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Bohuslav Matěj Černohorský (1684–1742)
Laudetur Jesus Christus


F10139   [8595017413926]   released 10/2005   CD is sold-out

play all Laudetur Jesus Christus - Hipocondria Ensemble, Societas Incognitorum 49:12
Litanie Lauretanae 4:39
Regina Coelli a 8 2:20
Vesperae Minus Solenne - Dixit Dominus 1:37
Vesperae Minus Solenne - Confitebor 2:16
Vesperae Minus Solenne - Beatus Vir 2:32
Vesperae Minus Solenne - Laudate Pueri 3:25
Vesperae Minus Solenne - Laudate Dominum 0:38
Vesperae Minus Solenne - Magnificat 1:33
Fuga F dur 2:37
Quare Domine Irasceris 5:26
Memento Abraham 3:14
Fuga a moll 3:55
Regina Coelli 2:53
Toccata C dur 2:17
Quem Lapidaverunt 3:55
Laudetur Jesus Christus 5:55

Until historians of music finally elevated him to the status of the Bach of Bohemia, Cernohorsky had long been widely considered a composer for the organ. Thanks only to painstaking detective work did it become possible in subsequent years to determine the key moments of his life and, at least in part, to answer a question that to this day remains just as intriguing – namely, who exactly was Bohuslav Matej Cernohorsky?

Hipocondria Ensemble, directed by Jan Hadek


Jan Hadek, Jana Chytilova - violin, Zuzana Perinova - viola, Ondrej Michal - violoncello, Michal Novak - double bass, Filip Dvorak - organ positive, harpsichord, Jan Krejca - theorbo, Karel Mnuk, Jaroslav Roucek - trumpets, Jan Linhart - kettle drums

Societas Incognitorum, directed by Eduard Tomastik
Yvetta Fendrichova, Jana Chocholata - soprano, Daniela Tomastikova-Cermakova, Katerina Machackova - alt, Eduard Tomastik, Vladimir Richter - tenor Ales Prochazka, Martin Sujan - bass

Pavel Cerny - church organ

"Pectus hians sine corde vides, sine corde quis ullo vidit pectus hians vivere posse modo?"
"You see a wide-open breast without a heart. But has anyone ever seen a wide-open breast without a heart, which was able to keep living?"

