Music Theory at the Organ School in Prague (1830–1889)

leden 2013 Lenka Kučerová Studie 2013

Originally, the Conservatory was aimed from its very beginning to the education of instrumentalists and singers. Methods of school teaching were taken over according to the example of the Conservatory in Paris. In the period from its establishing in the year 1811 to its fusion with the Organ school in the school year 1889/1890 the curricula of music-theory subjects did not change too much. Their teachers followed the method of teaching in which pupils used to work up given exercises holding a pen in their hands. The work with a factual music materials of contemporary or also older composers and their analysis was less frequent. The main staff was harmony, there were not many students, who dealt with counterpoint, music forms were almost ignored. The school branches singing, solo piano playing and organ playing were not included in a curricula in the time of the constitution of the Conservatory. That is why they were usually taught in private education.

At private music schools, teaching of music theory was much more intensive because in the cultural society of that time, theoretical music education formed an integrating part of basic requirements. In contrast to other sorts of schools, main accent was put on practical ability to elaborate instant analysis of the most complicated pieces. At other schools this analytic skill was left to the initiative of students. In the middle of this century, there were more than ten private institutions in Prague. Some of them lent music literature and music instruments and often they performed a rich publishing activity.

Organ School in Prague (Institution for Education of Organists and Choir Directors)

Till the year 1835, the studies at the Organ school lasted ten months. From 1835 to 1871 they lasted two years and from 1871, thanks to the last director F. Z. Skuherský, duration of education was finally extended for three years. The last third year was not only continuation of the second year of studies. It was strictly selective course where only the most talented students were admitted. This school could be finished after approval of either two years (for full education of organists) or three years (for full education of choir directors).

The subjects were divided in theoretical and practical ones. During the first year in the beginnings of existence of the Organ school, the theoretical subjects were: degrees of music, third chords and their kinds in reverses, seventh chords and their application, gateway-tones and delay-tones, base of harmony, counterpoint and composing. These subjects persisted similar also till the time, when it was possible to finish the school during two years. There were some additional subjects: the base of counterpoint, imitation and theory of fugue, later, in the year 1864, some teaching about music forms was included there (teaching about „structuring of periods“). After F. Z. Skuherský became the director of the Organ school, the curricula changed. In the second year of studies, there was stronger accent on compositional experiments of students and in the new third year there were taught in addition music forms, analysis of compositions and instrumentation. The list of practical subjects was extended and the number of subjects also grew up.

Teaching Materials

There were not many music-theoretical schoolbooks, which could be used during the systematic teaching on educational institution like the Organ school. The work by Jakub Jan Ryba Počáteční a všeobecní základové ke všemu umění hudebnímu from the year 1817 still belonged to the most valuable. Beside it, other less known works Počátkové hudební neb Krátký obsah všeobecného učení o muzice (1834) by Justin Heinrich Knecht, Navedení k generálbasu (1805) by Emanuel Alois Förster and Počátkové hudební (1850) by Jan Nepomuk Škroup were used there. In the second half of the century, many pamphlets began to appear. In their introductions, the problems of music-theory disciplines were described. Their quality was often poor. As an example it is possible to cite Základní školy hudby by Karel Rudolf Nudörfl from the year 1868, which was rated very negative in the professional press (concretely in Hudební listy from 1871).

The using of archaistic schoolbooks for teaching of music-theory subjects was often criticised. In the year of its establishing, the Organ school ordered theoretic publications and schoolbooks by Justin Georg Knecht, Johann Baptista Lasser, Joseph Dreschler, Daniel Gottlob Türk, Karel Gläser, Conrad Kocher and Georg Friedrich Wolf. Pupils were taught according to General bass by E. A. Förster from the year 1805. In the remarks in contemporary catalogues we can see that the authors whose pieces were used for analyses during education were active in their branch mostly in the 18th and in the first decades of the 19th century (for example Johann Albrechtsberger, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Josef Priendl, Maxminian Stadler etc.). The leadership of the Organ school apparently did not have so strong interest in contemporary music pieces. Josef Proksch commented it in a very negative and ironical way. For his own private school institution he wrote two schoolbooks: Allgemeine Musiklehre in Fragen und Antworten (1843) and then in the year 1857 its extended version published in two parts. Proksch named the compositional work by Antonín Rejcha Cours de composition musicale ou Traité complet raisonné d'harmonie pratique (1816–1818) as one of the most used schoolbook of music theory in Prague music society in his time. In our country, this schoolbook is known in German translation by C. Czerny Vollständiges Lehrbuch der musikalischen Komposition from 1832–1835. This work was appreciated also in the 1860s.

