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Old Czech Carols "THE NATIVITY"
Czech Christmas Dances from Baroque Hymnals

F10103   [8595017410321]   released 10/2000

play all Jesličky, staré nové písničky - Ritornello 70:53
Všickni Věrní Křesťané 5:42
Nuž Andělíčkové 1:55
Poslyš ó Křesťané 2:51
Ó Duše má rozmilá 2:45
Jáť dám narozenému 4:14
Vítr v pusté oulici 3:15
Toto malé Děťátko 5:03
Chtíc aby spal 3:19
Ach kdož Podpal společný 4:03
Maria žal cítila 5:58
Puer natus in Bethlehem 1:39
Děťátko se narodilo 1:36
Veselme se všickni nyní 2:26
K Ježíškovi Miláčkovi 4:33
Zavítej k nám Dítě milé 4:14
Usni, usni ctné Poupátko 3:39
Ach můj milý Ježíšku 3:49
Spanilé z Archy Holubičky a) 0:54
Spanilé z Archy Holubičky b) 2:24
Děťátko rozkošné nám se narodilo 3:04
Narodil se Kristus Pán 2:44

    1. All Ye Faithful (Vsickni Verni Krestane)
    2. O Sweet Angels (Nuz Andelickove)
    3. Hear Ye, O Hear Ye! (Poslys o Krestane)
    4. O Sweetest of Souls (O Duse ma rozmila)
    5. I Shall Give the Baby (Jat dam narozenemu)
    6. The Wind on the Lonely Path (Vitr v puste oulici)
    7. The Little Child (Toto male Detatko)
    8. Wanting Him to Sleep (Chtic aby spal)
    9. The One Who Kindled the Fire (Ach kdoz Podpal spolecny)
    10. Mary Felt Sorrow (Maria zal citila)
    11. Puer natus in Bethlehem
    12. A Child Is Born (Detatko se narodilo)
    13. Let Us All Now Rejoice (Veselme se vsickni nyni)
    14. To the Lovely Christ Child (K Jeziskovi Milackovi)
    15. Welcome, Dear Child (Zavitej k nam Dite mile)
    16. Hushabye, Hushabye, Virtuous Flower (Usni, usni ctne Poupatko)
    17. O Dear Baby Jesus (Ach muj mily Jezisku)
    18. Of the Lovely Dove from the Ark, part 1 (Spanile z Archy Holubicky)
    19. Of the Lovely Dove from the Ark, part 2 (Spanile z Archy Holubicky)
    20. Unto Us a Child is Born (Detatko rozkosne nam se narodilo)
    21. Christ the King is Born (Narodil se Kristus Pan)

RITORNELLO, directed by Michael Pospíšil
Jan Mikušek - alto, hackbrett, chamber organ; Richard Sporka - tenor, percussion; Michael Pospíšil - bass, chamber organ, cornetto, chalumeux; Tomáš Najbrt - lute, theorbo, Baroque guitar, hurdy-gurdy, bagpipe, vocal; Jan Novotný - double bass, Baroque harp, traverso, recorder, vocal; Marek Štryncl - cello, chamber organ, vocal; Libor Meisl - violin, vocal

The Nativity: New Old Songs, A Baroque Rendezvous in the Year Zero

Consider this with the sensibilities of the Baroque period: a smelly stable, a cave on the edge of town, the smallest of David's cities as host to a peculiar gathering of people, a maiden not yet of age, a bachelor, dirty shepherds (somewhat dim) with their flocks, distinguished kings-wisemen-magi (now all sentimental) with their horses and retinue, an ox and an ass, and amidst it all, the One on account of whom they are all here at this place (and, in fact, are here at all). Something that might have seemed so insignificant. A baby. Probably nobody counted how many Angels got embroiled in the confusion. All because of that seemingly trifling Little Thing in the manger ,'the One whom Heaven is unable to contain'!, so goes one of the verses of the carol "Vsickni verni krestane" [All ye Faithful].

