Mailbox

Jan Palach

This week's topics: Growing number of self-immolations. Beethoven's connection to Prague. The Clam-Gallas family. Listeners quoted: George Rosseli, Franz Schwartz Jr., Jan Fermich.

George Rosseli from Italy is concerned about an alarmingly growing trend in the Czech Republic. He writes:

"I have been listening to Radio Prague and receiving your daily news bulletins since the beginning of this year. I can't help but notice that there are a lot of Czechs who chose to commit suicide by setting themselves on fire. Is there a reason for this?"

Well, Mr Rosseli, you sent us this comment last Sunday. Since then, as you probably know from our news, there have been two more cases of self-immolation. A seventeen year old boy set himself alight in Prague on Monday night and a fifty-five year old pensioner in northern Bohemia on Wednesday morning. It is a mystery to all of us why people take such drastic and furthermore painful measures to kill themselves. Especially since in most of these cases, someone has come to the rescue in time. Although the person's life is saved, he ends up with serious burns.

The two most famous cases of self-immolation are that of students Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, who both took these drastic measures to publicly object to the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1969. A case in March this year seems to have triggered a new wave of self-immolations. On March 6, a nineteen year old student set himself alight in front of the National Museum on Prague's Wenceslas Square. People quickly came to the rescue but didn't manage to save his life. Since then, ten more people have set themselves on fire.

Psychologists say that in most cases people chose to die in this way because it guarantees them public attention. Many do not realise how painful this form of suicide is and only focus on the thought that a public suicide will end a life they think has been meaningless.

Moving on to something more pleasant. We got a letter from Franz Schwartz Jr. from the USA. He collects stamps and has the following question:

"I would like to know Beethoven's connection to Czechoslovakia as Czechoslovakia commemorated this composer several times with stamps."

There is much debate about the number of times Ludwig van Beethoven actually visited the Czech lands. He is known to have visited the spas of northern and later western Bohemia several times to treat his growing hearing problem and traces of depression. It is also known that he lived in Prague in February 1796 and 1798, where he took an active part in Prague's autumn concert season. Beethoven himself was from a modest background. His family moved to nearby Vienna, Austria, to give him a better musical education. He soon became a respected musician who spent much time in the company of other musicians and, of course, the nobility. Some of them included members of the Czech aristocracy as well as renowned Czech musicians. In 1796, he was invited to Prague by Count Christian Philip of the Clam-Gallas family. That's when he began performing at functions in the private homes of the Czech nobility.

And it's also where he fell in love. While in Prague, Beethoven agreed to give the daughter of Count Clara piano lessons. She was a beautiful nineteen year old young woman called Josefina. But to make things complicated, Countess Josefina was already engaged to someone else - the son of Beethoven's host, Christian Philip. Beethoven fell so madly in love with Josefina that he composed a song called "Pour la belle J. par L v. Beethoven", or "To the beautiful Josefina from Ludwig van Beethoven". But when the moment of truth came around and he gave her the composition, with which of course he was expressing his love for her, she rejected him saying she respected him solely for his great musical skills. Beethoven left the city. The next time he returned in 1798, Josefina was married to her fiancé.

Some of you who have visited Prague may have noticed a plaque with a relief of Beethoven on Lazenska Street. It's on the façade of the pub U Zlateho jednorozce. The plaque reads "this is where the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven was housed in February 1796". The plaque is the work of Czech sculptor Otakar Spaniel and was put there in 1927 during a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Beethoven's death.

We just mentioned Count Christian Philip of the Clam-Gallas family. The next question is very much related. It's from Jan Fermich from somewhere in cyber space. He asks in his e-mail:

"I'm a second-year history student. Although I study American History, I am also interested in Central European history. In past readings I have come across the Clam family as well as the Clam-Gallas family. You have a Clam-Gallas Palace in Prague, for example. What is the difference? Are they two different families?"

The Clam - Gallas family was born in 1757, when Christian Philip von Clam married Countess Marie-Ann of Gallas, the heiress or inheritor of the great Gallas estate. Christian Philip decided to merge the two names.

Well, and that's all we have time for today. Just a quick reminder of our contact information. You can e-mail us to english@radio.cz

Those of you who prefer to send us the good old-fashioned letter, our address is also very simple - write to the radio Prague English section at 120 99 Prague 2, the Czech Republic.

And one quick note before we sign off - we will be launching a new programme schedule as of October 27. Those of you who have written or e-mailed us should already be on our mailing list and will automatically receive our new schedule. Those of you who have not written to us can do so to ask for it or can visit our website.

One of the changes will surely be appreciated. We'll be holding monthly listeners' competitions on the Mailbox programme focusing on Czech music and literature - the prizes will be small but sweet - CD, books, and the sort...