Christmas Mass for 16

Opus OsmA Small Ensemble in a Cozy Space
“The Prague Singers are like a good wine,” says Viktor Takáč after the concert at the Atrium in Žižkov on December 22, “they get better every year.”

This former member of the Prague Singers (Pražští Pěvci) has since moved on to pursue a career in the visual arts, but he reunites with them every year for the traditional Ryba Mass Christmas concert. This is apparently the norm for the Prague Singers, an ensemble which Stanislav Mistr founded in 1992 and which has an extensive list of former members who continue to contribute.

The Prague Singers are a mixed student choir, which means that most of the members disappear once they gain a useful skill like “career”, “marriage,” or “other”. There are only sixteen of them, so every one is heard when they sing. They meet twice a week to rehearse, and tardiness is punished with a 50 Czech crown fine. That is a lot for students, so most come on time.

Rehearsals are quite brutal, because they have to learn to manage compositions written for full choirs.
Conductor/choirmaster Mistr tries to balance being demanding with words like “nice” and “inspirational,” he admits. As for this particular concert, he echoes the sentiments of Viktor Takáč: It was well done.

Opus Osm

Stanislav Mistr

He explained to Opus Osm that although Jakub Jan Ryba wrote the Czech Christmas Mass in 1796 for a complete orchestra, the conductor prefers the simplified version we were treated to today. “There is no way a full orchestra would fit on stage at the Atrium, but that is not a shortcoming. This rendition is more faithful to the livelier village versions that used to be performed. The smaller towns and villages back in the day also had no way to assemble a full orchestra.”

Over the centuries, Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass has become a musical symbol of Czech Christmas and the most popular Christmas Mass in the Czech lands. It is based on the traditional Latin Mass, but with a pastoral character that emphasizes a Czech description of the nativity scene in a Czech setting. With such a popular piece, it was unsurprising to see many in the audience singing along.

As the autograph manuscript was lost, parts of the composition were performed separately and the text was gradually adapted with changes in the Czech language. The Mass has short melodic motifs inspired by folk music and supported by a cheerful and fresh atmosphere. This folk character and its simplicity have excluded it from Catholic liturgy. However, the benefit is that it remains understandable and accessible to the general public.

From its inception, it was subject to many changes including instrumentation, text, and melody, and it has been transposed into different keys. This performance did nothing less than carry on that tradition.

The Prague Singers and soloists with the chamber orchestra performed to an appreciative full house. Though Jakub Jan Ryba penned over one thousand compositions during his career, his Czech Christmas Mass remains an enduring classic – one of a few that are still performed regularly. — oo

– Hana and Frank Trollman

Photo Credits: Frank Trollman

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared.

%d bloggers like this: