Tag Archives: Prague

Evenings on Žofin

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Zofin - 01

Žofin island (now called Slovanský Ostrov/Slovansky Island). The building is the Žofin Palace.

One of the most complicated music references I’ve ever had to research was for a piece that I found on an album called Little Pearls of Czech Classics. The piece was called “Poem” by Zděnek Fibich, and we used it for an adage at the barre in the RAD’s new Advanced 1 in 2013. When I tried to find a piano version of the piece (it was in fact originally a piano piece), it seemed that every time I looked, a new reference would turn up. In the end, I settled for this:

“Večery na Žofině” (Evenings on Žofin) from Moods, Impressions, and Souvenirs Op. 41 No. 139 (originally Op 41 No. 6). Also known as Na Podvečer Op. 39, or Poem [Poème] Op. 39a.

To that, you can now add Op. 41 No. 4, which is the title given to it at AllMusic, where you’ll find a concise history of the piece.  For all this numbering, I can’t even remember where I eventually found it – IMSLP have a good selection of FIbich’s works, but not the original piano work (presumably it’s in Volume 4, they only have 1-3).  I’d like to think that the memoral slab on the side of the  Žofin palace puts one strand of the story literally in stone, which is that it was the Czech violinist Jan Kubelik who made Večery na Žofině (Evenings on Žofin) famous by arranging it for violin, but even that isn’t quite right: to be more precise, Fibich arranged and extended Evenings on Žofin  into an orchestral work that he called V podvečer (At Twighlight, Op. 39), from which Kubelik then extracted a bit, arranged it for piano and violin, and called it Poème, whereafter it was catalogued – understandably – as  Op. 39a in the list of Fibich’s works.

Zofin - 03

It was a lovely moment when I realised that this complex history referred to a place that I’d walked past (and on) for so many years on my annual visits to Prague for the International Ballet Masterclasses in Prague. As the Allmusic article tells you, many of the hundreds of piano miniatures in Fibich’s Nálady, dojmy a upomínky (Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences) apparently document the history of Fibich’s late-life love for his one-time pupil Anežka Schulzová (she was 24, he was 42, he was still married to his second wife). There’s barely a part of Schulzovà’s body, or an aspect of their relationship that doesn’t get a musical mention (“Nos. 303-313, however, return to the theme of Anežka’s toes”). As anatomy lessons go, I still think diagrams are probably more reliable.

The more you read about Fibich and Anežka in brief biographies, the greater the sense of misleading moralizing whitewash. Fibich’s first wife died very soon after they married. They had twin children, one of whom died at birth, the other only a few years later. On her death bed, the first wife made her sister Betty promise to marry Fibich, which she dutifully did (or perhaps it was Fibich on whose side the sense of duty lay).  It’s hard to imagine how this could last, and hard to begrudge Fibich the unexpected love he found with the much younger Schulzová, an educated woman, expert in Nordic literature, and eventually librettist for Fibich’s later operas. A site about Fibich refers to these years of his life as “fateful love.” The ABRSM, advertising their collection of pieces from Nálady, dojmy a upomínky describe the works as “highly individual miniatures…dedicated to his mistress.” Anežka surely deserves more than this.

Here’s the original orchestral Poème, and further down, a little gallery of pictures from Žofin island, including a view of the National Theatre which you can see from the island. Built between 1868-1881, both Fibich and Schulzová must have spent a long time looking at the building site, and admiring it once it was built from their vantage point on Žofin. The row of impressive buildings on the river bank directly opposite post-dates Fibich’s death I think.

Greetings from Prague – and from Radio Silence

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At the excellent advice of someone whose excellent advice has never failed me yet, I’m taking a one week vacation from Facebook and Twitter and a couple of other social media sites. This isn’t self-righteousness, I make no apology for loving Facebook and what it affords – but my friend said his recent self-imposed exile was “like having an extra week’s holiday.” Who could resist that?

If you’re interested in how, I installed Stayfocusd on my Macbook, and temporarily deleted the Facebook and Twitter from my phone.  It will be interesting to see how many ways there are to get round that.  I’m already an almost daily user of Freedom for when I’m writing, and after only half an hour, I think I’m going to love Stayfocusd.

Národní street in Prague, with the National Theatre at the end.

Národní street in Prague, with the National Theatre at the end.

30 days without supermarkets #26: defeat in Prague and glory of kitchen departments

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An onion-storer for the fridge

Much as I feared, I had to abandon the challenge today as the prospect of quickly finding a suitable independent food retailer  in central Prague was as likely as finding a greengrocer in Oxford Circus. There is one big fat supermarket in Prague, and it’s Tesco. I’m intriqued to know why by last year they had completely rebranded it in natural green and orange and with the name ‘My národní‘ with the Tesco logo and colours almost invisible in a tiny patch on the front of the 6-storey building.

One of my favourite shops in Prague is the household department of Kotva. The only thing that even nearly approaches this is the basement of Peter Jones, but this is several leagues better than that. This is a shop where you can buy several sizes and brands of  implements and devices whose function you can only guess at. This is a shop where you can get something that will slice a cucumber into one continuous spiral, or a bag of metal lids that can be clamped onto storage jars with the right jar-clamper, or a curved tube that turns a bottle of water into a jug, or a plastic screw-top onion that can be used to store unused bits of onion in the fridge (left).

I couldn’t quite place why I love this shop so much, and why it feels so different to similar shops in England, until I realised that it’s because it’s full of things that help you to do things yourself, rather than convenience and the pre-packaged.

Hvala for the honey cake, Pauline

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Pauline’s Cookbook is a wonderful blog maintained by Tonya Shuster. As she describes it, it’s a “memoir of sorts about my grandmother’s life, woven around the gift of a handmade pastry cookbook she cherished for nearly 80 years”.  The story is so poignant and so beautifully told, I’m not going to spoil it by retelling it in my own words – read it here on the page named after Pauline’s advice ‘Life is short, enjoy yourself’.  Pauline was born in Croatia in 1913 to Slovakian parents, and died aged 94 in 2007. I love sites like this, but especially this one as I have a passionate affinity with this part of the world from being a student in Zagreb in my 20s.

I found the site looking for a recipe. When I was in Prague last year, I went to the Krásny ztráty cafe  for afternoon tea with a Czech friend, who recommended the honey cake there. Prague honey cake is something of a legend, because of the extraordinary story of how a bit of bome-baking turned into a multimillion pound business (see a cut-and-paste of the story here). It is also one of the most delicious and unusual cakes I’ve ever eaten.  It has a bewitching flavour and texture, and it’s hard to work out exactly how it’s done.  It has the feel of a cake with a long history.

And it is. Thanks to Tonya Shuster’s labour of love, which is based on Pauline’s friend’s labour of love, here’s the recipe for Medovnik or ‘honey cake’ which retains lovely idiosyncrasies of the original like  “2 women’s handfuls of raisins”.

Sod’s lore

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I have a longstanding interest in folklore & folk music, particularly of Eastern Europe, so I got all excited when I discovered that there was a Folklore gathering in the Old Town Square in Prague, where I’ve just pitched up.  Unfortunately, I only had time to see the last act of the day, which, rather ironically, seeing as I’d come all this way in the hope of seeing something echt and Balkan, was the Kesteveen Morris group from Lincolnshire.