'Extinct churches - living music': exhibition brings to life Prague'sreligious past

Czech Museum of Music

Prague is full of old and beautiful churches, often crouching between hubbubs of modern social activity. Many regularly play host to concerts, maintaining through music a sense of continuity of past and present. But what about the city's many once significant churches that now are disused, or whose foundations lie beneath the trappings of the modern era? Well now a new exhibition at the Czech Museum of Music in Prague is using the same musical medium to resurrect the atmosphere of the city's bygone centres of worship. And the location couldn't be more fitting.

The organisers of this new exhibition at the Museum of Music have named it 'Zanikle Chramy - Ziva Hudba', meaning, 'Extinct Churches - Living Music'. The exhibition presents itself as a piece of 'musical archeology', creating a picture of twenty two of Prague's ruined or no longer functioning churches through old musical manuscripts, documentary films, and particularly audio recordings in English and Czech, featuring the music that would once have echoed through these places. Dr Eva Paulova is the Chief Curator of the museum.

"The aim is to present a special kind of music history. It's a Prague history, and it's a history which originates from our own building, which is a former church, so we've chosen the possibility to present Prague's old churches and their music from the 14th to 19th century. Naturally the main feature of the exhibition consists of musical scores, but we have also musical instruments and artefacts from the former churches and other objects of art on this topic. We hope also that through our concerts and the events accompanying this exhibition we can present more about Prague's music history."

The concerts, of which there are four, will fittingly take place in the museum itself, a former church. It is a building with a certain mystical and mysterious air, reminding one of the pictures of artist M.C Escher, with strange blocks of stairs that seem almost to lead to nowhere, an ideal place to bring to life the atmosphere of the buildings of the past. The building is situated on Karmelitska Street in the Mala Strana, one of the four locations which the exhibition depicts. The others are the New Town, Old Town and Hradcany. Eva Paulova told me about the building's history.

"Our main inspiration was our building because we have a new site. Since 2004 we have been in the Mala Strana in Mary Magdalene church. It was a Dominican monastery in 17th Century and it was abolished in the end of the 18th century. It served as an industrial object, as a post office and since 2004 it has been our museum, so we are also looking to know the musical history of this building."

The new exhibition is just the latest in a number of successful events, and the museum is enjoyed by Czechs and non Czechs alike. Eva Paulova again:

"Our museum is especially interesting for foreign visitors to Prague, because we have all the texts in English, and our temporary exhibitions always present some part of Czech music history which is very little known in the world. We've had many interesting exhibitions before today, for example our previous one about Jaroslav Jezek was very popular among our foreign visitors because they came and they wrote 'we had never before heard the music of this composer it is fantastic and we want to hear it again and we want to play it."

'Zanikle Chramy - Ziva Hudba' runs until February.


Photo: Czech Museum of Music