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Hunting Songs from Baroque Bohemia.


F10108   [8595017410826]   released 10/2001

play all Vzhůru na ptáky - Ritornello 62:34
Svatohubertská intrada 0:43
Žaloba na zlou chasu 3:40
Interludium 1:06
Vzhůru na ptáky! 2:10
Interludium 1:21
O koroptvičce 3:54
Interludium 0:51
O zajíčkovi 4:16
Interludium 1:04
O křepelce 3:50
Interludium 1:21
O ptáku 2:19
Interludium 0:44
O sojce 2:03
Interludium 1:08
O srňátku 4:28
Interludium 1:20
O drozdu 5:54
Interludium 0:48
O blechách 3:11
Interludium 0:54
O kozlíčkovi 2:35
Interludium 0:51
Responsum ad querelam Rustici 4:42
Boure 1:24
O jeleňovi 4:41
Bonreposká píseň 0:45

Ritornello, directed by Michael Pospíšil
Martin Kaplan - violin, chorus; Václav Luks - horn, organ positive; Ondřej Michal - cello; Jan Mikušek - vocal, dulcimer, organ positive; Tomáš Najbrt - Baroque guitar, theorbo, chorus; Jan Novotný - double-bass, flutes; Michael Pospíšil - vocal, organ positive, string drum, Jew's harp, birdcall; Miroslav Rovenský - horn; Miloslav Študent - archlute, Baroque lute, drum, finger snapping, Jew's harp, vocal.

