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Seven days at Charles University
The Prague Spring festival, in association with Charles University, is planning a special concert entitled “Seven Days at Charles University”, which will be held on 24 September at the Church of Our Lady of the Snows (Kostel Panny Marie Sněžné). The vocal ensemble Schola Gregoriana Pragensis will perform under David Eben and will be accompanied by leading clavicembalum player Corina Marti.
The concert programme will give listeners an opportunity to get a sense of musical life at the Prague university back during the late Middle Ages and, in doing so, will present a unique historical reconstruction. “Today’s academics would probably be surprised to learn that every student and teacher at a medieval university sang each day, since their obligations included participation in prayers in the university college chapel,” says Lenka Hlávková from the Institute of Musicology at Charles University. “The concert was conceived through close collaboration between musicologists and performers; this is an exceptional event which would not have been possible without the many years’ research undertaken by musicologist Jan Ciglbauer and also financial assistance from the Europe-wide HERA network,” states Hlávková.
The programme offers a colourful palette of official liturgical music, sacred works by young clerics, and compositions written in conjunction with the study of music theory. “The concert will also feature a lively dose of music created for pure amusement value; yet even this finds inspiration in liturgical music,” adds Eben.
The idea to create this programme was prompted chiefly by two historical documents which, while relating to music only marginally, complement each other extremely well in their partial testimonies. These consist in the foundation charter and college regulations of Charles University’s Reček College, founded in 1438, along with an inventory of college property. “The Charter stipulates which divine services should be observed in the college and how the students should participate. The inventory of college property, on the other hand, tells us that the college owned several music manuscripts,” asserts Ciglbauer, whose research focuses on Central European Latin singing.
Music was a double-edged sword in the life of the college members. On the one hand, liturgical music was an essential part of the religious service; then again, other genres of music could incite students towards vice. “For this reason the college statutes regularly disallowed musical instruments (except quiet keyboard instruments), singing in national languages, and secular texts,” comments Ciglbauer. “But even this type of work spread briskly in intellectual communities.”
The concert programme traces the “liturgical week” of the university student. The “official” part, associated with the divine service incorporating plainsong and polyphonic sacred songs, is followed by an “unofficial” part, reflecting the recreational aspects and social life of the colleges. Here, the vocal performance will be accompanied by a musical instrument which was virtually the only one to be accepted in the university environment: the clavicembalum. The instrumental parts will be performed by the outstanding artist Corina Marti.