Revisiting the old catholic court church building

  • I just returned from my first ever visit to Dresden. I was there on business (conference related to my research field) but did find a little time to potter around and fantasize over the earlier age of this city. I will prepare a more detailed summary of my musings (some of which might bring a new perspective) but for now I wanted to share something which directly resulted from my visit and which I am not sure is known by many of you: a photograph, possibly the only one in existence, showing the building in which the catholic court church was housed from 1708-1755. This can be seen here:

    The building in question is below and slightly to the right of the main tower of the "Residenzschloss". Unfortunately only the end is visible, the side being obscured by one of the terrace pavilions of the Zwinger. However, it is clearly the same building as that shown in the sketch at the bottom right of the "workplace" on the Discover Zelenka website (here: ). This photo clarifies the stated fact that the building was demolished to make way for the tramline. In fact the photograph shows the tramline was already built. So, it seems that the two coexisted for some years (I did not yet find out when the tramline was built). As noted on the Discover Zelenka page, the original building was T-shaped. It seems therefore that when the tramline was built the top of the "T" was lopped off, leaving a rectangular building.

    The photo also makes clear the proximity of the old catholic court church and the Sophienkirche. At the latter, WF Bach was organist from 1733 to 1746. So his and Zelenka's workplaces were not just within a proverbial "stone's throw" of each other - the two could have literally exchanged a barrage of pebbles! Sadly there does not seem to be much written about the Zelenka-WF Bach relationship but one can assume there certainly was one.

    - RNKT

  • Great find RNKT! Really does make it easier to visualise. I was there this August and was standing on top the Zwinger walls looking down on where it would have been. But, things are so different now.

    Very close to Sophienkirche indeed. It seems WF Bach was a quite a young'n when he first was employed there, only 23 years old - that's my age!! When Zelenka died in 1745, he would have been 35 years old: . That's a good 12 years in which they could have met, I think the chances are extremely high, particularly with his father being known, in some way, to Zelenka.


  • Thanks for this great detective work, rnkt.

    I find it difficult to believe that the end-part of the Catholic Court church was lopped off to make a shorter, rectangular building. The Royal Archive was long, and took up most of the space available. You can see from the photograph that the west wall is quite close to the Zwinger, with only enough space for a road. I think that it is more likely that there was a more extensive rebuilding project than this at the end of the 1700s. Perhaps an almost complete rebuild. The renovation was ready in 1802, and the rectangular building stood until 1888-89.

    Thanks to djdresden, I have seen a photograph from the time of the demolition (a rather sorry picture, I might add), and then, ironically, only the most westerly corner of the building remained standing -- right next to the tramline. The rails were in place, but the building was probably uncomfortably close to the track.


  • Thanks for this nice picture (pre-1888) of the old part of Dresden which not only shows Zelenka’s working place but also the street of his last residence: Kleine Bruder Gasse. Funnily enough, just earlier today I came across some pictures of the old Catholic court church in my computer. Over the years I’ve collected quite a bit of visual material for this church and the living places of our man, including the fantastic drawing of the house in Kleine Bruder Gasse which appeared in the Clavibus Unitis article. I’ve also found the architectural plans and arrangements of the rooms in this house, but this is archival material I can not share publicly for now. But in the next few days I will upload to Dropbox some examples from my collection.

    The timeline of the old Catholic court church is found here:

    As for Zelenka and WF Bach, if I remember correctly Gerhard Poppe discussed their possible teacher/student relationship in his article about the students of Zelenka. In his WFB biography, David Schulenberg states that piece No. 5 from the Eight fugues F 31 “with a relatively lengthy subject reminiscent of ones Friedemann might have heard at Dresden in fugues by Zelenka”, while piece No. 6 “is also relatively long, with another Zelenkan subject”.

  • I’ve uploaded to Dropbox a set of 17 pictures of places connected to Zelenka, numbered to match the text below:…1vHbvtKRCkub2Pj3_dCa?dl=0

    1. The amazing model in the city museum in Dresden, showing the city at the end of the 17th century. Attached to the Residenzschloss we can see the old opera theater of Klengel which was reconstructed to serve as the Catholic court church in 1707. The model also shows the Kleine Brüder Gasse, including the house of leather craftsman Flade where Zelenka lived for the last couple of years of his life.

