Encore: Reviving the forgotten Gottfried Finger

In this edition of Encore we find out what led the little known 17th century Moravian composer Gottfried Finger to leave London in disgust; we look at a recording of choral works by Pavel Krizkovsky, one of the key figures in the Czech musical revival of the 19th century, and we enjoy a beautiful and rare recording of Janacek's 'Otcenas'.

Gottfried Finger: a Moravian who crossed Europe

We start with a CD released on the Arta label devoted to the works of the little-known composer, Gottfried Finger. Petr Wagner plays the viola da gamba with the Ensemble "Tourbillon".

Finger was born in the Moravian town of Olomouc in approximately 1655, and died in Mannheim in 1730, so he was about a generation ahead of J.S. Bach. He was a virtuoso gambist himself, and wrote extensively for that instrument.

For centuries, Prague has been called the Conservatory of Europe because it exports so many skilled and talented musicians, and Gottfried Finger was one of them. Much of his career was spent in London, first in the court of James II, and then as a freelance composer and performer.

His career there ended when a contest to find the best opera composer in London was held, and, despite - or perhaps because of - his considerable success in the field, he came in fourth. He was mortally offended and left London in disgust, even though the contest was judged by the general public and not by his peers. He went on to work courts in Vienna, Berlin, Breslau (now Wroclaw), and Mannheim, where his work helped form the foundations of what came to be known as the Mannheim school of composition.

Choral music from a pioneer of the Czech musical revival

Finger lived and worked at a time when Bohemia was under Hapsburg rule, and Czech language and culture were in eclipse, but now we turn to a composer who was a key figure in the musical and cultural renaissance that began in the 19th century. His name was Pavel Krizkovsky and today he is little known.

Among his important sources were songs collected by the Moravian priest and folklorist, Frantisek Susil in the first half of the 19th century. Janacek, Dvorak and Martinu also used Susil's collections as sources for melodies.

Krizkovsky was himself also a priest - or more specifically an Augustinian monk - and directed the monastery's important musical establishment in Brno. Interestingly Leos Janacek was one of his pupils in the choir, and Janacek was very much influenced by him. He greatly respected Krizkovsky's skill as a composer and his role in the Czech musical revival.

Krizkovsky is featured on a new CD, called 'Choirs [i.e. choruses] Janacek, Krizkovsky', on the Arco Diva label, featuring the QVOX male vocal quartet from Brno. There are five pieces by Krizkovsky and 15 by Janacek, including some of Janacek's folk song settings.

The BBC Symphony Chorus sings Janacek's 'Otcenas'

Let's turn now to a CD from the BBC, which features choral music by Janacek as well as orchestral music by Martinu. The recording of Janacek's 'Otcenas' - Our Father - is quite exquisite, with the BBC Symphony Chorus under the direction of Stephen Jackson

Another interesting piece on the same CD is the Martinu Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and trumpet, performed by the Prague Philharmonic under Jiri Belohlavek. This was written at a time of great personal tension in Martinu's life, not only due to WWII which was on the horizon, but also because of the tension between his love for his wife, and his love for the young composer, his student, Vitezslava Kapralova. This was resolved with her marriage to Jiri Mucha, and sadly, shortly afterwards, by her untimely death at twenty-five. A lot of this goes into this piece. It is a work of great tension and feeling.

CDs reviewed in this programme are provided by Siroky Dvur