova – soprano, Marta Fadjevicova – soprano, Hasan El-Dunia – alto, Marek Olbrzymek – tenor, Michael Pospisil – bass
Karel Mnuk – Baroque trumpet, Jaroslav Roucek – Baroque trumpet, Martin Kalista – violin, Chiara Granata – triple harp, Pietro Prosser – calichon, Baroque guitar, Dennis Brauer Iversen – violone, Adam Viktora – organ positive, Petr Kalousek – Baroque kettle drums


In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, Prague was truly a great power in church music. A large number of churches and monasteries were concentrated here in what is a relatively small area. Each tried to outdo the other in the composition and performance of music. Vocal-instrumental music penetrated Prague society so deeply that it became an integral part of every social event. It was mainly Jesuits and Piarists who educated their pupils in music, in order to ensure that they had enough high-quality musicians to perform music in the churches.

Like his contemporary, the famous Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704), Jan Ignác František Vojta de Nigro Sylva came out of the musical tradition of the Jesuit school system in Bohemia. He received his primary education and training in music at the Jesuit seminary of St Wenceslas in the Old Town of Prague. There he received a thorough training in Latin, grammar, poetics, and rhetoric, as well as stylistic and rhetorical skill. This education, crowned by the study of logic, physics, and metaphysics at Prague University, is reflected also in Vojta’s compositions. He received his bachelor’s degree on 20 May 1677. On 26 June he became a doctor of medicine. Apart from notes in the university records, written in his own hand, we have no other primary-source information about him. Vojta was the house physician of the Benedictines at the Church of St Nicholas in the Old Town, and he lived in the Týn quarter, near Tomáš Baltazar Janovka. In his day, he was a recognized composer with his own pupils. Vojta’s compositions were greatly appreciated also by the Abbot of Břevnov (then a suburb of Prague). Just how prolific a composer Vojta was, we don’t know. We have knowledge only of 27 of his compositions, of which only seven survive – in Brno, Prague, Vienna, and Paris. All are recorded on this CD.

We would emphasize the importance of Vojta’s triptych sonatas. They are the earliest known violin sonatas by a Czech composer. They have been preserved in a copy in a manuscript volume of violin compositions in the music archive of the Minorite convent in Vienna. The volume, dating from the end of the seventeenth century, contains 102 sonatas for violin and figured bass, written by important composers of that time. Vojta’s sonatas are in the manuscript volume under nos. 70, 71, and 72, and are numbered separately 1 to 3. The first and second sonata has the scordatura b, f# ´, b´, e´´, the third is c´, g´, c´´, f ´´. In terms of music and technical difficulty the sonatas can easily compete with works by the most important composers of that period and others. They are examples of the outstanding technical and compositional level of Prague violinists of the late seventeenth century. The use of various tunings for violins was extremely popular in the second half of the seventeenth century. The best known examples are Biber’s Rosenkranz-Sonaten (Mystery Sonatas), in which he uses different scordature to achieve the best expression of the affekt suitable for that part of the rosary. With Vojta’s sonatas this aspect of scordatura is equally important, and one can even demonstrate a meta-musical structure. The scordatura in itself is a powerful means of expression, and Vojta employs it masterfully.

In the Baroque, various secret games and hidden messages were very popular. The cultural language of the Baroque comprises obscure hints and other signs, which are different from today’s flood of emotions in the age of mass media. The symbolism of numbers and words was widely used. By that I don’t mean only the transparent communication of pictorial ideas. Rather, I mean the linking of sounds, figures, and melodic lines with the meaning of mystical ideas and feelings. In any case, there were many ways to sneak them in beneath the surface of the concretely audible other messages, which people understood as wisdom or a meditational and spiritual anchoring. To reveal the coded messages of this music is usually much more difficult than it seems at first sight. Many such messages have already been revealed and interpreted. Vojta’s works are also interesting for their use of symbolic language, giving the music another level of meaning, which can be deciphered with the help of the hinted-at keys. In this respect the introductory parts of the first violin sonatas are extremely interesting, as is the use of the key of b-minor.

The first sonata is in the scordatura b, f#´, b´, e´´ and is written in the usual fingering notation. The beginning of the sonata is immediately striking owing to the gradual use of the first three harmonic tones, that is, a sort of a triple diminution of the interval. At the same time, there is also a triple rhythmical diminution. The first melodic phrase is in two bars, the second in one bar and the third in half a bar, in other words, again a triple diminution, while the composer uses at the top of the first phrase the minor third of b–d ornamented with diminutions. The introductory melody has a range of three octaves. Three octaves, three phrases, three diminutions. That should demonstrate the number symbolism – the Trinity. From the technical side of violin playing, almost all the means of the period are used here. The basic affekt of the sonata is expressed in the first bar by the direction of the melody heading to the heavens and with perfect intervals of an octave, a fifth, and a forth, which have a shared affekt – joy, daring, dauntlessness, valour. The second part of the sonata begins with the second group of the introductory phrase and has three types of movement. The third part begins with the third group of the introductory phrase and is in ¾ time. The subsequent presto movement is interrupted three times with a great affekt by two-bar tardissimo additions. The number three, then, plays the decisive role here.

The second sonata is in the same key and scordatura as the first sonata. In the introduction of the first sonata Vojta used a range of three octaves, but in the second sonata he needs only a minor third to express the basic affekt. He begins on the open string with a half-note, the tonic of b´, then comes the tonic again on the adjacent string, which thereby causes the maximum resonance of the instrument. In the second bar the tension of dissonances is increased – with a major second developed into a minor third, immediately creating great tension in the introductory bars. The basic affekt of the sonata is expressed in the first bar by enclosing the melody in a minor third, which is, according to Baroque theory, painful, mournful, plaintive. Also the major second only halfway into the first bar expresses pathos, which corresponds to the affekt in the B-minor key. The following presto section has 35 bars. The use of the odd number of bars seems conspicuous. It is intended to express confusion, disruption, pain.

