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Krystof Harant of Polzice and Bezdruzice and Pecka: 1564-21st June 1621.

Krystof Harant of Polzice and Bezdruzice and Pecka (1564-21st June 1621) remains to this day one of the best-known figures of the Bohemian Renaissance. A Czech aristocrat, he become famous in his own time for many actions that expressed his restless soul, but also for his many-sided gifts, pre-eminent among them his talent as a composer.


His abilities were much encouraged and cultivated in the years 1576-1584, which he spent at the court of the Archduke Ferdinand of the Tyrol in Innsbruck. The art-loving atmosphere of the court awoke in his an interest in painting, jousting, travel and also music. During his period at the chateau of Ambrass he also gained an excellent education, including a knowledge of languages.

At the beginning of the 1590s he served in the imperial army in the Hungarian Lands. After returning from the battlefield he made the arduous journey to the Holy Land, which he carefully described in a travelogue that was printed ten years later. In the summer of 1599 he made the personal acquaintance of the Emperor Rudolf, with whom he had many common interests and who made him a court chamberlain. On the emperot's recommendation Krystof Harant was raised to the nobility in 1607. After the emperor's death, which grieved him greatly, Harant remained formally in the service of the ruling dynasty. He even undertook a diplomatic mission to Spain, although no written record of his travel experiences has survived in this case.

In 1618 Harant took an active part in the anti-Habsburg Revolt of the Bohemian Estates as the President of the Bohemian Chamber and Commander of the Estates Artillery. At the same time he converted from Catholicism to Utraquism. As commander of the artillery he advanced as far as Vienna and bombarded the Hofburg, where the imperial family was in residence. This was ultimately to seal his fate, since after the defeat of the Estates rebellion he was captured, and together with other rebel leaders condemned and finally beheaded on Old Town Square in Prague.

A period portrait of Harant by the celebrated engraver Aegidius Sadeler has come down to us, and this portrait has inspired a series of artists to various different variations. Of Harant's musical output, the only pieces to have survived in their entirety are the outstanding five-part mass on motifs from a madrigal by L. Marenzio--Missa quinis vocibus super Dolorosi martir, the moving Latin motet Qui confidunt in Domino, which he composed during his stay in Jerusalem, and the German motet Maria Kron, printed in an anthology of Marian pieces in 1604 in Dillingen. The other pieces have survived only in fragmentary form.

Harant was a typical uomo universale, a Renaissance man of wide interests, tastes and abilities. His travelogue is written in a lively style in which the author's humanist education is combined with a native practicality. The following text, which recalls important features of Harant's life and work, has been written in the spirit of Harant's own literary idiom.

To see is more than to tell

"Oh, my dear God, what lands I have travelled through, in what perils have I been, seeing no bread for days, shelfering myself once under sand, and out of all this my dear Lord God brought me with his aid, and now in my own dear homeland I am to die, innocent. Lord God, Forgive my enemies." And at that they called for him. And full of wrath we went close to see that grievous spectacle and noble antichrist.

Pavel Skala ze Zhore, The History of Bohemia, The Capital Court and Execution on Old Town Square in 1621, ed. K. Tieftrunk, Prague 1870, p. 110

Preface to the Reader

The scrupulous observer of Czech society in the pre-White-Mountain period and writer of remarkable memoirs Mikulas Dacicky of Heslov noted in 1608 that "Lord Krystof Harant has published a book printed in the Czech tongue on his journey to the Holy Land and back again, which he has dedicated to His Grace the Emperor Rudolf." The travelogue was printed at the Prague printing house of the heirs of Daniel Adam of Veleslavin, and aroused the interest of a large public. Its author--imperial counsellor, chamberlain and musicus Krystof Harant of Polzice and Bezdruzice--described in it the journey to the Holy Land, Judea and Egypt that he undertook in 1598.

Chapter I

In order that I should not forget my fellow-countrymen in my silence.

"Travelling is a keen removal of ourselves to places foreign, with purpose to see then, to learn and achieve something good the which may be of special advantage to our country, our friends or ourselves", writes Krystof Harant in the preface to his travelogue. These reasons apart, the main motive for Harant's long and in many ways dangerous journey laid in his restless Renaissance soul. In his time the pre-White-Mountain society in Bohemia had already emerged from the period of "Hussite" isolation and was opening to inspirations and impulses from all over the world. For the higher ranks of the society of the time travelling therefore became an important aspect of self-education. In the preface to his Travels recalls his predecessors Martin Kabatnlk of Litomysl and Oldrich Prefat of Vlkanov, who had made a similar journey in the earlier 16th century, but he also considered his contemporaries Zdenek Vojtech Popel of Lobkovice and Vilem Slavata of Chlum as models. The latter had not journeyed so far--Popel had travelled mainly through Southern Europe and Slavata had made a study trip through "Italy, Galicia, and gone through the lands of France, England, the Low Countries, Denmark and the Empire". Harant was, however, impressed with the fact that "soon after their return to their homeland" they were appointed to high land offices. This was because they could use the experience and contacts gained on their journeys in such posts.

