Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Fruenkirche, Dresden

The Frauenkirche in Dresden is a very special place. the site held the first church in Dresden ; an 18th century rebuild resulted in the greatest Baroque Protestant  church in Germany ; it was reduced to piles of rubble in 1945 and arose anew respendent in the early 21st century. It occupies a special place in the hearts of Germans and in mine too as I shall explain.
My first visit to Dresden was in August 1989 and the church was a pile of rubble. My photos will show this. I parked my car nearby and went to mass in the Hofkirche. On my return the date 25 Feb 1945 was scratched on my bonnet with a small swastika! I would never have forgotten Dresden anyway but I vowed to return and hoped to see the church rebuilt. We returned in early summer rain in 2006, and again for the Christmas market in 2016. The transformation is terrific. The building was filled with onlookers both times. Concerts were sold out. I was amzed to find that Zelenka's rare oratorio Il Serpe de Bronzo was full so I never heard it! 

I  know the outline of the Frauenkirche very well now because the image to your left is a model which i made from a cardboard kit. It is an unusual hobby and this one was not easy. It stands only about 10 inches high and the photo is taken in our garden! Normally it lives in a prime spot inside.
The medieval church on the site became Evangelical Lutheran in 1539. By the 18th century it was in a terrible state and a disgrace in the centre of the majestic Baroque capital which Elector Frederick Augustus the Strong was trying to build.Therefore he agreed with the town council that it be demolished and a new  more suitable one be built. A commission was given to George Bahr, the council's carpenter in 1722. The plans were adapted several times over the 17 years it took to buld following the foundation in 1726. It was consecrated in 1734 (most of it) with an inner dome and no altar or organ. The speedy consecration was the town's reaction to Augustus's expedient conversion to Catholicism so he could be King of Poland too. The installation of the tower cross in 1743 marked the end of the construction. Bahr had died back in 1738 so others finished his work. He must have been a remakable man transferring his carpenter's skill into a stone dome to rival the Duomo in Florence, and St Peter's in Rome. He lived to see that at least. Also involved was the State architect Johann Christoph Knoffel. The remarkable dome or "stone bell" was Bahr's idea. Sandstone was used. Alas cracks appeared and gaetano Chiaveri, architect of the Hofkirche, recommended a wooden dome instead. The cracks were sealed and later in the Seven Years'War cannon balls bounced off it and even in 1945 it was not the bombs which finished it off.

The nave has a relatively small ground plan of 45 by 45 metres and it is the  37 metre rise of the inner dome and onward to 68 metre main dome which astonishes us. The colour scehme becomes more radiant toward the altar and instils a memory of white and gold. 
Seven doors were made so that all should feel welcome with some 3200 seats originally : now 1800. The weight of the outer dome is linked to the exterior. There are five semicircular galleries. THe emphasis is on the pul[pit - the Lueran idea of the word of God at the centre.
on 13 Feb 1945 heavy bombing detroyed the centre of Dresden. The bombsa bounced off the dome but fire penetrated the windows and burnt the wooden structure and furnishings. On the morning of 15 Feb 1945 about 10 o clock, the gutted dome collapsed. After the end of the War Dresden became part of the GDR and ion 1966 the ruined church was  classified as a memorial. 

This was the not the end of the story! In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down : Germany was reunited. In 1990 a worldwide call went out to reconstruct the Frauenkirche. Enough was collected to enable the work to start in 1993. They reused as much of the original as possible and this accounts for the mottled effect today. As far as possible they have tried to recreate the original,utilising modern technology and paying attention to constructive use of the building. The exterior dome was finished in June 2004 and the interior consectrated in October 2007.
Large pieces of the 1738 altar have been reused. The original Silbermann organ of 1736 has been replaced by a spendid one by Daniel Kern of Strasbourg. It does not vclaim to reproduce the sound of the original or the same technology.  It is a completrely modern 4790 pupe organ with 4 manuals and 67 registers. Listen for yourself later!

