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Septem Dies - Music at Prague University 1360-1460
Schola Gregoriana Pragensis/David Eben
Corina Marti (clavisimbalum)
rec. 2019, Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, Milevsko, Czech Republic
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Outhere
SUPRAPHON SU4282-2 [63:50]

A number of universities across Europe date from the Middle Ages. One of them is Prague University, officially founded in 1348. Universities were not only intellectual centres, but also hotspots of cultural and musical activities, mostly closely connected to the church. Liturgical music was the main part of the repertoire sung at universities, but at the same time, students passed their private time with music making of a different kind, even though that was strictly regulated and some repertoire was forbidden. Obviously, it is not easy to document what was sung in university circles, as many manuscripts of music have been lost. An important factor that helps to give an impression of what was sung (and sometimes played) is the fact that universities attracted students from other regions of the continent. Therefore the sources that can be used, are not confined to those preserved in Bohemia. On the other hand, some of the music performed at a university could land in a library or archive elsewhere, thanks to the migration of members of the university community.

The present disc aims at giving some idea of what was performed on a daily basis at and around Prague University. The word 'daily' has to be taken literally: the programme is divided into seven days, as the title on this disc indicates. Every day had a different character, liturgically speaking. The information about that comes from the charters of the Collegium sanctissimae virginis Mariae (the Reszek College, Prague), "which represent one of the most detailed outlines of the church year and daily life at a late medieval college to have been preserved in Central Europe" (booklet). Other important sources of information are library catalogues and inventories of property. They can give some idea of the richness and variety of what was performed. For the actual music, several manuscripts have been used as important sources, which have been preserved not only in Prague, but also in Munich and Cracow.

The largest part of the programme comprises monodic music, as polyphony was rather scarce at the time. Instruments were generally excluded from performances of liturgical music, and the playing of instruments by students was strictly regulated. The instrumental pieces performed here are inspired by the assumption that students did indeed play instruments, and their repertoire was vocal music. The instrumental performance of vocal music was common practice during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

The programme starts on Monday, which was devoted to the commemoration of deceased members and benefactors of the university. The responsory Libera me Domine was an essential part of the liturgy, and was troped frequently in the course of time. At the same time, votive masses and extra-liturgical texts were set to music. This section of the programme includes specimens of the different sorts of music connected to the theme of this day: liturgical pieces in Latin, a Czech translation of an extract from the Lamentations of Jeremiah and an instrumental improvisation of a song in Latin, taken from a manuscript preserved in Cracow. This section ends with a piece of polyphony in French mensural notation, which stylistically belongs to what is known as ars nova.

No specific feast was connected to the Tuesday, but in the course of the year a number of feast days with fixed dates could fall on it. The performers have selected Saint Catherine of Alexandria, patron of students and teachers, whose feastday fell on 25 November, as the subject of this day. First we get some pieces for Vespers, and then some items for performance outside the liturgy, among them Nunc festum celebrimus, a cantio on the life of Saint Catherine, dating from the early 15th century, which is followed by a contrafactum of a secular German text. This section closes with another contrafactum, this time of a sacred piece in Latin, with a secular text in Czech.

Wednesday was another day without a specific theme, and the performers decided to focus on Saint Martin, alongside St Nicholas a patron of poor students. Two liturgical pieces are followed by one piece which has been found in a manuscript in Munich, but is probably of Bohemian origin, and an instrumental improvisation on a piece from Cracow.

On Thursdays, body and blood of Christ were commemorated, in line with the popularity of the feast of Corpus Christi, which was introduced in the Prague diocese in 1336. The first two pieces are liturgical and of Bohemian origin. The latter is a setting for three voices in faux-bourdon. It is followed by a song of German origin, and the section ends with another three-part piece, once again from the French ars nova tradition. The text is from the pen of Bernard of Cluny.

Friday was devoted to the Passion of Christ. The liturgical music is represented by an extract from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The melody probably originated in a German monastery. It has been chosen because it shows strong similarity with the style of a 15th-century Bohemian composer, who is identified with the university professor Záviš of Zápy. The second piece is extra-liturgical and a contrafactum of a secular piece in the style of the French ars nova.

