Qui habitat in Jerusalem montes in circuitu eius

In the modern, compulsory-service era, there are plenty of examples of composers and musicians who also had military careers, but, in honor of Veterans’ Day, a composer-veteran from a time when the combination was fairly rare: Kryštof Harant. Born in 1564, Harant (full name: Kryštof Harant z Polžic a Bezdružic) was a minor Bohemian nobleman and actual Renaissance man whose military service came in the 1590s, soldiering for the Hapsburgs during their Long War against the Ottoman empire. The experience seems to have given Harant a taste for adventure, as he and his brother-in-law promptly embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a fairly dicey proposition for a pair of veterans of a religious war that was still going on. (The pair disguised themselves as monks from non-combatant lands.) Harant recorded the journey in a book, Cesta z Království Českého do Benátek, odtud do země Svaté (“Journey from Bohemia, by Way of Venice, to the Holy Land”), for which he himself provided some 50 woodcuts; the book also included a six-voice motet, Qui confidunt in Domino, which Harant composed in Jerusalem.

Harant became an advisor in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, who had moved the seat of the empire to Prague; but, as the power of the tolerant, art-loving (and somewhat libertinistic) Rudolf declined, the court moved back to Vienna, and Harant retired to his castle to write music. Throughout the early 1600s, the rest of the Hapsburgs were driven by increasing Catholic, anti-Protestant zeal, a tendency that bode ill for the Reformation in Bohemia. By the time matters came to a head, Harant himself had converted—to a sect called neo-Utraquism, whose nominal sticking point with Rome was whether the laity could partake of communion wine or not, although the underlying power struggle was essentially that of Lutheranism.

When, following a series of political twists and turns, the Elector Palatine, Frederick V, was elected King of Bohemia, Harant became his Privy Councillor. An unfortunate promotion, as it turned out—Frederick’s ragtag forces were decisively defeated at the 1620 Battle of White Mountain by mercenaries sent by the new Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, a ruler who took his duty to defend the faith awfully seriously. Harant was one of 27 nobles subsequently beheaded in Prague’s Old Town Square on what Bohemian Protestants came to call the “Day of Blood,” June 21, 1621.

Harant was the most important Bohemian composer of his time, which means he was the most important Bohemian composer for a long time, as Bohemia essentially ceased to exist, completely subsumed into the Hapsburg empire. Harant’s music was old-fashioned for its day, contrapuntal and firmly within the old Franco-Flemish school; one of his few surviving works is a cantus firmus mass on a Marenzio madrigal that was already a century old when Harant used it. Only a few months before the Battle of White Mountain, one of Harant’s masses had been performed with great pomp and ceremony in Prague’s Catholic church of St. Jakub, not far from the square where Harant would be executed. Inter arma enim silent Musae.

Harant’s music has been recorded by the Prague Madrigalists, the Capella Rudolphina, and the Italian vocal ensemble Triaca Musicale; the latter has audio samples on their site.

One comment

  1. Nice! I think I have a recording of some of his music, and I might even be able to find it in the wreckage. And his story ties in with my current musical thoughts, since I'm in the throes of reviewing Vec Makropulos, so Rudolf II, patron of Hieronymous Makropulos, is on my mind.

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