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AWAKE, SHEPHERDS!  (Probuďte se, pastuškové!)
Czech and Moravian Christmas music of the 18th century


F10284   [8595017428425]   released 11/2023 

Victoria Ensemble, artistic leader Viktorie Kaplanová

Viktorie Kaplanová: soprano; Michaela Králová: alt; Jarmila Vantuchová: alto 
Ondřej Benek: tenor; Štěpán Pokorný: bass; Martin Vacula: bass 
Anna Špelinová: flutes; Jan Hádek: violin; Magdalena Malá: violin
Jana Vavřínková: viola, viola d`amore; Helena Matyášová: cello
Tadeáš Mesany: double bass; Filip Dvořák: organ positive
Markéta Heřmanová: trumpet, posthorn; Jiří Tarantík: trumpet, French horn 
Jana Švadlenková: French horn; Michael Pospíšil: shepherd's horn, midnight horn

play all Probuďte se, pastuškové! 58:25
ČUJEŠ, BRATRE? Gloria 0:56
ČUJEŠ, BRATRE? Recitativo 2:44
ČUJEŠ, BRATRE? Sonata. Aria 2:14
ČUJEŠ, BRATRE? Chorus 1:20
PASTORELA NA JITŘNÍ Chval každý duch Hospodina 1:35
HEJ, ZDRYČNA, CHASO, VZHŮRU Adagio. Andante 3:01
TATO, SPÍŠ? Gloria 3:06
TATO, SPÍŠ? Aria 1:01
TATO, SPÍŠ? Recitativo 0:31
TATO, SPÍŠ? Chorus 2:41

After many years of research and preparation, my lifelong interest in the Christmas music of Czech cantors has led to the birth of this studio recording which should present a varied selection of 18th-century pastorelas and pastoral offertories from various parts of this country. These compositions, their texts and music, are in many ways quite unique and contribute significantly to a deeper understanding of the concept of Christmas at that time and of our traditions in general. I wish that they will appeal to you as much as they did to all of us who prepared this recording.

The development of the pastorela as a Christmas-themed composition is very complex and long. We can look for some kind of its beginning in Renaissance Italy, where interest in themes depicting the idyllic, simple and nature-connected life of shepherds became widespread in literature, art and music. Gradually, a literary genre came to existence and it started to be called pastorale in European languages. Already at this time, pastoral texts were being set to music, and its typical musical features - usually derived from local folk music - gradually developed. The second pan-European source is the tradition of Christmas and Advent songs both in Latin and in the national languages, dating back to the Middle Ages. Here, shepherd motifs appear as well; and they can also be found in the oldest Czech Christmas songs (i.e. in Jistebnický kancionál, etc.). The Baroque era brought great popularity to these songs and they were often written in the form of small cantatas. In the Czech environment, the first traces can be seen as early as the end of the 17th century, with texts not only in Latin but also in Czech and German. During the 18th century, pastorelas started to be popular in the Czech country and became a characteristic genre of the work of cantors and local musicians until well into the 19th century.

Although the pastorelas are obviously based on religious themes - whether it is the announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ to the shepherds, lullabies for the baby Jesus or a three-magi theme - they are also very secular in character. They are written in the national language (often very earthy), they are set in a Czech folk environment and they are noticeably influenced by the folk music of the area. Christmas pastorelas can therefore be not only a charming piece of music, but often also a valuable, if not the only, source of folk music from a time when no collections of folk songs existed. These little gems of our musical history undoubtedly deserve our attention and it applies to their authors too. They were Czech and Moravian organists, bandleaders, composers and, as a rule, teachers, who, in addition to their school duties, took care of the regular music in the choirs of rural churches. The term cantor also originated from their duty to sing in church during services. Many of them spent their entire lives in one place in poor material conditions and their musical activities were taken for granted. We often do not know much about their lives, and sometimes not even their names have survived. Fortunately, however, their compositions have been preserved and, as they are gradually being discovered in various archives and collections, they provide ever new evidence of this distinctive musical culture.

The fundamental inspiration for this recording was the two-part critical edition of Moravian Christmas Pastorelas by musicologist František Malý from 2009 and 2010, which I worked with during my first concert productions at the time of its publication. It is in this edition that we find the pastorelas "Gloria in excelsis Deo! Awake, shepherds!", "Gloria in excelsis Deo! Dad, are you asleep?", "Gloria in excelsis Deo! Hey, brothers, brothers, wake up!", "Gloria in excelsis Deo! Do you hear, brother?" and "Hear, Ondráš, what is new!", all dating from the second half of the 18th century. As the titles suggest, the first four of these cantata pastorelas have a very similar scheme. They begin with the angelic chant Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the highest), which is interrupted by the voice of the surprised or rather frightened shepherds. In the next section, the angels reassure the shepherds and announce the birth of the Messiah, the Redeemer. Then the first shepherd encourages the others to go to Bethlehem. In the final chorus, the shepherds bring gifts and worship the baby Jesus. The author of the first pastorela is Josef Schreier (1718-?), a cantor and important Moravian composer from Dřevohostice. His life is mainly connected with Bílovice near Uherské Hradiště and Slovakia, where he probably lived. The other Moravian pastorelas mentioned above, found in church collections in Moravia or the vicinity, are anonymous, but some of them are strikingly reminiscent of parts of Schreier's Christmas Mass or some of his hymns.

