‘Tis the season for Advent pastorals – on a rare Krkonoše organ
The season of Advent is upon us. The word comes from the Latin “adventus”, which means arrival coming, as Christians awaited the second coming of Jesus. While for the faithful Advent is about repentance, it is also a joyful time, marked by traditional Czech goodies and music.
On the first Sunday of Advent, at St. Augustine monastery in Vrchlabí, at town at the foot of the Krkonoše Mountains, church choir master Radek Hanuš presented a long-lost organ – one of the oldest in Bohemia.
“I have an eight-track pipe here, a four-track flute, it's taller, and then I have a two-track principal here. And we can put the two flutes together, for example, and play a pastoral of František Xaver Brixi.”
Brixi, an 18th century composer born in Prague, wrote some 290 church works in his forty short years on this earth. He was named kapellmeister of St Vitus Cathedral at age 27 and held the high musical office till his untimely death.
“This instrument dates from the early 18th century and is actually one on which those pastorals were first played on. Actually, if we look at the fresco above us in the monastery church, a cherub is playing on such a church or ‘portative organ’.
“I quite like this instrument, which has been restored essentially to its original state. So, we hear the same sound that people did in the 18th century. Maybe even when the foundation stone of this very monastery church was laid.”
As is traditional on the first Sunday of Advent, a liturgical season lasting four weeks, many Czechs lit the first candles on traditional wreathes prepared for the period, which culminates on December 24, the day they celebrate Christmas.
Events accompanying the pre-holiday time have been moved online in view of the coronavirus situation. In the meantime, souls full of good cheer, like church choir master Radek Hanuš is pleased to share the gift of music.
“We now know that concerts, artistic events will be rather subdued this year or not held at all. So, I thought, how to please people a little at Christmas? It occurred to me that I could go around our beautiful churches in the Krkonoše Mountains.
“At first, I thought I would focus on historical instruments, but I decided to also play instruments in beautiful places. So, I would like to bring some joy through some Czech pastoral organ music. And so everyone can hear recordings of these unique instruments.”
And while traditional Christmas markets are also not being held, you can be certain that Czech homes will soon be filled with the aroma of baking gingerbread and cookies, along with mulled wine and carols.
Radio Prague International has prepared a selection of articles on Christmas traditions for you.