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A Czech composer who travelled throughout Europe Rehof Pesin / Gregorius Peschin Bohemus Organista (b. cca 1500, Bohemia / d. after 1547, Heidelberg).

Have you ever come across the name Rehor Pesin? Or Gregor (sometimes Georg) Pecin, Pesch, Peschins, Peschin, Pesthin, Petschin, Pischin, Pitschner, Pitsch, Pitschin, Posthinus, Poschin? Highly unlikely, as it is a name forgotten and not even mentioned in the current publications mapping the history of Czech music.

Although Emilian Trolda (1871-1949), a distinguished Czech musicologist, knew of him and wrote about him the following entry in the Pazdirek Dictionary of Music, prepared back in the 1930s:

Rehof Pesin. An organist and church composer of Czech origin, based abroad, first half of the 16th century. He is referred to under the name Gregorius Peschin Boemus. A subject of Jan of Rozmberk, in 1526 he served as court organist in Salzburg. His masses, motets and other compositions have been preserved in Munich and Regensburg. The mass for three male voices was published by O. Kade in A. W. Ambros's Geschichte der Musik V (I, 1882, 247/86).

The public could only read this short reference 30 years later, when Trold's text was included in the second volume of the Czechoslovak Dictionary of Musicians and Music Institutions. For a long time, it was the one and only reference pertaining to the composer available in the Czech-language environment. Hence, it is not surprising that Rehor Pesin has remained a figure virtually unknown in his native land. Yet it is also owing to the fact that he evidently spent his entire productive life beyond the Kingdom of Bohemia. The sources relating to Pesin are scarce, fragmentary and, above all, difficult to access, since all of them have been maintained beyond the Czech Republic. And if today's music historians and performers ever do pay any attention to him, they are mainly those in Germany, who understand him as part of their musical culture of the first half of the 16th century. Well, and little wonder on that account. What do the precious few literary sources out there actually say about Pesin's life? Most of them draw upon the entry in Volume 7 of the 1902 Quellen-Lexikon by Robert Eitner (1832-1905), which states that Pesin was most likely born in Prague circa 1500. He gained his musical training in the court orchestra of Louis (Ludwig) II Jagiellon (1506-1526), King of Bohemia and Hungary, probably in Budapest, where the monarch spent most of his short life. Pesin served at the royal court up until Louis's death at the Battle of Mohacz, on 29 August 1526. Between 1527 and 1539, he was a member of the orchestra of Cardinal and Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Matthaus Lang von Wellenburg (1468-1540), in which he preceded the renowned organist Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537). During his time in Salzburg, Pesin worked with the Kapellmeister Wilhelm Waldner (?) and the organist Nicolaus Lescalier (d. 1562, Prague). In 1539, he moved to Neuburg an der Donau, Bavaria, where he joined the court of Elector-Palatine Ottheinrich (Otto-Henry, 1502-1559). The local orchestra's Kapellmeister was Christoph Stockhamer (?), whose son Nicolaus went on to take lessons from Pesin. The arrival of Pesin in Neuburg might have related to the acquisition of a large new organ, which was built at the chateau by Hans Schachinger Sr. (1485-1558) from Munich. Following the Duchy of Pfalz-Neuburg's state bankruptcy in 1544, Pesin moved with the Elector-Palatine's court to exile in Heidelberg. The accounting records dating from 1546 mention Pesin along with the lutenist Sebastian Ochsenkun (1521-1574), for instance. The final available document pertaining to his life is the letter Pesin wrote in November 1547 to the composer and publisher, later on the secretary of Elector Ottheinrich, Hans Kilian (1515/16-1595), which has been preserved as an extra draft to the Heidelberg orchestra inventory.


The majority of the aforementioned information is based on dictionary entries and brief allusions in texts that deal with wider topics. The interpretation of Rehor Pesin's life and work basically draws upon a few sources. Let us now focus on them in detail.