The struggle between theatrum and contemplatio permeates the whole Baroque period. The bridge between the two extremes is a refined ceremony - Dance. The predatory nature of lyrics veiled in melody should therefore come as no surprise. Music coloured everything in a lively way, and added commentary. Paradoxically, war, the fascinating pandemonium of battle, despite its dreadful consequences, was much sought after. The terrifyingly close space between triumph and defeat has long piqued man's curiosity and it makes no difference that the script, the victim and the murderer are generally known beforehand - anyway, that is nothing unusual. What is important is the difference in narrators and how many plots, love affairs, twists, and desired flattery he or she manages to incorporate into the story. The hunt, originally a necessity, eventually became a cruel sport, a demonstration of wealth and power, a social event, a ritual and 'theatre'. In the Baroque, hunting was done in various ways, depending on national custom, but it was always primarily a barbarous spectacle of an unequal 'contest'. The 'most humane' way of hunting was probably the French, known as parforce (in other words 'by force'), in which a single piece of game, chosen beforehand, was the sole rival to be chased down by an overwhelmingly superior force of huntsmen following strict rules in a kind of choreography. The exclusive, expensive hunt provided people with the experience of battle but removed from the unpleasant concomitant phenomena of real fighting, such as the death of the hero, suffering, treason - though here too regrettable errors occurred.
     The clergy was, apparently, allowed to take part only in fowling. This activity, the hunting of birds, is a substantially lighter genre; for the clergy it was an amusement and for poor students a poached bird must surely have helped them survive poverty. Students and clergy alike, then, had the time and the ability to write songs about hunting and fowling, so that to the recipes of the hunt itself, which were written in hunting slang, were added substantially more comprehensible recipes for the preparation of dishes from bagged game and fowl. The students and the clergy were evidently able to experience, sell, and present the hunt or make a meal of it. Musical story-telling about hunting was probably engaged in among friends, in convents, or among students, and was an activity in which nobody was merely a passive witness. Making music, inventing lyrics that drew attention to themselves simply by their current relevance, that was surely a world free of the boredom experienced by listeners today, when music 'happens' even without their participation. Few people were in a hurry and few did not enjoy listening to a song of fifteen, fifty or even two hundred stanzas. The reason was simple: the song related to the listener. In each of us, the great grandson or granddaughter of a huntsman, there is some trace of the hunt, even if only a homeopathic one, which we can follow back thanks to music.
     We musicians relied on that when we compiled the sometimes dangerously similar songs here. And behold! We discovered their great variety. We performed the 'theatre of theatre', which had been so typical of the Baroque, and tried to reconstruct a sort of small hunting party in a secluded part of the woods, for example in Bon Repos, the gallery of Count Sporck, at his manor in Lysa nad Labem, Bohemia, which, in the spirit of that period, was comfortably furnished, artistic, romantic, and perhaps provided with its own library, a nearby chapel, a hermitage, and a good supply of provisions (mainly wine). We tried to unify the sometimes stereotypical story-telling of the 'huntsmen' and 'fowlers' with a certain symmetry in the sequence of the songs and also by mixing in instrumental music. The twelve songs about the 'secular hunt', which are of high quality even though the music is amateur, are interlarded here with eleven duets for two horns. They were written by Christian Hirschmentzel (1638-1703), a Cistercian from Velehrad, Moravia, and were originally intended for a pair of clarinos (a kind of higher-pitched trumpet), but the licence of period interpretation permits us to entrust them to Naturhörner, and transpose them to various keys depending on the song. The hybrid form of two-part composition known as bicinium brings together a knowledge of professional routine and amateur playfulness, and this enabled us to comment on the moods of the songs. Each song has its own humour, and several levels of communication can be distinguished in each set of lyrics: (1) descriptive, (2) associative, (3) allegorical, (4) moral and (5) artistic.
     The first level comprises a clever, jocular description of the story; the second consists in varied interpretation, for example the witty choice of words and parallels to adventure, including the love affair; the third is based on a more general level, such as celebration of the hunt, the heroism of the huntsman, and the image of the vanity and transient nature of the world. The fourth level always includes a moral (usually in the last stanza) which makes the story universally applicable. The fifth level works with the music and the words; it takes one stanza after another and provides it with the same melody or one that is at most only slightly varied, so that both elements run first in the same direction and then in the opposite direction in their descriptiveness. The particular atmosphere of the songs is different from the usual social songs of the clergy, for example those in Michna's Czech Lute (1653), and different from Bacchic songs, for instance those of Shrovetide, even though they could be played one after the other. They require another interpretation, another 'manner' (in other words a deciphering of the notation), another tempo and voice. All these kinds of social song, however, have one thing in common: the point of view. In a pleasant way they prepare their 'consumer' for Death. And so, Dear Reader, Dear Huntsman, please bear in mind this one recommendation: though we do not measure up to the birds, don't lose sight of their tracks, so that you and the 'chosen hunting party' can make it to the Birds, even if only on your own, angel's wings!
     The cycle of twelve songs plus one has been compiled as 'listening' music: the actor-singers, for instance the aristocratic amateurs, amuse society with musical jokes, and two professionals (for example, Sporck's Svida and Rohling) who have 'retired behind the summerhouse' insert interludes between their songs. The music lesson begins and ends with two intradas composed by members of Sporck's circle: the first is the well-known song from the Order of St Hubert, patron saint of the huntsman, which appears in many variations, the last is the 'Bon Repos Song'. The familiar melodies were given a number of lyrics, like the contemplative stations at various estates in the 'Tanci Smrti' (the Dance Macabre, 1721, which is fabulously accompanied by the magnificent cycle of engravings of the same name by Michael Jindrich Rentz) or even the Lord's Prayer. We are quickly led to the narrative by the rude entrance of the farmer's son Rusticus, who has come to complain, probably to the rector of the college, about the springtime hell-raising (in the form of hunting) by students, who are probably his own age. After ten stanzas concerning the individual 'cases', as they are described by the individual songs, he receives a fitting answer sung to the same melody and with the same words: meet rudeness with rudeness. The song with small variations used to be sung by the Benedictines at Kladruby and the Premonstratensians at Strahov, Prague. Four early songs (Nos 4, 6, 8 and 10) describe in relative detail the technique of hunting; unfortunately, we had to reduce the large number of stanzas for our recording. The silly slogan 'Get up and go down!' in the ambiguous 'Song about the Hare' will please many a connoisseur; though it obviously involves a cosmopolitan orientation, providing we accept the thesis that the world is round. The 'Song about the Bird and Jacket' (No. 12), by contrast, has only one stanza, and every poet can easily decide for himself or herself what will happen; we developed it instrumentally here, without words. The well-known and merry 'Song about the Jay' (No. 14) was not published till 1825 (as No. 5 in the 'Kolowrat Collection'), but it is clearly of an earlier origin; it suitably complements and develops the preceding song and also adds colour to the intentional languor of the narration. By comparison, the 'Song about the Deer' ('De Cerva' in the original) made its way into later editions (1727, 1764) of the 'Steyer Hymnbook', like the lamentation of the Virgin below the Cross - 'music for the Piete'. The symbolic parallel, the lamentation of the doe over the loss of her fawn, exists in two similar variants. We entrusted them both, by turns, to one singer and two theorbo players. We try to intensify the sadness in the 'Song about the Thrush' (No. 18), accompanied by a sort of 'lamentoso' ostinato bass in the coda, which is partly an improvised ritornello we have taken the liberty of calling 'tombeau pour le tourd' (tomb for the thrush). Under the influence of wine, for example, melancholy can make a 180-degree turn-around into a buoyant mood. Here, too, is where the 'Song about the Fleas' belongs; for it, after all, is also concerned with hunting. (As additional reading, I highly recommend Chapter 6 of the Third Book of Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen's Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus (1669), a counterpart to which might be our 'soldier's' song, which is undoubtedly from the Thirty Years' War.) The drunken mood continues with the 'Song about the Kid' (No. 22), whose story may well be set at my neighbours' place in the country. The last of the secular songs, 'Responsum ad querelam rustici' ('A Reply to the Complaints of a Boor'), I referred to already in connection with the first song: to the melody of a complaint presented musically by a farmer's son a reply, almost legalistically clever and thoroughly summarized, is made to defend small-time poaching by students. Similar sins must have often been thus dealt with by superiors. In order to preserve the meaning of the two songs, we thought it wise to retain the original number of stanzas in the complaint and in the rejoinder. The thirteenth song, symbolically referring to the other world, is the 'Song about the Hart'; we introduce it with a joyful boure by Ivan Jelinek, a lute player and organist of the Benedictine abbey in Svaty Jan pod Skalou. The torso of the lute suite can be reconstructed in various ways; this variant was made in collaboration with the musicians performing it, and it develops the notation in the lute tablature into a small ensemble of solo violins, two 'Naturhorner' (hunting horns), a cello and a lute. (The rest of Jelinek's diverse work, however, awaits resurrection.) We follow our 'Hart' in the last song, which is inspired by Psalm 42 ('As the hart panteth after the water brooks'), across Egypt and Calvary all the way to Heaven. The hunting motifs in religious literature (for example, two sermons by Jan Nepomuk V. Steydl, 1723, and J. F. Prochazka de Lauro,1724, from the Hajek convent near Prague) and in music (A. V. Michna, Marianska Myslivost and Ceska Marianska Muzika, 1647) are even more sophisticatedly developed here: the Czech lyrics on the interesting verse pattern ABBACDDC revel in biblical and traditional symbols coded in racy hunting slang. The fancy French fashion of the melody stands in sharp contrast to the other 'secular songs', as if to add colour to an engraving or to fill in the outlines of the first and last French instrumental signature tune or intrada. 

Michael Pospíšil

Further recordings by Michael Pospíšil and his Ritornello ensemble:

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