One may be forgiven for thinking of Bohemia as some distant Balkan land, and for regarding Prague as being “outside” the normal range of Baroque musical centers. Far from distant however, Bohemia was “just across the mountains” from southern Germany and so close that Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, among his other travels, twice visited the Bohemian Spa town of Carlsbad, which had a reputation as the meeting place of the European aristocracy. Bach and some of the Court musicians (together with instruments, including an ingenious folding-harpsichord) accompanied him – a stimulating experience indeed for the young Bach. It is highly likely that it was on one of these visits that Bach met Bohemian Count Frantisek von Sporck for whom he would many years later, put together the Four Shorter Masses.
The 1700s was a period of tremendous artistic activity in Bohemia and its capital, Prague. The wealth and power of ecclesiastical and aristocratic circles gave rise to the construction of magnificent seats of residence for religious orders, churches, palaces and castles for the nobility, with the accompanying need for statues, paintings, florid ornamentation and various products of artistic craftsmanship. The wide scale on which artistic projects were undertaken during a relatively short time-scale produced a homogeneous style in art and architecture. In the sphere of music, Cernohorsky's school of counterpoint in Prague, which flourished in the busy atmosphere of the church choirs (1721-1731), set the tone for Czech composition in the latter 1700s.
One noteworthy feature of Eighteenth Century Bohemian music is the fact that its development falls some twenty or more years behind Italy and Germany in terms of “musical fashion”. Thus composers whose dates would lead one to expect something Rococo in the style of Mozart and Haydn, surprise with their more traditional compositions reflecting the Baroque of the first half of the 1700s.
Bohuslav Matej Cernohorsky, 1684-1742, has been called the “Bohemian Bach”, a reflection of his stature and place in the development of Czech Music. An organist, teacher and composer, he spent much of his life in Italy, at Assisi from 1710 to 1715, then Padua (1715-1720). He would later return to Padua (1731-1741), but between these two periods he worked in Prague, where his School of Counterpoint was to influence not only future Czech composers, but also other non-Czech pupils, such as Tartini and Gluck. Well traveled throughout Europe, he died 1742 in Graz, Austria.
His magnificent Choral Fugue, "Laudeatur Jesus Christus”, is indisputable evidence of a musician of tremendous creative vitality with an absolute mastery of counterpoint while his Motet for 4-part choir and instruments “Quare Domine Irascis” is likewise a magnificent piece. His choral writing, while uniquely Bohemian, resembles that of Vivaldi's Choral Works such as the Gloria RV 589 (BMC 19). Cernohorsky would certainly have been aware of Vivaldi's work; the two may even have been acquainted. From 1717-19 Vivaldi was in Mantua, just 50 miles from Cernohorsky in Padua; in 1730-31 both were in Prague, with Vivaldi's Operas being performed at the Theater of Count von Sporck.
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