Glory and straw, frankincense and dung, myrrh and mud, gold and darkness, all the wealth of the World and all its misery, God and Man. This Little Man is the very centre of contradictions: God-Man, born in a cave, buried in a cave, the first resting place a manger, the last the Cross. How can He, who 'raiseth up the poor out of the dust and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people' (Psa. 113: 7-8), raise himself up and, later, get Himself 'down from the cross'? (Matt. 27: 42). This is no naive tale. Rather, it is about the sheer powerlessness of the powerful, which each of us will have to face one day. It is about how to cope with that powerlessness. The Galilean, born in Judea (of a Virgin and ... well, father unknown). Herod's henchmen, whom He actually drew to that place. The flight into Egypt, the land of gnats and bondage. They were furious with Him, though in essence they liked Him. One doesn't ordinarily see so many contradictions in one place. Sharp contrasts, providing the story with tension, drama, theatricality, evoking the awe-struck 'Ahhh!'. The mystical subject matter melts into the form of a home-made, intimately Baroque hymn-book: Bethlehem muck ceremoniously served up with full-fledged Baroque frills. The lyrics, redolent with the smell of the cow-shed and the composers' personal experience, are decked out in the dance hits of the day. Do something for your health, let your soul breathe and gambol!

Actually, folk music was present in all of this from the very beginning. The Annunciations, which appear twice, in 'Ave' (Luke 1: 28) and 'Nebojte se!' [Fear not!] (Luke 2:10), were probably sung precisely so that people could understand them. Or there was an interval, Quiet. That, too, is folk music. Shepherds with bagpipes - a special instrument of music-therapy for fattening the sheep quickly and for keeping the wolves at bay (as Grimmelshausen put it in his Simplicius Simplicissimus). The kings with their trumpets.

More than one Baroque 'composer' (or, if you like, intermediary or publisher) of songs about the Nativity, who was dissatisfied with himself in this world, sought a path to the next. The seventeenth-century Czech poet and composer Adam Vaclav Michna (1600-1676) may have been doing just that when he set up a foundation to look after three indigent pupils of music (1673); his contemporary and compatriot, the priest and poet Bedrich Bridel (1619-1680), when he tended victims of the Plague, of which he himself then died; the priest and poet Jan Josef Bozan (1644-1716), when he compiled his hymn-book Slavicek rajsky [Nightingale of Paradise] (published posthumously in 1719); the writer and translator Felix Kadlinsky (1613-1675), when he translated Friedrich von Spee's (1591-1635) popular Trutznachtigall from German to Czech (1665); and the organist, composer, and poet Vaclav Karel Holan Rovensky (1644-1718), by working with stone in the wilderness of the ruins of Waldstein Castle (c. 1695). All this activity appears to represent hermitages of rock, gates to the nether regions and the heavens.