    2. A copy (I think) of the same model showing the Residenzschloss and the attached T- shaped old opera theater of Klengel at end of 17th century.

    3. Beautiful plan of the old Catholic court church, showing well the shape, interior, altar and last but not least, over the entrance, the balcony where the musicians stood and performed, see also the 1733 coloured etching in the Clavibus Unitis article. I can imagine that the accoustics were absolutely fantastic in this space.

    4. A detail from Bellotto’s painting of the Zwinger, showing also a detail of the front of the old Catholic church.

    5. This is one of my favourites: a couple of flying angels from the old Catholic court church. If they only could speak! These are now kept in the Domschatzkammer St. Petri in Bautzen, which is well worth a visit because of all the religious treasures and relics once in the possession of the electoral and royal family.

    6. Coloured drawing of former Catholic court church, and later Ballhaus, after it was rebuilt as the archive of the court. This is a photo taken in an exhibition in today's archive building, which opened in 1915 and miraculously withstood the bombing in 1945.

    7. Another plan showing the size of the archive in comparison with the Schloss.

    8. Beautiful photo of the old archive, which at the time stored the Zelenka related documents we are still mining today. I think Alistair has already showed this one in the website.

    9. The old archive being demolished, ca. 1888-89. What a waste!

    10. And another one, sigh... In the background, the facade of Schloss is being rebuilt in renaissance style.

    11. Moritzstrasse in the 19th century. From at least 1736 Zelenka lived on the left side, round about in the middle of the street. The house changed owners in 1742 and it is likely that Zelenka moved on at that point. This house was destroyed in the Prussian bombing of 1760. Somewhere there exists a sad old painting of the ruins of this house and others in this street, but I can’t recall where. I’ve gathered quite a bit of material on this house, its history and colourful tenants. One day I can hopefully tell this story.

    12. Old Ramschegasse, todays Rampische Straße, picture taken before WWII. The house at No. 31 with the Carl Emanuel store sign is the former residence of Zelenka. In ca. 1743-44 he rented an apartment in the Ramschegasse from the owner, the archivist Schmiedt. This was one of the most beautiful streets of baroque Dresden and all the best architects of the city built houses there. This side of the street has been faithfully rebuilt, except for a modern house totally out of place in the middle of it.

    Incidentally, this modern building once housed a strange cocktail bar on the top floor, where the Australian Zelenka scholar Fred Kiernan once hammered out the Goldberg variations and a couple of Zelenka fugues on the piano to the utter amazment of the few guests, during a very drunken night many years ago. I had introduced him to the barista as a world famous concert pianist :D so he was allowed access to the piano, much to the annoyance of the bar pianist, who, by the way, was not very good. Later, we ended up in the basement of the Hilton hotel, where Fred showed his improvisational skills Cecil Taylor style on a white upright piano, which was curiously placed in the middle of a staff corridor and waiting to be assaulted, while we were trying to find a way out of the labyrinth which is underground Hilton. What a glorius night that was, and it is now on record here!

    13. Archeology digging in the basement of Rampsiche Straße No. 31, left side. Here we can see where Zelenka stored his old stuff.

    14. Rampsiche Straße No. 31, faithfully restored to its former glory. Today it houses a bank, which has decided to ruin the front by placing a bright neon sign over the windows. Make sure to bring shades when checking this house out, and don’t deposit your money there...

    15. For a full picture of the front of the house in Kleine Brüder Gasse where Zelenka lived, see the article in Clavibus Unitis. This is a plan of the Kurprinzenpalais, today Taschenbergpalais. In 1767 the court bought Flade’s house from his relatives and this was then altered for use for the servants. Here we can see the arrangement of the rooms, but we don’t know (yet) on which floor Zelenka lived:
    E=entrance on the ground floor; and same size (Zzz=sleeping?) rooms above; L=Flade’s workshop on the ground floor, living rooms upstairs; K=kitchen?; C=corridor?; S=round stairs for our old man…; H=courtyard. The Dresden archive holds much more detailed plans which I hope to be able to publish sometime in the future.

    Other members of the Dresden Hofkapelle who lived in this street in 1738-40 were: the castrato Campioli; violinist Rhein and his alcoholic wife (what a desperately sad story that is), and many other good men and women.