The third sonata is in the scordatura c´, g´, c´´, f´´. By choosing the C-major scale Vojta has emphasized the more joyful, festive, and carefree nature of the sonata. The form of the introductory part now aims towards a certain regularity. The regular form is disrupted by elements typical of Vojta – free cadence in the bass and repeating cadence in the piano.

Why triptych sonatas? A look at these three sonatas by Vojta makes one think that they have to do with the unity of the Trinity. In the first sonata the symbol for the number three predominates, connected with the use of a perfect interval, it looks like the symbol of pure love, from which Jesus originates. By contrast, the second sonata indicates the suffering of the Son of God all the way to His crucifixion. Order, joy, and the ceremony of the resurrection are symbolized in the third sonata. Vojta therefore presents the life of Jesus Christ as a triptych. That is why I propose calling the sonata cycle triptych sonatas, presenting a complementary work to Biber’s Rosenkranz-Sonaten.

From the end of the seventeenth century Moravia was almost an exclusively Roman Catholic land and artistic music served chiefly the religious needs of the Roman Catholic Church here. The practice of music in the choir lofts required the continuous supply of new compositions. Matthias Franz Altmann (d. 1718), music master at Petrov and at St James’s in Brno, left to the Church of St James a rare collection of about 1,500 compositions, as many as 200 of which have been preserved. He was in close touch with musicians from Vienna, Rome, and other centres of music. In this collection we also find two compositions by Vojta – Arietta Cordialis de S: Joanne Nepomuceno and Cantus dulcisonus: Anima mea dilecta.

Arietta Cordialis de S: Joanne Nepomuceno was made long before the process of the beatification of John Nepomucene began in 1715, the Brno copy is dated 1706. The strophic composition with a solemn introductory sonata uses a rich instrumentation. This is the only known composition in the Czech milieu at that time to mention the harp explicitly in an instruction and, moreover, to use Czech within a Latin sentence. The harp is mentioned here as an alternative to the repetition of the sonata loco sonatae potest percutti harfa. It is safe to assume that the Arietta was heard also at renowned festivities on the river Vltava near the Charles Bridge, Prague.

Cantus dulcissonus, Anima mea Dilecta appears in the Altmann collection under the abbreviation Wta. A comparison of the notes in the inventories of Slaný and Rajhrad demonstrates that Vojta is the composer. From the purely musical side, the composition is of interest particularly owing to its arioso. And the affekt of the key used, when compared with the text of the cantata, tells us much about Vojta’s musical thinking. The period description of the key of E-flat major (Johann Mattheson, 1713) “has in certain circumstances something so sharply divisive, suffering, and trenchant, that it cannot be compared with anything but the fatal separation of the body and the soul” (Psalm 42:5)

The Parthia amabilis (1680) has been preserved in a copy in Paris in a manuscript collection of sonatas of German and Italian provenance known by the name of “Rost.” The collection was compiled and written down by Franz Rost (d. 1688). Under the number 151, the codex contains Vojta’s composition for two violins and continuo: Suitte – à 2 Violin. Verstimbt Auth. D. Woita pragensi, called in the basso continuo part Partia amabilis, and is probably identical to the lost work recorded in Osek (Ossegg), north Bohemia. The first violin is in the scordatura b, f#´, b´, e´´, the second violin (viola) in the scordatura e, b, e´, b´. The part of the second violin contains the comment: “Dass zweyte Violin muss der lieblichkheit halber auff einer Brazzen gespielt werden.” This part is noted in a very interesting way: in the violin fingering one reads in the scordatura b, f#´, b´, e´´, but it is played on the viola da braccio in the scordatura e, b, e´, b´.

The full title of the Threnodia hujus temporis reads: “A threnody about our times, because the exiled truth was driven away from here, from the palaces, look at King Antiochus, from the learned, look at the philosopher Anaximander, from the rich, look at Croesus, and also from the young, who indulged in lies.” Its allegorical, secular, in fact non-church text is very interesting.

On this CD the following instruments were used in the basso continuo: a positive, a virginal, a viola da gamba, a violone, an archlute, a calichon (also called in Czech the galizona), a Baroque guitar, and a Baroque triple harp. The choice is based on the availability of instruments in the Lands of the Bohemian Crown about 1700. What is original here is the use of the Baroque triple harp and the calichon. From the most recent research in music history and Pietro Prosser´s playing on the calichon on our CD, it follows that the earliest mention of the calichon and also of its repertoire comes from the Bohemian basin and Moravia. It was here that the instrument was invented, probably in the late seventeenth century, and it was also here that it became very widespread. With five strings it is constructed much like the lute. With its lower range it is well suited for playing the basso continuo. It is therefore suitable and logical to use it in conjunction with the harp, and sometimes the lute, since the two instruments complement one another well. In the Bohemian Lands the harp was also frequently used, which is demonstrated by real harps in the hands of angels on organs. Some of the most eloquent evidence of the use of the harp and the calichon at that time is testimony from the Premonstratensian convent at Hradisko near Olomouc (see Jiří Sehnal): “sweet music on the violin, harp, gamba, calichon, and violone” and “at lunch there was playing on two violins, the harp, the calichon, the gamba, and violone” (1693). In making this recording of Czech music from the end of the seventeenth century, both these typically Czech instruments were used for the very first time.

Jiri Kveton

© 2HP Production, January 2018
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