Czech Christmas Mass

During Advent, which is a period of four weeks before Christmas, a special concert annually takes place all around the Czech Republic, called Czech Christmas Mass (Česká mše vánoční in Czech). It is a musical piece written by 18th century composer Jakub Jan Ryba and it is undoubtedly one of the best musical pieces of Czech classical music. On December, 10th, I attended that concert and this is my report about this brilliant musical event. The performance took place at the Church of Czech Brethren’s chapel Opatov, Prague.

The entire piece was performed and conducted by students of the nearby Evropská High school. Every year, since 1995, it is organized and lead by graduating class. The Mass itself consists of nine different parts and glorifies the birth of baby Jesus. It’s rich in playful and merry melodies and tunes, inspired by Czech 18th century folklore. This year’s orchestra included a choir of young boys and girls and four solo singers – soprano by Anna Mazáčková, alto by Helena Barčová, tenor by Jakub Erler and bass by Vratislav Šustr. Many instruments were involved, for example violins, cellos, timpanis, flutes, and especially a piano keyboard, which gave the entire performance traditional style with its church organ tune. Timpanis added a feeling of glorious fanfare and escalated the atmosphere by its stormy sound towards the very end.

Czech Christmas Mass has been traditionaly performed in Czech lands for centuries. Despite the prevalence of Latin in the then liturgy, Ryba wrote the text in Czech, because he wanted ordinary people to understand the true meaning of his work. The opening singing „Hej, Mistře“ (Hey, Master) has been an iconic part of the piece for centuries. Due to Ryba’s lyrical and musical mastery the Mass is and will be a significant part of the Czech culture.

Jakub Jan Ryba was born in 1765 in Preštice near Pilsen. Not only was he a composer, but he was a rural teacher as well. He was happily married and the father of thirteen children, however he struggled with depression throughout his life because of health issues and poverty. He finished the Mass in 1796, nineteen years before his death in 1815.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this concert and I can say that the student orchestra did a fantastic job. The performance took more or less one hour, but it seemed to me as if it was only several minutes. The Mass was very well conducted and also very well performed.

If you travel to the Czech Republic during Christmas time, take a visit to nearby church to find out more about this beautiful piece of music. Not only will Czech Christmas Mass entertain you, but it will also make you smile and provide you an extraordinary view of Czech Christmas traditions.

Photo: Alexey Kljatov (Flickr)

Text vznikl v rámci předmětu Angličtina pro žurnalisty pod vedením Mgr. Aleny Proškové.

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