In Pragensi Ecclesia - Christmas at Prague’s Cathedral Under the Reign of Charles IV

SGP - In Pragensi Ecclesia

Reconstruction of a part of the Christmas liturgy according to the 14th century sources from the Prague Chapter. Includes polyphonic readings from the matins, tropes, etc.
Supraphon, SU 3191-2231, © 1996
Total time 66:57
Choc du Monde de la Musique (červenec 1997)  

Complete texts and commentary in Czech, English and French
Choc du Monde de la Musique (July 1997)

Schola Gregoriana Pragensis: Hasan El-Dunia, Jiri Hannsmann, Ondrej Manour, Martin Prokes, Stanislav Predota, Jan Stetka, Matous Vlcinsky, Radim Vondracek
artistic director - David Eben 

Ist Vespers
1. Antiphona Gaude et letare 2:34
2. Invitatorium Cristus natus est 1:28
3. Alleluia Excita, Domine 1:30
4. Lectio Primo tempore 7:00
5. Responsorium Hodie nobis de celo 1:41
First Christmas Mass (Midnight)
6. Lectio cum tropis Laudem Deo dicam 7:23
7. Introitus Dominus dixit ad me 2:15
8. Kyrie "de Beata Virgine" 1:51
9. Lectio Consolamini, consolamini 5:21
10. Responsorium Quem vidistis pastores 1:57
Second Christmas Mass (Morning)
11. Ad processionem hymnus Lumen clarum 1:35
12. Tropus Iam fulget - Introitus Lux fulgebit 2:49
13. Agnus Dei cum tropis Quem virgo concepit 2:04
14. Lectio Consurge, consurge 4:45
15. Responsorium Verbum caro factum est - tropus Gloria superno genitori 4:28
Third Christmas Mass (Christmas Day)
16. Sequentia Letabundus 3:16
17. Tropus Hodie cantandus est - Introitus Puer natus est 5:04
18. Lectio Liber generacionis 7:17

Commentary by David Eben:

It would doubtless be interesting actually to attend some of the festival ceremonies that used to take place at St. Vitus’ Cathedral in the Middle Ages. Still unable to travel in time, however, we have to rely exclusively on what can be learned about the subject from surviving written documentary evidence and other historical sources of information. As regards liturgy in Prague’s cathedral, we are fortunate enough to have available a fairly extensive body of source material on which to draw. Meticulously rubricated Prague breviaries make it possible to reconstruct all but completely the “scenarios” of certain ceremonies which were developed under the Prague rite into an entire sophisticated system involving a host of local particularities and making use of specific dispositions of St. Vitus’ interior.

This recording brings an attempt at reconstructing part of the Christmas services conducted in the cathedral, drawing on sources from the second half of the 14th century. These include most notably the manuscripts of Ernest of Pardubice, i.e., a series of codices commissioned in 1363 by the first Archbishop of Prague for the metropolitan chapter (Prague, Metropolitan Chapter Library, P VI — P IX).

The Christmas liturgy starts with the first vespers — the Christmas Eve service. Related to this canonical hour is the opening antiphon here, Gaude et letare Iherusalem, typical for the Prague rite.

A nocturnal canonical hour, matutinum, or matins, begins with an invitation for prayer (invitatory). In a most lapidary form, its antiphon makes known the principal idea of the feast: Christ is born unto us. The invitatory is followed by the hymn Veni Redemptor, one of the most mystical texts in the entire Western European hymnography.

Lecture is another permanent feature of matins. In Bohemia, Christmas matins Old Testament lectures would frequently involve the use of several voices. Here, the three lectures from the first nocturn — Primo tempore, Consolamini and Consurge — the first two of which are thoroughly unique compositions, exemplify a version discovered only recently in a late-14th-century manuscript which probably originated in the circle of the Prague archbishopric. They are characterized by an ingenious leading of the various voices, and by surprising dissonances. Contrapuntal lectures followed by responsories actually constitute a backbone of this album, being interspersed within the individual blocs of Christmas masses.

The Christmas liturgy consists of three masses: the first, “in primo galli cantu” (on the first song of the cock) — that is, the midnight mass; the second, “in aurora” (on dawn); and the third, principal mass, on Christmas Day. Under the rite observed by the Prague cathedral, each of these masses is celebrated at a different location. The first one is to be served at the west choir of Our Lady. Accordingly, it includes as its mandatory part the Marian ordinarium missae, from which the Kyrie “de Beata Virgine” here was taken.

Also part of the midnight mass is the remarkable lecture from Isaiah, Laudem Deo. A troped lecture, it features the text of the Scripture interspersed with poetic commentary by a medieval author, providing a highly emphatic reaction to Isaiah’s prophecy. The Prague breviaries carry an interesting note accompanying this particular lecture: “Laudem Deo, quam cantant duo pueri vel alii bene vociferati” — “Laudem Deo, which is sung by two boys or others well endowed with voice”. This note is particularly important in view of the fact that instances of troped recitation of Laudem Deo featuring two-voice passages are in fact documented also by the surviving late-l4th-century sources presented here. The singling out of two singers apparently relates to the alternate rendition of Biblical text and trope. The emphasis on the interpreters’ vocal skills, utterly unusual in a liturgical book, could have been inspired by the demanding two-voice passages in the lecture’s final section.

The locale for the celebration of the second mass, “in aurora”, is specified with equal precision: It is to be sung at the cathedral’s Chapel of St. Wenceslas. While the priests are on their way to the chapel, their progress is mandatorily accompanied by the processional hymn Lumen clarum; the individual verses sung by the soloists are responded to by a refrain delivered by the full choir. The main theme of this mass, served at daybreak, is the emergence of light as the symbol of Christ’s birth. The motive of light appears, apart from the aforetold hymn, Lumen clarum, also in the introit, Lux fulgebit, introduced by the trope, Iam fulget oriens.

The third, great mass, is celebrated on 25th December, naturally at St. Vitus’ main choir. Its introit, Puer natus est, is preceded by a dialogic prologue, Hodie cantandus est. The three verses of this prologue, performed alternately by two groups of singers (soloists and choir), are accompanied by an interesting spatial effect: namely, the first verse is sung from the main choir pulpit, the second from the opposite choir of Our Lady, and the third once again from the pulpit. The present recording strives to generate a corresponding impression of spatial distinction in the delivery of the individual parts of the passage in question.

The album’s final section, once again focusing on matins lecture, brings A Record of the Genealogy of Christ according to Matthew, with interesting variations of three-voice passages.