Collegium 1704 Collegium 1704 Collegium 1704
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Collegium 1704

Date of Event

Monday, 18. 5. 2020 from 20.00
Expected end of the concert 22.00

Price

450 - 1 500 CZK

Program

  • Georg Friedrich Händel: Dixit Dominus HWV 232
  • Jan Dismas Zelenka: Missa 1724

Interprets

  • Collegium Vocale 1704
  • Václav Luks - conductor
  • Helena Hozová - soprano
  • Pavla Radostová - soprano
  • Kamila Mazalová - alto
  • Aneta Petrasová - alto
  • Ondřej Holub - tenor
  • Tomáš Šelc - bass

The ensembles Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 have been guiding lights on the Czech early music scene for the past fifteen years. They were established for a project conceived in association with the Prague Spring, for which Artistic Director Václav Luks put together a performance of Bach’s monumental Mass in B minor. The ensembles became household names also thanks to the concert series “Music Bridge Prague – Dresden”, which has been held since 2008 in two cities which share a vibrant musical history.

In recent years, however, Collegium 1704 and its conductor and founder Václav Luks have gone way beyond the borders of the domestic scene and are now recognised as world leaders in their field. This fact is reflected in their frequent collaboration with international stars such as mezzo-sopranos Magdalena Kožená and Vivica Genaux, or countertenor Bejun Mehta, and in their regular appearances at leading European festivals, where the ensembles present both the key repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries and also hitherto neglected works by the early Czech masters, in particular Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) and Josef Mysliveček (1737-1781).

As Václav Luks informed readers on the website Aktuálně.cz, “Zelenka’s music is filled with vigour and intense emotion; it manifests a broad spectrum ranging from the most profound sorrow to crystalline, radiant joy. If this music mirrors his soul, it indicates to us that here was a man full of creative and vital energy. Everything about him appealed to me in an entirely exceptional way.”

The name of the ensembles is moreover inspired by Jan Dismas Zelenka. The year 1704 saw the production of the Latin school play Via Laureata, featuring Zelenka’s music and staged with a large cast of performers at a Jesuit college in Prague’s Malá Strana district. Even though the score for this play has not survived, this is the very first record of Zelenka’s compositional endeavours, and 1704 was the year that the greatest Czech Baroque composer appeared on the music scene. His outstanding oeuvre bears comparison with the world’s Baroque titans, who were also Zelenka’s contemporaries – such as Vivaldi, J. S. Bach or Händel; the latter composer is included in this concert, giving listeners an opportunity to compare the two masters.

Emotive and dramatic musical language

On the subject of Zelenka’s Missa 1724, which features in the programme, Václav Luks states: “The incredibly emotive and dramatic musical language, supported by resourceful instrumentation and vocal virtuosity, presents the Czech musical genius in fresh hues.” The Missa was not written as an integral piece, but instead comprises individual Mass parts which appeared around the year 1724. “This was the year Zelenka’s father died and it seems that this event had a huge impact on the composer,” says Václav Luks, describing the circumstances surrounding the origin of the work. “On this occasion he wrote the truly compelling psalm De Profundis, where the jubilant tones of the trumpets in the festive coronation music from the previous year were replaced by sombre chords in the trombones. This transformation heralded Zelenka’s musical style of the years 1724 and 1725 – dramatic music filled with sadness and passion.”

Even if these works very likely weren’t written as one musical oeuvre in its own right, reconstructing an imaginary mass, presenting this suggestive music under a single arc, seems to me to provide a unique opportunity to present these pieces to today’s audience,” Luks explains. “We shouldn’t forget that completing the Ordinary of the Mass from various sources was nothing unusual during the Baroque; the later Benedictus from the 1730s was originally conceived by Zelenka as the completion of a mass written by Giovanni Battista Pisani,” Luks adds.

All the parts are linked in their unified musical expression, their tonal proximity and, rare for Zelenka, in the use of trombones. At the same time, Gloria is not an entirely original work, but was part of an earlier mass by Zelenka, Missa Judica me, dating from 1714. The composer reworked the Gloria from this mass ten years later and, in keeping with period convention, presented it as a new work in the Dresden Catholic Court Church during the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.

Indeed, Zelenka’s life is associated most with Dresden, since it was here that, from the age of 31, the composer held the post of double bass player at the court of the Saxon Elector. By the mid-1720s Zelenka was a mature composer with remarkable ingenuity, dramatic and emotional strength, and great proficiency in the art of counterpoint, which he had studied at the Viennese court with the master himself, Johann Joseph Fux. Given that the Dresden Hofkapelle was a leading ensemble of its day, the parts of the individual voices and instruments in the Missa attain a virtuosic standard.

Dixit Dominus (The Lord said unto my Lord) by Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) is an exceptional piece despite the fact that countless musical settings of Psalm 110, used during Vespers, have been written over the centuries. According to the author of Händel’s monograph Christopher Hogwood, Dixit is one of the first works in which the composer fully developed his contrapuntal skills and, moreover, he was extremely accomplished in utilising the highly dramatic nature of the text. Here the young composer used contrastive approaches that were hitherto unprecedented in sacred music, where majestic choral fugues alternate with expressive solos and duets. The composer wrote his Catholic masterpiece at the age of twenty-two during his time in Rome and it is clear that he was quick to embrace the melodious and emotionally charged style of Italian church music. However, he wasn’t one simply to imitate his predecessors – such as Alessandro Stradella and Giacomo Carissimi; on the contrary, he allowed his creative spirit to develop what they had achieved, shifting their music onto an entirely new level. This was one of the reasons the composer soon became extremely popular in the Eternal City, as reflected in the Italians’ use of their affectionate nickname for him: Il caro Sassone.