The Sound of Bronze, Prague, 2000
The Sound of Bronze, Prague, 2000
In 2000 Prague was the Cultural Capital of Europe. Anna Chromy’s mother came from Prague and her childhood memories of sculptures originated here. It was fitting that the city honoured Anna with an exhibition of her musicians and the Don Giovanni Group of sculptures in front of the Stavovské divadlò opera house, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni had its first performance on Oct. 29th 1787.
Following the exhibition, the Cloak of Conscience was installed as “Commendatore” permanently at the entrance, followed two years later by the “Czech Musicians” fountain on a nearby square.
Following are the words of the art critic, Giuseppe Cordoni:
Every memory that goes back to our remotest infancy returns in the form of a dream. It has the same mysterious evanescence as a dream. It restores the innocent perspective of our childhood gaze. Prague under the snow is a marvel of astonishing light. The river is a tense strip that sparkles between the candid domes and towers. Never again will she see as pink a sky ahead beyond the Karl Bridge, just a moment before sunset. Anna, in a dream, crosses it for the first time, holding her mother’s hand. She is a sweet child, not yet four, who fixes things with her eye to keep them from escaping her memory.
Prague is on the verge of plunging into a rapid winter twilight… besieged by ice and wound in a mantle of sorrow. From up there on the bridge Anna observes the frozen statues along the riverbanks. She doesn’t know their identity: whether they were saints or heroes. For her they are merely gigantic creatures frozen in their misery. What if nobody ever caresses them again? They will certainly die of cold if someone doesn’t come and warm them up.
She wasn’t born here, but this is her mother’s city. This is a real city waiting for her – with its unexpected metamorphoses – and it greets her with an all too tight embrace of light and shade. She feels immediately that she cannot escape the icy fascination of these stones she knows nothing about. Nor does she know yet that an emperor built this bridge as a challenge. Its arches forever filter in a maternal lay all the waters of the heart of Europe. And one day Smetana transformed it into the morning hymn of this melodious river. Here we see the spirit of a city breathe in a way that its beauty dictates. Prague exercises its extraordinary powers of seduction from this very bridge, now frozen and deserted. But Anna as a child could hardly know the subtle relationship that unites music and death. This unity is captured in Don Giovanni, which was heard here for the very first time. Mozart wrote here, in this very place, the chords that rend open the abyss. Anna is unaware that this is a winter of war and fear: the echo of that tragic music wafts across the years. It speaks of other catastrophes, of other chasms that gape open in the heartland of Europe… of other collective seductions that have failed miserably. The light of the snow shines out from behind a sad mask. But the fascinated gaze of the child is aware – without being able to explain it -of the importance of the history of all that surrounds her. She penetrates things she doesn’t know: Prague is this mystery of beauty that seems something you merely dreamed of.
The choice of dedicating one’s life to art is never a clear, deliberate one. Frequently, beyond infancy, one feels the disturbing presence of a mystery that remains well focused but undeciphered like a recurring dream. Thus the thousand faces of Prague discovered by Anna Chromy as a child keep on invading her memory over and over again. They appear before her like unexpected visions. They ask for no explanation, but simply to be evoked and painted like secret images. The smile of her mother’s eyes appears before her, cerulean blue like the river lit by the dawn. It seems to her as if her mother and the city have the same spirit as the water and that the same natural music permeates both. Her father awakens in them that other music that flows from an intricate formation of notes. Her father was called Karl Weber, just like the romantic composer of Der Freischütz, and he played that clarinet. He took Anna to the magic salons of the Bertramka and she heard there for the first time melodies that seemed to descend from another world. The little curtain rose and down onto the marionette stage dropped the figure of a masked man wrapped in a huge black cloak. Who knows if it hides a monster or a lover. The child wants to flee for fright.
Someone told her the legend of the wise Rabbi Jehuda Low and how he managed to protect all the menaced Jews in the ghetto. In a dream he saw a script that read: “Model a gigantic golem from the mud of the Moldava. To make it you will need all four elements. It will be made of earth and water, fire and air. You will pray for seven days and in the end you will be given the gift of breathing life into it.
It will be mute and invincible, but you will be able to order it only what pleases God. You will not manipulate it to destroy your enemies, for my people survive because they are weak.”
The Anna Chromy of those childhood years feels as if her city everywhere conceals mysterious powers. But she doesn’t know how to warm up those figures frozen by the war, the shade that hides itself under the black mantle, or how to model clay into living creatures. For her, Prague remains an incantation that drives the child and the artist to believe that the quest for beauty can still save us. It takes a whole lifetime to lend substance and vision to such a sense of mystery. Naked, unarmed beauty, and not force as the terrible story of our past century would lead us to believe.
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