RYBA: Czech Christmas Mass / Missa Pastoralis
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Jakub Jan Ryba(1765-1815)
Czech Christmas Masses
Over the years, the Czech Christmas Mass "Hej, mistře"(Hail, master!) by Jakub Jan Ryba has become an inherent part of Czechtradition. This is mainly owing to the simplicity, the emotional impact and purecomprehensiveness of Ryba's music. These are also the attributes that have beenaccepted without exception by all interpreters taking part in this recording.
It has been the intention to record Ryba's Christmas music with an approach anda spirit that are as close as possible to the original intention of thecomposer. In addition to the Czech Christmas Mass, the present releasealso includes Ryba's Missa pastoralis, which has been recorded here forthe first time.
In the Czech lands in the eighteenth century, music occupied anirreplaceable position. Based on along tradition, it drew on perennial localresources. Apart from their basic school duties, country schoolmasters werealso musicians and music teachers. Teaching music in elementary schools was importantfor educational and social reasons. It gave talented pupils access to manyecclesiastical and secular scholarships, especially those for choristers,allowing them to go to higher schools; and the musical talent of studentsopened up opportunities for employment in private or public service. Music andschool were the main sources of activity for the many promoters of the Czechnational revival of that time, and Jakub Jan Ryba, as teacher, writer, poet andcomposer, was one of those who made a great contribution through their prolificcreative work.
Jakub Jan Ryba was born the son of a teacher, organist and composer on26th October 1765 in Přestice. When he was seven, the family moved toNepomuk, where he also started attending school. His father taught him to playthe violin, the piano and the organ. His first attempts at composition fromthat time have not been preserved. In the late 1770s the young Ryba startedlearning the basics of Latin grammar and Greek. His father, wanting to give hisclever son a higher education, tried to secure one of the secular scholarshipsfor him, but without success. Help finally came from Ryba's uncle, Jan Vaniček,who took him to Prague in 1780 to study at the Piarist Gymnasium. Apart fromhis studies, he devoted much of his time to music. He learnt the cello, andwent on to play in the St Wenceslas Seminary and in church choirs. He alsoplayed the organ in the Church of St Salvator. Having started to earn an incomeby playing the cello or organ in church choirs and selling his compositions,Ryba could afford to go to the opera. In this way he became familiar with themusic of many composers, especially Italian opera composers, and also with themusic of Mozart. Later, he was to conduct Mozart's Marriage of Figaro inPrague.
In 1784 Ryba found that a teaching post in Nepomuk had become vacant andhe gave up his studies as well as his plans for making a mark on Prague'smusical life. It was at that time that many of the scholarships were abolished,and it was highly unlikely that under these changed conditions Ryba would havebeen able to support himself and his studies. He applied for the teachingposition and received an appointment notice as an assistant teacher oncondition that he presented his teaching qualifications. After a teachingcourse he obtained qualifications to teach in parish schools and spent a shortperiod in the school at Nepomuk, leaving in 1786 left to teach in Mnisek where,besides his teaching work, he started composing, with works including the FestiveMass in D major, three other Masses, and a hymn, lste Confessor.
In February 1788 Ryba came as a new teacher to Rozmital, where he wasto spend the longest period of his life. Here, in 1790, he married AnnaLanglerova, who bore him nine children. It was in Rozmital that Ryba composedhis most important and popular works. In 1788 he wrote his Missa pastoralisin D major using Latin as well as Czech texts, a work for which there is nosurviving autograph. It may be assumed that for most ordinary church-goers thepastoral mass with its Latin text was made more familiar by using the tunes ofpopular carols and folk-songs, and Czech texts set to music would be evencloser to the listeners. Pastoral scenes, too, were included in the liturgy,mostly in the interchangeable sections of the Mass or at the end. Theirinclusion in the fixed sections of the Mass was probably a constant source ofdebate.
Ryba wrote his Christmas Mass "Hail, master!" in 1796.
Its programmatic sequence basically follows the plot used in the folk ChristmasNativity plays. In a rather unusual treatment of the introductory sections,Ryba demonstrates his ability to create a dramatic increase of tension amongthe listeners. The angel voices do not announce the birth of the Saviour untilthe second section of the Mass, the Gloria. In the first section, the Kyrie,the shepherds argue about the possible causes of the natural phenomena observedin the night. In the Graduale and the Credo the shepherds arepreparing for their journey to Bethlehem. The Offertory pays homage tothe new-born child. The three final sections, Sanctus, Benedictus and AgnusDei, are presented as celebratory songs of praise before the cradle, withthe choir in the final passage praying for peace on Earth to men of good will.
Although in form this work has all the hallmarks of a Mass, the use of text andmusical setting make it more like a Christmas cantata.
A characteristic feature of both Masses on this recording is the brightmood of joy and the feeling of happiness radiating from every note. Theschoolmaster of Rozmital always seemed to have bright, expressive and memorabletunes at his fingertips. In his music Ryba achieved the aim that he pursuedthroughout his life: to speak clearly and vividly to people's hearts. On 8thApril 1815 Ryba took his own life in the forest outside Rozmital, apparently asthe result of progressive internal depression.