Over the years, the Czech Christmas Mass, “Hej, mistře” (Hail, master!), by Jakub Jan Ryba has become an inherent part of Czech tradition. This is mainly owing to the simplicity, the emotional impact and pure comprehensiveness of Ryba’s music. Ryba wrote his Christmas Mass “Hail, master!” in 1796. Its programmatic sequence basically follows the plot used in the folk Christmas Nativity plays. In a rather unusual treatment of the introductory sections, Ryba demonstrates his ability to create a dramatic increase of tension among the listeners. The angel voices do not announce the birth of the Saviour until the second section of the Mass, the Gloria. In the first section, the Kyrie, the shepherds argue about the possible causes of the natural phenomena observed in the night. In the Graduale and the Credo the shepherds are preparing for their journey to Bethlehem. The Offertory pays homage to the new-born child. The three final sections, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, are presented as celebratory songs of praise before the cradle, with the choir in the final passage praying for peace on Earth to men of good will. Although in form this work has all the hallmarks of a Mass, the use of text and musical setting make it more like a Christmas cantata. —from the note to the excellent Naxos recording of the Czech Christmas Mass. The text of the Mass can be found at this Naxos link.
Czech Christmas Mass is a classic pastoral mass written by the Czech composer Jakub Jan Ryba in 1796. Because of its opening words, it is also known as Hail, Master! or Hey, Master! (in Czech: Hej, mistře!). Czech Christmas Mass was composed in a frame of the traditional Latin mass (with parts Kyrie, Gloria etc.), the story is based on the Christian theme of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Despite this, the work has a rather pastoral character with emphasis on a Czech description of the nativity in a Czech setting. During the centuries, the composition became the most popular Christmas mass in Czech countries and one of the musical symbols of Czech Christmas.
Ryba composed his most famous work in 1796, a year after he managed to resolve a dispute over his teaching methods with the priest Kašpar Zachar. He wrote the music to his own Czech libretto; It was his only mass composed to the Czech text. Ryba did not record this mass in his list of compositions created from 1782 to 1798; he mentioned only “seven pastoral masses, one of them in the Czech language.” The autograph manuscript was lost; today only the title page is preserved intact. Some parts of the composition were performed separately as pastorales and the text gradually adapted with changes in the Czech language. Though Ryba created more than 1,000 compositions, Czech Christmas Mass remains one of the few works of his performed regularly to date. —from Wikipedia; text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
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The featured image, uploaded by František Suchomel (Power), is a wooden nativity scene built every year in Mohelnice, Czechia in local church. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license and appears here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.