Golden City of a Hundred Spires, Part II

The next stop was St Nicholas Church in Lesser Town, you can see the green top behind us.

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

Yes, but did you have cake?

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

We did, we did, we had honey cake! It’s called Medovník, and it has layers of honey-filled pastry, cream and nuts. Like this!

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

Back to the story and St Nicholas Church in Lesser Town, we went there for an oboe and organ recital (Jan Thuri oboe, Josef Kšica organ). Our two favourite instruments!

St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague

The Baroque organ in the church has over 4,000 pipes up to six metres in length and was played by Mozart in 1787! Mozart’s spectacular masterpiece, Mass in C, was first performed in the Church of Saint Nicholas on his first visit to Prague, when he came to conduct Le nozze di Figaro. On 19th January 1787 he gave the first performance of the Symphony No. 38 in D major which has been called the Prague Symphony since then.

Main organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Great organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Main organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Great organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague

Above the organ is a fresco of Saint Cecilia, patroness of music.

The church originally had three organs, with only two surviving. The Great Organ is in the main gallery and the smaller organ is in the side gallery.

Small organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Small organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague

The Baroque architecture of St Nicholas Church in Lesser Town is uniquely impressive even among the imposing churches of Prague. Both of the Dientzenhofers, father and son, shared the building of this unique structure, in 1703-11 and 1737-52, along with Anselmo Lurago, who was responsible for the high bell tower (1750-56). In the nave of the church, one can admire paintings and statues representative of the High Baroque.

Interior of St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Interior of St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague

The ceiling fresco above the nave, celebrating St Nicholas, is one of the largest in Europe, at 1500 metre square, painted by Jan Lukáš Kracker, and depicts some of the famous deeds of St Nicholas. The fresco in the dome, devoted to the Holy Trinity is by František Xaver Palko. The four massive statues of the Church Teachers are by the sculptor František Ignác Platzer.

Dome of St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Dome of St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Statue in St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
Statue in St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague

299 steps will take you 65m up to the gallery of the bell tower, which offers great panoramic views.

 View from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
View from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
View from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
View from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
National Theatre seen from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
National Theatre seen from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague

The National Theatre has a great story. Over a number of years, during a period of growing nationalism, a public collection was taken up to build a theatre. No sooner did it opened, that the National Theatre burned down. But civic pride wasn’t about to go up in smoke and people opened their pockets once more and the building was finally reopened in 1883. The festive and patriotic opera Libuše by Bedřich Smetana was performed for the occasion. Smetana was the first Czech composer to draw his cultural heritage for his work, folk melodies, rhythms, the actual history and language of his country. Smetana is considered by many to be the father of Czech music. He set the great river Vltava to music. Smetana’s work speaks with a proud Bohemian accent.  (end of Vltava) In 1848, while scraping together a living as a pianist and a teacher, Smetana opened a music school in Prague, on the corner of the old Town Square. It was during this time that he began composing. Eight years later he moved to Sweden in order to advance his musical career. In 1861 he returned to Bohemia, hoping to take up the post of conductor at the provisional theatre, but he didn’t finally get the node until five years later.

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra appeared for the first time in 1894, as the orchestra of the Prague National Theatre.

National Theatre, Prague
National Theatre, Prague
National Theatre, Prague
National Theatre, Prague

Kilián Ignác Dientzenhofer was also the architect of the church of the same name in Old Town Square. Here we went to a soprano and organ concert (Jana Jonášová soprano, Bohumir Rabas organ) playing Bach, Mozart and Dvořák.

St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
St Nicholas Church, Old Town Square, Prague

The Church of St Nicholas in Old Town Square is mentioned for the first time in connection with a flood on the Vltava in 1273. The beautiful new church was completed in 1735. The interior was inspired by the chapel of St. Louis-des-invalides in Paris. In the interior of the church are paintings in the dome on motives from the lives of St Nicholas and St Benedict and from the Old Testament by Cosmas Damian Asam, from 1735-36. The delicate stucco decoration was executed by Bernardo Spinetti, and the frescos by Peter Adam the Elder. The sculptures are by Antonín Braun.

Interior of St Nicholas Church, Old Town Square, Prague
Interior of St Nicholas Church, Old Town Square, Prague

In 1781 the decoration inside St. Nicholas was removed after emperor Josef II ordered the closure of all monasteries without a social function. The church was restored during the second World War, when Czech army units stationed at St. Nicholas worked alongside professional artists to restore the interior decoration. Much of what we see today is thanks to their meticulous efforts.

It wasn’t until 1901, when the Krenn House in front of it was demolished, that St. Nicholas’s stunning façade became visible to the rest of the Old Town Square.

Very tasty…

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

Then we went to a concert in the splendid Chapel of Mirrors at the Klementinum.

