Rosa mystica - Devotion to the Virgin Mary in Medieval Bohemia

SGP - Rosa mystica - Devotion to the Virgin Mary in Medieval Bohemia

The so-called “old corpus” of Gregorian chant of the Carolingian period contrasted to the repertory of Bohemian chants of the late Middle Ages devoted to the Virgin Mary.
Supraphon, SU 0194-2231, © 1995
Total time 55:46
Complete texts and commentary in Czech, English and French

“Zlata Harmonie” (Golden Harmony Award) for the best Czech recording of the year 1995
Choc du Monde de la Musique (October 1996) 


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

1. Hymnus Ave maris stella 2:19
2. Offertorium Ave Maria 1:43
3. Psalmus responsorius Eructavit (Ps 44) 2:15
4. Responsorium Sancta et immaculata 2:10
5. Lectio Isaiae prophetae -Milan tonus 1:27
6. Graduale Audi filia 4:02
7. Communio Ecce virgo 1:47
8. Motetus Voce cordis - Pulchre Sion filia 1:37
Office of The Presentation of the Virgin
9. Hymnus O Dei sapiencia 2:10
10. Lectio Inter omnes 1:10
11. Responsorium Mirabile Deus comercium 2:14
12. Cantio Ave gloriosa 2:27
13. Alleluia Ave benedicta / tropus O Maria celi via 3:03
14. Anonym: Ave Regina celorum 1:16
Office of The Visitation of the Virgin (John of Jenstejn)
15. Antiphons for the first vespers:
Exurgens autem Maria - Et factum est - Exclamavit Elisabeth - Et unde michi hoc - Et beata que credidisti
16. Hymnus Assunt festa iubilea 2:46
17. Responsorium Magnificat / tropus Mater Cristi 4:36
18. Lectio Magnificat anima mea Dominum 3:06
19. Alleluia Ave stillans melle 1:45
20. Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz: Prelustri elucencia 2:24
21. Cantio Genitricem Dei cordialiter 1:38
22. Lejch Maria triuni gerula 1:48
23. Cantio Gaude quam magnificat 3:10

Commentary by David Eben:

Ever since early Christian times the Virgin Mary has been the object of very special devotion. Still in the olden days numerous Marian holidays would recall through divine services the crucial moments in her life, so intimately linked with the coming of Christ and the realization of His work. Their quest of definition of the Virgin Mary’s position in the context of the Christian cult would often present theologians with rather controversial alternatives. None of those theological disputes, however, have had repercussions in art. Rather on the contrary, what one sees there is an amazingly balanced and rich collection of works centred around Marian themes, covering both the visual arts, literature and music. Wishing to define a common denominator for all of this production, perhaps one would be closest to truth seeing it as an aspiration to express the mysterious union between virginity and fecundity, between physical beauty and spiritual profundity - as conveyed by the invocation from the Loretto litanies: “rosa mystica”, mystic rose.

Accordingly, the repertory of the present recording is imbued with specific poetry and lyric spirit. Moreover, its focus on Marian themes gave us the unique opportunity to present the whole spectrum of various forms, from “classic” Gregorian chant to religious songs (cantiones) and polyphonic compositions.

The introductory part is devoted to the earliest repertory, drawn from the so-called “old corpus” of Gregorian chant which became standardized in the Frankish Empire around the end of the eighth century. An indisputably unique chant, the offertory Ave Maria features a lyric melody which stands in contrast to the preceding dynamic hymn, Ave maris stella, and carries the words of the Annunciation: “Hail Mary, filled with grace...” Perhaps this particular song stood at the birth of one of the best known prayers to the Virgin. Most of the texts of Marian missal anthems, known as propria, derive from Psalm 44, Eructavit cor meum. Here it is performed in the ancient form of responsorial psalm. The interjections, “Alleluia”, with which the choir responds to the individual verses sung by the soloist, evoke the atmosphere of primal Christian prayer assemblies. The responsory Sancta et immaculata is part of the Christmas matins, i.e., a midnight office. Its melody, tuned to an intimate mood, meditates on the mystery of the Incarnation of Our Lord. Lecture from Isaiah is followed - similarly as aria follows recitative - by the gradual Audi filia, overflowing with vital melody and posing considerable technical demands on the interpreters. This section is concluded by the Advent communio Ecce virgo, to herald, with words from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the birth of the Messiah from a virgin.

In the 14th century Europe witnessed a new wave of Marian devotion, which also came to be felt very strongly in the Czech Lands. Among prominent worshippers of the Virgin were the like of King Charles IV and the Archbishop of Prague, Ernest of Pardubice. The popularity of the Marian cult also nourished creativity in the domain of sacred music. The second part of this album is devoted to chants from Bohemian sources dating from that period.

The two-voice motet Voce cordis - Pulchre Sion filia exemplifies the Central European motet production. Each of its two voices has a separate text of its own: while the tenor relates explicitly to the Virgin Mary, the motetus turns to her follower, in both virginity and saintliness: Saint Catherine. The 14th century saw the emergence of new Marian holidays, entailing the production of appropriate liturgic repertory. The first example here of a work from such repertory are songs from the office of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary (9-11). While the office is of French origin, the version used here comes from sources found in Bohemia.

Likewise popular in Bohemia during that period was the genre of sacred songs (cantiones). Their tradition has been carried as far down the centuries as to reach present-day liturgic practice. Three samples of these songs are featured here: Ave gloriosa, Genitricem Dei and Gaude quam magnificat. They differ from other choral melodies notably by their regular “mensural” rhythm. Sacred songs may also function as “tropes”, i.e. a type of musical interpolation or addition into other forms of choral chants. This method was employed here in incorporating two strophes from the cantio O Maria celi via into the verse Alleluia Ave benedicta. The three-voice Ave Regina celorum is represented rather abundantly in Bohemian sources of polyphonic music. This particular composition already corresponds to the early-15th-century polyphonic style.

One of Bohemia’s leading creative spirits of the 14th century was Archbishop John of Jenstejn. The office for the holiday of The Visitation of the Virgin (15-19) which he introduced to the Prague Archdiocese in 1386, is actually attributed to him. Unlike other offices from that time, the office for the Visitation does not use exclusively poetic texts in rhymed verse, but also biblical texts in prose. For instance, the five antiphons for the first vespers (15) offer a “serialized” account of the Visitation, using text from St. Luke’s Gospel. The antiphons of the vespers, however, involve the use of a structural principle that is typical for rhymed offices: namely, the sequence of the five antiphons corresponds to the octoechos sequence of modes (= scales), i.e., from the first through the fifth modes. Likewise related to the vespers are the hymn Assunt festa and the responsory Magnificat. While this responsory, too, draws its text from Luke, the versified trope at its end is an original poetic contribution. The text of the Magnificat also appears in the same holiday’s mass, as an evangel featuring an unusual solemn melody, which was probably composed specifically for that occasion. Equally remarkable is the Alleluia Ave stillans (also attributed to John of Jenstejn), whose “Phrygian” melodic pattern is combined interestingly with skips of fifth.

The two-voice cantio Prelustri elucencia exemplifies the output of Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz, a composer who was re-discovered not so long ago. An excellent musician of Polish extraction, he spent some time around the middle of the 15th century in Bohemia. The late medieval period was, among other things, a golden age of sacred lyrical poetry. This is demonstrated here by the lay Maria triuni gerula, filled with appealing imagery and metaphors.