What is the correct form of his name and where has the allegation of his Czech descent come from? The name can be found in period music prints and manuscripts in numerous variants, some of them rather curious and far-removed (Botsch, Bosch). In the preserved letter of his dated 18 November 1547 (Cod. Pal. 318, Heidelberg University Library), the composer's signature reads Gregor Peschin. The name gives rise to the impression that it could be of Slavonic or Czech origin. In the early Middle Ages, the name in this form in Bohemia indicated that its bearer (Pesin or Pesin) was the son of Pech, Pech (Pich), Pes (Pis, Petr), and the like. The surname Pesin / Pesina is still found in Bohemia; today more than 170 persons bearing it are registered in the Czech Republic. Gregor Pesin's Czech background can be gathered from the following two references. The Prokesche Musiksammlung collection maintained at the Bishop Library in Regensburg contains manuscript B 211-215 of a motet without text, in which the author of the tenor part is stated as one Gregorius Pesthinus Bemus; in another manuscript, B 220-222, the composer of the piece Beati omnes qui timent Dominum reads as Gregorius Peschin Bemus. That indicates that he was most likely a native Czech. Even more interesting is the reference in a letter written in 1528 by Matthaus Lang to Jan of Rozmberk (1484-1532), in which the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg asked the ruler of the Rosenburg House whether Rehor Pesin could inherit his father's property. The requirement bears witness to Rehor Pesin's hailing from South Bohemia. On the other hand, the ever-repeated presumption that Pesin was born circa 1500 in Prague should be deemed merely hypothetical, as it has not been confirmed in any currently known sources. With regard to Pesin's life, it is however possible that he was born some time in the early 16th century.

Prague - Buda - Salzburg - Weingarten / Biberach - Neuburg - Heidelberg

Prague as Pesin's native city has thus to be considered a hypothesis. Disputable too is the assumption that he worked or was musically trained in Buda (it has even been speculated that he studied under the guidance of Adrian Willaert!) at the orchestra of Louis II Jagiellon. On the other hand, Pesin's tenure in Salzburg in the services of Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg Matthaus Lang has been confirmed by a number of sources. Evidently, he worked there from 1527 to 1539 as the cathedral (or city) organist. His other employments, in Weingarten in Wurttemberg and in the nearby Biberach an der RiB, at the end of the 1530s and the beginning of the 1540s, also mentioned in the music encyclopaedias, have not been clearly proved. What is certain is that no later than in 1543/44 Pesin worked for Elector-Palatine Ottheinrich in Neuburg and enjoyed a good income as an organist. The Count was a patron of the arts, he was fond of alchemy, books, architecture and fine food, and, under the influence of the theologian Andreas Osiander (1498-1552), he embraced the Protestant Reformation. In the wake of the Neuburg court's bankruptcy, caused by a huge burden of debts, Ottheinrich was forced to move to Heidelberg to his uncle Friedrich II (Frederick), Elector-Palatine of the Rhine (1482-1556). Pesin moved with his master to Heidelberg, where he probably died.

Missa super Dominicale minus

Yet Pesin was not only a splendid organist, he was also an accomplished composer. Regrettably, the majority of his pieces have not been preserved, as revealed when consulting the contents of the Heidelberg inventory of Ottheinrich's orchestra, which has been mentioned above. In all likelihood, part of the inventory was drawn up by Pesin in his own hand. The compositions listed under his name include five masses, 30 motets, four epitaphs on the members of the ruling family and more than 50 songs, which we do not know today. Which of his pieces have been preserved?

When it comes to sacred music, a manuscript of the Missa super Dominicale minus (Missa dominicalis) for four voices has been maintained in its entirety, and is today deposited at the Bavarian State Library in Munich (Mus. Ms. 69). The source hails from the second quarter of the 16th century. Together with the mass, whose composer is referred to as Grego. Peschin, the manuscript also contains the Missa Carolus Imperator Romanorum for five voices, written by Johannes Lupus (circa 1506-1539), a piece that has frequently been cited as an example of a setting of a mass, in whose cantus firmus the sogetto cavatto is used in the form of sol-fa. Pesin's mass features two different Agnus Dei sections: the first for four and the second for six voices. Both of the masses are supplemented by the anonymous motet Saulus autem adhuc for five voices. There is no other Pesin mass known. Trold's allegation that his mass for three male voices was published in Volume 5 of the Geschichte der Musik penned by August Wilhelm Ambros (1816-1876) is merely an error taken over from Hermann Spies's 1917 study on the musical culture in Salzburg. No such mass of Pesin's has been preserved.

The other Pesin works that have been preserved include the motet Vocem iocunditatis/Ecce ducem nostrum for eight voices (in fragments of a manuscript), dedicated to Francesco II Sforza (1495-1535), Duke of Milan; four complete motets for six voices (Beati omnes, Praeceptum novum de vobis, Cum ascendisset aurora, Deus qui sedes super thronum) and two entire motets for four voices (Si bona suscepimus and Sic enim Deus dilexit mundum).