     The author of this moving verse is Bohuslav Matej Cernohorsky (1684–1742), perhaps the most Baroque of Bohemian composers, who, despite the great fragmentariness of what we know about his life and works, continues to be of interest to each new generation. Even in his own lifetime Cernohorsky won much recognition – but also met with humiliation. This varied fate seemed to last even after his death and changed only gradually afterward. In the course of the nineteenth century Cernohorsky lived on in people’s minds mainly as a composer for the organ, until historians of music finally elevated him to the status of the Bach of Bohemia. In the next century, however, the authorship of a number of his compositions for organ was refuted and subsequently the question arose of whether there even was a “Cernohorsky School.” Thanks only to painstaking detective work did it become possible in subsequent years to determine the key moments of his life and, at least in part, to answer a question that to this day remains just as intriguing – namely, who exactly was Bohuslav Matej Cernohorsky? He first appears in the written records on 16 February 1684, when he was christened in Nymburk, the fourth child of the local organist, Samuel Cernohorsky. From his father, he inherited not only musical talent, but also something of his father’s obstinate nature. Although Samuel Cernohorsky did not come from Nymburk, he was accepted among the local burghers there – despite repeated quarrels with neighbours and an escape from the local jail. Bohuslav does not appear again in the written records till 1702, this time as a recent university graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Prague. The eighteen-year-old had a choice whether to continue his studies in theology and begin the career of a priest, to look for a place as a city clerk, or to try his luck as a musician. He eventually settled for a compromise that seemed to be both practical and promising – in 1703 he became a novice of the Friars Minor. This Franciscan Order had been located in the convent of St James in the Old Town of Prague since the thirteenth century. During the Counter-Reformation the Prague Minorites even had their own university and in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries they were among the most musically active. Father Bernard Artophaeus, for example, was head of all the Bohemian (or Bohemian-Silesian) Minorite provinces at the time and an important Baroque composer in the Bohemian Lands. The convent also enjoyed a good reputation for its organ. After a conflagration in the convent church in 1689, the Friars Minor had a large new organ built (today’s organ retains some of the appearance of that instrument), which in 1702 was first played by another musician of the Order, Ivo Anton. Cernohorsky did not hesitate; the next year he took his vows, thus determining the career he would follow. After four years of study a great change occurred in Cernohorsky’s life. First, he was ordained a priest and then he set out on a journey to Italy. In circumstances that are not entirely clear he left for Assisi, the centre of all Franciscans, where, at the time, there were two places of study for friars from Bohemia. Cernohorsky referred to a letter from the General of the Order, but apparently lacked the consent of his Prague superiors (or at least the majority of them), and therefore Prague demanded that he be punished and expelled from the province for ten years. Instead of that, however, Cernohorsky was given the job of first organist and soon another bachelor’s degree from Assisi as well. Probably as part of his examinations he also composed Regina coeli for double choir, which is today presented as the earliest of his dated compositions. It was also in Assisi that he first met the young Giuseppi Tartini, whom he would teach counterpoint. In the meantime the situation in Prague had changed and Cernohorsky was summoned back – but he again had it his way and, in 1715, went to Padua instead, which at the time had the richest convent in Italy with the largest music ensemble. This would turn out to be probably one of the happiest periods in Cernohorsky’s life. He was appointed third organist of the Basilica of St Anthony, and though he had few duties he participated in all the important church services. Apart from playing the organ he also helped out as a trombonist. Cernohorsky he even went to Venice for Carnival in 1717 – undoubtedly for the music, particularly opera. Summoned again, Cernohorsky returned home to Prague in 1720. The friars in Padua were reluctant to let him go, and told him he was always welcome to return. The doubts – perhaps on both sides – were justified. After his arrival in Bohemia, Cernohorsky so dazzled with his musical ability that he was awarded the title of “master” and was at least twice entrusted with leading the music at the meetings of the chapter. He apparently made friends also with musicians and other artists outside the monastery – in Benátky nad Jizerou, Bohemia, in 1724, he gave his colleague Šimon Brixi to Dorota Fialková in matrimony and, in 1727, he also married a couple of Italian singers from a Prague opera company. Despite his age, training, and experience, it was with difficulty that he made his way to a senior position in the Order, and he soon met with opposition. In September 1727, a year after he became vicar of the Prague convent, his career in the Order was blocked once and for all – Cernohorsky was sent to a friary in Horažďovice, southwest Bohemia, where he was to be punished on certain days by having to fast. The reason? All the evidence points to the fact that to the convent he either gave “too little or nothing at all” of what he had inherited from his father Samuel, who had died the previous year. That, by the rules of the Order, was serious misconduct. The Prague convent, moreover, was in debt, but it remains unclear how it got into that state. The records show that the convent had for some time been questionably managed (for several years it had become the subject of a general inspection and told to take strict measures to remedy the situation); Cernohorsky probably saw no reason therefore to sink his share of his father’s estate in the convent, which, in any case, was no large sum. Be that as it may, when Cernohorsky returned to Prague after having been away for three years, now stripped of all titles and rank, there was nothing left to keep him in Bohemia. He requested permission from his superiors to return to Padua, and when he obtained it, including, surprisingly, money from Italy for the journey, he parted ways with Prague once and for all. Back in Padua, “Padre Bouslao,” as he was most frequently called there, met with a number of familiar faces. Tartini, for example, had worked in Padua as “capo concerto” for a several years, as had the cellist Antonio Vandini, as well as a number of other friars. Since 1730 the choir had been led by the composer and theorist Francesco Antonio Vallotti. In 1736, when the position of first organist became vacant, Cernohorsky was unanimously elected to fill the post. It is difficult to say, however, whether he was ultimately happy there. The few surviving records tell us only of his conscientiously discharging his duties and that his ability tended to be recognized more by members of society outside the Order. Did he compose? Teach? Play outside the basilica? We don’t know, but his powers were probably on the wane. In the summer of 1741 he personally asked to be relieved of the position and to be permitted to return to Prague. We do