Belfast, 2-4 November 2007


Bach’s B-minor Mass: An Incarnation in Prague in the 1860s and its Consequences

Jan Smaczny

(Queen's University Belfast, UK)

Attention concerning concert life in Prague in the mid19th-century has tended to focus on contemporary novelties in the repertoire; between 1840 and 1870, in particular, music by Berlioz, Liszt, Schumann and Wagner. Recent research, however, has revealed that the repertoire being performed included a considerable amount of music from before 1800. In fact, in common with much of the rest of Europe, there is clear indication of an enduring interest in earlier repertoires and, in relation to certain works, a remarkably sustained performing tradition. Nevertheless, there is, in the gradually improving climate for performance in Prague in the middle years of the nineteenth century, a pervasive enthusiasm, often backed by scholarly interest, for the revival of works from earlier centuries.

The repertoire performed ranged broadly from as early as the music of the Hussite religious reformers and the works of Oswald von Wolkenstein to Hasse and Cimarosa. In terms of concert statistics, however, J. S. Bach was by far the most frequently performed of pre-Classical composers (Handel is the runner up). The Prague Organ School, founded in 1830 in order to improve standards in church music performance some two generations after the abolition of the Jesuit Order which had done much to maintain musical excellence in the Czech lands, was something of a nexus for Bach performance. Alongside this were the efforts of the Cecilia Society which gave many performances of Baroque music including the Credo of the B Minor Mass (1863).

This paper will focus on the ‘early music scene’ in Prague in the mid nineteenth century, the work of the Cecilia Society and their sources for Bach performance and, slipping sideways, the very direct impact that Bach’s music had on the performers who took part in these concerts, including Antonin Dvorak.

Last updated on 22 September 2007