Ich hab ein Hertz, glaub mir. Quinque vocum

The number of Pesin's secular pieces that have been preserved is higher. They primarily include polyphonic, largely strophic songs to German texts, which were published in various anthologies of this at the time popular genre, and arranged for the lute. Pesin's works can be found, for instance, in the collection Harmoniae poeticae by Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537)1 issued in Nuremburg in 1539; in all the three volumes of the widely distributed collection Ein AuBbund schoner Teutscker Liedlein by Georg Forster (1514-1568), published in Nuremburg in 1539 and 1556 (Frau ich bin euch). Thirteen Pesin songs are mentioned by Caspar Glanner (1515-1581) in his anthology Liber musicalis, published in 1560, of which, however, mere fragments have been preserved. Twelve of his songs, eight of them sacred (Invocabat autem Samson), were transcribed for the lute and issued in 1558 by Sebastian Ochsenkun (1521-1574) within his collection Tabulaturbuch auf der Lautten. In addition to another six German secular songs (Ich hab ein Hertz, Ein Stund vermag, etc.), preserved in manuscript has been the song/ode for three voices to Latin lyrics Dukes exuviae and the ode for four voices Collis o heliconi, set to a text by the Latin Roman poet Catullus.

Ein AuBbund schoner Teutscher Liedlein

Rehor Pesin was one of the group of the composers and musicians of Czech origin who for the most part of their lives worked beyond their native land. They adapted to and established themselves in a different milieu, travelled widely and changed their places of work, and the Czech music historiographers have not tented to perceive them as part of our culture. A certain role in the assessment of their lives and careers has also been played by the fact that their works have been preserved in a number of different sources, that their authorship cannot be clearly confirmed and many of their pieces have been saved incomplete, often with missing vocal parts. German music historiographers acknowledge Pesin as a highly skilled composer of the Gesellschaftslieder, secular social entertainment polyphonic songs, whose cantus firmus often contained in the tenor a popular folk tune (Tenorlied). Accordingly, he is ranked among the respected and much-favoured generation of German composers of the first half of the 16th century, whose main representatives were Paul Hofhaimer, Stephanus Mahu, Heinrich Finck, Thomas Stolzer, Sixt Dietrich, Georg Forster, Erasmus Lapicida and Arnold von Bruck. This list could be extended with a composer whose name was Caspar Bohemus, or also Kaspar Zeiss, who is referred to in the music literature mentioned above. But that would be another story to tell, albeit one in many respects similar to that of Pesin's.

Recommended literature and editions

Hermann Spies: Aus der musikalischen Vergangenheit Slazburgs bis 1634, Musica Divina, 1914, pp. 314-345. Leopold Nowak: Das deutsche Gesellschaftslied in Osterreich von 1480 bis 1550, SfMw, xvii, 1930, pp. 21-52.

Hermann Spies: Beitrage zur Musikgeschichte Salzburgs im Spatmittelalter und zu Anfang der Renaissancezeit, Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft fur Salzburger Landeskunde, lxxxi, 1941, pp. 80-84, 89-91. Siegfried Hermelink: Em Musikalienverzeichnis der Heidelberger Hofkapelle aus dem Jahre 1344, Ottheinrich: Gedenkschrift zur 400jahrigen Wiederkehr seiner Kurfurstenzeit in der Pfalz, G. Poesgen (ed.), Heidelberg 1956, pp. 247-60.

Adolf Layer: Pfalzgraf Ottheinrich und die Musik, AfMw, xv, 1958, pp. 258-275.

Gerhard Pietzsch: Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte der Musik am kurpfalzischen Hof zu Heidelberg bis 1622, Abhandlungen der geistes- und sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse der Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, vi, Wiesbaden 1963.

Jutta Lambrecht: Das 'Heidelberger Kapellinventar' von 1544 (Codex Pal.Germ.318): Edition und Kommentar, Heidelberg 1987.

Editions of compositions:

Nine secular songs in: Das Deutsche Gesellschaftslied in Osterreich von 1480-1330, L. Nowak (ed.), DTO 72, 1930.

Three secular songs in: EDM 20, 1942.

One song in: EDM 62, 1987.

by Petr Danek
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Title Annotation:Czech music history
Author:Danek, Petr
Publication:Czech Music
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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