Interview by Ana Penić
Compiled from Marija Barić’s Interview
Fra Antun (Tony) Mrzlečki, OFMCap., a Franciscan Capuchin friar lives in the capuchin’ monastery in Osijek, Croatia. He lived for many years in the Federal Republic of Germany where he studied classical guitar as his principal study at Augsburg Conservatory. In addition to fulfilling his monastic obligations, he plays a very rare music instrument in Croatia, a thirteen-course baroque lute. In collaboration with friends, lutenists and lute makers, he is engaged in the popularization of the lute in Croatia. Moreover, he publishes articles, translates professional literature, and organizes occasional radio broadcasts dedicated to the lute, as well as a counsellor for lute concerts at the state music festival Varaždin Baroque Evenings (Varaždin Baroque Festival), his native town and his own concerts.
Varaždin is a picturesque, baroque town on the north of Croatia. For some decades it was the capital of the Croatian state. It has a rich and long tradition of classical music and culture, especially baroque, owning to some religious orders, such as, nuns of St. Ursule, Franciscans, Capuchins and Jesuits. They all enriched the town and its citizens establishing the cultural and social image of Varaždin, as a rich cultural centre of that part of Croatia. Besides, Varaždin is near to Austria, so that the influence of »Middle European« culture here was certainly greater than in other districts. Varaždin is lauded in an operetta »The Countess Maritza« by Emmerich Kalmann in the aria »Komm mit nach Varaždin, so lange noch die Rosen blüh’n«. In 1971 in Varaždin the music festival Varaždin Baroque Evenings started taking place and has become the biggest and most important festival of baroque music in Croatia.
You are from Varaždin. How did these facts influenced and, if we can say so, »traced« your life?
The Capuchin church in Varaždin is the place where I as a child, spent a lot of my spare time, so I can say it was my »second home«. I was an altar boy, and my first sacraments, the first communion and the confirmation I got there. In Varaždin’s landscape everything is »soaked« with the spirit of baroque so that this cultural and spiritual atmosphere formed me. I moved over to Germany to my parents and continued my education there. During all these years I had a close, friendly relationship with the Capuchins in Varaždin, as well with my relatives there. I was the first who had ever made a documentary TV film about Međugorje for the world’s broadcasting. It was 1984 with Hans Schotte and Bavarian Television. As a boy, I made a vow in the Capuchin monastery in Varaždin, that once I am mature, I will become a Capuchin. And, indeed, I have done it!
What was in the lute that attracted you so much that you decided to take it as your favorite instrument?
During my studying at Augsburg Conservatory in Germany I got to know the lute-music. When studying the classical guitar, you will come across the music of the lute through the transcription of the lute music for the guitar, firstly in the works of John Dowland, Silvius Leopold Weiss and Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as with some other music composed for the lute. Certainly, it is not the real, original lute music produced on the original instrument. Therefore, with the interpretation, the performance of that music on the classical guitar during the time passing, I was less and less satisfied. At the same time, in Germany was in the full ascent of performing the early music according to performing conditions of the epoch it was made in, among the others, on the copies of the historical instruments. My soul, simply said, was more and more »in love« with this music art. I can remember the first time I had a baroque lute in my hands; it was a meeting of admiration and respect toward a magnificent, fostering and etheric beauty of the sound and this masterpiece of handwork. After a certain time I started playing the baroque lute. My next step was attending the music seminar in Basel, Switzerland, at the famous master of the lute Hopkinson Smith, who opened the door of »the mystical world of the lute« slightly to me.
How do you cope with your monastic life and your love for the music in the same time?
