Prague Concert Life, 1850-1881

Event title:

National concert and singing festival [Národní koncert a pěvecká slavnost] arranged by the Hlahol male voice singing society

Date: 17/05/1862 11am

Season: Summer

Programme comprising:

General participants:
  • Hlahol: organizing institution, vv
  • unspecified choral societies: participating institution, vv
  • LUKES, Jan Ludevít: director of ensemble, conductor
  • HELLER, Ferdinand: director of ensemble, conductor
UNIDENTIFIED, ? : sacred song Píseň Sv Vojtěcha (Song of St Vojtěch), v
VEIT, Wenzel Heinrich : chorus Na Prahu (To Prague), male vv
KREJČÍ, Josef : chorus Jarní (Spring), male vv, op.9/2
KŘÍŽKOVSKÝ, Pavel : chorus Utonulá! (Drowned!), male vv chorus
     • Křížkovský, Pavel : conductor
arr. Heller, Ferdinand: Kde domov můj? from F. Škroup incidental music Fidlovačka , arr. male vv chorus
LUBOMIRSKI, Kazimierz, Prince : Mazurka aria from opera Cyrulik Sewilski (Barber of Seville), v, orch
     • Zawiszanka, Helena : v
MONIUSZKO , Stanislaw : song Styï se děvče styï (Maiden, be bashful), v, pf
     • Zawiszanka, Helena : v
MONIUSZKO , Stanislaw : song Ona się śmiała (She was laughing), v, [pf]
     • Zawiszanka, Helena : v
PAGANINI, Nicolò : unspecified Caprice, vl
     • Laub, Ferdinand : vl
LAUB, Ferdinand : Concert-Polonaise, vl, pf, op.8
     • Laub, Ferdinand : vl
BAZZINI, Antonio : Scherzo fantastique La ronde des lutins, vl, pf, op.25
     • Laub, Ferdinand : vl
LAUB, Ferdinand : unspecified Fantasie on Czech folksongs, vl
     • Laub, Ferdinand : vl


A comprehensive description of events surrounding this festival was published by Dalibor 20/5/1862, in a review signed ‘-r-r.’ This review reported that a collective rehearsal for all the participating choral societies took place at 9am on the morning of the 17th May on Žofín Island. The singers then marched via Václavské náměstí [Wenceslas Square] to the New Town Theatre, where the concert was scheduled to begin at 11am. The procession was led by standard bearers carrying the banners of nine of the participating societies, and headed by that of the Prague choral society, Hlahol. Following was Prince Rudolf von Thurn und Taxis in his role as the President of Hlahol, after him the founder members and directors of Hlahol, Jan Ludevít Lukes, Ferdinand Heller and J.L. Zvonař, and the more important guests. Along the route, and especially on the bank of the river Vltava near Žofín Island, there were noted to have been many onlookers who cheered the body of singers. On the left side of Václavské náměstí the procession caused carriage traffic to come to a standstill. Upon reaching the Theatre the singers were welcomed with deafening cheers. They assembled on stage behind a bust wreathed in flowers and laurels of the recently deceased Czech writer and patriot Karel Havlíček. No mention was made by the critic of the combined event of the drawing of lots for the Havlíček Memorial fund. This had been noted in previous news published by Dalibor and Prague Morgenpost before event rehearsals on 16/5/1862 and 17/5/1862.

