The Baroque Comfort of Collegium 1704
It was cozy at the Church of St Simon and Jude…
The well-chosen venue for the Nov 17 “Prague Vespers” concert of Collegium 1704 was an ideal setting for a Baroque music concert on that typically overcast and dreary fall evening. The ensemble offered works that had some connection to Prague and reflected the high artistic level of Prague church music at the time.
The centerpiece of the concert were five Psalms and a Magnificat as would be required for vespers on a holiday. The program included works by Jan Dismas Zelenka, Antonin Reichenauer, Carlo Luigi Pietragrua, and Antonio Vivaldi.
Magnificat, RV 610, by the Venetian composer Vivaldi was well known in Prague. It is believed that Vivaldi even visited Prague some time during his travels north of the Alps in the period 1729-1731. The evening’s concert presented this work in its original form — not adapted to local traditions and conditions.
Zelenka and Reichenauer were both Czech, leaving Pietragrua the odd composer out of this group with Prague connections. He never actually visited Prague, as far as anyone knows, although his work appears in the archives of the Prague Cathedral.
Historically, churches and monasteries were some of the most significant repositories of the musical arts; on Sundays and holidays famous hymns could be heard throughout the city. The music was both local and international, with great composers and musicians coming to and from Prague with great regularity.
Unfortunately, only a few random collections have been preserved, sometimes giving the impression of provincialism of local musicians or the range and depth of music available in Baroque Prague.
On the contrary, Collegium 1704 demonstrated that church-goers in 18th-century Prague were treated to some very fine music. The Baroque ensemble’s enthusiastic performance was well-received by an appreciative audience. The touch of confusion regarding the request for an encore was heart-warming: Heaven only knows why they hadn’t expected one.If you dread sitting in a cold church concert on uncomfortable pews for hours, there will be no such ordeal here. When it was returned to its original owners, the Order of the Merciful Brethren, the Church of St Simon and St Jude received considerable renovation for the purposes of hosting classical music concerts. Floor heating was added for your comfort, and rigid pews have been replaced with very comfortable chairs.
The Church is also known for its excellent acoustics. The organ was built in 1724 by Andreas Wambesser. It has been played by the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Hayden. The organ was renovated in 1993 and is considered an instrument of exceptional quality.
This combination of comfort and sound fulfills the prerequisites for a wonderful Baroque music experience.
We left the concert feeling cozy — inside and out. — oo
– Frank and Hana Trollman
Photo Credits: Top: Frank Trollman; bottom: Miroslav Setnička