»Ad majorem dei Gloriam« – »On the greater glory of the Lord«. I have joined the Capuchins as a qualified guitarist, just in time when I started playing the lute. But, you should know that there are many friars as well other priests who played the guitar and they had played it before they were ordained. During history there where some composers for the guitar, guitarists and lutenists who were in the religious orders, or priests, such as Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710) and Francisco Guerau (1649-?). The religious vocation doesn’t restrict God given talents, if they can be lived inside the religious life. You cannot have the talents God has given you only for yourself. So, I used to play the guitar to the accompaniment of the youth choir singing the Franciscan songs during the holy mass. Than I started playing the lute. The superior of the Franciscan monastery in Osijek once, by chance, heard my playing it, and offered me to give a concert on the lute in it’s monastery. So, I accepted the offer and performed the concert. The audience was surprised and delighted by the sound of the lute, so that, little by little this noble instrument was more and more accepted especially by the young people. Indeed, this fact encouraged me a lot! The young people who listened to my playing of the lute felt the music as »mystical«, »meditative«, and »full of quietness«. My last concert which I performed here, in our Capuchin church in Osijek, the newspaper commented as »kind of music therapy« for the people I mean, especially the young. Of course, I give concerts only from time to time.
How do you accept the facts that the Popes of our days, John Paul II and Benedict XVI are so fond of art. John Paul II was a poet and a drama writer, and Benedict XVI plays the organs, and is a classical music admirer. Do you feel encouraged by these, the highest authorities in the Church?
Holy Father John Paul II, says in his »Letter from the Pope John Paul II to the artists« (April 4, 1999) among the other things, the following: »To all who with enthusiastic devotion look for ‘new announcement’ of the beauty in order to make of it a gift to the world in the artistic creativity: …in an artifex it is reflexed his image of the Creator … The artist has to act and work but so that he doesn’t look for the vainly glory or desire for superficial popularity … «
You have to know that we, monks and nuns in the Breviary pray in the Psalm 33 »Praise the Lord with the harp: sing unto him with psaltery and an instrument of string!«, Psalm 149 »Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp«, Psalm 150 »Praise him with the sounds of trumpet, praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with timbre and dance; praise him upon the loud cymbals; praise him upon the high sounding!« In the Italian version of Psalm 150 » ..lodatelo con liuti e flauti« »..Praise him with lutes and flutes..«. We, Franciscans know for the facts from St. Francis’s life, written in the »Compilatio Assisiensis«. St. Francis was ill, his eyes were very seek, so he stayed in Rieti, and asked one of his brothers to play on a plucked instrument (Croatian citara, Italian cetra) for him but the latter refused to do it. The legend says that than come an angel and »played the cetra to him much nicer than he had even heard in his life«. The brother who should have played to the Saint at that time could have played a medieval plucked instrument; the medieval lute, the quintern or the citola.
You have researched the history of the lute in Croatia. What have you learned?
Yes, but our conversation is too short to elaborate it. Under the influence of the Italian Renaissance the lute came into Croatia from nearby Italy to some towns at the Adriatic coastal region. It was the most popular in Dubrovnik, named »leut« lauded in Dubrovnik’s Renaissance literature. In Split and Istria there was leut popular, too, known as an instrument of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. The first known printed music for a Croatian dance, titled Pavana sesta detta la Schiavonetta was published in Venice in 1569, in Giulio Cesare Barbetta’s Il primo libro dell’intavolature de liuto, which is today in Venice, in the Biblioteca Marciana. Searched iconography with 35 surviving painted representations of the lute in Croatia, as well searched archives and literature documentaries (at the moment), with ten lutenists known by name and the clearness of the semantic structure of the basic term leut references the firm establishment of the lute as a defined wholeness in the field of Croatian music culture during a few centuries.
I have published several articles about the lute in various musical magazines in Croatia, as well as in the English magazine »The Lute – Journal of the Lute Society«: e-mail: Lutesoc@aol.com website:www.lutesoc.co.uk/ (an article ‘The Lute in Croatia’).
You have been translating, from German to Croatian?