Commenting upon the concert itself, the Dalibor review noted of the choral items that their ‘Performance was, if we consider that there occurred only two rehearsals and that so diverse forces were taking part, very successful. Of all the choruses, the favourites were Veit’s Na Prahu, Křížkovský’s Utonulá!, and Škroup’s [aria] „Kde domov můj?“ arranged by Heller. Krejčí’s chorus Jarní is a very meritorious work, yet the modulations in this chorus are too unusual for such a [large] number of unequal singers be unanimous [in their execution].’ The subsequent Národní listy 21/5/1862 review described Jarní, receiving its first Prague performance, as ‘a composition prettily thought out and skilfully executed, in melody original, in harmony interesting.’ Of the solo artists appearing in this production, the Dalibor critic considered that ‘particularly distinguished were Miss H. Zawiszanka and F. Laub. Miss Zawiszanka, who upon her appearance was met immediately with noisy applause, sang the Polish song Ona siê śmiała [She was laughing]... and a Mazurka by Lubomirski so sweetly, emotionally, and with such ardour, that she inspired the entire audience to rousing applause. On universal demand beautiful Miss Zawiszanka gave a Polish song Styd’ se děvče styd’ [Maiden, be bashful] and when the applause still did not cease she repeated the Mazurka by Lubomirski. The victory laurels of the production were won by our [countryman] Ferdinand Laub, who appeared on stage in national costume and was welcomed with loud calls of „Sláva“ and unending applause[...] We would have to speak in nothing but superlatives if we wanted to characterize the unequalled playing of Mr Laub. Anyone who has not heard our countryman would not believe the tones he coaxes from the four strings. As soon as his bow touches the strings Laub draws sparks of electricity. He wields the bow with incomprehensible rapidity and daring, sometimes even with such vigorous strokes like a sword cutting through the air - in short, a new fire of Prometheus exhilarating him with wondrous strength.’ Laub’s performance was adjudged to be on the same plane as that of the greatest virtuosi. ‘However, not only does his perfection in technical skill stand him so high, but also his genuine artistic spirit, which penetrates the deepest secrets of all beauty and opens to us a romantic, enchanting world. When it plays our „národní písně“ (folksongs) Laub’s violin sings, laments, jokes and languishes with longing. We do not have to add that he was rewarded with unending praise, applause and recalls.’

The programme is reproduced in order corresponding with the Dalibor review, which recorded that 64 singing societies took part in the festival, a total of 800 singers. A complete list of these choral societies appeared in the same issue of Dalibor; they comprised societies from Benátky, Beroun, Brandýs nad Labem, Brno, Budyšin (Bautzen) in Lusatia, Čáslav, Česká Skalice, Česká Třebova, Český Dub, Dvůr Králové, Frenštát pod Radhoštěm, Hradec Králové, Chrudím, Jaroměřice, Jičín, Jindřichův Hradec, Josefodol [Jablonec], Kardašová Řečice, Klatovy, Kolín, Kroměříž, Kutná Hora, Ledec, Litomyšl, Lomnice, Louny, Mělník, Milín, Mladá Boleslav, Mšeno, Náchod, Netolice, Nová Bystřice, Nová Paka, Nymburk, Olomouc, Opava in Moravia, Pardubice, Písek, Počátky, Poděbrady, Polička, Polná, Přelouč, Přerov in Moravia, Příbram, Prostějov in Moravia, Raben [poss Havraň near Most], Rokycany, Roudnice, Rožnov in Moravia, Sedlčany, Semily, Slaný, Stará Boleslav, Strakonice, Stráž, Tábor, Terezín, Turnov, Úhrnek, Ústí nad Orlicí, Vodňany, Vysoké Mýto, Železný Brod. Not participating, however, was the Prague Männergesangverein, in 1862 the second largest amateur singing society in Prague. According to news published by Nírodní listy 25/4/1862, an invitation issued by Hlahol to the Männergesangverein to appear in the ‘musical entertainments’ scheduled to occur on 17th and 18th May was declined. The German Society had replied that their choir believed in giving equal rights to both native Czechs and Germans, and would not therefore participate in an event which it considered to be entirely ‘Czech’ in character.

