Historically Informed Performance in the Czech Republic

Article excerpt

This article offers a brief account of the development and progress of what is known as "authentic performance of early music" over roughly the last two decades in the Czech Republic. The term means performance of Medieval, Baroque and Early Classical Music on period instruments and on the basis of thorough study of period sources. At the international level this approach is associated with conductors like Nicolaus Harnoncourt, John Eliot Gardiner, Philippe Herreweghe, William Christie or Reinhard Goebel and their ensembles Concentus Musicus Wien, Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, Collegium Vocale Gent, Les Arts florissants or Musica Antiqua Koeln. All these and other ensembles pioneered a new view of the music of earlier stylistic periods during the 1980s. At the beginning it might have seemed no more than an eccentric experiment by a few enthusiasts, but it gradually gained respect and led to an overall transformation of styles of performance even in ensembles in the traditional mainstream.


If we make a similar list of ensembles of this type in the Czech Republic, we are immediately struck by several remarkable facts. All were founded later than those mentioned above, and most of the musicians concerned are in their thirties. All were founded without much significant help from the established Czech music schools; the individual musicians relied on international music courses, studies abroad, and their own sheer interest and enthusiasm. Nonetheless, the early music performance scene in the Czech Republic is very rich and diverse, and linked up with the European music scene in many interesting ways. To list the ensembles concerned: they are Musica Florea, Collegium 1704, Collegium Marianum, and also Capella Regia Praha, the Hofmusici, Capella Apollinis, Ensemble Tourbillon and Ensemble Inegal, and in recent years they have been responsible for a very colourful range of early music productions. If we add a list of their artistic directors, we find several very characterful young musicians who are leading their groups to repertory of a distinctive type: Marek Stryncl, Vaclav Luks, Jana Semeradova, Robert Hugo, Ondrej Macek, Barbara Maria Willi, Petr Wagner, and Adam Viktora. Apart from these essentially instrumental ensembles there are a number of vocal groups, among which the Schola Gregoriana Pragensis with its artistic director David Eben (see CMQ 3/04) occupies a special place. This article is not intended to offer musical criticism - we are not going to compare groups or individuals in terms of quality or success, but primarily want to indicate the range and diversity of the early music scene in Bohemia and Moravia. For the same reason we also want to draw attention to the key importance of two major festivals. One is the Concentus Moraviae in Moravia and the other is the Summer Festival of Early Music in Prague, and both focus on the presentation of "early music". Musicological and civil associations like the Society for Early Music play a role as well. We have no space here to describe in detail all the interesting connections, coincidences and inspirations that have shaped the scene and what we offer is just a concise overview.

It is important to stress that this whole movement has important precursors that require at least a brief mention here: they were first and foremost the ensemble Ars revidiva with Milan Munclinger, and then Musica Antiqua Praha with Pavel Klikar and Miroslav Venhoda and his group The Prague Madrigalists. These provided what were often decisive impulses alongside the foreign influences and studies abroad.

Also crucial for the origins of the present scene was work of the Society for Early Music already mentioned. This year the Society for Early Music is celebrating the jubilee 20th year of its Summer Music School in Valtice and its history is extremely interesting. It was founded in 1982 by Miroslav Venhoda in the frame of the Czech Music Society as an association for everyone, including amateurs, interested in historically authentic performance of early music. …


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