THE CANTUS FIGURALIS AT THE BŘEVNOV-BROUMOV ARCHABBEY To describe, even approximately, the character of the Baroque and Pre-Classical music of the Břevnov–Broumov (Breunau–Braunau) Archabbey in a single CD is surely unrealistic. The amount of preserved music is truly huge. Consequently, our recording is rather only a probe into this extremely rich material. Since an imposing, large organ (built by the Silesian Tobias Meissner) was used in the Břevnov basilica from the end of the 1790s onwards, we have selected music for this ‘royal’ instrument as the basis of our recording, but have included several liturgical chamber pieces as well. We naturally made our selection either straight from music preserved in the archives of both houses or from works of composers active in Benedictine houses in Bohemia, Silesia, and southern Germany.
In the days when the printing of books (and sheet music) was very expensive, organists themselves ‘produced’ books of collected works for organ, in which they copied practical, special-purpose, and also renowned contemporaneous compositions. Many of these books were made in monasteries; among the famous ones are the set from the Franciscan friary in Vienna and from the Benedictine abbey at Ottobeuren, Bavaria. So far, unfortunately, no similar book related to Břevnov or Broumov (in northeast Bohemia) has been found. We have, however, recorded several compositions from the collection for the organ at Ochsenhausen Abbey. With few exceptions, this collection, the Ochsenhauser Orgelbuch, contains music for dancing and galant pieces. Considering that the music is intended for the Ochsenhausen organ built by Joseph Gabler (only a few years later than Meissner’s organ at Břevnov) and that it even states the exact registers of the individual compositions, it is most likely that these dance compositions were really played on the organ, probably to accompany the liturgy. (Concerts as we know them today did not yet exist.) Thanks to a certain similarity between the two instruments it has been possible to carry out precisely some of the instructions about registers from this collection on the refurbished Břevnov organ.
The only collection from the Břevnov holdings, which we can, with some reservations, consider an ‘Orgelbuch’ related to Meissner’s organ, is the printed publication of divertimentos (actually sonatas) by Georg Christoph Wagenseil (1715–1777), the most important Pre-Classical composer of Vienna. Although both the four-movement Divertimento in F Major and the Larghetto in A minor are intended originally for harpsichord, it is safe to assume, considering the collection was originally kept in the choir of the Břevnov church, that some of the suitable parts were played in the choir in those days.
The Benedictine priest from the St Nicholas Abbey in the Old Town, Prague, Gunther Wenceslas Jacob (1685–1734) was among the most popular local composers, and in the Benedictine Order he was surely an authority. Evidence of this is the many times his name is cited in contemporaneous inventories, and the relatively large number of extant compositions by him. Born in Krajková (Gossengrün) near what is today Sokolov, in the Carlsbad region, Jacob studied theology at Prague and composition with the Prague composers Poppe and J. I. F. Vojta, and achieved renown throughout central Europe. His obituary at Broumov calls him ‘insignis componista’ (distinguished composer). His ‘Dialogus valedictorius inter Jesum et Mariam’ is an extraordinarily expressive picture of Jesus parting with His mother before going off to His death. The form of this miniature oratorio is unique in the music of Bohemia or indeed anywhere else, and demonstrates the originality and invention of the composer. The composition was preserved in the Benedictine abbey at Rajhrad (Groß Raigern), south Moravia, whereas the dramatic bass aria for Pentecost, ‘Factus est repente’, was part of the Broumov archive collection.
It would be fair to consider Johann Valentin Rathgeber (1682–1750) Jacob’s German counterpart. A Benedictine from the abbey at Banz, Bavaria, this extraordinarily prolific composer published in his lifetime a vast amount of music that was light and easy to perform and listen to. His collections of hymns for all liturgical occasions are preserved not only in Břevnov and Broumov but also in great numbers throughout central Europe. Less well known are his compositions for organ, which are, despite or precisely because of its simplicity, very lively. From the collection 60 Schlag–Arien (Sixty arias for keyboard instruments) we have selected several pieces which superbly demonstrate the wealth of timbre of the Břevnov organ.
The composers of some pieces will unfortunately probably always remain anonymous. That is particularly true of the delightful aria ‘Alma Redemptoris Mater’ from the 1750s, which is preserved in the collections of the Broumov monastery. Even more regrettable, however, is the loss of the majestic Fugue in D minor, which is surely one of the best-ever organ compositions from the Bohemian Lands. Though it has no direct relation to the Břevnov organ, we include it here as an illustration of an organ fugue from Bohemia, which is typical of compositions for this instrument.
Reading through the catalogue of the collection of the archabbey, one is struck by the unusual, somewhat mysterious similarity between the names of two musicians working in the same period: Josef Mentzel and Erasmus Mentschel (d. 1758). The former was an organist at the Basilica of St Margaret, and left us the lively Sinfonia in D major (1762), the introduction to an oratio gratulatoria for Abbot Bedřich (Friedericus) Grundmann. Part of his missa solemnis is the powerful Fugue in C Major, which we present here transcribed for organ. Another mystery is why this fugue is the same as the final chorus of the oratorio Filius prodigus, attributed to František Xaver Brixi. Mentschel was a member of the same monastery, but worked as the choirmaster of the monastery church in Wahlstatt, Silesia (today Legnickie Pole, Poland). His almost sprightly Sonata in E flat for organ was made by rewriting the orchestral sinfonia to the German oratorio Abrahams Opfer (Abraham’s Sacrifice).