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Jakub Šimon Jan Ryba (b. 1765 in Přeštice near Plzeň, South Bohemia, d.1815) was a teacher, composer, choirmaster and writer on music. His name means “fish” in the Czech language. Educated in music and teaching at Charles University in Prague, he spent most of his professional life in his village school and church.

 

Artistically, he was one of the most prominent 18th century Czech cantors who was astonishingly prolific. He wrote some 1500 vocal, instrumental, church and secular compositions and yet devoted himself assiduously to his teaching duties. While a student in Prague, he was willing to endure great poverty in order “to be able to educate the heart and the mind.”  

 

“Semper adversa fata mihi”—”Fate has always been adverse to me”— this is what Ryba entered in his dairy at a very early age with bitter foresight. His life was marked by suffering and his end by tragedy. The persecuted genius committed suicide at age 55.  

 

Ryba wrote hymn texts, didactic poetry and prose, occasional and congratulatory poems, and translated Latin and Greek into Czech. Numerous Czech pastorellas are undoubtedly the most vivid part of his output.  These represent a highly individual amalgamation of Czech folk song elements with a simplified Classical texture. Widely known and used in church during the Christmas Season, they instilled new life, not only into the Czech tongue, but also into Czech music with their fresh, melodic imagery. The Czech pastorale was widely practised throughout the Czech countryside by the village teachers as a peculiarly characteristic musical form.  “Nightingale” — “Slavíček” is a most beautiful example of this unique style which Ryba contributed to the Czech national awakening. In this “Pastorella” for Flute and Strings, Ryba uses the flute as a nightingale.

 

   —J.B.

 

 

The Nightingale Bird—Lucina

 

The translation of the 12th c. Bestiary tells us that this bird takes the name lucina because it is accustomed to herald the dawn of a new day with its song much as a lamp (lucerna) does.  She is an ever-watchful guardian for she warms her eggs with a certain hollow of the body and with her breast.  She tempers the sleepless labour of her long night\s work by the sweetness of her song. The summit of her ambition seems to be  to cherish her young and to warm the eggs, not less by her sweet tones,  than by the heat of her body.  

 

Its song, famed for strength, clarity and purity, is mostly heard at night, but also at intevals during the day.  Beautiful, rich and varied melodies alternate with joyous bubbling phrases.  The song often includes phrases learned from other birds.  Not all nightingales have the same sweet song, and some are markedly more accomplished than others. 

 

In imitation of this bird, the poor but honest working woman toiling diligently for her children, lightens her burdens by her nightly songs and devotion.

 

    —Editor



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