Dresden’s greatness as a city of the arts was very much the creation of two electors in the 18th century: Frederick Augustus I (‘the Strong’, 1694-1733) and his son Frederick Augustus II. (1733-1763). Though founded at the beginning of the thirteenth century, for its first five hundred years it was a minor city of little distinction. This despite having been selected as residence in 1485 by the branch of the dukes of Saxony that gained the electorate in 1547.
Augustus the Strong’s pillaging of the state treasury to feed his reckless extravagance was both symbol and to some extent the cause of his dismal record in most areas of statecraft, but his achievements as builder, patron and collector rank him among the most munificent of European rulers. Great architecture, a picture collection of legendary richness, magnificent accumulations of precious metalwork and ceramics (porcelain was manufactured here for the first time in Europe) and a glorious musical life transformed Dresden into one of the most admired and visited cities in Europe and a major destination on the Grand Tour.
If to a somewhat lesser degree, subsequent rulers of Saxony continued the tradition of cultural embellishment (and political ineptitude: they had a tiresome habit of joining the losing side). In the nineteenth century, ‘the Florence on the Elbe’ acquired buildings by Schinkel and Semper, and Weber and Wagner were directors of the opera house. In the twentieth century, Richard Strauss added to its illustrious musical history.
Then in February 1945 a tragically propitious set of circumstances conspired to make the air raid on Dresden the most ‘successful’ of Allied bombing missions. Most of the art collections had been removed to safety but 80 percent of the old centre was destroyed. Under the Communist regime a few of the chief monuments were grudgingly restored, but since unification the painstaking process of rebuilding and restoration has accelerated.
The great dome of the Protestant Cathedral, the Frauenkirche, again dominates the skyline, and the Green Vault in the royal palace again displays the unequalled magnificence of the treasury. Significantly, rank and file buildings are steadily being recreated; the glory of Dresden lay as much in the lesser buildings as in the major ones. Some striking new architecture is being added, notably the all-glass car factory in the historic centre and the Foster & Partners railway station.
The Dresdner Musikfestspiele is generally of an appropriate standing, but 2019 is again of high musical standards. The venues, too, are varied – the Frauenkirche, a magnificent nineteenth-century opera house and the city’s newly restored Bauhaus cultural complex (Kulturpalast) with its modern 1,800 capacity concert hall.
Fly at c. 10.45am from London Heathrow Airport (British Airways) to Berlin. An evening lecture is followed by dinner.
Dresden. Morning visit of the Residenzschloss to see the wonderful Green Vault and its content, one of the world’s finest princely treasuries, once again displayed in their original venue. Evening concert at the Kulturpalast with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (conductor), Yuja Wang (piano): Ligeti, Romanian Concerto; Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 5 in G, Op. 55; Brahms, Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73.
Meissen, Dresden. Drive downstream to Meissen, ancient capital of Dukes of Saxony and location of the discovery of hard-paste porcelain. The largely 15th-century hilltop castle overlooking the Elbe, the Albrechtsburg, is one of the first to be more residential than defensive, and within the complex is a fine Gothic cathedral. Return to Dresden for some free time before an evening concert at the Kulturpalast with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, Cristian Măcelaru (conductor), Jan Vogler (cello): Muhly, Helbig & Long, Cello Concerto (World Premiere); Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55 ‘Eroica’.
Dresden. In the morning visit the Zwinger, a unique Baroque confection, a pleasure palace, arena for festivities and museum for cherished collections. See the Old Masters Gallery, one of the finest collections in Europe, particularly strong on Italian and Netherlandish painting. A free afternoon is followed by an evening concert at the Semperoper with the Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim (conductor): Brahms, Symphony No 3. in F, Op.90, Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98.
Pillnitz, Dresden. Travel by boat upstream to Pillnitz, a summer palace in Chinese Rococo style, with collections of decorative art and a riverside park. After lunch return to Dresden for some free time. Evening concert at the Kulturpalast with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Sir Antonio Pappano (conductor), Lisa Batiashvili (violin): Mussorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain; Bartók, Violin Concerto No. 1, Sz. 36; Rimsky-Korsakov, ‘Scheherazade’. Symphonic Suite,
Dresden. Visit the New Masters Gallery in the Albertinum, reopened in 2010 after extensive renovations following flood damage and home to the New Masters Gallery. Some free time before an evening concert at the Frauenkirche with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Sir Antonio Pappano (conductor): Mahler, Symphony No. 6 in A minor.
Fly from Berlin to London Heathrow airport, arriving c. 3.45pm.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £3,010 or £2,900 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,390 or £3,280 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 1 lunch and 4 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Tickets (top category) for 5 performances are included costing c. £420. These will be confirmed in October 2018.
Hotel Taschenbergpalais, Dresden. A 5-star hotel in the heart of the Old Town, 2 minutes’ walk from the Semperoper and the Zwinger. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
Vehicular access is restricted in the city centre. Participants are expected to walk to the concert venues and there is a substantial amount of walking and standing around in art galleries and museums. Average distance by coach per day: 45 miles (predominantly on the first and last days of the tour).
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
I loved all aspects of the itinerary - music to suit everyone and a very good standard.
MRT at its best - splendid hotel, excellent food and wine - all most enjoyable!
The lecturer was an absolute goldmine of well considered information and analysis. I felt privileged to join him.