Sunday, July 15, 2012

Day 8: Concert at St. Giles

When last I left you, Dear Reader, Dear Husband and I were scarfing down a decadent dessert and rushing off to the organ concert I had promised him. While I like organ concerts well enough, and he enjoys art museums, I won't rule out the possibility that our itinerary involved a bit of compromise.

Of all the churches we visited on our trip to Central Europe, St. Giles in Prague may have been the most decked out. We're talking seriously baroque here: gold, accents on everything; rich folds in the "fabric" of statues' robes; helical marble columns that must have been super expensive, because they had to purchase larger chunks of marble so that half of them could be chipped away to make spirals; fancy woods on the side altars; everything decorated with spirals and curlicues--and did I mention the gold? To the left is the view of toward the main altar from our seats in the back pew, whence we slipped, as quietly as possible, as the concert had already started while we wound our way through the streets of Old Town Prague to Husova street. Because we were running late, I did not stop to consider the price we paid for the tickets. Not only was it more than I expected, once I had done the math in my head, but it came out to about $23 for each of us. That much wasn't in my budget, so we hope the musicians were well compensated, after the ticket-taker, program printing costs, etc. Apparently the church has hired a company to promote these nightly concerts, which are supposed to raise money for renovations of the organ.

The evening we were there, we heard an organist, a violinist, and a wonderful soprano perform a variety of mostly religious pieces by a veritable Who's Who of Baroque, Classical, and Romantic music: Bach, Vivaldi, Albinoni, Mozart, Franck, Dvořák, Schubert ("Ave Maria"), Gounod ("Ave Maria"), Tchaikovski, and Widor ("Toccata"). All the musicians were quite talented, but we agreed that the flashy finale was really a let-down. You see, DH has taught himself to play the organ, he's very good at it, and he knows how to play the famous organ part from Widor's "Toccata." Lots of churches advertise organ concerts in Prague, and he noticed that they all seem to end with that piece, probably to impress the tourists. It's fast and sounds tricky. Unfortunately, St. Giles has lots of marble and not so much sound-absorbing material in it. So when the organist played the "Toccato" all fast and flashy like, the sounds just washed over and into each other, completely losing the momentum of piece. (We laughed about that on our way to the Metro later, that the organist had ruined the momentum of the piece by taking too quick a tempo!) In addition, he didn't play the coda, which has my favorite part, in the pedals. After the sound finally ebbed away, I turned to DH and said, "Grab your rubber ducky, and let's get out of this bathtub!"

The promotional literature boasts St. Giles has the "Greatest Classical Organ in the Town." It dates to 1733, with an extension in 1888 and more work in 1969. DH notes that much of the impressive music played on the organ probably required those improvements, so it's not exactly authentic. It's got 3 manuals, 50 ranks, and 3500 pipes and certainly sounded impressive. The wooden carvings on its casing are said to be very ornate, but it was too dark and back-lit for either of us to get a good photo after the music ended, and we could get up from our seats to look at the organ loft above and behind us.

While listening to the concert, of course I looked around a lot. For 641 years old, the Church of St. Jilji is looking pretty good. The flyer we got notes more than once that the church was founded in 1238, but of course the existing structure isn't that old. Consecrated in 1371, the building has Gothic architecture to go with the Baroque interior. Before he went over the bridge and into the river, John Nepomuk was probably active in this community, and there is a side altar to him. Since 1625, the building has belonged to the neighboring Dominican monastery (except during the Communist period). The most damage it has sustained was a lightning strike and fire in 1432 in the north steeple, which is still shorter than the south steeple. Click on the link above if you want to see more/ better photos of interior.

To the right you can see (sort of) the absolutely beautiful fresco work done on the ceiling, which was supported by striking white Romanesque pillars topped in gold work. The paintings show the celebration of the Dominican Order, the victory of faith over heresy, and the legends of Sts. Giles, Dominic, and Thomas Aquinas. As I learned later, St. Giles (c. 650-c.710) was a hermit of Greek extraction living in what is now the south of France. His only companion was a red deer, who may have supplemented his vegetarian diet with her milk. Anyway, one day the king was hunting in the forest, pursued the deer back to Giles's hermitage, and accidentally wounded the saint while aiming for the animal. Giles later founded a Benedictine monastery. His symbols are a deer and an arrow; his feast day is 1 September; and he is the patron saint of hunters, the shipwrecked, beggars, nursing mothers, and those with disabilities like leprosy and mental illness.

Our last full day in Europe was considerably more somber, as we took a day trip out to the prison and ghetto at Terezín/Theresienstadt.

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