Frantisek Ignac Tuma: 2nd October 1704-30th January 1774

Article excerpt

Ever since early music found a new path to performers and listeners, we have been reassessing our view of many figures in music history, discovering previously unsuspected qualities in composers previously consigned to the category of composing cappelmeisters, or at least people of little interest for the development of European music. Those concened were mainly composers who developed the heritage of an older style, and were fastidious in their attitude to new trends. The aesthetics of the 19th century, and partly the 20th century as well, for which originality and progress were important criteria, usually classified such composers as "imitators" and "kleine meister". Asked how many Czech Baroque composer we could name offhand, among the first we would probably remember Jan Dismas Zelenka, and then perhaps the highly rated counterpoint of Frantisek Ignac Tuma, for whom this year marks a double jubilee (1704-1774). His name is always accorded an important place among the protagonists of Czech music, and also, with the same respect, among the Viennese composers who helped to create the culture of the Austrian metropolis in the period of its Baroque flowering. The pupil of J. J. Fux and cappelmeister at the Viennese court was appreciated by his contemporaries, even though he kept to his own road and aloof from the trends of the time, an attitude very striking particularly in the Vienna of the later 18th century.

In many respects F.I. Tuma's career had much in common with that of his colleague Zelenka, older by a generation and today better known. Both were among the first Czechs to make a successful career in European centres. Both remained by their own choice somewhat apart from the trends of the time and their strong side was the capacity to synthesis the best of the already fading Late Baroque style (comparison with Late Bach would not be an exaggeration, although it is not entirely accurate). Both as a result created honest, solid works that were to be fully value only by later generations. There were, however, some differences. Zelenka was almost completely forgotten and began to shine only with the revival of interest in Baroque music. Tuma was never entirely forgotten. In his day he was sought after as a teacher of composition, and managed indirectly to pass on the best aspects of the Late Baroque style to the Viennese classics (J. Haydn and W. A. Mozart, who mastered counterpoint perfectly and who demonstrably knew his music well). Nor did he fall into oblivion in the 19th and 20th centuries, when a small part of his output remained in living repertoire. There has never, then, been a need for F. I. Tuma to be "rediscovered", but on the other hand his music is still patiently waiting to return in all its resounding beauty. Since we do not yet have a thematic catalogue of his work, and so we do not know the number of compositions he wrote even approximately, all evaluations of Tuma as a composer are based on only a fraction of his work. If we have a serious interest in Tuma's music, we can purchase or buy only a few editions (usually 50 or 100 years old) and a few recordings of varying age and quality, but their contents will definitely not be a disappointment. Probably his best-known composition today is still his Stabat Mater in g minor (one of several of his treatments of the same text) published in the edition "Musica Antiqua Bohemica" and the psalms of repentance recorded by the "Currende" ensemble. Even these small examples are enough to suggest that this is a composer whose vocal music is of a very high standard.

Like most of the Czech composers of the time (including B.M.Cernohorsky and J.D.Zelenka), F.I.Tuma was born the son of an organist. He was certainly listening to music from his childhood, both at home and in the church in his native Kostelec nad Orlici where his father went to play and where there was a literary brotherhood that took care of the singing of Czech hymns. Tuma's native countryside by what today is the Czech-Polish border attracts visitors today mainly because of the beauty of its mountains and picturesque little towns. …