The original manuscripts for the music included on this program are to this day preserved in the Moravian city of Kromeriz, in what is today the eastern part of the Czech Republic. Following the devastations of the Thirty-Years War, during which much of the city had been destroyed, Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorn (1624-1695), Prince-Bishop of Olomouc, began rebuilding the bishop’s personal palace and gardens in Kromeriz and, as a further essential ornament to his court, formed a small musical ensemble and sought to obtain copies of the newest pieces from the Imperial Hapsburg court in Vienna, Salzburg, and even from Rome. While Prince- Bishop Carl was certainly interested in music, the day-to-day responsibility of leading the musicians was given to Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky, who also personally hand-copied most of the music still contained in the Prince-Bishop’s musical archive.

Among the Prince-Bishop and his administrators, Vejvanovsky was given the affectionate nickname “Paul Trompeter” in recognition of his skill as a very inventive and virtuoso performer, and this is reflected in the prominent use of the trumpet in many works from the Kromeriz archives, such as Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s trumpet duets and his Sonata I or the otherwise unknown C.M.’s Sonata Mayalis, which may have been used for entertainment following a boar hunt on the Prince-Bishop’s estates. The sound of the trumpet was, during the Baroque, a powerful symbol of its role both as an instrument of nobility and of war. Yet even when trumpets weren’t actually present, fanfare-like passages in the music could be used to evoke a musical battle, as in the Sonata à 6. duobus Choris by Johann Heinrich Schmeltzer. While the manuscript in Kromeriz gives only a generic title, a recently examined manuscript copied in 1662 by Johann Ludwig, a musician from Wolfenbüttel, makes the meaning of this work explicit: Sonata tubicinum (Sonata “of trumpets”), a musical battle of trumpet-calls between the two separate choirs of string instruments.

Many of the sonatas were probably used during the services at the Church of St. Maurice next to the Prince-Bishop’s palace in Kromeriz. In these works, composers such as Antonio Bertali, Schmeltzer, and Biber used an approach to composition that was termed the Stylus Phantasticus by Athanasius Kircher, in which there were no predetermined formal patterns or compositional expectations. This is very evident in Vejvanovsky’s Sonata Sancti Mauritii in which the fantasy of the composer extended even to the unusual use of trumpet mutes to allow the music to modulate to keys that would otherwise have been impossible for the performers. Vejvanovsky’s use of trumpets was also appropriate since Saint Maurice was thought to have been a third-century converted Roman soldier who was martyred when he and the other Christians in his legion refused to kill other Christians.

In his role as a secular ruler, Prince-Bishop Carl was also expected to provide entertainment for his court. The archives contain many dance suites, usually scored for small dance-bands of strings. The Balletae ad duos choros by the otherwise unknown “Sr. Hugi” is rather unusual for this type of composition in that it opposes two separate choirs of string instruments. In addition to the Courante, Sarabande, Gavotte, and Guige, all typical Baroque dances, it also includes what was, for the 1680s, a very modern dance, the Treza. Most usual is the concluding Ciacona, which rather than being based on a repeating harmonic pattern (as in Phillipus Jacobus Rittler’s Ciaccona), is more closely related to the asymmetric folk dances of Moravia. This influence of folk music is also present in C.M.’s Sonata Mayalis, in which a section that imitates bagpipes, labeled “Pastoritia,” is closely related to regional Hanak dances. (A performance note on the original title page also says that this section needs to be omitted if you wanted to perform the sonata in church.)

The work that combines all these elements of fantasy and entertainment is Biber’s Battalia from 1673. Biber had left the service of Prince-Bishop Carl in 1670 under less-than-clear circumstances and was then employed by Maximilian Gandolph Küenberg, the Archbishop of Salzburg. Perhaps through the intercession of Vejvanovsky, Biber was soon reconciled with his former employer, and began sending his newest compositions to Kromeriz. Among these were the autograph of the Battalia and the only known copy of his first publication, the Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes (1676).

In the Battalia, which may have been composed for a carnival pantomime, much of Biber’s fantasy is woven into the music itself. He calls for a number of unusual instrumental techniques, such as: col legno, in which the players use the wood of their bows to beat the strings of their instruments; a percussive pizzicato in Die Schlacht (“The Battle”) to imitate cannon shots; dueling bass players; and even instructing the bass player to use a piece of paper to buzz on the strings in Der Mars (Mars, the god of war) to imitate a snare drum, while the solo violin imitates a military fife.

In the second movement, titled Die liederliche gselschafft von allerley Humor (“The dissolute company of all types of humor”), Biber mixes a number of different German, Slovak, and Czech folk songs into a quodlibet. He even notes on the second violone part that “hic dissonat ubique nam ebrii sic diversis Cantilenis clamare solent.” (“Here it is dissonant everywhere, for thus are the drunks accustomed to bellow with different songs.”) Though this may have been a carnival piece, the realities of seventeenth-century warfare are marked by the pathos of the concluding Adagio: Lamento der verwundten Musquetir (“Lament of the wounded musketeers”).

The music that the Prince-Bishop and Vejvanovsky collected for Kromeriz remains to this day one of the most important sources for the study of music in Central Europe during the seventeenth century. In addition to the instrumental music, it also contains an extensive repertory of liturgical music. It should be noted, however, that the realms of the sacred and secular were not that distinct in this period. As Schmeltzer wrote in the preface to his Sacro-Profanus concentus musicus in 1662, “this Sacred-Profane Musical Concord thus is collected especially so that it would be able to serve both to the pious worship of the saints and the honest pleasure of mankind, both to arousing piety in church and outside the church by refreshing the human spirit.” As this music is continuing to be rediscovered, its compositional inventiveness and folk-like melodiousness also continue to serve as aural refreshments for the modern ear.

Charles E. Brewer