František Ignác Antonín Tůma was one of the Czech composers to have considerably influenced 18th-century European music. Along with J. D. Zelenka and G T. Muffat, he has been named among the finest pupils of Johann Joseph Fux, and, just like Zelenka, he rubbed shoulders with the political and social elite of his time. He was highly esteemed in Vienna, with his sacred music even serving as a model for younger composers, including Joseph Haydn and W. A. Mozart.
A dexterous theorbist and gambist, at the age of 19 Tůma most likely participated in the celebrations marking the coronation in Prague of Emperor Charles VI in 1723. Nineteen years later, in 1742, Tůma’s Requiem in c accompanied the soul mass for the self-same monarch on the occasion of the transfer of his remains to the sarcophagus in the Capuchin Crypt in Vienna. At the time, Tůma worked as Kapellmeister of the music ensemble set up by Charles’s widow, Empress Elisabeth Christine.
The Requiem in D minor, whose instrumentation was commensurate to the significance of the event (the orchestra was enhanced by a cornett, two trombones, a bassoon and two natural trumpets), was again heard at the funeral of Elisabeth Christine herself, in 1750. Tůma enjoyed great respect on the part of Empress Maria Theresa, who probably personally commissioned from him the Miserere in c. It comes as no surprise that following four acclaimed recordings of F. X. Richter’s works Czech Ensemble Baroque have focused on Tůma. His music definitely deserves our attention.
A requiem for an Emperor – a breath of new life to an Imperial Kapellmeister.
Moravia and Bohemia, two regions that are now part of the Czech Republic, have always been fertile breeding grounds of performing musicians and composers. It suffices to mention here Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and Jan Dismas Zelenka. From the mid-18th century quite a number of musicians from these regions settled elsewhere in Europe, where they played a substantial role at the music scene. Frantisek Ignac Antonin Tuma is one of them. He is relatively little-known, and until recently it was virtually only his instrumental music that was performed. In recent years some of his vocal music has been recorded, especially his Stabat mater in g minor. The disc under review here is a substantial contribution to our knowledge of the composer and his oeuvre.
Tuma was born in Kostelec nad Orlici in Bohemia and received his first music lessons from his father, who was an organist. He may have studied in Prague at the Jesuit seminary. Later he was probably a pupil of the organist Bohuslav Matej Cernohorský. Tuma was also active as a tenor and played the viola da gamba and the theorbo. At some time he settled in Vienna, where he became Kapellmeister to Count Ferdinand Kinsky, Chancellor of Bohemia, member of one of its leading aristocratic families, and Imperial envoy. He gave Tuma the opportunity to study with Johann Joseph Fux, the imperial court Kapellmeister. Fux had a substantial influence on Tuma’s development as a composer, and made him a skilled contrapuntalist. When his employer died in 1741, Tuma entered the service of the Empress Dowager, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (Charles VI’s widow). He remained in her service until her death in 1750. He was rewarded for his service with a high annuity, which allowed him to continue his career as a free artist. In 1765 Empress Maria Theresa increased his pension. The way he was treated attests to the high esteem, in which he was held.
The main work on this disc is the Requiem in c minor, which dates from 1742. This means that it was written during his time in the service of Elisabeth Christine. The imperial court went through a period of financial troubles at the time. In particular the Wars of the Austrian Succession had been very costly, and as a result there was less money to be spent on music. Tuma had only a relatively small ensemble of singers and players at his disposal. Five singers (tenors and basses) were joined by boys, and the instrumental ensemble consisted of fifteen players, which included a cornett, two trombones and a bassoon. These also participate in the Requiem. It also includes two parts for trumpets. As his employer’s musical establishment did not have any trumpet players, these had to be attracted for the performance. That performance took place at the occasion of the transfer of the remains of Charles VI, who had died in October 1740, to the sarcophagus in the Capuchin Crypt in Vienna. The Requiem was sung on 20 October by his widow’s chapel. In 1750, when she herself died, the work was performed once again.
The Requiem opens in an intimate fashion by solo voices; then the choir and the ensemble enter. In ‘Te decet hymnus’ the tutti alternate with duets of soprano/bass and alto/tenor respectively. The first Kyrie is powerful, whereas – as in so many masses – the Christe eleison is a duet, here for alto and tenor. The second Kyrie opens with a descending figure. The ‘Dies irae’ opens in full power with the tutti. ‘Tuba mirum’ includes an obbligato part for trombone, whereas a trumpet participates in ‘Iudex ergo’. ‘Recordare, Iesu pie’ is an intimate section for three solo voices (STB) and basso continuo, fitting in with the text: “Remember, gentle Jesus, that I am the reason for your time on earth, do not cast me out on that day”. ‘Iuste iudex’ has the character of a prayer: it includes a solo for alto and passages for soprano, tenor and bass. In the second half the two trombones enter. The section ends with descending figures: “That day is one of weeping, on which shall rise again from the ashes the guilty man, to be judged”. ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ ends with the words “let the holy standard-bearer Michael lead them into the holy light”, which is a solo for the tenor. In the Sanctus the trumpets and timpani participate, and – again, as in many masses – the Benedictus is a solo, here for bass. The trombones return in the Agnus Dei; the ‘Lux aeterna’ is a duet of soprano and alto.
It makes much sense to add a setting of Psalm 50 (51), Miserere mei Deus, one of the seven penitential psalms. It is about sin and a prayer for forgiveness, and in that respect it perfectly fits in with essential sections of the Requiem. Tuma has written many settings of this psalm; to date seven have been discovered, and the choice of this setting was an obvious one, given that it is in the key of C minor, just like the Requiem. The text is divided into nine sections; the scoring is for strings, trombone and basso continuo, with an obbligato part for the transverse flute in the fifth section, ‘Auditui meo dabis’, a solo for tenor. The second section, ‘Amplius lava me’, is a solo for bass, with the strings playing in dotted rhythms. The trombone participates in the fourth section, ‘Ecce enim’, a solo for soprano. ‘Domine, labia mea aperies’ (O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise) is a duet for soprano and alto. The penultimate section is slow and subdued: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise”. In the concluding section the four solo voices participate and the work ends with a fugue on the last phrase: “then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar”.
It is quite surprising that Tuma’s vocal music has received little attention until recently. The two works performed here are of excellent quality. The Requiem is a wonderful piece that can compete with any other setting that I know. I am quite impressed with the way in which Tuma has treated the text, both in his scoring and in his responsive musical translation. Given its relative modest scoring, this work should be within the grasp of many ensembles. The solo parts are not that technically demanding. The setting of the Miserere is also very fine, and this work is a meaningful addition to what is available for the period of Lent and for Passiontide. It makes me curious for other settings of this text by Tuma.
I am not only happy with these two works, but also with the way they are performed here. I have heard this ensemble before, and it has never disappointed me. Its qualities are confirmed here. The singing of the vocal ensemble is outstanding, and those members who take care of the solos do a great job. The fact that they are part of the vocal ensemble guarantees that these pieces are treated as what they are: works for an ensemble of singers and players, not for solo voices, choir and orchestra. The instrumental ensemble is top-class as well; the obbligato parts are perfectly executed.
Here everything is as it should be. I am very much looking forward to more recordings of Tuma’s oeuvre.
— Johan van Veen (© 2022)