At the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, the notables of the eastern Bohemian city of Hradec Kralove included Jan Franus, a well-to-do draper and-like most local citizens-follower of the moderate wing of the country's Protestant Hussite movement. Still before the end of the 15th century he became an alderman and even served a term at the top of the municipal hierarchy, as the city's mayor.
Franus' bequest to posteriority, however, does not consist solely in the surviving fragmentary period documents of his public activity. "On the eighth day of November of the year 1505 after the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, five days from the conjunction under the sign of Leo of the merciless, chilly Saturn and the wrathful Mars, a diligent man, Master Jan, by his surname Franus, a burgher of the city of Hradec Králové, who was established in the draper's trade, commissioned in his zeal at his own expense amounting to the sum of 3,300 Prague groschen for the Church of the Holy Ghost this book which is a truly memorable and grandiose work."
The original Latin version of the above text is inscribed in one of the pages of the said manuscript. Its words of praise for the work are by no means exaggerated. The description of its appearance alone suggests a good deal: the codex, whose size is 66 x 43 cm, weighs several dozen kilos, and its 367 sheets are copiously illuminated. For his part, the musician will appreciate most the musical contents of this source, which attest to the rich palette and great variety of the sacred music of that period.
The repertoire which is featured on this recording splits essentially into three categories. The first one is represented by the monophonic Gregorian chant, including both examples of plainsong inherited from the Carolingian epoch (Rorate celi, Terribilis est locus, a.o.), and late medieval monodic songs (e.g., new propria for the day of Corpus Christi). The second formal category comprises sacred songs (cantiones), mostly monophonic, with the odd instance of polyphony. These chants may be sung separately or else, in certain cases, they may function as interpolations or additions to other choral works. This is exemplified here by the insertion of two stanzas from the song, Ave Trinitatis cubile, into the choral Kyrie eleison. The third section of the present repertoire is constituted by polyphonic compositions, such as motets, where each of the voices is assigned a text of its own (Jacob scalam - Pax eterna - Terribilis est locus, Unde gaudent - Eya Dei hierarchia - Nostra iocunda curia, etc.).
Interestingly, two of the motets presented on this CD come from the pen of a known author: namely, Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz, an outstanding composer of Polish origin who was probably active in Bohemia around the mid-15th century.
Of the immense wealth of material offered by the Franus Hymn Book, we concentrated here on four liturgical subjects. First, the two principal "pillars" of the liturgical calendar: the repertoire of the periods of Advent and Christmas, and that associated with Easter. There follows an evocation of the theme of sacred ground, in chants related to the feast of the Dedication of the Temple. The last section is devoted to the day of Corpus Christi, with its principal theme of devotion to the Eucharist (the transformed host). This particular devotion was of prime importance not only to the Utraquists, but to the Christian world as a whole.
Finally, let me quote once again the writer of the manuscript, describing elsewhere in the already cited text the motives underlying the origin of Franus' magnificent book: "The strongest reason for its making was that it should become the source of constant and abundant celebration and worship of the immortal God and all His saints. Hardly could he [i.e. Franus] in his turn contribute to the salvation of his soul in larger measure than he did through this excellent and glorious work."
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