“Nitra is one of those impeccable, regularly built and always rejuvenating cities”
wrote Jozef Kompánek at the end of the 19th century.
Nitra’s historical significance, both in domestic and Central-European context, is likewise indisputable. It benefited from advantageous geographic and economically suitable conditions, and from contacts with Vienna, Bratislava (then Pressburg) and Esztergom. While the position of the church in the past (and not only then) was strong, bishopric towns were not merely church administration centres, but also cultural centres. The same held true for Nitra. The bishop, holding also a county governor post for a certain time, was a representative of both, ecclesiastical and political life. From his seat culture spread to all corners of the city, even beyond its borders. It was helped by various orders active in the town, some of them remaining to this day. Benedictines lived there from the 9th century, Franciscans (from 1624), Camaldolese (1695), Nazarenes (1766), and Piarists in particular had an important position.
In the first half of the 18th century Nitra went through various catastrophes such as the plague and Rákóczi’s anti-Habsburg uprisings, and political-economic instability went in their wake. The second half of the 18th century was marked by a spirit of consolidation, construction boom on the castle hill and development of culture. The late 18th century canonical visitations in the Cathedral of St. Emmeram reveal some information regarding musical instruments, setup of music ensembles, and two organs: the first one, major in choro cum pedali, and the other minor … in choro minor. Both were built by Martin Zorkovský in the period 1718–1723, when Bishop Ladislav Adam Erdődi was in office (active 1706–1736). The great organ presumably had 14 stops distributed between the console, positive and pedal. The independent, small positive with four stops was designated for the lower gallery. All this allows us to presume a standard musical life in the 18th century Nitra, and in the bishopric seat with the cathedral. Documented musical instruments from the second half of the 18th century (almost 50 in total in the cathedral) suggest the existence of an instrumental ensemble. From 1764 we have evidence confirming the performances of both cathedral and Piarist orchestras during an important event: the successor to the Hungarian throne, the future Joseph II visited Nitra: “Although it was not precisely stated when would he pass the city, he was expected here for the whole afternoon with mortars prepared on the city walls and bellringers with bells. As after the fires there were no appropriate representative premises in the city, the municipal authorities decided to build a sumptuous marquee with refreshment, and prepared spare mail coaches and farmer wagons with necessary service, where Bishop-Governor Gusztinyi with chapter canons, Mayor Kelemen with the municipal council, cathedral orchestra and guard of honour of Batthyány’s cavalry regiment of the Nitra County awaited the visitation from 2 pm. Standing close to the Turkish Gate were members of the Piarist orchestra, and grammar school students together with numerous inhabitants stood in a row along the Dlhá Street up to the square.” [Fusek – Zemene, pp. 240-241] Available sources reveal that although these musical bodies did not consist of permanent paid musicians, they were used both in church ceremonies and in other social events of the city. It was presumably the students of the Piarist grammar school and Seminary of St. Ladislaus in Nitra who were members of these orchestras.
With the existence of such ensembles the presence of note material is linked, as the inventory of music material from the Piarist monastery in Nitra, Inventarium Chori Nitriensis Scholarum Piarum (from the period 1749–1773) documents. It includes 1,790 works, and lists several dozens of musical instruments as well. In her PhD thesis Helena Červeňová (Stančeková) outlines that sacred pieces of vocal-instrumental setup prevail in this inventory. German authors of sacred music, Italian contemporary musicians and Czech music emigrants dominate among the composers. There are also some secular works there which were performed both during solemn services and outside the church. The Piarist order came to Nitra in 1698 and has been active to this day. Piarists founded the grammar school, their church was a parish church of the Lower City, they took care of the education of youth and their cultural activities were not limited to the monastery walls; they played an important part in the cultural life of the city.
In addition to an organist there were four paid singers active in the Nitra Cathedral of St. Emmeram in 1764. In the late 18th century the number of musicians-singers increased to eight. A distinctive figure of castle musical life, Joseph Vavrovits, gained the post of the church choirmaster in 1776. In 1787 Franz Xaver Fuchs occupied the seat of bishop. He was an important patron of musical life in the Cathedral of St. Emmeram, and sponsor of Bernolák’s followers. Fuchs deliberately supported music and education. Ladislav Kačic described his positive relationship with the Piarist P. Norbert Schreier SchP. What they had in common was their affection for the Slovak Learned Society and love for music. Schreier, being also a perfect orator and Latin poet, dedicated majority of his poems to him (and set to music some of them), including the poem on the occasion of his appointment as Archbishop of Eger. Reciprocally, Fuchs sponsored the printed edition of Schreier’s popular composition Praecepta Salomonis.
In 1802 Bishop Fuchs donated over 330 musical works to the Nitra cathedral, as well as several musical instruments. In this he was helped by Vavrovits who was responsible for the selection and arrangement of this benefaction. Based on inventories, 2,370 works of various composers and 80 musical instruments were documented in the period 1801–1814 in the Cathedral of St. Emmeram in Nitra, something that is indeed unique for the time. With the secular character of the works prevailing, the inventories prove the use of all music genres and forms. Church pieces are commonplace, as they were used in mass ordinary, proper and office during church ceremonies. Secular music is represented by a number of quartets, symphonies, sonatas, concertos and other chamber genres. Numerous dances and marches are of special insterest. There are also popular piano and violin schools there, testifying to the musicians’ education and accentuation of performing abilities. Many documented works attest to the up-to-dateness of the Nitra bishopric court and cultural equality with other bishopric seats in our territory.