    16. An arial photo from 1944. The facade of Zelenka’s house has been altered but each floor still has four windows across, X.

    17. And finally: Here you see the Masters at Work at the Karl May Cocktail bar in Zelenka’s house in Kleine Brüder Gasse. I can recommend the Singapore Sling – the best I’ve ever tasted having drunk quite a few all over Europe. Seriously, these guys are two of the finest in the business, highly-decorated champions in European and World cocktail competitions. They have the awards to show for it. It feels absolutely fantastic to have a drink on this holy ground. And after a few drinks, what better than having a piss in Zelenka’s golden toilets? Sorry, I couldn’t resist:…dining/bars/karl-may-bar/

    And across the street, in the former house of cabinetmaker Mengelberg, Zelenka’s colleague Ristori passed away on 7 February 1753. This house was destroyed in 1945 but the one built in its place today houses an Italian restaurant. I do miss the Shamrock Irish pub that used to be there, and I used to toast Ristori all the time while working on his Naples story. This pub was a great place to have a Guinness and work on new discoveries after a long day at the archive, or to watch the English football when Sir Alex was in charge of my team. The British born owner was a Tottenham fan and the banter was ace. For those who are interested they have now moved next street, to Wilfsdruffer Straße (formerly Wilsche Gasse) and amazingly, again, round about where Ristori once used to live! And WF Bach as well; JC Richter organist in the Sophien Kirche; the castrato Nicolo Pozzi; the lutenist Weiss; The Negri family of singers, and so on.

    I hope you enjoy and forgive the tasteless stories of personal note… :)

    Looking forward to read rnkt and his personal experience of Dresden.

  • Many thanks, Johannes, for this wonderful treasure trove. It will take me a while to digest all this new visual information!

    Regarding pictures 9 and 10, it all becomes clear why a small part of the Royal Archive building was kept standing in 1889 -- to be used as a temporary worker's hut or store when the renovations to the palace were being carried out.

    Regarding pictures 1 and 2, it is interesting that the opera house from the 1600s (which was later turned into the Catholic Court Church) was -- presumably from the start -- sitting in a very cramped space. It also becomes clear from the model why it was built at a strange angle to the palace building... as there was a curved row of houses to the south of it.

  • Thank you too Johannes, from my side for sharing this stash (plus great anecdotes). And great to see it just days after my first visit to that "holy ground" and while everything is still fresh in the mind. Unfortunately I had no time to go to any museums (or cocktail bars - just the tacky Sophienkeller), but next time I will certainly seek out that great model in your first two pictures.

    Thank you also for directing me to the Wikipedia article on this building. I did not think to look for Opernhaus am Taschenberg and it is not linked from the Discover Zelenka website. The article that that Wikipedia page draws from (Hubert Ermisch: Das alte Archivgebäude am Taschenberge in Dresden, Dresden, 1888) is a truly fascinating read. Thank God someone took it on themselves to record the history of that building before it vanished from sight and memory forever. From that work one learns the truly unique multifunctional history of the building (opera house --> court church --> organ workshop (+ deathbed of Silbermann) --> indoor tennis court --> firewood store --> archive). Pity that he did not inform himself about the great and unique music that was composed for that church and the many fine musicians that performed there. Maybe there is something on this building in the Residenzschloss but really it needs a great big information table standing there, at the least (currently there is a titchy-tiny plaque on the wall only mentioning that there was a theater there but mostly focussing on the colonnade of the Residenzschloss - boring!).

    More preferably there should be some kind of memorial erected on that (as far as I can see) pointless triangular traffic island (I know, the Wetten obelisk was there pre-1945) that stands between the outer fence of the residenzschloss and the Zwinger.

    Or even better (in my wildest dreams): for the 275th anniversary of Zelenka's death (2020) they should erect a "replica" of the church (as far as the road allows). Nowadays you can easily make temporary structures out of scaffolding covered with painted fabric that look very realistic. Inside there could be a stage and seating and a series of concerts celebrating the music of Zelenka and co. Unfortunately that's only 3 years away and probably impossible to practically and financially realise. Overall, I sensed not much of a memory and pride of the great 18th Century Dresden music scene while there. It just seemed to be all Canaletto this, Canaletto that. Maybe I did not spend long enough there.

    Anyway, as promised I will get back with more substantial observations another time!

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