The past few decades have seen a dramatic rise in interest in 17th- and 18th-century music of the former Habsburg Empire with recordings, scholarly publications and conferences all growing in number and visibility. Within this broader category, however, only a small handful of 18th-century composers from the Czech lands have had monographs written about them in English (Zelenka and Gluck spring immediately to mind). At least part of the reason for this apparent lacuna in scholarly treatment can be attributed to access to source materials. For most of the 20th century the Czech lands have either been engulfed in war or behind the Iron Curtain, which made conducting research there extremely difficult for most Westerners (and indeed many Czechs).
Nevertheless, throughout this period a formidable body of Czech scholarly literature has emerged around the rich musical heritage of the region in the 17th and 18th centuries and no post-war Czech scholar has made a larger contribution to this area than Professor Jiří Sehnal. The vast majority of his publications have been in Czech and therefore generally only accessible to a minority of non-Czech scholars. Now, after many decades of research and writing about a topic that has maintained his interest throughout his long and productive career, Sehnal has produced an impressive monograph on one fot he greatest trumpeters of the Baroque era and the caretaker of one of the most important surviving collections of 17th century music in the world.
The survival of the music collection at Kroměříž is little short of miraculous. When the collection was discovered for modern scholarship in the early 20th century by Antonín Breitenbacher, the archivist of the archbishop of Olomouc, the inventory was soon published (1928) in collaboration with one of the most important Czech musicologists of the time, Emilián Trolda. Sehnal points out that around thit time numerous scholars and choir directors took advantage of the openness with which the church of St Mořice in Kroměříž allowed access to the collection. Guido Adler borrowed and never returned numerous manuscripts. The choir director of Klosterneuberg borrowed 30 pieces in 1913, finnaly rutning 27 of them in 1935. As Sehnal puts it (p.68), more music was lent than returned. In the 17th century, the care and maintenance of the collection was left to the Moravian-born trumpeter and composer Pavel Josef Vejvanovský, who also copied more of the music manuscripts there than any other hand in the collection. The music itself has remained of great interest to schorals from around the world, though the detailed contexts of he works themselves, the musicians who perfomed them, and the performance circumstances at court and chapel, have remained elusive. Sehnal has now published the most thorough and single most important volume on the musical life of the court of Bishop Liechtenstein-Castelcorno and Pavel Vejvanovský to date. It is not only an important work in itself, but it also represents Sehnal´s largest work to be published in English–hopefully a portent of future closer collaboration between Czech and anglophone scholars. The monumental task of translating the book from the original Czech was undertaken by Judith Fiehler, for which she is to be congratulated and thanked. The translation is not without its problems, but I am hesitant to be too critical as translation work is notoriously arduous.
The book is certain to be a must-read for anyone interested in 17th-century music in the former Habsburg lands particularly Bohemia, Moravia and Austria. However, despite the seeming remoteness of the setting, this is not a study of a provincial court. The book informs us about music not only in and around Olomouc and Kroměříž, but also at the bishop´s other residences such as Vyškov, Mírov and Mikulov. In terms of local relationships peasants and minor nobles there is a great deal to be learned about musical life in Moravia, but the broader focus of the court (and certainly that of Liechtenstein-Castelcorno himsef) was on Vienna. The music collection at Kroměříž reveals a great deal about Viennese music in the second half of the 17th century, as well as about patterns of courtly behaviour more broadly in the Holy Roman Empire. Beyond Vejvanovský, composers with less provincial careers, such as Biber, Schmelzer, Bertali, Poglietti, Finger and others, are bound to catch the interest of many readers. Furthermore, the connections between Kroměříž manuscripts and Austria, England, France, the German states , the Low Coutnries, Hungary ,Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden and elsewhere should help make this book compelling reading for almost anyone interested in courtly music of the second half of the 17 th century. Sehnal´s book is sure to be warmly welcomed by anglophone scholars for whom much of this repertory has been of great interest, but for whom the finer details have remained elusive.
Source: Advance Access published on November9, 2011