Good liturgical reasons

Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II

The Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II was a man of the Age of Reason.  He sought to bring about far-reaching church reforms in the German-speaking world. These are referred to as Josephinism, and they included making the church services more accessible to the layman, modelled on some of the ideas of the Protestant Reformation. There were to be hymns sung in German, musical settings should be as brief as the text allowed, and there should be no purely instrumental music. In the pursuit of brevity, to shorten the long text of the Creed, it became the practice to sing several lines of text simultaneously. 

There was some controversy over the appointment of Archbishop Colloredo. The local ‘favourite’ for the position was the conservative current Dean of the cathedral, but Colloredo was a keen advocate of Josephinism, so he was appointed over the Dean’s head. Altogether it proved something of a poisoned chalice.

The Habsburgs and Czech culture

At the time, the Czech Republic was part of the Habsburg Empire. The Emperor Franz Josef was the absolute monarch. Vienna being the main cultural centre, German was the accepted language; indeed Czech culture was suppressed. However, on 20th October 1860 the Emperor issued a decree that absolutism would be abolished; from now on the Czech language and culture should no longer be suppressed.

There was an immediate move to build a new, specifically Czech National Theatre in Prague.  When it opened, strangely, given its association with the upsurge in Czech culture, the repertoire of the theatre was entirely German, French and Italian – until 1867.  In that year Smetana became the theatre’s principal conductor.  He insisted that Slavic composers’ work be strongly represented – so composers such as Glinka, Smetana himself, and later Dvorak and Janacek, became core repertoire of the theatre.

Lobkowitz Family


Prince Ferdinand Josef Lobkowitz

The Prince Lobkowitz of Dvorak’s time was Ferdinand Josef. He was a prominent industrialist, particularly in the production of sugar. Like his father, he was a patron of the Arts.




Prince Josef Franz Lobkowitz


It was his father who was Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz, the important patron of Haydn, and particularly Beethoven. Beethoven dedicated his op.18 quartets and the 3rd, 5th and 6th symphonies to him, along with the ‘Harp’ Quartet, the Triple Concerto and his song-cycle An die Ferne Geliebte. He was an enthusiastic and talented amateur musician with his own private orchestra. He was a founder-member of the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna (who sponsored the first performance of Haydn’s Creation) and was a director of the Court Theatre.

By 1811 he was in ‘financial difficulties’!

Josef Hlávka

Josef Hlávka was an architect.

Josef Hlávka 1895

Like Dvorak, he was of humble origins. He studied first in Prague, and then in Vienna. Having completed his studies, he worked in Vienna as a brick-layer for a fellow Czech, František Šebek.  When Šebek retired, he left Hlávka his considerable building business.




Hlávka was responsible for several major projects including the Vienna State Opera and a maternity hospital in Prague. He became a man of considerable means, and a major patron of the Arts. His substantial financial support enabled the foundation of The Czech Academy of Science and the Arts.

Vienna State Opera
Prague’s Maternity Hospital



He married twice, but both  his wives died young, leaving him no heirs. So when he died he left his entire fortune to the educational and cultural charities he had established.

His importance and generosity was such that 2008, the 100th anniversary of his death, was declared as a UNESCO World Cultural Anniversary.


Contretemps with Kuhnau

Kuhnau was J.S.Bach’s very distinguished predecessor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. He was enjoying a glittering career as composer, lawyer, novelist and general man of letters.  When he was 41 he was unanimously appointed Kantor at the Thomaskirche, but that was when things started to go downhill.

A young  Georg Telemann enrolled at the university, like Kuhnau, to study Law, but he, as did Kuhnau before him, became very active musically. He established a collegium musicum which was a rival to Kuhnau’s establishment and attracted Kuhnau’s musicians and some of his pupils. He even approached the mayor for permission to compose music for the Thomaskirche, utterly undermining Kuhnau. To rub in salt yet further, in 1703, when Kuhnau was suffering one of several periods of illness, the council asked Telemann to succeed him, should he die.

Kuhnau, in fact, lived for a further 21 years.



St.Thomas’s new Kantor

When Kuhnau died in June 1722 the Leipzig authorities needed to find a new Kantor for the Thomaschule. This was a prestigious post and there were six applicants. The obvious front-runner was Georg Philip Telemann,

G. F. Telemann

who was very highly regarded and already had connections with St. Thomas’s. He showed definite signs of accepting the post, but the Hamburg Senate tried to block his acceptance. Telemann argued that if they wanted him to remain in Hamburg they should raise his salary. This they duly did, and he duly stayed.


So Leipzig looked to their
2nd choice, Christoph Graupner, who was Kappelmeister in Darmstadt and one of Kuhnau’s distinguished pupils. Graupner was keen to accept, until Darmstadt offered to increase his salary and improve his status – an offer he could not refuse.

This left them with the 3rd choice.

Councillor Platz observed, ‘As the best man cannot be got, we must make do with the mediocre’ – namely one J.S.Bach!

One of the duties of the position was that they should teach the boys Latin. All of the applicants refused to accept this, but the upshot was that Bach, as successful applicant, had to employ a Latin teacher and pay him out of his own salary.


friends and relations

Living upstairs at the Hôtel de Guise was Marie’s nephew, the Duc de Guise and his wife, née Isabelle d’Orleans, known as Madame de Guise.

Apart from composing music for them, no doubt the family connection eased Charpentier into the position of music teacher to Phillipe d’Orleans (nephew to the king).

It was probably through the family that Charpentier came to work with Molière and his theatre, La Comédie Française.  Lully was the composer Molière employed to produce incidental music for his plays; but they fell out. Charpentier took his place and continued a fruitful association with Molière and La Comédie (after Molière’s death) for 20 years.


Mademoiselle de Guise and the Italians

In her 20s, Marie was exiled with her family to Florence.

 There she became very attached to the Medicis, with whom she remained in continual contact for the rest of her life. Being immersed in Italian high culture, she became very attached to Italy, its art and particularly its music. So it is hardly surprising that she pounced on the young, highly gifted and Italianate Charpentier.

The Italian style

One aspect of the Italian style was the approach to the setting of words.

Since the turn of the 17th century, Italian composers had become obsessed with giving vivid expression to words, as in the madrigals of Gesualdo and in the first operas, particularly of Monteverdi. This brought a new boldness in the use of striking harmonies and chromaticisms.

Charpentier did not meet Monteverdi, (Monteverdi died the year Charpentier was born!); but he met, and was strongly influenced by one of his disciples, Carissimi. When he returned to Paris, Charpentier took with him the scores of works by Carissimi, much music in his ‘prodigious musical memory’, and the Italian style in his bones.