Krystof Harant

Category: Musician

Learn more about Krystof Harant

Krystof Harant of Polzice and Bezdruzice (Czech: Krystof Harant z Polzic a Bezdruzic, 1564 – June 21, 1621) was a Czech nobleman, humanist, soldier, traveler, writer, and composer. In this last role, he represented in Bohemia the school of Franco-Flemish polyphony.

Harant was born at Klenova Castle, near Klatovy, in western Bohemia. He later studied, from 1576 on, at the court of Archduke Ferdinand II in Innsbruck. There he learned seven languages, developed interests in geography, history, and politics, and discovered his musical talents as a singer and performer in a local court band. In 1584 he returned to Bohemia with the aim of securing a post at the court of Rudolf II, an attempt that proved to be in vain. He subsequently enlisted as a soldier, participating in military campaigns against the Turks in 1593 and 1597.

In 1589 Harant married Eva Czernin von Chudenitz, with whom he had two children. Eva died in 1597, as did the two children in 1599. Harant remarried twice.

In 1598 and 1599, Harant traveled to the Holy Land as a pilgrim with his first wife’s brother, Hermann. The pair visited the Holy Sepulchre, and Harant subsequently recounted his experiences in Journey from Bohemia to the Holy Land, by way of Venice and the Sea, which was published in Prague in 1608.

Upon his return to Bohemia in 1599, Harant was given a post in the emperor’s court and simultaneously raised to the peerage. Two years later, he was made an advisor to Rudolf II and his successor, Matthias. When the imperial court relocated to Vienna after 1612, Harant, having been granted Pecka Castle, remained in Bohemia and dedicated himself to music; he would become the most significant Bohemian composer of his day.

In 1618 Harant converted to Protestantism, relocated to Prague, and joined the Bohemian forces arrayed against the ruling Catholics. Serving first as an artillery officer, in 1619 he became the commissioner of the military unit of Boleslav, Kourim, and Hradec Kralove. His regiment of 50,000 men unsuccessfully marched on imperial Vienna: his bombarding the imperial palace in Vienna—with the emperor inside—proved to be a fatal error. After the defeat of the Protestant Czechs at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 and the accession to the throne of Emperor Ferdinand II, Harant fled to his castle; he was soon captured and arrested and taken to Prague, where he was one of twenty-seven Bohemian noble rebels condemned to death for insurrection. He was beheaded on June 21, 1621 in Prague’s Old Town Square.

In his time, Harant earned a reputation for being a talented instrumentalist, singer, and composer. When Harant lost Pecka Castle, most of his compositions were destroyed. The work that survived, seven sacred vocal pieces, reveal Harant to have been a conservative musician who departed little from the style of Dutch composers who were prominent in the generation prior to his. One of his pieces, Missa quinis vocibus super Dolorosi martir, combines a cantus firmus – a technique that went out of fashion in the fifteenth century – with the music of his contemporary, Marenzio, one of Italy’s most popular and progressive composers. One of his Roman Catholic masses won great acclaim when it was performed at a Catholic church in Prague in 1620, not long before his execution.

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