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Valerius Otto (1579 - after 1612)
Prague Dances

F10088   [8595017408823]
TT- 54:32   released 9/1998

Newe Paduanen, Galliarden, Intraden und Currenten, Nach Englischer und Frantzösischer Art (1611) - selection

1/ Paduana    3:56
2/ Galliarda    1:34
3/ Intrada    2:30
4/ Currenta    1:25
  9/ Paduana    4:19
10/ Galliarda    1:59
11/ Galliarda    1:38
12/ Intrada    1:11
13/ Currenta    1:21
14/ Currenta    1:17
19/ Paduana    2:42
20/ Galliarda    1:35
21/ Isabella    1:49
22/ Currenta    1:21
5/ Paduana    2:20
6/ Galliarda    1:53
7/ Intrada    1:13
8/ Currenta    1:50
15/ Paduana    3:38
16/ Galliarda    2:13
17/ Intrada    1:18
18/ Currenta    1:49
23/ Paduana    3:23
24/ Galliarda    1:55
25/ Intrada    1:40
26/ Currenta    1:42




Antiquarius Consort Praga

Václav Návrat, violin, artistic leader
Simona Pešková, violin
Lýdie Ladová, barokní viola
Petr Hejný, viola da gamba
Hana Fleková, viola da gamba
Ondřej Štajnochr, violone
Marek Špelina, recorders
Martina Lesná, recorders
Aleš Bárta, harpsichord
Přemysl Vacek, theorbo
Pavel Plánka, percussion
     a = 415 Hz

The musician and composer Valerius Otto was born on 25th July 1579 in Leipzig to a family of a teacher employed at the local church of St Thomas. All we know about his life is gleaned from a few period sources. We know that in the summer of 1592 heenrolled with his brother at Leipzig university. In the spring of 1609 Otto received an "author's" fee from the Leipzig town council for a composition he had written for them. He doubtless began composing before this time, however. As a musician he entered the services of Georg Ludwig von Leuchtenberg. In the introduction to his printed collection Newe Paduanen, Galliarden, Intraden und Currenten, Nach Englischer und Frantzösischer Art , the only surviving and complete collection of his works containing a total of 62 compositions for five voices, published in Leipzig in 1611, Valerius Otto introduces himself as an "organist in the Prague Old Town, at the Church of Our Lady before Tyn". It is from here that we have the only written source indicating that he worked at this Prague church at the beginning of the 17th century. Otto's specific role here, however, cannot be determined. We can only surmise that he played in this church, evidently during German Lutheran divine services. But how long he lived in the city and whether he was paid for his services, is unknown. Otto accompanied his employer, the Leuchtenberg landgrave, on many journeys throughout Europe, however, he probably did not return to Leipzig. He sold his house here through a lawyer in October 1611. He died some time after 1612. Otto's instrumental works have survived in certain other collections from a later period. An entablature of his works may be found in a German tablature manuscript from 1619. The anthology of the Allegrezza musicale , published in 1620 in Frankfurt, contains, among other things, seven pavanes , one intrada and one courante by Otto. His organ canzona is contained in a manuscript codex from the mid?17th century housed today in the Minorite monastery in Vienna.

