Monday, June 6, 2011: No Tragedy

Detail of an illustration from the cover of Marian Music, one of Adam Michna z Otradovic's most famous works

No Tragedy Here

For Once, No Tragedy in a Composer’s Life

So often, the biographies of Czech (and not only Czech) composers read as tragedies: this one died at a very young age, that one became deaf, another one died a pauper and only was appreciated centuries after death.

Not so for the Czech Adam with the interesting name, Adam Václav Michna z Otradovic.

The “z Otradovic” doesn’t mean “from the town of Otradovic,” but rather, indicates that he was a member of the noble Michna Otradovic family. They lived in the South Bohemia town of Jindřichův Hradec, where Adam was born around the year 1600.

Adam’s privileged dad was an organist and trumpeter, and his son was able to attend the town’s new Jesuit College established there in 1594. At that time in Czech history, the Jesuit order had the money, power, and the dedicated interest to establish schools and universities all over the Czech Republic, so it’s no surprise that even a small regional town like Jindřichův Hradec could offer such an educational opportunity.

The rest of Adam’s life appears to be basically — well, happy. He joined the town’s Literary Society, was the church’s organist and choir director, ran a licensed wine vault, and was a wealthy, well-respected citizen. He helped some young musicians financially, wrote poems, which he often put to his own music, and composed mainly sacred music. He was the outstanding musician for his time period, the early Baroque, and inspired and influenced later generations of composers.

His best known works are three hymn cycles, Czech Marian Music (Česká Mariánská Muzika), The Czech Lute (Loutna Česká), and Holy Year Music (Svatoroční Muzika).

Two Mysteries

Only two relatively minor mysteries remain unsolved about Adam Michna z Otradovic’s life. First, since he spent virtually all his life in a small regional town, where does the strong Italian influence in his music come from? And second, since only about a third of Adam’s compositions survive today (about 230) … where are the rest of them?

– Mary Matz

You can hear a short excerpt of Adam Michna z Otradovic’s work by clicking on the video below. You can hear how Adam Michna was influenced by folksong, as were so many other Czech composers. — oo

Jiří Kukal, tenor, and Jan Kukal, baritone, accompanied by Jakub Mikeš on piano, May 24 in the May concert of Karlínského Komorního Studia at the music library of the Music History and Ethnology department, Academy of Science of the Czech Republic.

Photo Credits: Video: Miroslav Setnička

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