Hudební Věda

The Novena to Saint Teresa of Jesus and the Work of Prague Composers around 1720

article summary

Václav Kapsa

The Novena to St Teresa of Jesus, a nine-day public devotion with a significant element of figural music, was first performed by the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Graz in 1718. The chronicle of the local convent contains an account of the origin of the Novena and how the music for the festivity was acquired by the Prior of Our Lady Victorious in Malá Strana from Joseph Brentner (1689–1742). His nine litanies and antiphons to St Teresa have been preserved in an anonymous and incomplete copy in Budapest and in a number of other copies and versions. Antonín Reichenauer (c. 1696–1730) also composed the music to the Novena in Prague before 1724. Around the middle of the 18th century, Carmelite P. Ildephonsus acquired new compositions for the Novena in Prague by Johann Adam Scheibl (1710–1773) of St. Pölten.

Brentner’s and Reichenauer’s antiphons, which were written over the course of several years in the same place and for the same purpose, have opened up the possibility of considering the existence of a local creative dialogue, ongoing stylistic changes or differences in the abilities of the two composers. Compared with Brentner, Reichenauer had a greater command of the instrumental ritornello and he had a more innovative approach to the rhythmic structure of his compositions. Both composers sought a wider application of their works, which were disseminated with more universal texts; the transformations of the compositions offer an insight into the contemporary strategies of their creators and the subsequent fates of their work. Although Brentner comes off the worse when comparing compositional abilities, his compositions have become much more widespread.

Music for the Novena to St Teresa and its context open a hitherto unknown chapter in the history of sacred music in Prague, confirm the relationship between Brentner and the Discalced Carmelites that was previously suspected by Emilián Trolda and point to the importance of the Carmelite Churches of Our Lady Victorious and St Joseph in the history of Prague’s music in the 18th century, which has not yet been further examined.

Keywords: 18th century sacred music; Baroque music; antiphons; litanies; figural music; Discalced Carmelites; Joseph Brentner; Antonín Reichenauer; Johann Adam Scheibl; Prague; St Teresa of Ávila

Translated by Benjamin Hague