Should you happen to approach Rozmital pod Tremsmem from the south-west, by the road from Nepomuk and Klatovy, you may be surprised to see a sign by the roadside directing you to a memorial to Jan Jakub Ryba as you reach the small village of Voltuss, a couple of kilometres short of the town. It is worth pausing there to make the pilgrimage, a short walk through the woods, to see the little shrine to the composer of the famous and much-loved Christmas Mass, at the spot where, in 1815, he committed suicide.
Ryba, born in Prestice (40 km to the west) in 1765, and a teacher and choirmaster in Rozsmital from 1788, is remembered there with affection – the old town’s main street is called Rybova after him, and two schools bear his name – although he was unhappy and, seemingly, persecuted.
Shrine to Ryba near Rozmital pod Tremsmem by the authorities in his own time. Perhaps he was too learned and academic: he was well read, in several languages, and a keen student of philosophy and in particular of Seneca, whose writings are among the works he translated and whose biography he wrote (and whose form of suicide he eventually emulated, with Seneca’s writings in his hand). Ryba was a prolific composer; his Christmas Mass of 1796 – actually a collection of Czech pastorellas – was written for the Holy Cross Church, a 13th-century building transformed in Czech rustic Baroque, in the old town, on the edge of the present one, where the organ he used was sensitively restored in 1997. Concerts are held there on the anniversaries of his birth and his death, and of course the Christmas Mass is given each year. He was reburied in the churchyard in 1855 after a petition by his children; as a suicide, he could not initially be buried in consecrated ground – but his original grave, in a disused plague cemetery by a lake, 500 metres away, is marked by a large cross. The site of the school where Ryba taught is marked by a plaque. Another adorns the town museum, where on the second floor there is a room dedicated to him, set up in the 1970s by the local Ryba Society. The display cases show a variety of documents (or facsimiles) from his time: schoolbooks, student records, school diaries, certificates, a Protokol on his duties as teacher, his own teaching notes and lists of exam marks, a sketch of his thoughts on moral philosophy, prayer books and bible stories, a manuscript song book, an 1815 edition of his funeral songs and a modern one of his children’s texts, title-pages, his own wax stamp. There is a document from the town administrator, evidently his nemesis. The world of the local musician-teacher is well evoked.
Ryba’s memorial site in Voltus is pictured in its various phases. The portraits include one of Ryba’s son, an eminent medical man in Prague, and there is a modern bust of Ryba himself. There are commemorative medals, photocopies of his manuscripts, and posters and programmes of modern performances, as well as a selection of contemporary instruments (including folk ones). Rozmital is doing its best to compensate.