‘Zercalo Marijansko’: Some Thoughts on Croatia Religious Hymnals of the 17th and 18th Centuries

Ennio Stipcevic

American Croatian Review, Year IV, No. 3 and 4, 1997, pp. 17-18.

     Every contemporary attempt to fathom the culture of the Baroque in Croatia cannot avoid considering the difficult and catastrophic political situation in Croatia during the 17th and 18th centuries. Croatia was a land divided and ruled by the Venetians, the Habsburgs, and the Ottoman Turks. The population constantly fluctuated as wars, epidemics, and migration took their toll: instead of gentle Baroque music, one could hear the echoes of horses’ hooves. During this long period of constant insecurity, (Pavao Ritter Vitezovic called the period plorantibus Croatiae saeculu duo), there remained only a small class of scholars with a good grasp of the political situation in Croatia, who were engaged in saving authentic artifacts of cultural and spiritual value. In Croatian towns, music was present as a part of organized public life, primarily as a composite part of celebrations and festivities. The noble families of Croatia had become impoverished, and only a few were able to give temporary employment to a selected group of musicians or small ensembles. It was the Croatian clergy who were the main, and most reliable financial supporters of musicians at this time.

     During the Baroque, the Catholic Church and its religious orders–especially the Jesuits, Franciscans, and the Paulines–ensured the musicians the necessary continuous financial support. The impossibility of finding permanent employment in secular circles influenced musical production, repertoire, and the very characteristics of contemporary musical expression, considerably.

     Removed from the colossal European Baroque movement, musicians in Croatian lands were faced with problems that were different and necessary to solve. It was necessary to give the audience–primarily people gathered in church–music that would carry an understandable message and be, at the same time, modern and authentic. There was no concept or aesthetic ideal stronger than the need felt by Croatian cultural workers and their art, to destroy imposed boundaries and to achieve that goal through politics. Very slow and difficult acceptance of musical innovations in Northern Croatia, where the reliquiae reliquiarum of any hope for Croatian sovereignty were scattered, resulted in an inevitable and conscious withdrawal of elitism and regionalism.

     The Franciscans, whose monasteries were spread beyond politically imposed borders, played the most important role in these endeavors at the beginning of the 18th century. However, the beginning of the Baroque in Croatia was initiated by the waves of the Catholic Restoration Movement which came to the coastal regions in the first decades of the 17th century.

     The religious reformation based on Luther’s doctrinal views, had been accepted with some reserve in Croatia. The Protestant Reformation primarily influenced the northwestern part of Croatia, namely, Medjimurje and Istria. It did some good in that it promoted literacy with the help of the printing press. The high hopes and plans of the Croatian Protestants, (Stjepan Konzul Istranin, and Antun Dalmatin) of promoting literacy and the printing of religious books were later to come true. After the Council of Trent, the Jesuits took it upon themselves to finish what had been started. The Counter-Reformation in Croatia was, therefore, seen more as a move towards Catholic renewal: the Jesuit cultural activities were basically a reflection of the complex religious and political state of affairs in Croatia. Seen in this context, music played a specific role in Croatia.

     The music of the Jesuits had two main functions: 1.) to preserve, codify, and perpetuate sacral airs and secular folk songs, and, 2.) to take charge of the theater and its performances. Just how industrious the meticulous and serious-minded the Jesuits were when they drew up their program, can be seen in the works of Bartul Kasic. Kasic’s linguistic point of view is explained in the introduction to the Ritual rimski istoma en slovinski (Rome, 1640), a work which is also important for the history of music in Croatia as well. The Croatian translation was directly inspired by the Rituale romanum Paul V. Pot. Max. (…) Et Urban VIII. auctoritate recognitum (…) (Paris, 1635). Many chorales have been faithfully translated from the original. Kasic’s Ritual was in use in Croatia until the beginning of the 19th century, and played an important musical role for liturgical rites and services.

     An authentic and interesting description of the public festivity of the “Devicza Maria” (the Virgin Mary) in Zagreb and its surrounding region, was given by Juror Habdelic in his work Zercalo Marijansko, (Graz, 1667). Habdelic was the most significant writer of the Baroque in northern Croatia. He wrote in the regional Kajkavian dialect and his work gives us a vivid description of the Virgin Mary. It is important to realize that due to Jesuits and their educated pupils, church music became a new theme in Croatia for learned discourse during the Croatian Baroque period.