Chapter II

A Diary of My Adventures

The travelogue is divided into two parts. The basis of the narrative is a chronological account of the adventures that Harant experienced with his companion Herman Cernin of Chudenice during his second journey. He also devotes space to relatively detailed descriptions of the places that they visit. In the spirit of Renaissance humanism the text is sprinkled with quotations from ancient and modern authors as a way of showing the author's breadth and depth of learning. The narrative is illustrated by a series of woodcuts made by Jan Willenberg on the basis of Harant's drawings. In the first part Harant describes the journey from the Kingdom of Bohemia to Jerusalem. The two friends embarked on their travels "on Thursday morning on the third day of April" 1598 and covered the first section of the route, from Bohemia to Venice, on horseback. On the way they visited a series of towns in Bavaria, Austria and Northern Italy. From Venice, where they purchased supplies "of good wine, almonds, figs, Parmesan cheese, smoked tongues and twice baked bread", they continued by ship. On their voyage across the Mediterranean they visited the islands of Kandia (Crete) and Cyprus. On the 31st of August "after several dangerous episodes on the sea" they reached the Holy Land and by the 3rd of September they were already in Jerusalem. In a spirit of genuine piety they visited "all the holy places, both in the city itself and in its environs all the way to Jericho and Jordan". Harant could not, however, suppress his universal Renaissance temperament and interspersed his accounts of the holy places with completely secular adventures, which often highlighted his sporting prowess, for example. Recounting his expedition to Jordan he writes that "At the time there was little water, but it was still deep, and so when I swam across for the sixth time and dived down under the water in the middle, I could not reach the bottom." The first part ends with the six-part piece that Harant composed in Jerusalem "on the text of Psalm 124, which at that time came constantly to my mind".


The second part is devoted to his journey to Egypt, and from there "further into desert Arabia ... to Mount Sinai, Oreb and the Holy Virgin Katherine." Returning from this mountain the travellers narrowly escaped with their lives when attacked by "eight miscreants with Arab spears, bows and Turkish knives." By a miracle they got away, although Harant was robbed of everything and left "without a thread on my body". They returned to Europe by ship, embarking from Alexandria on the 12th of November, and reaching Venice at the end of 1598.

Chapter III

You forgot neither music vocal nor music instrumental

Thus the burgher of Prague Old Town Jonata Bohutsky praised Krystof Harant in the dedication to his treatise Politia historica. He was among those contemporaries who were aware of Harant's unusual musical talent, expressed not only in fondness for music, but in active music-making and original composition. Unfortunately only a very few complete examples of Harant's music have survived: the Wroclav University Library has scroll containing a transcription of his five-part mass. Two of Harant's motets were printed: the six-part Qui confidunt in Domino is printed as a supplement to his Travels and the five-part Maria Kron appears in a collection of Marian pieces printed in 1604 in Dillingen. His other compositions have survived only in fragmentary form. All the works reveal a very capable and skilled composer, who stood out from his Czech contemporaries in all respects and bears comparison with the masters of the High Renaissance.


In his music Harant undoubtedly made full use of the inspirations and influences to which he had been exposed in his adolescence, which he spent at the court of the art-loving Ferdinand II of the Tyrol in Innsbruck. He was connected to the Habsburg family by a number of other ties, as well. In the 1590s, shortly after his return from the Holy Land, he had won the favour of Rudolf II and become chamberlain at his Prague court. After the emperor's death and the court's move back to Vienna, he was entrusted with occasional tasks. In 1615, for example, he undertook an imperial diplomatic mission to Spain to convey to the Spanish monarch the Order of the Golden Fleece, of which Rudolf, as head of the Central European branch of the Habsburgs, had been the bearer. He did not, however, use this journey as a basis for a travelogue. He was to end as an enemy to the Habsburgs, since at the latest in April 1619 he actively joined the Rebellion of the Estates. After its defeat he was captured, tried and found guilty.


A Grievous Spectacle

dominated by the by the executioner Mydlar's block on the Old Town Square ... That was the place where one of the most remarkable phenomena of the Bohemian Renaissance, Krystof Harant, ended his earthly life on the 21st of June 1621. There he was one of 27 Czech lords suffering exemplary punishment for their part in the rising against the Habsburgs. The prosecution had found him guilty of accepting the position of supreme commander of artillery in the Estates army, and the position of President of the Bohemian Chamber under Frederick of the Palatinate. As he embarked on his last journey he was once again in the company of his old fellow traveller--Herman Cernin of Chudenice. But this time Cernin, a zealous catholic, supporter of the Habsburg dynasty and imperial sheriff of the Old Town, was watching his execution from a raised platform nearby.

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Title Annotation:profiles
Author:Danek, Petr
Publication:Czech Music
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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