Exterior of Municipal Hall with murals by Mucha
Alfonse Mucha was a Czech graphic designer who was known for his advertising posters of Sarah Bernhardt, and for his signature designs that were instrumental in the Art Nouveau movement. After a successful career in Prague and New York, he decided to return to his Czech roots. He dreamt of helping to record the saga of the Slavic nation after WWII. Through his benefactor, he was able to depict the Slav Epic in 20 murals, now housed in the National Museum.
The museum was closed, but we were able to see three of his works in the National Gallery. The poster framed in gold was one of the pieces. The Mucha Museum showed most of his work and an informative video produced by the Mucha Foundation presented the life of this artist. He was prolific as one of the first advertising artists of his day, and became famous in Paris. He hob-knobbed with famous artists and patrons, and eventually made his way to New York.
Upon his return to Prague, he was commissioned to decorate the Municipal Hall where the concert we attended last night was held. The interior was ornately decorated with etched glass, brass trim, and murals by Mucha. The view of the stage with the organ, the dome, and the interior photos you see are taken inside the hall.
More impressive was the musical performance. Despite my initial trepidation about hard sellers barking on the street to us, we were glad that we succumbed to their pleas. The music itself was delightful and the quality was very high. We heard a Mozart Concerto in C Major with a violin soloist, and Beethoven’s triple Concerto in G Major for Violin, Cello and Piano. The highlight was Dvorak’s New World Symphony, a stirring reminder of the Czech Republic’s early beginnings.
With 60 musicians performing for a small audience of less than 200 people (mostly tourists), I wondered how they were able to break even. It was great value, and I even felt a bit guilty paying so little for such a fine, ovation-warranted performance. To top it off, we continue to enjoy visiting and attending performances in beautiful and historic buildings. This particular building reminded me of the Palacio des Belles Artes in Mexico City. (See posts and video in December 2014 on Mexico City Art and Architecture).
It was particularly thrilling to reflect on the day’s exposure to Mucha and his commitment to the Czech People, followed by stirring music by Dvorak and the conductor of the North Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, in a venue decorated by Mucha himself! The visual and sound effects conveyed the passionate feelings of the artists and made the experience very moving and emotional.
As for the competition between Dresden and Prague, two musically inclined cities, I can only be politically correct and say that they are similar and different. Dresden has the Semper Opera House, the Schiller Theater, Frauenkirche and many other smaller venues that provide seasonal programs including the annual Music Festival.
Prague has its counterparts in State-supported venues such as the National Opera House, National Theater, Municipal House, Rudolfinum and many churches. With a larger population, Prague seems to rely on a pattern of daily, year-round performances for tourists who expect to hear music on demand. I’m sure there are performances catered to local music lovers, but I wasn’t able ascertain whether the tourist-oriented events were also for local residents.
I’ll continue this debate and decide after the musical events in Dresden this week as to which city I prefer (I have a hunch already–what’s your guess?). It will be strictly subjective, determined by many factors such as weather, what I ate that day just before the performance, how easily I got to the venue, and who’s in the audience! Assume all the music in both cities is the best quality and value that can be found anywhere in the world.
Entrance to historic restaurant in Art Nouveau splendor
Detail of hall interior