Philipp Jakob Rittler
About Philipp Jakob Rittler
Rittler was both a priest and a talented, though somewhat uneven, composer active in Austria and Moravia in the second half of the seventeenth century. It is unclear exactly where Rittler was born, but he may have received his early training in Graz, where between 1669 and 1673 he was a priest and court chaplain to Prince Johann Seyfried von Eggenberg. In addition to his time in Graz, he may have attended the Jesuit university at Opava in Moravia where he met his future colleague in Kromeriz, Pavel Vejvanovsky and possibly even Heinrich Biber. In 1675 he became chaplain at the court of the Bishop of Olomouc, Karl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno, at Kromeriz. However, it was a musical appointment that he really craved, and after much persistent canvassing and rejection he finally received the title of honorary vicar and conductor of the choir at Wenceslas Cathedral in Olomouc, where he remained the rest of his life.
Rittler's music circulated throughout the Habsburg Empire and a substantial amount of it survives. Like many of his other colleagues at Kromeriz and Olomouc, he composed music for virtuosos and to judge by his surviving compositions he must have been a formidable violinist. The inventory of his possessions at the time of his death reveals an impressive collection including, among other instruments, five violins (including one by Austrian master Jacob Stainer), a viola da gamba, and two clavichords. Rittler was also a fluent writer (and presumably speaker) in the Czech language and owned a copy of one of the first German-Latin-Czech dictionaries.
His output is divided into two periods: before 1675 he composed primarily instrumental music and after this time he composed mainly music for the church. His instrumental pieces are distinguished by their inventive orchestration and demanding solo parts. Some pieces make reference to aspects of daily life, including the tolling of the church bells and the sound of a village wind band in Graz. In some ways Rittler is emblematic of many Habsburg musicians of the time; with his experiences ranging from one corner of the Empire to another, he was aware of the latest musical trends sweeping Europe yet steeped in daily life and vernacular of smaller towns as well as cities. Rather astonishingly, his music is yet to receive the full recognition it deserves, though several enterprising publishers and ensembles are endeavoring to set this right.