Our musical story, composed of little fragments of Baroque 'carols' (koledy) also begins in Nazareth with a popular song, a lively country dance, "Vsickni verni" [All Ye Faithful], which is an 'Ave' we have put together from several sources. Michna's almost unknown 'Jina o Narozeni Pana Jezise' [Another Song about the Birth of Christ the Lord] addresses the heralds of tidings of great joy, the gospel of the Nativity. Bridel's 'Poslys O Krestane', [Hear Ye!] is the angels' 'Fear not!' and his 'O Duse ma rozmila' [O, Sweetest of Souls] is the march to Bethlehem. The Eclogue is an argument in which the shepherds outdo one another, bragging about who will give the better gift. One hundred years later, in the pastorella of Jiri Ignac Linek (1725-1792), the shepherds were so poor that they no longer had anything to give and thus had to go and steal something first! The song 'Kraticke jednani' [A Short Discourse about the Ox and Ass] (c. 1600) is a snowstorm wrapped in the 'sweet breath' of cattle and it makes us sentimental with its smooth melody of songs of the court in the style of Thomas Campian (1567-1620). 'Vanocni Roztomilost' [The Pleasures of Christmas], derived from 'Ballo dell' Granduca' [The Arch Duke's Ball], is full of the dignity of dances such as the pavan. And we have tried to return the firm, rhythmic, lullaby form to the galliard 'Chtic aby spal' [Wanting Him to fall asleep], a composition that had in the past been made part of the folk repertoire, misappropriated a thousand times, and diffused. The well-known song 'Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen' , superbly arranged by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), recast from a hymn into a 'local' folksong, was published in 1658 in Bridel's Jeslicky [The Nativity] as 'Ach kdoz podpal' [The One Who Kindled the Fire]. As a purely male musical ensemble, we cannot deny ourselves a subtle accent on the poetry of a mother nursing her child. Why not sing this kind of song seriously together in polite society? The ballad 'Utek do Egypta' [The Flight into Egypt] is as if made for the lyre and the pilgrimage. Blind singers armed with lyres - in this case, hurdy-gurdies - as passports, who were trained in singing songs hundreds of verses long, criss-crossed Europe, from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, spreading their message. The monotone quality, the inner rhythm, the poetic quality, the dreaminess, the almost visionary quality - these are not inventions of the Baroque, yet the Baroque litanies are indeed related to them. The song 'Puer natus in Bethlehem' [A child is born in Bethlehem], which is close to a hymn, without frills, was borrowed from abroad, and quickly given a Czech translation and finely worked Baroque arrangement from Bozan's hymn-book. The night-watchman's dulcimer-band intrada 'Veselme se vsickni nyni' [Let us all rejoice!] opens the last group of songs by the hermit Holan. The composition 'K Jeziskovi Milackovi' [To the Lovely Christ Child] is a sarabande, recalling the world of the popular passacagli of the court. 'Zavitej k nam' (from the secular German song 'Mein Herz will ich dir schenken' [I give thee my heart]) was published by Bridel in 1658, then reworked and published again by Holan in 1693; we have combined the two versions. Its elements of French gallant music (made naive) encourage us to complete the ornamentation of the parts in the lullaby 'Usni, usni' [Hushabye, hushabye]. These elements stand in sharp contrast to the rawness of what was probably once a folksong, 'Ach muj mily Jezisku' [O sweet Christ Child]; its language more faithfully describes the tight spot in which the Holy Family found themselves in Bethlehem. The song 'Spanile z Archy Holubicky' [The Fair Babe of the Dove from the Ark], which was also turned into a folksong and is strikingly similar to imitations of Praetorius's 'Nun freut euch' [Rejoice!] (1621), might have flown from Holan at Vy‰ehrad into the wide world even before the publishing of his hymn-book. It makes its nest in Georg Evermod Koseticky's (1639-1700) collection at the Strahov monastery, Prague. Or was the material it was based on arranged in two different ways? The song 'Detatko rozkosne' [Unto Us a Child Is Born] was probably also originally a folksong. And when it is taken up again with a dulcimer band, all stuffiness vanishes. For our encore, we sing 'Narodil se Kristus Pan' [Christ the King is Born], which even some Czechs may not at first recognize. After one or two verses, however, the listeners will surely join in.

Michael Pospíšil
Written in a little stable-hermitage, Nebužely, Bohemia, 8 July 2000

N.B.: What is all this supposed to mean? No matter what we believe and what we profess, and though we might not perceive things with Baroque eyes and ears, everybody, even a dim person, even a person born in dire poverty, is one of God's children and deserves respect and care; he or she has a calling, though we may not know it. A child similar to the Lord, when He entrusted Himself into the grubby hands of the world, resides somewhere within each of us. To make the world pleasant for every child, by giving of ourselves, rather than just giving things, is our great chance, and what we achieve will be to our credit. That includes those who have otherwise acted as Herod's heavies. I therefore dedicate this recording to the unborn, never cuddled, and never kissed.

Further recordings by Michael Pospíšil and his Ritornello ensemble:

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