From this prestigious music repertory of the Classical period only a fraction has been preserved in the Bishopric Archive in Nitra to this day, but it is even more important, as it authentically follows the tendencies in the sphere of music forms, genres and composers, present also in other music inventories from the early 19th century.
The most important and interesting musician whose work is contained in the Bishopric Archive is a member of the Piarist order, P. NORBERT SCHREIER SchP (1744–1811), who entered the order in 1767. He went through a novitiate in Kecskemét, where he later worked as a teacher of music. According to Ladislav Kačic’s research, in a position of Institutor musicae Schreier was active also in Nitra, where he started to study philosophy in 1769 and intensely dedicated himself to composition at the time. In the period 1768–1773 he occupied the post of a church choirmaster and substantially contributed to the choir repertory of the Nitra Piarist church with his own compositions, church pieces, symphonies, music to school plays etc. Three years later he was transferred by Piarists to Cluj (today Cluj-Napoca in Romania), where he stayed for 16 years. Schreier returned to Nitra in 1794 and worked as a professor of church history, theology, oriental languages, Hebrew and Greek languages. His career advanced and in 1800 he became the rector of the Piarist college in Banská Štiavnica. In his declining years he returned to Nitra, and during Napoleon’s wars retired to Nýrovce, where he died. His Missa Solemnis ex D sign. 85 has been completely preserved in the Bishopric Archive in Nitra in the copy of J. Vavrovits.
In the archive we can also find the only work by the cathedral organist JOSEPH VAVROVITS (1751–1831), the author of inventories from the early 19th century. It is a set of 20 little polonaises titled Pollonese sign. 58. From the style of the manuscript we can say that it is a private copy of the work made by the composer himself. The authenticity of this work has not been confirmed with certainty so far; Polonaises No. 2 and No. 6 are almost identical with polonaises of a German organist from Leipzig Carl Immanuel Engel (1764–1795). At the beginning of the 19th century Vavrovits was an active cathedral choirmaster. Occasionally two boys (pueros), discantist and altist, helped in the church. Compared to the end of the 18th century, the number of musicians was reduced to five paid choirsters. Namely Choralista 1mo Josephus Pool, Choralista 2do Antonius Schroth, Choralista 3us Mathias Zlatnik, Choralista 4us Casparus Vagner, and Choralista 5us Franciscus Czarda. In the inventory from 1814 there is an enclosed document in which Vavrovits stipulates the rules and conditions for musicians’ performances at funerals and other ceremonies, and he focuses on justice in financial remunerations. From the document we can learn that in the case of a late arrival at the mass (after readings) the musician in question will be reprimanded and will not be paid. All acts during the liturgy serve God’s glory, they are executed publicly, and therefore the musicians are obliged to exert the greatest efforts to gain recognition. Point 8 specifies that they should not waste their wage in pubs and if they are caught, they will be punished and they will lose the amount of two payments. The document required the musicians’ signatures, but apart from Vavrovits no other name appears there.
From the music by domestic greats ANTON ZIMMERMANN’s (1741–1781) cassation Cassatione ongherese (MúdZi, III/2: G3) have been preserved in the Bishopric Archive in Nitra. From 1776 Zimmermann was in the service of the Primate of Hungary, Cardinal Joseph Batthyány, working as an artistic director, violinist and composer. At the Primate’s command he assembled an orchestra, for which he also composed. In May 1780 he became an official organist of St. Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava. During his life he was a popular and sought-after composer and his pieces were printed and published also in Vienna. Zimmermann’s oeuvre comprises almost 500 documented items, musical sources, which are sorted in Darina Múdra’s thematic catalogue according to their music genres. They can be found in many European countries, most widespread in Bohemia and Moravia. Zimmermann’s work was popular also in the territory of Austria and last but not least his pieces are abundantly present in Slovak institutions. His Cassatione ongherese, solo cassation for violin, presumably originated in 1776–1780. The titles of particular movements of the piece suggest an inclination towards the programme character of the composition. In all its movements we can find characteristic figures which can remind us of Hungary. For instance, the usage of dotted rhythm, melodic inspirations from traditional music and Lydian passages. An inscription “di ogni Sorte” on the preserved copy of the piece from Nitra points to the fact that the piece gathers “diverse compositions”; however, by this the composer did not mean the formal, but the expressive aspect of the work.