The inner dome has 8 pictorial sections with the 4 evangelists and 4 allegoroes (faith, hope, love, mercy) in an imitatoioin of the original of Johann Battista Grone.
The exterior tower cross fell and has been salvaged and a new one raised : a gift from the British people.It iwas made at Grant MacDonald in Bear Lane off Southwark Street in Soutthwark, just down the road from London South Bank University, where I worked for 19 years. Craftsman Alan Smith spent eight months building the six foot cross and orb in stainless steel and copper to the original 18th-century design.
His father Frank flew a Lancaster bomber in the 1945 raid that destroyed 80 per cent of the city including the Frauenkirche.
"My father used to tell me about the horrors and the suffering of Dresden," Mr Smith said. "He did not want it to be forgotten. By working on the cross I've come closer to my father and it's my way of saying goodbye to him and fulfilling his wishes."
Old Dresdeners cheered as workers eased the crown and orb inch by inch on to the church's tower with a crane while bells pealed.

Before the rebuild

After the rebuild
My photo in 1989

Anothter view in 1989

Model of how the church fitted into the Baroque city

View of Baroque Dresden

Another old photo of the bombed city

Famous view of Baroque Dresden

 Homilius - Cantata 'Der Herr ist Gott, der uns erleuchtet' the kind of music performed soon after it was built

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Jesuit Church, Funchal, Madeira

Our first visit to the island of Madeira was Febraury 2017. Walking around in shirt sleeves on an island well out into the Atlantic parallel with north Africa in February was a strange experience. added to that promenading along the front in Funchal was like a U3A Flash Mob! Just so many Brits everywhere. Such a hilly place too, but what can you expect from an extinct volcano thrusting out of the sea?
The heritage is Portuguese and we were greeted by Baroque with azulejo tilework. Most memorable for me was the Igreja do Colegio in the centre of Funchal. This was built by the Jesuits, who owned vast estates and more or less ran the wine industry until their expulsion in 1760. The church was built 1624-1647 and has been fortunate to have large amouts of restoration accomplished. The attached Jesuit College is now part of the Catholic University. The nave is high and wide - typical of the Jesuits. It is flanked by lateral side chapels with an interconnecting passage in the side walls of the chapels. This was a style from 16th century Portugal and widely used by the Jesuits. The collection of golden carved altarpieces from the 1640s to 1660s is a highlight. The walls of the chapels are covered with tiles produced in Lisbon. High above the nave a trompe l'oeil ceiling   has figures gazing down from heaven. The high altar is a masterpiece of 17th century Madeiran woodcarving.It is a very rich Baroque interior - a big contrast to those recently seen in Baden Wuttemberg.
The sacristy is noted for its fine tiles and collection of Flemish painting. In our climb up to the roof we  saw a fascination exhibition about resoration work and were also able to peer down into the nave through a spy hole viewing that ceiling from a new angle. This building certainly has atmosphere.

                                                     Aerila view
                                          Example of restoration work.
                                              Nore restoration work
                                                      Example of the tile work
View of the sacristy

                                                   Example of   a side altar

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Hofkirche Dresden

The Hofkirche is now the Catholic Cathedral in Dresden. It was built as the Court Catholic Church after the conversion of the Wettin Family rulers. Frederic Augustus II (Augustus the Strong) converted in 1697 and the first court church was in a former opera house. It was not until 1738 that his son demanded a new Court Church with the foundation stone laid in 1739. the architect was the Italian Gaetano Chiaveri (1689-1770). He fell out with the authorities and several Germans adapted and completed the building, with consecvration in 1751. The large Ascension painting over the high altar by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) is memorable. Severe damage occurred in the appalling bombing on 13 Febrary 1945.The restoration has been superb.

My own memories of this beautiful building go back to my first visit when I camped soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall in More of this when I write about the Frauenkirche. Suffice it to say that I went to Sunday Mass (prayting for reconciliation) and when I reached my nearby car someone had scratched a small swastika with 13 2 45. Dresden has always been near to my heart particularly since that day. As for the building : it is obviously Baroque - very different from its more famous Protestant neighbour the Frauenkirche, but its white decor, great acoustics, and elegance make a great impression. The Silbermann organ (pipes survived 1945) is majestic. Wonderful for JS Bach. The most popular musical figure during Frederic Augustus III's regn was Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783) and we can suggest that his Requiem in C for his employer's funeral, a Mass in d or the deeply felt Miserere below are the perfect accompaniment to the building. Hasse was a very prolific composer, especially of opera and for many years has had a bad press. This is changing and he is worth exploring

