Dobry Den da Praha!
It's Thursday morning here, cloudy and not quite as cold as it's been: only -10 Celsius. Hey, everything's relative, right?
Prague is an extraordinarily beautiful place, the only major European city with most of it's major bulidings still intact after WWII. I took this picture early yesterday morning, just before the clouds became really thick. Thanks to the swan for the obligatory pose...
I arrived here Tuesday night, after stopping off in Brno to visit the city where Leos Janacek lived and worked most of his life. For those not familiar with Janacek, the man had a pretty colorful life. He married his first wife when he was in his 20s and she was 15. He was born in the mid 1800's, but didn't really hit his stride as a composer until he was in his 60's, when he carried on a passionate (yet platonic) affair with a woman in her 20's. He's probably best known for the Sinfonietta,
the Glatolitic Mass
, and his operas Jenufa, The Cunning Little Vixen
, and Katya Kabanova
. I only had a couple of hours in Brno, but that was enough to walk up to the Organ School where he taught composition, and the little house they built for him in the back, which is exactly as he left it.
Yesterday was spent visiting the main historical sights: the Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Church of St. Nicholas in Old Town, where Mozart improvised on the organ in 1787, and where the Reqiuem
was performed a week after his death in 1791, which filled not only the church but the huge square outside.
Mozart loved Prague - he once exclaimed "Prague understands me!" - and visited here on several occasions. The Marriage of Figaro
, which closed after only nine performances in Vienna, was a huge success here, to the point where the city was said to have gone "Figaro-mad" in late 1786. Mozart arrived in January 1787 to see for himself, and after about a week, he decided to make a few extra bucks by writing and conducting what became known as the "Prague" Symphony. (According to one account, he performed his own encore, improvising at the piano for the better part of an hour.) By the time he left a week later, he had a commission in hand to write a new opera for the Czech National Theater.
That opera turned out to be Don Giovanni
, for which he returned to conduct the premiere in October, 1787. (Apparently, he wasn't quite done when he got here: he ended up writing the entire overture the night before the first performance, handing pages to the copyists as soon as he finished them.) It, too, became a huge success here, much more so than when it was premiered the following year in Vienna.
He made one more visit during the last year of his life, when he premiered the Clarinet Concerto and his opera, La clemenza di Tito
, written for the installation of Emperor Leopold II.
After the premiere, he fell sick with what would become his final illness. After his death, performances of his operas and symphonies continued to be performed in Prague to sellout crowds, and cemented his reputation throughout Europe.
This deep affection for Mozart has persisted to the present day, to the degree that the entire city is now engaged in a "Mozart Praha 2006" festival. I attended the first of two Mozart performances I'll be attending here last night: a concert by the Czech Philharmomic in the Rudolfinum of the "Jupiter" Symphony and the Requiem. I paid the equivalent of $25 for a seat in the 8th row of the orchestra, and was repaid with one of the most extraordinary musical experiences of my life.
The conductor, Austrian Manfred Honeck, decided to arrange a full-scale memorial to Mozart, interspersing the Requiem with Gregorian Chant, readings from Revelations,
and Mozart's own Masonic Funeral Music
, Laudate Dominum
, and Ave Verum Corpus
. Honeck ended the Requiem abruptly, at the precise moment Mozart left it unfinished, eight bars into the Lacrimosa
. The effect was stunning, and the audience showed their appreciation with a unanimous standing ovation (see below).
Honeck will return with the Philharmonic on Friday, to play a special concert at the historic Estates Theater, where Mozart conducted the premiere of Don Giovanni
The concert is completely sold out, but I have a ticket in the top balcony, which I bough online several months ago. It's sure to be the event of the season here, or anywhere.
I'm off now to visit the home of the greatest of all Czech composers, Antonin Dvorak, who is buried in a cemetery not far from here. I'll be attending his opera Rusalka
at the baroque Prague State Opera tonight, sitting in a box seat for about $30. That's almost cheaper than standing room at the Met!
I'll try to check in again before I leave on Saturday. For now, Na Sheldanou!
P.S. Thanks for all the comments. Interesting thoughts fron Mr. Dy-no-mite - perhaps you should submit your thesis to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and see what they have to say about it. And, for all you yinzers, they do
wear Stiller jerseys at gamewatch bars in Vienna. Glad I'll be back in the States for the Big Game, though.