Sunday, June 7, 2015

Musical Treasures of Lobkowicz Palace, Prague

View from the terrace showing Prague, the Charles Bridge, and the Vltava River
The Lobkowicz name should be familiar to music aficionados as most of them were grand supporters of the arts. The family's palace is now a museum and the property has an interesting history of its own: it was confiscated by the Nazis at the beginning of World War II, and then again by the communists in 1948. William Lobkowicz, until recently an investment banker in Boston, managed to claim the family's property in the 1990s and turned it into a museum. The Lobkowicz Palace is part of the gigantic Prague Castle complex which overlooks the city and is mobbed by tourists every day. Our tour group was treated to lunch in one of the palace's sumptuous rooms and it looked like this:
We ate salad, goulash, and strudel.
Our group was treated to a short concert after lunch, at which a violinist, cellist, and pianist played selections from the family's heyday. Then, inside the museum, we found famous Canalettos, a Bruegel famous for being the first secular landscape painting, arms and armor, Lobkowicz family portraits, and decorative arts. The recorded tour is narrated beautifully by William Lobkowicz himself and takes about an hour.

One crazy-beautiful Lobkowicz ceiling!
 The Music Room brought tears to my eyes, though. Behind glass cases live manuscript scores of Beethoven's Fourth and Fifth symphonies, an early manuscript of the Op. 18 String Quartets used for the first performances, a printed copy of his Third (the "Eroica"), and a score of Handel's "Messiah" with corrections and reorchestrations by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There are more scores in the collection's archives, but these are the items on display.

It seems Beethoven met the 7th Prince Lobkowicz, Josef František Maximilián, when the two were in their twenties. They became friends and the Prince arranged for Beethoven to receive a pension or subsidy which continued beyond the Prince's death until Beethoven's own. Beethoven showed his gratitude by dedicating a number of his compositions, important ones, to the Prince: Symphony No. 5, Symphony No. 6, the six String Quartets Op. 18, the Harp Quartet Op. 74, the Triple Concerto, and the song cycle An die ferne Geliebte.

I mentioned that there is an early printed copy of the "Eroica" Symphony (Beethoven's Third) on display. While composing this heroic symphony, Beethoven was planning to dedicate it to Napoleon Bonaparte. He even went as far as to inscribe the title page, and then Napoleon declared himself emperor. This didn't sit well with Beethoven, and he erased the dedication. There's a hole in the paper of the manuscript where the writing had been. He substituted the inscription "To the memory of a great man," meaning "Hey, remember when Napoleon was cool?" Eventually, he re-dedicated the piece to his friend Prince Lobkowicz. This celebrated symphony, a quintessential specimen of this genre, was premiered privately a whole year before its public Vienna premiere in the Lobkowicz's other property, Jezeří Castle, in 1804.
Photographs are not allowed in the Collection, so here is a photo of the postcard I bought of the early Eroica edition.
 The scores and stories were enough to stop me in my tracks, but the room is filled with instruments from the castle's musical history. There's a wall of early clarinets, several oboes, trumpets, violins, violas, cellos, lutes, and guitars. The Lobkowiczes maintained their own court orchestra, and many of the instruments are from that ensemble. Following is the closest I could get on YouTube, the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Maestro Bernstein...

In order to preserve the treasures in the collection, photography is not allowed. BUT, if you are interested in seeing some of these items and learning more about the history of this notable family, click on through to the Lobkowicz Palace website!

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