The Czech-language arts and music periodical Lumír also covered this event in enthustastic detail. The issue of 15/5/1862 published news that the ‘The gathering [during the festival of] St John [of Nepomuk] of native singing societies will be excellent, despite some [unspecified] hinderances. The great production will take place on 17th and 18th May on Žofín Island, to which tickets are being sold in the offices of Hlahol (At the Golden Snake in the New Allley [u zlatého hada v nových alejich]) and in the shop of Messrs Kristof and Kuhe. True Czech hospitality is being shown to the guests from the country in that the greater part will be lodged privately. The owner of the inn „u černého koně [At the Black Horse] Mr A. Cíťka has offered to accomodate in his hotel all of the singers from Mělník. Such a distinguished and and numerously attended St John’s celebration as this year’s Prague has not seen in a long time, even now are the greater part of rooms in local inns taken...’ An extensive review, unsigned, of the event appeared in the next issue of Lumír on 22/5/1862: ‘No Festival of St John has in our memory been so beautiful, so glorious as this year, for which united a great, unprecedented gathering of Czech and Moravian singing societies with a spirit of patriotic fervour. This was a touching festival which cheered the hearts of everyone in whose breast beats a simple Czech heart. Most of the guests arrived on the eve of St John’s Day [15/5/1862] by train and were heartily welcomed. The guests were lodged in private rooms in true Czech tradition. In the evening a banquet was held in the Apollo [Hall], which had been prettily refurbished mainly by [the newly formed gymnastic society] Sokol. The first rehearsal, directed by Messrs Lukes and Heller, took place in the Konvikt Hall, where His Highness Prince Rudolf Taxis and the singer Mr Lukes welcomed [the singers] with heartfelt and spirited words. The speech of Prince Taxis particularly impressed the listeners, who enthusiastically called „Sláva! [Hail!] - „Nedáme se! [We will hold our own!] – „Zvítězíme! [We will win the day!]. The next day was spectacular theatre. The singers, in two columns, perhaps numbering 900, moved in a great procession and in exemplary order from Žofín Island to the New Town Theatre, along the route being greeted with many calls of „Sláva! [Hail!]. At the forefront marched the directors of Hlahol His Excellency Prince Taxis, Messrs Lukes and Heller, preceded by nine pretty banners, the first of which was that of Prague Hlahol. Each singer had on their breast the emblem of their [own singing] society and on a red ribbon a memorial medal that Hlahol had specially ordered for the occasion from the local engraver Seidan. The sight of such a rare procession was remarkable, with many onlookers gathering along the streets and in Wenceslas Square. At the Box Office of the New Town Theatre, which until today had not been so busy, so overflowing as this time, sat in national costume the graceful organizers of the lotter in aid of Zdenka Havlíčková. In the theatre was a wreathed bust of Havlíček, and when the curtain dropped a colossal number of singers moved to the front to begin a national concert the like of which had never been heard before.

The concert began with the old chorale from the Tenth Century Píseň sv. Vojtěcha [Song of St Adalbert], performed by more than 700 singers. Their singing, despite their huge number, was clean, impeccable and excellently effective in the great space of the New Town Theatre. Following this work was the felicitous chorus of our celebrated Václav Veit. Our famous countyman Ferdinand Laub elevated the entire audience with his enchanting playing, performing „Caprice“ by Paganini, his own composition „Polonaise“, Ronde des Lutius“ by Bazzini and „Českých národních písní [From Czech folksongs] to long-lasting stormy applause. About his playing it was possible to write so much of praise, that it is not necessary to say any more, for the remarkable Laub on the violin inspired wonder and amazement in every listener with his refinement and mastery. Miss Helena Zavišanka [Zawiszanka] sang V. Troschelov’s song Ona się śmiła“ and a Mazurka by Kazimír Prince Lubomírský entirely excellently and had to add two more Polish folksongs. Although her voice is not entirely agreeable it does have sufficient strength, a bright tone, a great range and particularly pleasing in the middle register.

All the songs performed by Miss Zavišanka were in the spirit of folk style. Similar were the choruses, excellently directed by Messrs Lukes and Heller, and the beautiful, enchanting chorus  Utonulá“ by the composer himself, P. Křížkovský. The new chorus by J. Krejčí  Jarní“, excellent in ideas and throughtful working, was precisely performed. To end we heard „Kde domov můj“ by Škroup arranged by F. Heller, to which the entire audience stood, followed by the drawing of the national lottery for Zdenka Havlíčková.’ The Lumír review then proceded to describe the concert given by the choral societies on the following day in the Žofín Hall.

