Magazine article Czech Music

Krystof Harant of Polzice and Bezdruzice and Pecka: 1564-21st June 1621

Magazine article Czech Music

Krystof Harant of Polzice and Bezdruzice and Pecka: 1564-21st June 1621

Article excerpt

Krystof Harant of Polzice and Bezdruzice and Pecka (1564-21st June 1621) remains to this day one of the best-known figures of the Bohemian Renaissance. A Czech aristocrat, he become famous in his own time for many actions that expressed his restless soul, but also for his many-sided gifts, pre-eminent among them his talent as a composer.


His abilities were much encouraged and cultivated in the years 1576-1584, which he spent at the court of the Archduke Ferdinand of the Tyrol in Innsbruck. The art-loving atmosphere of the court awoke in his an interest in painting, jousting, travel and also music. During his period at the chateau of Ambrass he also gained an excellent education, including a knowledge of languages.

At the beginning of the 1590s he served in the imperial army in the Hungarian Lands. After returning from the battlefield he made the arduous journey to the Holy Land, which he carefully described in a travelogue that was printed ten years later. In the summer of 1599 he made the personal acquaintance of the Emperor Rudolf, with whom he had many common interests and who made him a court chamberlain. On the emperot's recommendation Krystof Harant was raised to the nobility in 1607. After the emperor's death, which grieved him greatly, Harant remained formally in the service of the ruling dynasty. He even undertook a diplomatic mission to Spain, although no written record of his travel experiences has survived in this case.

In 1618 Harant took an active part in the anti-Habsburg Revolt of the Bohemian Estates as the President of the Bohemian Chamber and Commander of the Estates Artillery. At the same time he converted from Catholicism to Utraquism. As commander of the artillery he advanced as far as Vienna and bombarded the Hofburg, where the imperial family was in residence. This was ultimately to seal his fate, since after the defeat of the Estates rebellion he was captured, and together with other rebel leaders condemned and finally beheaded on Old Town Square in Prague.

A period portrait of Harant by the celebrated engraver Aegidius Sadeler has come down to us, and this portrait has inspired a series of artists to various different variations. Of Harant's musical output, the only pieces to have survived in their entirety are the outstanding five-part mass on motifs from a madrigal by L. Marenzio--Missa quinis vocibus super Dolorosi martir, the moving Latin motet Qui confidunt in Domino, which he composed during his stay in Jerusalem, and the German motet Maria Kron, printed in an anthology of Marian pieces in 1604 in Dillingen. The other pieces have survived only in fragmentary form.

Harant was a typical uomo universale, a Renaissance man of wide interests, tastes and abilities. His travelogue is written in a lively style in which the author's humanist education is combined with a native practicality. The following text, which recalls important features of Harant's life and work, has been written in the spirit of Harant's own literary idiom.

To see is more than to tell

"Oh, my dear God, what lands I have travelled through, in what perils have I been, seeing no bread for days, shelfering myself once under sand, and out of all this my dear Lord God brought me with his aid, and now in my own dear homeland I am to die, innocent. Lord God, Forgive my enemies." And at that they called for him. And full of wrath we went close to see that grievous spectacle and noble antichrist.

Pavel Skala ze Zhore, The History of Bohemia, The Capital Court and Execution on Old Town Square in 1621, ed. K. Tieftrunk, Prague 1870, p. 110

Preface to the Reader

The scrupulous observer of Czech society in the pre-White-Mountain period and writer of remarkable memoirs Mikulas Dacicky of Heslov noted in 1608 that "Lord Krystof Harant has published a book printed in the Czech tongue on his journey to the Holy Land and back again, which he has dedicated to His Grace the Emperor Rudolf. …

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