Tuesday, September 27, 2011:Ancient History?

What would Mr Smetáček or Mr Melantrich make of this jumble of history at this famous Prague intersection today?

Not-So Ancient History?

Two small but interesting new exhibits about historic Czech figures open this week (Sept 28-Oct 31) at the Czech Museum of Music to keep the continuing Dvořák exhibition company.

“Smetáček” pays tribute to the famous 20th-century conductor, oboist, musicologist, teacher, and choir master – yes, that’s all one man – Václav Smetáček. His international reputation came from his 30-year stint as conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK).

He had met the symphony’s founder, Rudolf Pekárek, while working at Czech Radio. As a guest conductor for the radio concerts, Smetáček began to collaborate with Pekárek, and eventually built the full-scale symphony from what had started as a radio and film orchestra concentrated on light classics and popular music.

Smetáček’s first public concert with the symphony occurred in 1936 and, typical for him, featured contemporary Czech classical music. As a conductor from 1942-1972, the former oboist for the Czech Philharmonic added Stravinsky and Mahler to the Prague Symphony’s repertoire, along with the traditional classics. Many of his recordings won international acclaim and remain among the best examples of works by a multitude of Czech masters.

You can also read more about Václav Smetáček in Zuzana Sklenková’s article, “The Builder,” which was published in Opus Osm on April 14.

The Long Road to Publication

Part of a 16th-century Melantrich Bible title page showing Jiří Melantrich

If you’ve ever wandered around the historic center of Renaissance Prague, you’ve probably noticed the short street, Melantrichova, which today is burgeoning with tourist shops. Here you can buy everything from pizzas to puppets, but the street itself honors an individual in a different trade: George (Jiří) Melantrich, printer.

This exhibit marks the 500th anniversary of his birth, and recognizes his important contributions not only to printing (music, hymns, a Bible) but also to the preservation of the Czech language.

“In the 16th century, only people living out in the country used Czech,” explains Lenka Kobrová, producer in the public relations and marketing department at the museum. “It was somewhat similar to Dante’s Italian. At the end of the 18th, and the 19th centuries, scholars discovered some of Melantrich’s printed books and could use them to restore the original Czech language.”

The exhibit contains copies and some originals of Melantrich’s work during his most prolific period, 1553-1580. A recently-discovered fragment of his music textbook will also be on display. – oo

– Mary Matz

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