It was a teaching language, which was the problem. The lectures were bilingual and students had a big handicap if they did not speak German well. In the second half of the century, students were still taught from German books by Robert Führer (Die Elemente der Harmonielehre und Der Rhythmus oder der musikalische Ebenbau, 1847), a teacher of the Organ school till the year 1839. The first schoolbook of harmony published in Czech language was Theoreticko-praktická nauka o harmonii pro školu a dům by František Blažek from 1866. Blažek taught according to it already from 1840s. His collection of exercises to harmonisation was used at the Conservatory even in the 1890s. After Blažek's Harmony, only Josef Förster junior wrote a schoolbook Nauka o harmonii in 1887 in Czech language. This book was considered for a long time as one of the best schoolbooks in our country owing to its understandable layout of problems, for practicability and for linking with a practice. The first Czech written schoolbook of counterpoint comes from F. Z. Skuherský (as a part the publication Nauka o skladbě hudební, 1880–1884, in four volumes).

Directors and teachers of music-theory subjects

To the post of director of the Organ school, Jan Nepomuk Vitásek (1770–1839) was chosen in 1830 and he held the office till his death. For every grade, one main teacher who taught all subjects was established. In this way, all of them participated in teaching of music theory. In addition to them, according to the needs of the school, other young auxiliary teachers – assistants were employed. These taught new subjects (singing, violin playing etc.). They often came from graduates of the Organ school and they did not work here for a long time.

From the beginning of the history of school, the main teacher was Robert Führer (1807–1861). He taught there the same number of school years as Vitásek till the year 1839. An organist Karel František Pitsch (1786–1858) became his successor. In the year 1838, František Blažek (1815–1900) became a teacher and he was the main teacher in the first grade. At the Organ school, he worked the longest time of all teachers and after unification of the Organ school with the Conservatory in the year 1889 he became a member of pedagogic staff there.

After Vitásek, Bedřich Dionys Weber (1766–1842) led the Organ school till the year 1842. During his teaching, Weber published several theoretic works: Allgemeine theoretisch-praktische Vorchule der Musik (1828), Lehrbuch der Harmonielehre und des Generalbasses (1835–1843, in four volumes), and then Allgemeine Musik. Zeichnenlehre (1841). After Weber's death, his colleague Pitsch, who was already teaching here, became the director and was also the main teacher for new second grade. In the year 1843, Josef Leopold Zvonař (1824–1865) started as a teacher of singing. His best known work Základy harmonie a zpěvu s příslušným navedením pro učitele hudby vůbec a národních škol zvláště from 1861 appeared after his schoolbook Navedení k snadnému potřebných kadencí skládání (1859).

In 1857, Josef Förster jun. was invited to teach at the Organ school as an assistant. He graduated here in 1852. After death of Pitsch in the year 1858, Zvonař was provisionally appointed as the chair. In the same year, an organ improvisator Josef Krejčí (1821–1881) replaced him. Blažek stayed the main teacher for the first grade, the second grade was led by Förster. Zvonař and Förster left the school in the year 1860 and Adolf Průcha (1837–1885) assumed their place.

In 1866, Krejčí was elected as the director of Prague Conservatory and his place on the Organ school was occupied by František Zdeněk Skuherský (1830–1892). Except Skuherský's mentioned work Nauka o skladbě hudební, he wrote also Nauka o hudebních formách (1873) and Nauka o harmonii na vědeckém základě ve formě nejjednodušší (1885).

About the middle of the century, especially thanks to Skuherský, the Organ school became an institute, which was extraordinary important for development of Czech culture. The Prague newspaper from 1858 said that in whole Austrian Empire, the Organ school was on the top in the education skills in the study of music theory and strict style. This opinion is not perhaps excessive too much. There were a lot of pupils who left this school because of high requirements or who were suspended because of their bad school results. The catalogues of pupils proved it.

In 1882, Karel Knittl (1853–1907) became a teacher of the school. His theoretic works were published later, when he taught at the Conservatory. The last change in pedagogic staff happened after death of Průcha: he was replaced by Josef Klička (1855–1937) and Karel Stecker (1861–1918). The latter dealt especially with music-theoretical problems in articles in the journal Dalibor. These articles were called O zápovědi kvintové v harmonii (1886), O akordech alterovaných (1885 and 1889) etc.

There were in general six teachers who passed from teaching from the Organ school to the Conservatory: F. Blažek, J. Klička, K. Knittl, F. Z. Skuherský, K. Stecker and August Vyskočil (1852–1902), the teacher of singing.

A jurist and former graduate of the Organ school Josef Tragy realized a fusion of the Organ school with the Conservatory in the school year 1889/1890. The former Organ school became a new department of organ and of composition. Thanks to Skuherský, the curricula were worked up so well that leadership of the Conservatory took them over without changes. Also the teachers went on teaching according to study plans of the Organ school of that time and these plans were valid till the year 1919, as long as time of studying at the department of organ and of composition on the Conservatory lasted three years.


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