The Chapel of Mirrors, Klementinum, Prague
The Chapel of Mirrors, Klementinum, Prague
The Chapel of Mirrors, Klementinum, Prague
The Chapel of Mirrors, Klementinum, Prague

It was erected after 1720 by architect František Maxmilián Kaňka. In the rich plaster decorations of the walls are set mirrors, which give the chapel its name. Its premises are utilised for concerts by chamber music ensembles.

The complex of the Klementinum, spread out in the space between Marian Squares, Charles Street, Knights of the Cross Square, and the streets of Křižovnická and Platnéřská, was built in the mid 16th century by the Jesuits. After dissolution of the Jesuit Order in 1773, the Klementinum was acquired by the Charles-Ferdinand University and established as an observatory, library, and university by the Empress Maria Theresa.

Klementinum, Prague
Klementinum, Prague

The whole complex boasts precious artistic works. Perhaps the best known is the University Library. It is currently in use as the National Library of the Czech Republic. The guided tour of the Klementinum covers the Baroque library hall, Meridian hall and the Astronomical tower.

University Library, Klementinum, Prague
University Library, Klementinum, Prague

The interioir of the baroque library has remained intact since the 18th century. The hall is decorated with ceiling frescoes by Jan Hiebl depicting allegorical motifs of education, and portraits of Jesuit saints, patrons of the university and prominent representatives of this order. At the head of the hall is a portrait of Emperor Joseph II, who arranged for the books from abolished monastic libraries to be sent to Klementinum. Also remarkable is the collection of geografical and astronomical globes in the center of the library. These are mainly works of the Jesuits. Among the globes are also astronomical clocks, constructed mainly by Jan Klein.

University Library, Klementinum, Prague
University Library, Klementinum, Prague

The Astronomical Tower was built in 1722 to a height of 68 meters. At the top stands a statue of Atlas carrying the celestial sphere by Matthias Bernard Braun. Construction of the tower was related to the development of astronomical studies in the country. At the time of the construction of Klementinum, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Thadeus Hájek worked in Prague. Astronomy was part of the university curriculum since its inception, but the observatory was founded in Klementinum at the instigation of Joseph Stepling, its first director, in the years 1751-1752. Astronomical instruments were installed in the tower and it became the main spot for astronomical measurements.

Astronomical Tower, Klementinum, Prague
Astronomical Tower, Klementinum, Prague
View of Prague from the Astronomical Tower, Klementinum, Prague
View of Prague from the Astronomical Tower, Klementinum, Prague

The most impressive landmarks in Prague seems to collect along the banks of the river Vltava. The most impressive is the Dvořák Hall, or Rudolfinum.

Dvořák Hall, Prague
Dvořák Hall, Prague
Dvořák Hall, Prague
Dvořák Hall, Prague
Dvořák Hall, Prague
Dvořák Hall, Prague

Antonin Leopold Dvořák, through his music, shared that Czech heart with the world. Dvořák learned the folk fiddle as a child and eventually became accomplished on the viola, playing in dance bands from the age of 18. After nine years as a member of the orchestra at the Prague provisional theatre, Dvořák became the organist at St Adalbert’s Church. He’d been composing steadily, in obscurity, all the while. By his early 30s, this works and manuscripts included symphonies and chamber music. And then, in 1874,  Dvořák received his first real break. He entered a number of works in a competition for struggling young artists. One of the judges was Johannes Brahms, who was so impressed with Dvořák, that he awarded him first prize and from that time on, he took a deep personal interest in his career. Brahms introduced Dvořák to his own publisher, who commissioned the Czech to write some Slavonic Dances for piano duet. Playing exotic dances side by side with a close friend on the piano stool was a popular musical past time in the 1870s. Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances made him instantly popular in drawing rooms in Paris and London and all the way across the Atlantic. He toured and conducted extensively, but in 1892 he set sail with his family for New York where he became director of the National Conservatory of Music.

Statue of Antonín Dvořák, Jan Palach Square, Dvořák Hall
Statue of Antonín Dvořák, Jan Palach Square, Dvořák Hall

Antonin Dvořák was the most persuasive of all Czech musical ambassadors. The world fell in love with his music immediately. Cambridge University in Britain gave him an honorary degree in 1891. In America, he was asked to teach at the National Conservatory in New York. Some of his paychecks bounced but that didn’t stop him from writing one of the most famous piece of American music, the New World symphony, that can sit alongside Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. Dvořák’s music was not the music of the immigrants, it was the music of the slaves, of the native americans, and it is notable for its power and its dignity.

Dvořák returned to Prague for good after three years in the United States and conducted the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the Rudolfinum, in the hall that now bears his name. He was hailed by the people as their greatest living composer.

Look. everybody gets one piece of cake!

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

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