At the beginning of the 19th century musical life at Nitra castle achieved its peak. Index Instrumentorum of the Nitra cathedral from the early 19th century gives the number of 80 instruments, attesting to a positively rich set of instruments. Apart from standard string, wind and keyboard instruments we can also find here Luna Turcica and Tamboro Turco. The composers of the Vienna-Austrian circle are most noticeably present in inventories from this period, and this holds true also when comparing the quantity of their preserved music material. The second most influential group contributing to the musical life at the Nitra castle were composers from Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. In one of his book of travels from the 18th century Charles Burney wrote: “Indeed, Vienna is so rich in composers, and incloses within its walls such a number of musicians of superior merit, that it is but just to allow it to be, among German cities, the imperial seat of music, as well as of power. This might be manifested by a recapitulation of what I heard, and saw, during my short residence there; but I shall leave that to the reader’s recollection, and only mention the names of Hasse, Gluck, Gasman, Wagenseil, Salieri, Hofmann, Haydn, Ditters, Vanhall, and Huber, who have all greatly distinguished themselves as composers; and the symphonies and quartets of the five last mentioned authors, are perhaps among the first full pieces and compositions, for violins, that have ever been produced.” [Burney, p. 124] Also the work by an Austrian composer and church choirmaster of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, LEOPOLD HOFMANN (1738–1793) is ample, counting 31 pieces in total. One of the preserved pieces of his is Fermate al Concertino sign. 41 for solo violin and cello. Secular music by Czech composers from the Classical period is represented by three preserved (out of 20 originally registered) pieces by VÁCLAV PICHL (1741–1805): Sinfonia in D (ZakP 4) with a subtitle Saturnus, which is also present on our recording, Sinfonia in C (ZakP 9) and Sinfonia in D (ZakP 16). Even music by Italian composers could be heard in Nitra. An aria sung by Catone (tenor) Va’, ritorna al tuo tiranno from the opera, or dramma per musica, Catone in Utica by NICCOLÒ PICCINNI (1728–1800) with Pietro Metastasio’s libretto has been preserved. The work is originally in the Italian language, but the note material from Nitra also includes a less known Latin version of the text. This version is present on our album.
In the 1820s the music inventories of the Nitra cathedral document an increase of over 60 pieces. Unfortunately, this astonishing Classical music fund gradually disappeared from the inventories during the second half of the 19th century. From this closing phase a great part of IGNAZ ALOYS HUBLER’s work (18th/19th cent.) has been preserved. He came from Moravia, and in January 1822 he got married in Nitra to Anna Fingermann of the same origin. In September of the same year their daughter Maria Anna was born and three years later a son Carl Johann. During a heavy plague epidemic in Nitra (1831) his wife and daughter died. Hubler actively participated in Nitra’s musical life, namely at the castle. He sang during solemn occasions in services. As a composer he focused on church music, which was performed also outside Nitra, e.g. his Missa brevis ex E was quite successful. In the Catholic church, a missa brevis usually consists of a complete ordinary, some parts of the text may be abridged, or a smaller instrumental setup used. Another typical factor may be the simultaneous singing of various texts by several voices together, or the part of Benedictus composed as an aria. The precise definition of this genre is sometimes difficult, as the denomination “brevis” could relate only to the duration of the mass, while the text was sung in its entirety. Hubler’s mass is a model example of such a genre, a short mass, which was often composed by the supreme Classical composers. It has all movements of the ordinary, texts of Gloria and Credo are abridged and in some passages bass sings its own different text simultaneously with the remaining voices. The line-up is for 4 voices, violin 1 and 2, and organ (figured bass). This facilitates the usage of the piece. My opinion is that Hubler knew the mass work of the giants like Haydn and Mozart, as their masses were rather widespread in our territory, and especially in Nitra. Perhaps he may have used them as models, in terms of the construction of the music form. Similarly to Mozart, who inclined to operatic style in his masses, Hubler’s work, too, reveals similar influences, e. g. in Benedictus (A major), which Hubler composed as a da capo aria for solo tenor.
In his work on Nitra from 1895 Jozef Kompánek wrote: “…a solemn Veni Sancte took place, and the next day a festive enthronement, in which Mr. Leopold Dušinský, the director of the Cathedral choir, captivated us with his new compositions, filled with a spirit, surprising with their harmonies, and enthralled us to devotion, as well as to admiration of his work. Ad multos annos!” [Kompánek, pp. 119-120]
LEOPOLD DUŠINSKÝ (1833–1911) attended the Prague organ school (with Karel F. Pitsch). After finishing his studies he came to Slovakia and he worked as a teacher-organist in Bánovce nad Bebravou for a short time. In 1863 he transferred to Nitra, where he later became the church choirmaster of the Cathedral of St. Emmeram. Dušinský’s activities originally concentrated mostly in the cathedral, where he was a teacher and cathedral choirmaster, leading the Mixed Church Choir and Orchestra. In addition he dedicated himself to compositional work, his gradual Timete Dominum for solo voice with organ accompaniment can be found in the Slovak National Museum-Music Museum (MUS XIV 1). Next to his own compositions he also arranged other sacred music pieces. Helena Zsilinszká, who wrote a diploma thesis on Dušinský’s oeuvre, describes how actively he participated in organizing music academies and soirées. He was not only a skilful composer and conductor, but also a teacher of piano and violin playing. In 1894 Bohumil Štetka took the post of the second organist and chorister in the cathedral. He was a pupil of Antonín Dvořák, and after Dušinský’s death he became his successor in the Cathedral of St. Emmeram.