Czech Christmas Concert

There will be 3 performances of the Czech Christmas Mass by Jakub Jan Ryba in the Chicago Temple Sanctuary:

7:30 p.m., Friday, December 14

7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 15

3 p.m., Sunday, December 16

The mass, an 18th century tradition celebrating Christ’s birth in the Czech Republic, will feature an orchestra, chorus, and soloists performing the songs in Czech. The second annual event is being presented by the Prague Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International and the Consulate General of the Czech Republic. Share in the Christmas story told in a charming and memorable way through music. A free-will offering will be taken.


By Lester Munson

Jakub Jan Ryba lived from 1765 until 1815.

From an early age, music was the joy in the life of Jakub Jan Ryba. Born on October 26, 1765, in Prestice, Ryba was practicing the violin and the piano at age seven with some help from his father, a teacher. He was also drawn to the organ and began composing as an adolescent. After a rigorous and successful study of Latin and Greek, he was accepted into a high school in Prague. He left his small village and entered a new universe of music. He learned the cello and performed in string quartets. He directed choirs in two large churches. While performing and studying, he composed prolifically at ages 17 and 18, producing 24 quartets, a quintet, 12 piano sonatas, an opera, eight nocturnes, 24 songs and his first mass. Most of these compositions are lost. He also spent countless hours in churches and theaters, absorbing the music of the masters of the time.

Under powerful pressures from his father and an uncle, Ryba reluctantly left Prague and its music to return to the village and a job as a teacher. It was the beginning of a conflict between pedagogy and music that marked the remaining 30 years of his life. He married Anna Langlerova in 1790 (he was 25). Only seven of the couple’s 13 children survived. One, Joseph, born in 1795, became a distinguished physician and pioneer of ophthalmology in the Czech lands.

Moving through several teaching positions and controversies with parish school administrators, Ryba played the organ in churches, conducted choirs and continued to compose. By the end of 1795, he had composed 30 masses. In a remarkable act of grace and forgiveness, he composed and published at his own expense a grieving song (“Truchlozpev”) that was performed at the funeral of a parish priest who had become a nemesis with continuing attacks on Ryba’s musical efforts.

Despite his frustration as a teacher and tragedies involving his children and his community (an endless war between the Hapburgs and the French), Ryba continued to compose. He wrote the Chrismas Mass in his 31st year, ignoring the problems that surrounded him, and focusing on the joy and the splendor of the birth of Christ. Although many of his 1,500 compositions have been lost, the Christmas Mass has, for more than 200 years, been a source of awe and wonder for audiences around the world. His joy in music becomes our joy at Advent.