A detailed review, signed ‘§’ and entitled ‘Čechisches Sängerfest’ was published by Prager Morgenpost 18/5/1862. The correspondent reported that at 9am on the morning of the festival a general rehearsal took place in the Hall on Žofín Island. A large crowd, looking on curiously, gathered on the island and along the quayside. At 10.45 the procession of the singers from the Žofín Island began. At the head of the procession the banner of the Prague Czech singing society Hlahol was carried by a young man in national costume and wearing a blue, white and red sash. He was followed by eight standard bearers from other participating singing societies. Behind them the singers were led by His Excellency Prince Rudolf Thurn-Taxis, the two managers of the concerts Mr Heller and Mr Lukes, then the members of the singing societies, many hundred in number. Most were dressed in national costume and all wore on their chests red and white ribbons. Interspersing the individual singing societies were young people [junge Leute] carrying flags. The procession passed quietly and calmly, without music, through Ursulinergasse [Národní třída], the Neue Allee, Obstgasse, over Wenzelsplatz [Václavské náměstí, Wenceslas Square] to the New Town Theatre. In all of the streets stood onlookers, watching indifferently. Only in a few places were there half-hearted cheers, as when the procession passed the offices of N.L. [Národní listy] and by the Café Prag. Before the statue of St John of Nepomuk on Wenzelsplatz the procession halted for a minute. In the garden of the New Town Theatre and on the Bastion besides the Horse Gate [Rossthore] were numerous bystanders and on Wenceslas Square a bustling crowd. In front of the New Town Theatre was called ‘hail!’. The theatre itself was already full before the entry of the singers, so that in the Stalls and in the Parterre one could with difficulty gain only a very meagre space. Here we had an unusual view of farmers and countrywomen in their rustic dress. There were numerous people in the audience in costume; we noted many clergy who were attired... Czech merchants, artists and writers of Prague were present. Also many Imperial government deputies were attending. In the Parterre Boxes were to be found besides the member of the house of lords Dr Palacký, the Imperial deputy Dr Brauner and Mr P. Řezač, the Mayor Mr Pstross and many others. Beside the entrance to the New Town Theatre were pouches from which was drawn at the last minute the winning ticket of the Havlíček Lottery and the winner announced. Busy selling [tickets] were Her Excellency Countess Thurn-Taxis (who carried a red corsage and a red and white posey), the wife of the Imperial government deputy Dr Brauner and the wife of Mr Heinrich Fügner. About 11.30 began „The National Concert of united Czech-Slav Singing Societies [der nationale Konzert der vereinigten čechisch-slavischen Gesangvereine]“. On the stage the singers gathered in a semicircle with a laurel-wreathed bust of Havlíček standing in the middle of some green shrubbery. The decorations and the great crowd of singers provided a pleasing sight. Mr Lukes and Mr Heller directed the choir. With calls of hurrah from the public, the singers opened the concert with a performance of the Song of St Adalbert from the Tenth Century. We will not elaborate upon the artistic worth of the individual pieces that were given but only upon their outward success, which was very great. Almost every number was encored and the artists gained vociferous applause. This applied to the chorus „An Prag! [Na Prahu] and particularly to the performance of the violin virtuoso Ferdinand Laub, who performed a „Kaprize [Caprice] by Paganini, „Polonaise (of his own composition), „Ronde [Rondo] by Bazzini and Variations on Czech [folk]songs. His playing was punctuated with repeated applause. Miss Helena Zawiszanka gave Polish songs, which only a small part of the audience could comprehend, yet still received tremendous applause. Mr P. Křížkovský (a Moravian) directed the chorus Utonulá“ himself. Skroup’s [Škroup] „Kde domov můj?“ was sung too by the audience [wurde von dem Publikum stehend angehört] had to be encored. With this song the concert ended and the drawing of the winning ticket of the lottery for the benefit of Ždenka Hawlíček [Zdeňka Havlček] commenced. At a table on the stage sat the ladies Mrs Brauner, Rieger and Fügner. An orphan boy drew the winning numbers from the Wheel of Fortune [Glücksrade]... Before 2pm the entire Czech festival came to an end and the singers processed with their banners through the streets, which were now not filled with onlookers.’ The report noted that on 16/5/1862 the Czech singers who had arrived from about the country were welcomed with speeches to the Konvikt Hall by His Excellency the Prince Thurn-Taxis as the Principal and Mr Lukes as the committee member of Hlahol. The singers displayed their pleasure through calling Sláva, Nedejme se! [Nedáme se - lit. We will hold our own!] Sláva vlasti! [Hail the homeland!]“ and similar utterances.

Details of this singing festival, including an illustration of the participating societies on Žofín island, a transcript of the opening speech given by J. Jahn, the texts of choruses performed and a musical supplement of Zvonař’s arrangement of the Píseň Sv. Vojtěcha [Song of St Vojtěch] appear in F. Schwarz: Veliká národní slavnost ku oslavě památky Havlíčkovy v Praze dne 17. a 18. května roku 1862 [The Great National Festival to celebrate the memory of Havlíček in Prague on 17th and 18th May 1862] (Prague, 1862).

Summary of sources:

Dalibor, časopis pro hudbu, divadlo a umění vůbec (20/04/1862)
Dalibor, časopis pro hudbu, divadlo a umění vůbec (01/05/1862)
Národní listy (08/05/1862)
Dalibor, časopis pro hudbu, divadlo a umění vůbec (10/05/1862)
Národní listy (14/05/1862)
Lumír (15/05/1862)
Prager Morgenpost (18/05/1862)
Dalibor, časopis pro hudbu, divadlo a umění vůbec (20/05/1862)
Národní listy (21/05/1862)