The music in Schola Antiqua’s performance dates from the 16th and early 17th centuries, and is connected in some way with the city of Prague, the traditional capital of the region known as Bohemia; today it is the capital of the Czech Republic. In the 16th century, Prague was the capital of the vast Holy Roman Empire, ruled by the German-speaking Habsburg dynasty.
Prague was always a thriving center for the arts, but during our period it was also a place of religious conflicts, some of which are reflected in the program’s music. The second piece is a Czech hymn to a Catholic saint beloved in the area, best known to English speakers from the “Good King Wenceslaus” Christmas carol. In the fourth one, Gaudeamus omnes, a Gregorian chant has been modified to honor Jan Hus, a popular religious reformer whose demands anticipated the Protestant Reformation; Hus was burned at the stake for heresy in 1415 but never forgotten. The Kyrie paraphrase in Czech, Hospodine, may be another attempt to adapt Catholic chant to Hussite worship. In 1618, after most of the music in this program had already been composed, the Habsburgs tried to abolish religious freedom and impose Catholicism on all their subjects. In Prague, some local Protestant officials responded by throwing two imperial regents out of a window, thus starting the Thirty Years War. Prague was that kind of place.
Two of the composers, Monte and his student Luython, were leading musicians at the Hapsburg court. Monte belonged, like his countryman Lassus, to the last generation of Flemish composers who exemplified the High Renaissance style. Their fellow Fleming, Sales, made the colossal mistake of leaving “Our Belgium” in the hope of finding less religious conflict in Prague. Then we end with music by Gallus, a Slav who was active in Prague’s music printing trade. The most prolific composer of his age, he produced over 500 works during a short lifetime of 41 years, including some of the most complicated music ever written up to that time. Two of his pieces you will hear are praises of Music itself, rather than of any religious figure.