1755 Gottfried Silbermann/Zacharias Hildebrandt organ. James Kibbie. JS Bach Prelude in C major, BWV 545 0:00 Prelude in E minor, BWV 548 1:53 Fugue in G minor, BWV 578 7:47 Toccata and Fugue in F major, BWV 540 11:18

Interior : this dazzling shot gives the atmosphere (David  Lagourie Gosling : flickr)

Exterior : such elegance ! (NH53 ;                                                


Hasse Miserere

Johann Adolf Hasse 1699-1783 Miserere per Soli, Coro e Orchester in D minor: 1. Miserere 0:10 2. Tibi soli peccavi 4:22 3. Ecce enim 7:01 4. Quoniam si voluisses 13:26 5. Benigne fac, Domine 16:11 6. Tunc acceptabis 19:09 Simona Houda-Šaturová [soprano] Pritta Schwarz [alto] Eric Stokloßa [tenore] Gotthold Schwarz [basso] Dresdner Kammerchor Dresdner Barockorchester Hans-Christoph Rademann [conductor]

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Mexico City Cathedral

The biggest  Cathedral in the Americas? (Flickr : Pinkitron)

The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven is the  Cathedral of the Roman Catholic diocese of Mexico.and has been described as the largest Cathedral in the Americas. 
I have never set eyes on this but I am always fascinated by big buildings! As we shall see it is not strictly speaking Baroque but then many of my choices in this blog are a mixture. It was built on the foundations of the former Aztec sacred precinct and main temple of their capital city Tenochtitlan. Parts of the old temple were used to fill canals or as building material in foundations or ground walls. The first building was started in 1525-1532 by the conqueror Hernan Cortes.The present building took shape from 1573-1813 around the original church,The Spanish architect Claudio de Arciniega made the plans and can be described as the father of the present cathedral.  Priority in planning had to be given to lay firm foundations on the soft ground of a dry lake bed in an earthquake zone. By 1615 the walls were only up to half the proposed height but eight vaulkts had been completed. It was consecrated in 1656. It is 360 feet long by 179feet. It is a real merger of styles and incorporates Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical elements, and is built of basalt and grey sandstone. There are four facades,and 16 chapels with paintings attributed to Zurburan and Murillo. The two bell towers with  the 25 bells are important. They could announce disaster like earthquakes or good news like a fiesta or some kind of  victory. . The interior has 3 aisles There are 2 large 18th century organs which were damaged in a recent fire. They promise to be really exciting with the usual array of protruding chamade reeds. 

Adjoining is the Sagrario Metropolitano which is of the Cathedral. The Sagrario serves the local parish and was inaugurated in 1768. It is a great example of Mexican Churrigueresque style, and is the work of Lorenzo Rodriguez (1704?-1774) a Spanish born architect and Pedro Patino Ixtolinque, a native born sculptor.

Much more could be said about this hhuge building. Maybe someone will add some material / show their enthusiasm! I have never got to Mexico and is not Mexico City  the biggest city  in the world?  

Interior (Flickr : VasenkaPhotography)

La Romanesca con Cinque Mutanze - Antonio Valente.

                  Mexico City Cathedral  before 1967

Witley Court

Imagine finding a Baroque church  with ornate interior in regular use next to a huge stately home ravaged by fire in 1937, in the middle of the country! St Michael and All Angels Witley Court!
The church was originally built in two years (1733-5) to the west of the Court by Thomas, 2nd Lord Foley to designs possibly by James Gibbs (1682-1754). It had a plain brick exterior to match the  Court as it was then. It has always been a parish church rather than a family chapel.

In 1747 something remarkable happened. The Duke of Chandos had built his great house at Canons, at Stanmore, norh London. THis included a chapel designed by James Gibbs built before 1719. After that he had lost a  fortune and after his death in 1744 the estate at Canons had to be solf off. Foley found out about the chapel and bought  the box pews, several ceiling paintings by Antonio Bellucci (1654-1726), 10 stained glass windows  in 38 sections filling 5 crates, and the ornamental organ case of the instrument played by Handel.  The paintings could be moved because they were on canvas and could be rolled up. The plasterwork by Giovanni Bagutti could not be dismounted so detailed drawings and moulds were made so they could be recreated at Witley by Italian stucco workers. Therefore elaborate plasterwork  replaced the original ceiling at Witley, suspended by a timber framework. They needed to lighten the weight of this ceiling so they employed a new invention - papier mache - by Henry Clay of Birmingham, and therefore some of what we see today employs guilded papier mache.