Playing with Dancing Pearls
     Every culture during a certain era is a game. A game with set rules, a game plan, an environment created so that it may be played, and players who respect the game's order which conditions its existence.
     Let's now look at the collection by Valerius Otto Newe Paduanen, Galliarden, Intraden und Currenten, Nach Englischer und Frantzösischer Art (1611) as a surviving document on the possibilities of playing such a game. Its written notation is merely a kind of playing scheme. There are 62 dances divided into four categories, complete groups labelled pavane, galliard, intrada and courante . According to the period customs of the German dance suite, they could be freely interchanged, but a certain order had to be maintained (i.e. pavane, galliard, intrada, courante ) and dances of the same name could be repeated as desired. All dances are for five voices but could be performed using any sensible combination of string or wind instruments existing at that time. It was also common to add other instruments as well: various kinds of percussion and strumming instruments or keyboard instruments (lute, theorbo, harpsichord, organ). These instruments, capable of playing chords, could be used in two ways: as a basso sequente following the precise melody of one or more instruments, or the basso continuo playing chords, whilst the musician had to work out the melodic part himself. Just from the mere description of the complexities involved, it is clear that to produce a musical form of these dances by Valerius Otto requires the solution to the problem of achieving a specific, real performance. Certainly, the phrase "to play music" does not mean merely using certain movements to produce sounds on an instrument. It contains the supposition of a whole system of relations between the concepts of "what" to play, "how" to play it and "why" to play it like that...
     Now I would like to define these open issues as a confrontation of two views of the world which are welded together in contemporary culture. The modern performer would probably approach these dances by applying performance practices in use today ? instruments which are fashionable now, the method of playing them, certain technical and expressional means such as playing in high registers and using intensive vibrato, and remaining absolutely faithful to each note written by the composer. I am sure that this method of interpretation would signify a true caricature and violation of the image of these dances which, according to the rules of the game at that time, required a rich, creative approach to the performance. I now quote from the book by Hermann Hesse Das Glasperlenspiel : "Pilgrims to the Land of the East shared in their fresh views of the essence of our culture and the possibilities of its further existence, not, however, so much with scientific?analytical approaches as with their ability magically to enter remote eras and cultural relations, an ability rooted in old, secret practices. They included in their number, for example, musicians and singers who are reputed to have been able to reproduce a piece of music created during former epochs with a purity known only to times gone by [...] And this occurred at a time when the desire for dynamics and intensification overruled all aspects of the performance and when, with focus on the conductor's role and his "conception" of the work, the music itself was almost forgotten". This purity means above all style purity which itself presupposes spiritual purity. If an interpretation is a true account of the work, then it would bewise if the performer really were able to communicate with his audience and learn to understand everything which the composer wanted to say. He thus needs to respect the rules of the game which, if won, would result in a sensational piece of music. This is the post-modern point of view which respects the "order" of natural things that feel piety towards games which have been long in existence; this view honours perfection and has the information that it truly existed...
     The modern performer applies one set of rules which he learned in school and which he abides by all his life and for all types of music. (I think that, for this method, he ought to be writing his own music). The post-modern performer takes the instruments most suitable for each type of music, he studies the language and rules of each period game and in school he only learns to keep on learning. The era of Valerius Otto comes much closer to this second conception. At that time the artist was much more the creator than he would be today. He was, in fact, a composer on the podium. Part of the game proposed by the composer in notated form was the assumption that the performer would complete the work with ornamentation, variations and passages in such a way as to establish his personality as a divining rod and indicator of the atmosphere in the hall. At the same time, this openness allowed a work, or particularly a dance, to be performed for an almost unlimited length of time, but always slightly differently, according to the conditions and purpose for which it served. (In this sense, in early music the repetition symbol always signifies the possibility of variation and also the proficiency required to carry it off). Expertise was highly desirable for a performance of Valerius Otto's dances since, in their complexity, they were aimed at truly capable performers. It is almost certain thatthey were written for the concert hall rather than society dances, although the latter shouldn't be ruled out. What is interesting here is that the "dance character" is probably only a pretext for a spiritual game with notes where the simplicity of the rhythmical model of a particular dance guarantees the reception of any of its variations by the audience who thus would understand even a more complicated composition as a positive development of a wholly comprehensible model. The astuteness of a creator applying his individuality to an already existing hypnotic model which acts reliably on the audience, is the principle of an artist who never passes his era by. (Analogies for this type of game plan may be found in contemporary classical music, for example, the tango by Astor Piazzola). When I was musing over the possibilities of the performances captured on this record, I became aware that the oscillation between two poles could cause considerable problems for the interpretation: between the use of features emphasising the character of the dance - namely percussion instruments which evoke the presence of the fundamental rhythmical dance model, and the artistic, complex features rooted in the further development of the creative possibilities hidden in Otto's music: the instrumentation by the melodic instruments and the complement to the notes in the form of ornaments and variations. As with every type of creativity, the law of "uroboric" unity also applies here. The further one is submerged in complexity, the more important it is to find a way to anchor oneself in simplicity. And the last circle of this return spiral is the explanation of the validity of the rules which determine the authenticity of the work, which is the aim in this case: Just as this text is a means to express thoughts on the more profoundcontexts of the development of the world - unacceptable in a different situation - the interpretation of any kind of music in a specific period is only a justification for bringing out the feelings of a performer who wants to move people who feel the same way, people who have similar emotive requirements of music. At the same time, the modern musician, like his audience, have in their heads the whole development of music which can be heard today - from the depressing serious music of realistic existentialism to pop music. Therefore, the original interpretation of early music certainly cannot exist in the proud knowledge that it is absolutely authentic. It is performed by people who have certain emotive requirements of the technical age. But this is about something else, however. Gaining satisfaction from the understanding that the measure of doubt decreases when we discover it is really only possible to be creative with the familiar. In this sense the Antiquarius ensemble does mean "antiquarian" but its interpretation includes more the idea of "anti-modernism", namely a way of thinking which allows even those smallest fragments of innovation to penetrate the brain via a sensitivity open to the nuances of play during any period.
     And what is the spiritual aspect of performance such as this? To find purity of perception which leads to a life of wisdom without dogmatism. Only then will each spiritual performance signify a "chosen, symbolic form of the quest for perfection" (Hermann Hesse).

Václav Návrat

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