     In his works Molitvene knjizice (Pozun, 1640), and Sveti Evangeliomi (Graz, 1651), Nickel Krajacevic-Sartorius shows an interesting attitude towards the folk songs of Croatia. Krajacevic, an ordained priest, a missionary, and, for a period of time, rector of the Jesuit College in Zagreb, was an important figure in the Catholic Renewal Movement in Croatia. Molitvene knjizice and Sveti evangeliomi contain not only prayers, litanies, and Gospels, but also a number of sacred songs, which the author included in the hope that they would be sung “…in the place of vulgar and shameful and unclean songs”. Krajacevic’s aim was, in fact, to collect and to present future generations a heritage of valuable folk songs in a purified version. His wish to sustain and pass on tradition by unifying and codifying it, coincided with the endeavors of the Jesuits. Nearly twenty years later, Juraj Habdelic attempted the same in his work Pervi otca nasega Adama greh (Graz, 1674) (The Original Sin of Adam, Our Father), in which he renders a small tract about folk songs. In the chapter entitled Pesme od ljubavi (Songs of Love) Habdelic refers to Krajacevic and expresses the same point of view, namely, that one considers it important not to bear prejudice against all folksongs in advance, but only against those which are “unclean and shameful.” This counterfactual approach, expressed by Krajacevic, Habdelic, and other Jesuit writers such as Juraj Mulih, served to make folk songs fit the norm. By polishing them, they tried to make them acceptable for church service.

     During the Croatian Baroque, the Franciscans and the Paulines, like the Jesuits, also endeavored to cultivate folk songs and sacral music. The names of these valuable, if simple, cultural workers and musicians (organists, transcribers, and composers) are still too little known to scholars. Slow progress is being made in grasping the fact that those cultural workers were, until recently, considered to be local and uninteresting, and that they conceal a great deal which is of real value, or that they form, in fact, the foundations for important events in subsequent Croatian musical life. Linguistic, literary, and musicological research has thrown light on the cultural aspirations of the pre-Illyrian period in Northern Croatia. Therefore we see that the wish for standardization of the Croatian language (keep in mind the title of Kasic’s grammar of 1640: Institutionum linguae Illyricae) and of the musical repertory in the northern parts of Croatia, was definitely not in opposition to the developed Mediterranean heritage in the coastal areas.

     After the year 1650, there was no break in Croatian musical culture, as was thought not long ago, but to the contrary, early Baroque musical experiences were used with skill and intelligence. This continuity is seen for example, in the tradition of solo singing (whether for solo voice or for a choir in unison), with an instrumental accompaniment, most often the organ. From early Baroque monodic cliches (as seen in works by Ivan Lukacic, Tomaso Cecchini, and Gabriello Puliti, and others), to the mostly monodic Slavonic masses used by the Franciscans, as well as the folk songs, church music, and songs (written by, inter alia, Filip Vlahovic-Kapusvarac, Ivan Leopold Sebelic, Matija Jakobovic, and many other anonymous musicians), during a period of almost 200 years in Croatia (in the regions of Slavonia, Croatian Zagorje, Dalmatian Zagora, and in parts of western Bosnia) an authentic musical idiom developed, simple in its external manifestation, but harmonious in its form and expression.

     The Pauline friars practiced in their monasteries a slightly modified Gregorian Chant, with organ accompaniment. In their Scriptoria, especially that of Lepoglava, they complied chant books. The Paulines had special affection for liturgical chants meant for simple congregational use, and thus, largely ignored popular folk song expressions. Their development of these chants is of great significance, and undoubtedly ranks amongst the greatest cultural achievements in Croatia during the Renaissance and Baroque. A famous Pauline manuscript chant book from 1644, (Pavlinski zbornik), was written both in Latin and in the Croatian Kajkavian dialect. It contains translations of medieval Latin hymns, German and Bohemian songs, as well as early Croatian folk songs. Pauline chant books, such as Philomela sacra, before the year 1743, and Varazdinska pjesmarica I, dated 1793, had great echo in Croatia. A printed version of Hymnal for the bishopric of Zagreb, Cithara octochorda (Vienna, 1701, 1723, and Zagreb, 1757) contained some twenty odd hymns taken from the Pavlinski zbornik of 1664.

     The Pauline friars, like the Franciscans and Jesuits, understood the importance of church and folk music in the church service. Despite certain negative features, Croatian Religious Hymnals of the 17th and 18th centuries, nonetheless, had authentic value for the future development of musical life in Croatia.