Luckily the church at Witley was roughly the same size as the Canons chapel. The windows required wooden frames to hold them with a golden yellow border at the bottom to fit the required space.

The disastrous fire at the Court in 1937 led to problems and decline and it was only in the 1960s that parish members took the initiative to renovate. The major restoration of 1993-4 was followed by the cupola repair and guilding of the dome in 2004/5.

Perhaps we may regret the loss of the box pews and their replacement by Victorian pews. Alas the organ pipes went elsewhere and what you hear today is a rebuild by Nicholson of Worcester from 1860. However it is a remarkbale interior and anyone who has loved the Stanmore church should not miss this one!
Look at that organ case! (Flickr : Ed Jeavens)

What an interior (Flickr bv14092)

Exterior view  (Flickr : Richard Wise)
Look at that ceiling (Fickr bvl4092)

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Karlskirche, Vienna

The Karlskirche is one of the iconic buildings of Vienna. When plague struck Vienna in 1713 and took nearly 13000 Viennese victims, this part of Vienna was wooded meadows alongside the Wien river. Today it is the axis of a huge open space in central Vienna. Indeed planners have argued over the centuries how to organise the huge space with this gigantic masterpiece as a backdrop. Johannes Brahms lived just round the corner from it. The famed Musikverein concert hall is within easy walking distance. Yet the first time I saw it back in the late 1960s it seemed to be out on a limb and rather dingy. Inside seemed too short and dark. In fact it is 262 feet long and 197 feet wide.Today is very different..
Emperor Charles VI pledged this church for the plague victims and dedicated it to St Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584 a former Archbishop of Milan and saint of plague victim). In the contest to design it, the victor was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. He worked on it until his death in 1723 and his son finished it in 1737.
The building symbolises Church and Emire with the cross on the dome the power of God and the two triumphal arches the power of the Emperor. The porch is like a Greek temple and the huge columns remind one of  the column of Trajan in Rome. The two huge bell towers have even been said to be pagoda like.
Inside the 236 foot dome Gaetano Fanti created trompe l'oeil paintings at the lower edge and Johann Michael Rottmayr, in 1725-30, the huge fresco of St Borromeo begging the Trinity to end the plague. Rottmayr also did the smaller paintings in the choir vault, chapels and above the organ.Back in 2007 major work was being undertaken in the dome. Our photos show the restoration of the frescos. A huge platform has been erected and visitors can still  use this to get astounding closeup views of the ceiling. of the dome as the restoration continues.
The high altar was designed by Fischer von Erlach shows Borromeo rising through the clouds toward the Divine Light. This and other stucco work is by Albert Camesina.
During our visit this spring in 2017 we went to Saturday night Mass where local soldiers were having a special occasion in full uniform and the organist entertained us with music in the best possible taste (some doubtful vibrato effects).

Dome view

Dome view

Borromeo in the dome

Another view of the dome

High altar

High altar

View into dome with scaffolding

Another view of the scaffolding

St Peter's Vienna

This exuberant Baroque masterpiece right in the centre of Vienna is on the site of a 4th century church. It was commissioned in 1703 by Emperor Leopold I and designed by a number of architects - notably Gabrieli Montani. However it was completed by 1733 under the supervision of the great Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt and it is with his name that the church is usually linked. It can be viewed as a triumphant remodelling of St Peters in Rome.
The wonderful fresco of the Assumption in the dome is by Michael Rottmayr.The pulpit is by Mathias Steindll. The statue of St John Nepomuk to th eright of the choir is by Lorenzo Mattieli. The painting above the high altar of the healing of hte lame man at the Beautiful Gate by Peter and James is by MartinoAltomonte.
My memories of  it include a Sunday Mass concluded with Bach Fantasia in G BWV572 : it doesnt get better than this! Then at Christmas they have a display of historic and new cribs in the crypt.
To get the atmosphere try the  first video below starting with bells, then the horse drawn carriages and the church interior - brings it all back so vividly. The other video is a rehearsal for Bach Christmas Oratorio.

                                                      Bach Christmas oratorio