French Charm in Prague Spring

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Pavel Trojan Jr conducts the Prague Conservatory Chamber Orchestra in concert March 18.

Charming and Rosy – that was ‘Rozkvět’s’ foretaste of the French flavor in this year’s Prague Spring Music Festival.

A foretaste of this year’s Prague Spring festival was on offer at the March 18 “Rozkvět,” the “flowering of Prague Spring” — free, public lecture-concerts. This one was entitled “French Charm in Music.” And it was a charming evening indeed.

The first part was dedicated to Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) – yes, the one who died of gangrene after striking his own foot with his own long conducting staff, popularly known from the movie Le Roi Danse (The King is Dancing); the musician and dancer of Italian origin who took hold at the French royal court, gradually accumulating various court musical functions (“instrumental composer to the king,” “music master to royal family,” etc.). He also managed to accumulate considerable possessions, which, together with his vehement temper, won him a lot of adversaries.

Sooooo French
Opposite to this peppery side of his character and life, there was Lully as a child prodigy, who made his way up to music from very modest origins. This was the Lully who composed sweet melodies of worldly as well as sacred music; who assimilated both Italian and French styles and tastes, placing special emphasis on a style of declamation suited to the French language; and who made French opera a popular art. Ironically, Lully was devoted to dance more than to anything else (he would rather die than be prevented from dancing), which can be heard from every bar of his music and can spirit you far away from the every-day.

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Impressionist use of light: Detail, Edgar Degas, "Dancer Taking a Bow" (1878)

Was it just the cultural milieu of Lully’s music (Marche de Savoye and Suite from his opera Armida)? or was it objective? I felt something of the magical, swinging atmosphere which continued in the next part of the evening, presenting French musical impressionism.

This part was preceded by a brief but substantial introduction to impressionism in visual art, referring to the parallels between both disciplines. The concern for landscape and natural phenomena, particularly the imagery of water and light, is conveyed in moods and emotions aroused by the subject rather than as a detailed tone-picture.

We heard Bizet’s Farandole and Debussy’s Two Dances for Harp and Strings presented by the young harpist Barbora Plachá. She was accompanied by the interpreters of all the other pieces of the evening, the Chamber Orchestra of Prague Conservatory conducted by Karel Doležal, and by Pavel Trojan Jr., the traditional moderator of “Rozkvět.”

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Barbora Plachá

All these young people, performing for a mostly young audience, radiated so much ebullience that in addition to my recommendation for the “French line” of this year’s Prague Spring festival, there is one more: to observe the students of Prague Conservatory. They are the ones whom we will hear in the coming years as mature musicians. Listen to them now, as well, when they are so fresh and budding – they are the “flowers” not only of Prague Spring, but of the future of Czech music. — oo

– Lucie Rohanová

Photo Credits: Top and bottom: Lucie Rohanová; Degas detail, Wikipedia

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