In 1587 the Flemish composer Carolus Luython, employed by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, published an unusual motet collection in Prague. Titled Popularis anni jubilus, the collection describes the sounds and rituals beloved by Central European peasants, recasting them as the ecstatic songs of rustic laborers (jubilus) famously celebrated by Saint Augustine in his Psalm commentaries. Highlighting the composer’s collaboration with the Czech cleric who wrote the motet texts, this study serves as a corrective to the interpretative frameworks that have broadly shaped discourses on Central European musical and religious practices in the early modern period.
To make sense of the print’s raucous parade of drunken revelers, mythological figures, honking geese, and the Christ child, this analysis sets aside the hermetic lens typically used to account for the cultural products of the Rudolfine court and turns instead to contemporary theological tracts and writings by Augustine and Ovid that were foundational to the literary worlds of Renaissance humanists. Doing so brings into focus an ordered sequence of motets that offers some of the earliest and most vivid documentation in Central Europe of lay practices associated with the major feasts of the church year, from the bonfires on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist to the drowning of winter on Laetare Sunday. At the same time, this study shows the extent to which such “folk” traditions, parsed along national lines since the nineteenth century, had in fact long occupied common ground in the diverse territories of Habsburg Central Europe.