The Organ

The first mention of an organ at St. Thomas is from the year 1414 when the Augustinian friar Frater Matteus of sv. Dobrotiva was named organista choralis at the Church. Further information about the restoration of the organ following the disastrous fire of 1503 leads historians to believe that was probably the same organ still in use during the reign of Emperor Rudolph II (1576–1607). After the major restoration efforts under the aegis of the energetic Friar Jan Krtitel Svitavsky (+1637) the Augustinians found that the old organ proved inadequate for the changing musical style and had it replaced in 1668. This new organ constructed by the master craftsmen, Matthias Kehler and Jinrich Mundt who had successfully built the organs in Saint Mary pred Tynem and Saint Nicholas in Staro Mesto proved equal to expectations. For its time it miust have been a grand instrument possessing 21 stops and 1242 pipes. Unfortunately, its all too brief use was cut short on 8 June 1723 when lightening fired the Church, destroyed the organ and killed Brother Roch Sandrich. With the installation of the new organ and a rising dynasty of talented Augustinians and laypeople St. Thomas’s Church was assured a place in Prague’s ecclesiastical musical scene. Such artists as Peter Hallaczek (+1666), Jakub Hunle (+1697), Frantisek Tentscher (+1747) laid the foundations of a great music tradition which has continued through Vaclav Rosenkranz (fl. 1854), Adolf Cmiral (organist 1901–1909) and such contemporary organists as Antonin Brcak, Stepan Svoboda and the regenschori Paul Verner of the Chorus Antiquus S. Thomae or the Sbor Svatotomasky. Before leaving the topic it should be noted that this choral tradition was further enhanced in the early eighteenth century with the separation of organist or organista choralis from the duties of choir director or regens chori. And a further – almost unheard of step on the eighteenth century musical scene – was taken by the Augustinian sponsored revival of Gregorian chant. Initiated by the friars Antonin Tauchman (1747–1760) and Arnost Papstmann (1766–1774), it too has taken root amongthe people of St. Thomas, Mala Strana.

After the destruction of the old organ in 1723, the Prior Serafin Melzer signed a contract on 2 September 1728 with Jan Frantisek Fassmann to build an organ consonant with the newly designed baroque dimensions of the Church. This instrument containing 24 stops and 1350 pipes completed in 1730 with some minor alterations served Saint Thomas Church to 1923. The 197year old instrument then considered “outmoded and useless” was wantonly broken up for floorboards and the pipes were sold as scrap metal. Fortunately, the original eighteenth-century organ cabinet miraculously survived. In 1924 a pneumatic instrument was installed by Bohumil Pastika of Stara Boleslav which with some alterations in 1968 has remained in use to the present day. Time has taken its toll, however, and under the committee direction of Dr. Martin Stransky (chairperson), Mgr. Marek Cihar, Dr. Jaroslav Elias and Dr. Antonin Brcak steps are being taken to completely renovate the organ in keeping with the general restoration of the Church on its sevenhundred and seventy-fifth anniversary. The choir stalls date from the seventeenth century and donated for the members of the Archconfraternity of the Blessed Sacrament which met for devotions at the Altar of the Assumption in the sanctuary of the Church.