Link's Pastorela for the Morning Prayer is also written in a cantata form. Jiří Ignác Linek (1725-1791) is one of the most important and most prolific representatives of Czech cantor music, which can be proved by the nearly three hundred (mostly sacred) preserved compositions bearing his name. From 1747 until the end of his life he worked in Bakov nad Jizerou. He was inspired by folk melodies throughout his life and almost a quarter of his works are written in Czech language. More than 30 pastorelas have survived.

At the same time Tadeáš Pětipeský was active in Přeštice (and its vicinity). Four of his nine preserved pastorelas are dated and they fall into the period between 1850s and 1870s. His sweet melodies, but also his often clumsy voice-leading and simple harmonies are typical of the rustic production of the time. For our recording we have chosen the rhythmically expressive piece Vzhůru Macku, vzhůru Tomši, a brief witty setting of only ten lines.

Rural pastoral music culminated at the turn of the 18th and 19th century in the work of the famous cantor Jakub Jan Ryba (1765-1815). About fifty of Ryba's compositions were preserved and many of them have been published and recorded. Among his Christmas pieces of smaller form on Latin text belongs the pastoral ofertorium In Betlehem eamus (To Bethlehem let us haste), which, like most of Ryba's pastorelas, has a larger instrumentation. In addition to the concertante flute and horns, there is a part of the post horn, a twisted brass instrument whose sound resembles the brilliance of a trumpet and the use of which was exceptional in the Czech environment of the time.

But pastoral work did not flourish only in the rural choirs. The name of Josef Antonín Sehling (1710-1756) is for instance linked to the metropolitan Cathedral of St. Vitus at Prague Castle and about 15 of his “natalitia” pieces have survived. In contrast to the aforementioned rural composers, Sehling had an ensemble of professional singers and instrumentalists at his disposal. His style is also much more influenced by the Italian school, thanks to his studies with Antonio Caldara in Vienna, as can be seen in his pastoral Offertorio Nova dum pastor vigilo with German insertions. But Sehling's authorship of Good Night I wish you, which, as one of the many lullaby pastorelas of its time, quotes a European migration melody known in this country as 'Sleep my little angel', is quite problematic. The 19th-century copy is indeed inscribed with his name, but firstly it would be the only Sehling's composition with a Czech text, and secondly it has a very remarkable instrumentation. The violin is written a fifth higher (it could be a five-stringed viola called a quinton) and there is also a viola d'amore part, which is quite unique in Czech pastoral production. In any case, it is a charming lullaby which concludes our journey to the Czech Christmas music of the 18th century.

Mgr. Viktorie Kaplanová

The Victoria Ensemble was founded by soprano, musicologist and choirmaster Viktoria Kaplanová in 2016. Since then, the ensemble has made its mark on the domestic professional scene. It focuses mainly on authentic interpretation of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical music, which they often combine with the possibilities of today (concerts with live digital painting, original music-drama performances with a connection to the present day, etc.). The ensemble focuses mainly on music that has been forgotten or rarely performed, and all of their activities are based on systematic musicological research. Victoria Ensemble collaborates with period dance ensembles, historical theatre and pantomime companies, and also with orchestras, conductors, contemporary composers and visual artists. The ensemble performs regularly in Czech and international concert cycles and festivals, and regularly gives contemporary concert premieres. In 2020, the ensemble, together with Musica Florea orchestra, released an album of vocal-instrumental works by Czech Baroque composer Antonín Reichenauer in a world premiere (CD Antonín Reichenauer: Missa di Requiem). It was published by Arta Music. The Victoria Ensemble, z. s. is also the organizer of the concert season and vocal music festival Voices of Three Worlds.

Viktorie Kaplanová studied Church Music Choir Conducting at the Týn School under the auspices of the Pedagogical Faculty of Charles University (BA) and Musicology at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University with a focus on Czech music of the 18th century (MA). She spent part of her studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she primarily specialised in French music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. She studied classical singing with Prof. Daniela Šounová Brouková, Prof. Jiří Kotouč and Prof. Pavla Zumrová. She has attended a number of master classes in Baroque music, opera and theatre (CZ, FR, IT, A). This passion has led her to start the Victoria Ensemble, which aims at rediscovering music lost in history and its contribution to the present day. She works with the ensemble as a solo and ensemble singer and also as its leader. As a solo singer, she is also deeply interested in art song and contemporary classical music. She is also a regular performer of French chansons and jazz (Viktorie & František Band). In 2021 she became the manager and programme director of the Voices of Three Worlds concert season.


Further recordings by Victoria Ensemble:


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