Velké svatohorské varhany ‒ ideální nástroj pro interpretaci hudby J. S. Bacha v českých zemích
The great Svatá Hora organ – the ideal instrument for interpreting the music of J.S. Bach in the Czech Republic
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Vladimír Šlajch’s organ at Svatá Hora in Příbram draws to a close an important stage of his life. Having had equal success building other organs, the most important and largest of which is in the German town Bruchsal, this instrument represents a unique achievement. These days we usually encounter organs that conform to the wishes of organists and organ experts that every new instrument be built primarily with the convenience of the performer in mind. The organ at the Basilica of Our Lady of Svatá Hora is different. Instead, it embodies a synthesis of original solutions and tried-and-true traditions. Vladimír Šlajch built it as a sort of tribute to the organ builders who once worked in Bohemia. The decorating of the prospect pipes makes reference to Abraham Starck from Loket, Ondřej Kokštejn from Příbram, and the organ builder Bedřich Semrád from the Central Povltaví Region. The tracker action for the manuals and registration is mechanical. Because of this tracker action constructed strictly in accordance with Baroque models, the organ makes an audible clicking sound when played, and in addition, because of differing distances for individual connections, the clicking is not equally loud for each note. The clicking bothers many organists, but the organ builder insists that the design is justified, using centuries of organ building tradition as his argument. In my opinion, playing the great Svatá Hora organ successfully depends upon approaching it with a great deal of humility and upon the ability to adapt oneself to the instrument, along with having a deep understanding of the features specific to the organ. It is true that the level of disruptive clacking noise reveals the organist’s particular style of playing, but it is also true that the attempt to make less noise forces each of us not only to depress, but also to release the keys as carefully as possible, and with this kind of tracker action, moving one’s fingers in this way naturally also influences the sound of legato passages and the smoothness of the phrasing. While the attempt to play without making noise is entirely futile, especially when using quieter registration, it has an absolutely fundamental influence over the quality of the melodic lines within the context of the polyphony, and that influence is clearly for the better. From the layout of the instrument, we clearly see the wealth of sonic possibilities at our disposal. The many colours of the registers can be combined into an almost inexhaustible quantity of shadings. While the organ is intended for playing older music, mainly of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical eras, neither Romantic nor contemporary compositions are out of the question. One must simply consider which ones to choose and which ones would be less appropriate, because although the tuning is set at a' = 440 Hz at 18 degrees Celsius, the temperament is slightly unequal, reminiscent of Valotti tuning. The spatial layout of the individual divisions of the Svatá Hora is quite unusual, but it still respects longstanding tradition. The manuals have a chromatic range from C to f'''. The Great division (manual II) takes up the two most spacious parts of the organ case. It is divided into a C and C sharp side. A smaller division called the Positiv, placed in front above the organist’s head, is connected to a third manual. The first manual plays the Unterwerk or Choir division, which is divided into bass and discant. Each register of the Unterwerk is activated separately for the bass and discant on the left and right sides of the console. The organ builder placed the Unterwerk right behind the console in the pedestal of the organ. Like the Great division, the Pedal is divided into a C and C sharp side, and each takes one of the adjacent loft areas on the sides. On the other hand, a three-rank pedal Cornet plays from the Crown Positiv or Kronwerk located at the top just under the vault. Representing a peculiar feature are the two sets of chimes (Zimbelstern), which are located on the pedal cases on opposite sides. A noteworthy property of the organ at Svatá Hora is its sonic versatility, perhaps even universality to a certain extent. If you listen to it, you soon get the impression that you are hearing a Czech or south-German Baroque sound, then it suddenly seems that you have found yourself listening to a Silberman organ in nearby Saxony, until finally you notice a passage that seems to come from the Baltic, with sounds of the ideal organ of Bach’s forerunners of the north-German school. Then the combination of the Principal on the Great manual and the Bifara stop tuned to create vibrato makes us wonder, might we perhaps be in Italy? And at the same time, although the organ is in a Catholic church, the instrument seems to the organist to be in perfect accord with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The acoustics and reverberation here are exceedingly suited to the spirit of Bach’s Protestantism. The Svatá Hora organ is indispensable for the successful interpretation of Bach’s music within the context of this region. Notwithstanding all of their beauty, the Baroque organs of Bohemia have a small range of tones, with a lack of the needed keys, pedals, and registers, while the later organs are oriented towards the Romantic musical style, and even newer organs usually suffer from insufficient artistic quality caused mainly by mass production methods. By contrast, the new Svatá Hora organ is of great artistic worth; it even fits the basilica perfectly from a visual perspective. Once the organ was finished, we could hardly imagine that not long beforehand the instrument had not yet been installed. These days, an organ is very rarely so perfectly matched to the place for which it is intended.
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