not know why. In late August he set out on the journey to Prague but never reached his destination. In early October at the latest he stopped in the friary in Graz, where he joined in spiritual life and regularly officiated at the mass. Perhaps he had only wanted to regain his strength, wait till winter was over, and recommence his journey in the spring. Perhaps, however, he was afraid of the growing threat of war, for it was about at this time that Karl Albrecht, Duke of Bavaria, occupied Budweis (České Budějovice), French troops were pouring in from the west, and Saxons were approaching from the north in order to carve up the Bohemian Lands. We shall now never learn what actually happened – at the latest, towards the end of the year, Cernohorsky’s health began to deteriorate and on 14 or 15 February he died. Not only in the Minorite church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but also in the nearby churches of the Jesuits and Poor Clares, masses for the dead were held for Cernohorsky even throughout March. When news of his death reached Prague the following year, his superiors decided that it would suffice if the choir sang a requiem in his memory, for “he had done little for the province.” The irony of history is that Bohuslav Matej Cernohorsky is the most famous Bohemian Friar Minor, a composer and teacher, who despite adversity has been indelibly written into the history of Bohemian music. A number of legends have circulated about his organ playing, which certainly contain a grain of truth. It should come as no surprise that his organ works are the least numerous – a superb improviser, who made his living by playing, not by writing, Cernohorsky had no need to write down any of his compositions. Only a player lacking in invention and alacrity or a master for his pupils needed to write down or copy his own toccatas and fugues. That is also supported by the fact that one of Cernohorsky’s fugues was eventually identified as the work of Josef Ferdinand Norbert Seeger, who called himself a pupil of Cernohorsky’s. One could find more links between Seeger and Cernohorsky, and also between Cernohorsky and his other pupils. Of the compositions for organ in the recording on this CD the Fugue in F is the most archaic in character; the main theme is reminiscent of the canzonas of the seventeenth century but also reminiscent of the second theme of the magnificent motet Laudetur Jesus Christus. Like the “chromatic” Fugue in A minor, the Fugue in F has been preserved only in a later copy in the archive of the Prague Conservatoire; moreover, the Fugue in A minor is incomplete. The joyful Toccata in C, which was once copied by the German researcher Otto Schmidt in Dresden from a no-longer-extant version, also lacks a conclusion. The Laudetur Jesus Christus is, by contrast, one of firmest points in all Cernohorsky’s oeuvre. It was his only composition to appear in print and in Prague, probably in 1729, when the words “Praise be to Jesus Christ” were first introduced as an official greeting in the Church. After a short majestic introduction comes an extensive monumental fugue in three parts. Each of the first two parts treats its own theme, till, ultimately, in the third part they come together. The static harmony is striking (particularly in comparison with the related Fugue in F), which one may understand as a manifesto, an expression of the Church standing firm in Christ. On the other side of the qualities of expression in Cernohorsky’s work stands Regina coeli for soprano, cello, and basso continuo. It is one of the most charming cantatas of the Bohemian Baroque, perfectly linking spiritual content with the principal of the concerto, virtuosity, and lyrical elements. The composition is usually interpreted as the fruit of experience Cernohorsky gained in Venice, even though in purely stylistic terms it can properly be considered one of his earlier compositions. From 1712 comes the version of the same Marian text for double choir and organ. Youthful energy – not least of all thanks to the remarkably busy bass – continues to radiate from this work. Similar qualities mark the Litanie lauretanae and the Vesperae minus solenne. Cernohorsky’s litanies are preserved in a copy entitled Litanie lauretanae de B. M. V. Victoriosa, which probably refers to the holiday of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Victories. In the Bohemian Lands that has connotations of the victory of the Roman Catholic armies at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, but it would be premature to see that as Cernohorsky’s intention or even to date the composition to 1720; when copying compositions, titles were sometimes not retained and were instead adjusted to suit local needs, and the dedication itself could have another meaning. Unlike the litanies, the vespers are parts of the officium, in other words originally a special liturgy of the clergy, which in the Baroque, however, was often officiated publicly and with abundant musical accompaniment. Cernohorsky’s version is among the more modest (being more concise and without brass instruments and therefore “minus solenne” or “less solemn”), but not lacking emotion and elegance; from a compositional point of view the psalm Laudate Pueri for alto and concerto organ over a quasi-ostinato bass merits particular attention. In sharp contrast to the optimism and refulgence of most of these compositions stand two offertories – Quare Domine irasceris and Quem lapidaverunt. In both, Cernohorsky shows himself to be a master of counterpoint, who changes the learned style and royal form of the fugue into an incredibly personal, suggestive, artistic form. The first offertory quotes a scene from the Old Testament – Moses’ prayer for the sinning Israelites: “Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people?” (Ex: 32.11) Heated rhetoric and great dissonance turns the first part of the composition into a gripping drama – it constitutes the most original bars in all Cernohorsky’s compositions and it is hard to believe that he wrote it at any time other than during the extremely bitter days in Horažďovice. After the instrumental ritornello comes a sublime fugue with two themes evoking the feeling of purification. Inner tension and discord is, in a way, also contained in the fugue Quem lapidaverunt Judaei (He whom the Jews stoned). It is an excerpt from the text of the offertory to St Stephan, the Martyr, which, for proper liturgical use almost too obviously lacks introductory and concluding verses. That raises the question of whether the composition is actually complete. (In the only period copy, from the choir of St Vitus’s Cathedral, the composition is accompanied by a short introductory and concluding chorus by František Xaver Brixi). If, however, Cernohorsky wrote this composition in Horažďovice as well (and the choice of the suggestive excerpt of text again suggests that he did), then perhaps he disregarded the rules of the liturgy, composing instead from an inner need and based on his own ideas. The compositions by Cernohorsky recorded here represent the most valuable and most authentic of his works. Apart from several compositions that still await the verdict of historians of music, a dozen other works are known only as titles from early inventories. What has miraculously survived, however, constitutes not only living art but also an astounding statement about Cernohorsky, the composer and the man, and a powerful memento for all listeners.

Marc Niubo

Further recordings by Hipocondria Ensemble:


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