Marian devotion was growing during the medieval period, and therefore one day had to be devoted to the Virgin Mary. At Prague University, it was the Saturday (except Holy Saturday) that was devoted to her. This section opens with a piece that may be of German origin, but became very popular in Prague. The second piece, the introitus Salve sancta parens, has a verse on a text by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres. The third piece is one of the few in the programme whose composer is known: Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz (Piotr of Grudziądz). He studied at Cracow and worked for some time in Vienna. The song is for two voices and the initial letters of the first five words create the acrostic 'Petrus'. The extra-liturgical O regina lux divina is a trope of the antiphon Salve Regina. The section ends with Jour ŕ jour, a French rondeau. It has not been found in any Bohemian source, but it must have been known in Central Europe as its melody appears as the tenor of a motet by Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz. It makes sense to include it here, as in the Middle Ages the love of a man and a woman was often connected to that described in the Song of Songs, one of the books of the Old Testament.

Sunday was traditionally celebrated as the Lord's day. "Liturgical duties consisted in attendance at Lauds, Mass, and Vespers, and the rest of the day was set aside for reasonably spent free time, for on this day no classes were held". Sacerdotes Dei urges priests to praise God with voice and study. Asperges me is an antiphon which is included here for a special reason: it accompanied a ritual, regularly held before Sunday mass, wherein the liturgical space and attendants were sprinkled with 'holy water' in a kind of purification and reminder of baptism. The two-part setting is taken from a manuscript preserved in Munich. This section and the disc end with a piece by a little-known Italian composer, Antonio da Cividale, a Dominican friar, who has left a few mass movements and motets and some secular pieces. His music has been found in sources across Europe.

It brings to a close a most fascinating account of the musical world at and around Prague University. This programme does not only contribute to our knowledge of musical history, documenting that the music scene was very much global at the time, but also gives some idea about intellectual and cultural life at a university in the late Middle Ages. The extensive liner-notes are essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about that. Obviously most of the repertoire performed here is unknown; many pieces may appear on disc for the first time. That makes this disc an essential addition to the discography. I have had the pleasure of attending concerts by the Schola Gregoriana Pragensis during several editions of the Utrecht Early Music Festival. It has always impressed me by the selection of (rare) repertoire and its excellent singing, not only in its core repertoire - plainchant from different historical sources - but also polyphony of different kinds. It consists of excellent singers who fully command the art of legato singing. At the same time their diction is such that the texts are always clearly understandable, even in languages one does not understand, such as Czech. The clarity and transparency of sound are further assets of this choir, which is in superb form here. Corina Marti is a specialist in very early keyboard music and in particular the playing of the clavisimbalum. She delivers fine contributions to this project and uses her 'historically informed' imagination in her instrumental performances of vocal items.

In short, this is a superb disc. Its theme, the selection of music and the performances justify a special recommendation.

Johan van Veen

[Feria secunda/Monday]
[In the liturgy]
Slyšiž země [3:35]
Kyrie pro defunctis [1:09]
Memento etiam Domine [1:12]
Veni sancte Spiritus et in me robur auge [2:16]
[Outside the liturgy]
Miretur omnis nacio [2:01]
Degentis vita - Cum vix artidici - [Vera pudicitia] [2:42]

[Feria tertia/Tuesday]
[In the liturgy - Vespers]
Deus in adiutorium [0:32]
Quia devotis laudibus [2:23]
Benedicamus Domino [1:38]
[Outside the liturgy]
Nunc festum celebrimus [2:05]
Ein schóne liebe Junckfraw [1:26]
Vsed ďábel babě na plece [1:49]

[Feria quarta/Wednesday]
[In the liturgy]
Sanctus scholasticum [1:22]
Ora pro nobis [0:56]
[Outside the liturgy]
Martino divo presuli [1:04]
Generari voluit [1:54]

[Feria quinta/Thursday]
[In the liturgy]
Caro mea vere est cibus [2:01]
Jesus Christus nostra salus [1:41]
[Outside the liturgy]
Esto quod expertus sis in trivio [2:36]
Apollinis eclipsatur - Zodiacum signis - In omnem terram [2:58]

[Feria sexta/Friday]
[In the liturgy]
Lamentationes Jeremiae: Et factum est postquam in captivitatem [3:18]
[Outside the liturgy]
Christus Rex pacificus [1:00]

[In the liturgy]
Quid admiramini [2:08]
Salve sancta parens [1:56]
Petrus Wilhelmi DE GRUDENCZ (1392-c1480)
Poligena examines [2:19]
[Outside the liturgy]
O regina lux divina [4:04]
Jour ŕ jour [3:14]

[Dies Dominica/Sunday]
Sacerdotes Dei [2:36]
Asperges me hyssopo [2:36]
Antonio DA CIVIDALE (fl 1392-1421)
Gloria in excelsis Deo [3:35]

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