Yes! During the years I have done some translations. I have translated from German the first book in Croatia by the German musicologist Peter Päffgen about the history of the guitar »The Guitar«, published by the publishing house »Music play« from Zagreb. The following one was the first book in Croatia about performing practice of early music »Music as the Speech of the Sound – Musik als Klangrede«, the first book by the famous Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who is one of the first pioneers of early music in the world. This book is published by the publishing house »Algoritam« from Zagreb, and privately just for me »The Musical Dialogue«, the second book of the same author. I translated and published in my own edition, also as the first in Croatia, the first books, or methods for playing the lute: »The Method for the Renaissance Lute«, »The Method for the eleven course Baroque Lute», »The Method for the thirteen course Baroque Lute«, »The Baroque Guitar«, »The Lute in Europe«, »The Chitarrone and its Repertoire in Seventeenth-Century-Italy« as well as a large collection of translations »The Lute« of the musicology works on the lute.
Besides my musicology translations, I published, in my own edition, translations of books, biographies of some outstanding Capuchin saints as: »Krispin from Viterbo«, »Brother Konrad from Parzham«, »Francis, the Master of the Pray« by the German Capuchin Leonhard Lehmann, the history of the Capuchin order »The Capuchins« by Theophil Graf, the publishing house »Kršćanska sadašnjost« from Zagreb edited my translation of the book about the history of priest’s celibacy »The Celibacy of the Clerics« by the cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler« and »Markus from Aviano«, just published by the State archive here in Osijek.
Do you play the lute solo and what is your repertoire?
Yes. You have to be aware that the repertoire of the baroque lute is mainly for the soloist performance. On my repertoire there are some compositions by Sylvius Leopold Weiss from the 18h century, as well some works for the lute by Johann Sebastian Bach from the 18th century too. I perform some compositions by Essaias Reusner, François Dufault, Denis Gaultier and Jacques Bittner from the 17th century.
Tell us something more about that fascinating instrument.
In a few words – the lute is the most noble of all plucked instruments with written and printed repertoire from the 15th to the 18th century. It is the instrument on which the early music, from 14th to the 18th century is played solo, in the ensemble, or as accompany to the singing. There are various types of the lute: medieval, renaissance, baroque, theorbo and/or chitarrone, arciliuto, so that the term »the Lute« is only a collective noun. The special characteristic of the »classical lute« is its »bent back pegbox« except some lutes which don’t have it. In the XVth century the own notation of the lute, tablature (German, Italian and French) was invented, as well as the playing technique of playing with fingers at the end of the 15th century. The first printed page of the instrumental music in European music history ever, is the intabulation (transcription from usual notation to tablature) of Josquin’s motet »Ave Maria« from the collection »Intavolatura de lauto, il libro primo« by Franceco Spincino published in Venice 1507. During history the lute was given more and more courses (pairs of strings) in the area of the bass. Starting with six courses at the beginning of the Renaissance, then, around 1638 there were eleven courses in France in D-minor tuning and, from about 1719 on, it has thirteen courses in Germany. The lute is, beside the viella (the precursor of the violin) the most presented instrument in the Renaissance painting. The greatest times on the lute are the 16th and 17th century. In 1636, the French monk and the universal scholar Father Marin Mersenne (1588-1637) brought an overall presentation of the period music with precise description and illustration of all instruments known up to that time in his epochal book Harmonie universelle, purpoting the following about the lute: »In France, the lute is esteemed as the most noble instrument due to delicacy of its sound, number and harmony of its courses, volume, tuning and difficulty to play it as perfect as Msrs. L’Enclos, Gaultier, Blancrocher, Merville, Le Vignon and some other contemporaries.«
Its former status has been stayed unchanged in Italy by today in the term liuteria, which means the violin making, but literally it is the lute making, liutaio means the violin maker, but literally it is the lute maker. In France all makers of any instruments were called the luthier, what literally means »the lute maker«.
During the last few decades the lute has been established on the specialized sections for the early music on the Music Academies in more developed music centres of Europe and the world. The discography and music market have been growing in recent years, as well as the excellent artists and lute makers, and a lot of literature, accessible partly on the Internet. Early musicology is well developed, and at the same time a sense of historical and authentic music practice is continuing to progress.
In the omnipresent noise of contemporary life that makes our senses numb, the subtle sound of the lute music ennobles and represents a cultural model for a greater European togetherness and identification.
Brother Antun has opened a web site about the lute: www.lutnja.net