Monday, July 20, 2009

Praha Part II- Kostel Nejsvětějšího Srdce Páně

That's "Church of the Sacred Heart of Our Lord" in Prague 2, Vinohrady district. Our Czech translator had no concept of the English expression and both our tour guide and our director were not Catholic. Thus, "Holy Heart of Lord" (emphasis on no article or possessive pronoun) became the operative name.

We sang the Saturday Mass of anticipation last weekend at this one-of-a-kind church. I can't quite pinpoint it- Greco-Roman-Art-Deco? Could there be such a thing? When Frank Gehry visited he reportedly said, "I didn't realize that Mike Graves had already got ahead of me in Prague."I guess this was his way of saying "Wow, this is impressive." And it absolutely is- one doesn't see many buildings, especially churches like this from the 1920's. As our translator put it, "They thought he [the architect] was mad, a crazy man." Plenty of the kids did too.

The liturgy itself was interesting. We arrived at 5pm. Mass was at 6 and we had an hour guaranteed to warm up, tune the brass etc. I had even less time to acquaint myself with the button/knob/tab laden gameshow box of a console. Just when things started to click a loud voice pierced the silence at 5:30 sharp. Choristers and director looked around in confusion. It was the Rosary! And in case we didn't realize it, an elderly congregant stood up, wheeled around, and heckled us to make it clear. So much for preparation- or communication for that matter! Our liaison informed me, "the blind organist will arrive in the gallery one minute before the Mass to play the holy tunes." Great! In many ways it could have been the liturgy of a small Czech parish in Nebraska. All things considered, it went okay.

We had good fortune to be inside- apparently the building is only opened during Mass times. Because of this, the lights were also on. This gave the rare opportunity to get some decent inside shots. When we entered we came in the back through the sacristy. I was surprised by the amount of room behind the sanctuary. It felt spacious. (Little did I know, this was part of the radical design). Who would have thought?

The interior, composed largely of brick, makes for an interesting acoustic. Though the body of the church has a flat ceiling it is a large enough space that it still has a significant volume. Additionally, there was so little physical obstruction that the singing sounded about right to me. The brass players weren't fans. Personally, I've always been fascinated by the brick sound (e.g. Westminster Cathedral.)

It's hard to judge the organ simply because I can't say I ever quite figured it out. The church website gives some information about the organ (and extensive general parish history too- all of which generally informs these posts and was horrible to translate and work through!)

The organ was built in 1936 by the Kutna Hora firm of Josef Mölzer. The console has four manuals and pedal though only three manuals were completed- the fourth was to be in the tower where the sound would filter through two windows over the altar. This division was planned to have 23 ranks. Today the whole instrument has 45 ranks with 3234 pipes.

I confess I don't know much at all about Czech organs. For that matter, I don't know that anyone does. Therefore, it's alarming to me that even the church website explains, and I paraphrase, "Melzer was known as a company to build cheap things, to use cheap materials. Problems arose quickly..." Yikes! Starting in the 1960's the organ went through several overhauls, rebuilds, extensions, and revisions by a couple builders. For most of 20 years it was unplayable but all was "well" by 1992.

Thus, the current specs are something like this:
Melzer, etc. 1936, etc.

44. Principálbas 16’
45. Subbas 16’
46. Salicet bas 16’
47. Oktáv bas 8’
48. Flétna špičatá 8’
49.Chorál bas 4’
50. Mixtura (3x) 2 a 2/3’
51. Pozoun 16’

I. Manuál
16. Principál 16’
17. Principál 8’
18. Kryt 8’
19. Salicionál 8’
20. Oktáva 4’
21. Flétna trub. 4’
22. Superoktáva 2’
23. Mixtura (6x) 1 a 1/3’
24. Trompeta 8’

II. Manuál
2. Kryt 8’
3. Kvintadena 8’
4. Kopula 4’
5. Principál 4’
6. Roh lesní 2’
7. Kvinta 1 a 1/3’
8. Flétna syč. 1’
9. Cymbál (3x) 2/3’
10. Klarinet 8’

III. Manuál
30. Kryt 16’
31. Principál 8’
32. Flétna 8’
33. Vox angelika 8’+4’
34. Prestant 4’
35. Flétna příčná 4’
36. Nasard 2 a 2/3’
37. Flageolet 2’
38. Tercie 1 a 3/5’
39. Akuta (5x) 1’
40. Hoboj 8’

12. III - II. 8 '
13. III - II. 4 '
14. III - II. 16 '
15. Vacant
25. I. - I 4 '
26. II. - I. 8 '
27. III. - I. 8 '
28. III. - I 4 '
29. III. - I. 16 '
42. III. - III. 4 '
43. III. - III. 16 '
52. P - I 8 '
53. P - II. 8 '
54. P - II. 4 '
55. P - III. 8 '
56. P - III. 4 '

Auxiliary equipment
1. Power hand records
11. Tremolo II.
41. III Tremolo.
Switch language
Free combination of 1
Free combination of 2
Loose 3 combinations
Free combination of 4
Power crescendo
Switch connectors from cerescenda
Aut. ped. (a combination of pedal)
Crescendový cylinder
Blinds III. man.
Indicator War
Indicator blinds

And so, hooray! I found the Wicks of Communist Czechoslovakia! What to do? I just played a Dupré piece with lots of woofy 16, 8, and 4 and called it a day.

The best part of the organ were the many decorative lightbulbs which ornamented the sleek case below the facade pipes. It reminded me of St. Francis Church in Humphrey, Nebraska!

The architecture, however, will blow your socks off...

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