In 2006 we mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest of all classical composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was born in Salzburg on 27th January 1756 and died just 35 years later on 5th December 1791. Of course Austria is the focus of this year's celebrations, but Mozart also visited Bohemia and Moravia on several occasions and saw many of his works performed here to great acclaim. So we have good reason to celebrate Mozart here in the Czech Republic as well. Sixteen Czech cultural institutions have joined forces to organise numerous exhibitions and concerts, brought together in a single project: "Mozart Prague 2006". You can find full details at: www.mozartprague2006.com
Mozart in Bohemia
In all Mozart spent about six months in what is today the Czech Republic. His first stay was not in Prague, or even Bohemia, but rather in Moravia to the south-east. In 1767 an outbreak of chickenpox hit Vienna and Wolfgang's father, Kappelmeister to the Salzburg archbishop left for Olomouc with his 11-year-old Wunderkind. Wolfgang failed to escape the disease and the rector of Olomouc university, Count Podstatsky helped the young virtuoso through his illness. After two months at the archbishop's palace the young Mozart recovered. On their way home from Olomouc Mozart and his father stopped off in Brno for Christmas 1767, and the young Mozart gave a concert on 30th December. In honour of Mozart and his visit to the city, Brno now hosts a competition for young pianists up to the age of 11.
Mozart's later visits are linked to Prague. In December 1786 his opera The Marriage of Figaro was performed in Prague's Nostic Theatre and was well received. At the beginning of 1787 Mozart was invited to conduct his own work in Prague. He arrived on 11th January 1787 and stayed in the Thunovsky Palace in the Lesser Quarter. He conducted The Marriage of Figaro on 17th January, and there was so much public interest that, two days later, on 19th January, he conducted his new Symphony in D major, which came to be known as the Prague Symphony. In Prague Mozart was commissioned to compose another opera on a Don Juan theme, and on returning home he immediately set to work on Don Giovanni.
Mozart's second stay in Prague is linked to the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia on 6th September 1791. For the event the Bohemian nobles commissioned an opera. At the end of August Mozart came to Prague to conduct his new opera La Clemenza di Tito. First of all he conducted Don Giovanni in the Nostic Theatre and of course he was present for the premiere of La Clemenza di Tito on the day of the coronation. But the Viennese Court was not impressed by the opera, and Mozart returned to Vienna disappointed. At the request of the clarinettist of the orchestra in Prague, Anton Stadler, he also wrote his Concerto for clarinet in A major, which was performed in Prague on 16th October. Not long after, on 5th December 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died.
There are various legends about the enthusiasm with which the Prague audience received Mozart's music. The composer is alleged to have said, "My Praguers understand me," and it is quite amusing to see that even today you can occasionally hear heated arguments as to whether he meant the city's German or Czech population! One thing is certain: Mozart's work, especially The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, was extremely well received by Prague's musical public. Proof can be found in the memorial service that was held after Mozart's death on 14th December 1791 by members of Prague's theatre orchestra in Saint Nicholas' Church on the Lesser Quarter. 4,000 Prague citizens came to pay their last respects to Mozart.
Prague sites associated with W.A. Mozart
Count Franz Anton Nostitz-Rieneck was a prominent patron of the arts and had the theatre built as a venue for German operas and plays, but there were also performances in Czech. The building is in the Classical style and was completed in the 1780s. Mozart was one of the first composers whose work was performed there. In 1798 the theatre was bought by the Bohemian nobility ("Estates"), and from that time on it was known as the Royal Estates Theatre. In the 19th century it hosted such great composers as Gustav Mahler and Nicolo Paganini. Since 1948 it has been known as the Tyl Theatre. Currently it is part of Prague's National Theatre www.nd.cz
, and is hosting many concerts as part of the Mozart celebrations.
The Villa Bertramka was built at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. Originally it was a farm on the edge of Prague. In 1784 the villa was bought by the celebrated Czech singer Josefina Duskova and her husband, the pianist and composer Frantisek Xaver Dusek. Mozart stayed with them during his second Prague visit in 1787, when he was completing Don Giovanni and during his final stay in 1791. After Mozart's death his children lived for some time at Bertramka. In 1838 Lambert Popelka bought the villa, and his son Adolf contacted Mozart's eldest son Thomas. He installed a bust of the composer in the garden, opened several rooms to the public and organized an event at the villa to mark the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Don Giovanni. Antonin Dvorak was among the guests. The last owner in 1925 left the villa to the Mozarteum foundation in Salzburg. In 1929 the Mozart Society bought the villa and it remained in their ownership until 1986, when it came into the hands of the state. In 1986 a permanent exhibition devoted to Mozart and the Duseks was opened. The exhibition includes a piano played by Mozart during his stay in 1787, and there is even a lock of Mozart's hair. The Bertramka Museum www.bertramka.com
is a popular Prague attraction, and numerous concerts are also held there.
The Premonstratensian monastery at Strahov www.strahovskyklaster.cz
is a fascinating complex of mainly Baroque buildings, very close to Prague Castle, and with a beautiful view over Prague. At its heart is the Basilica of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, famous for its organ. In 1787 Mozart played the organ when he visited the basilica with Josefina Duskova. The monastery is open to the public. As well as religious buildings it houses the Museum of Czech Literature with a permanent exhibition on the history of Czech writing and other occasional exhibitions.
This was originally a Jesuit seminary, founded in 1556 close to Charles Bridge. Alongside the Charles University it was one of the most important educational institutions in the Kingdom of Bohemia. The mainly Baroque complex, built between the 16th and the 18th centuries is the second largest building in Prague after the castle, and includes several churches and courtyards. When the Jesuit order was dissolved in the Habsburg Empire in 1773, part of Prague's university and the Imperial Library were placed here. In 1775 the library was opened in the Clementinum, still in operation today. Mozart visited the Clementinum and its library in 1787. A bust of the composer at the entrance to the Mirror Chapel commemorates his visit. Today the Clementinum houses the National Library of the Czech Republic www.nkp.cz
, and it also hosts concerts and exhibitions. The Baroque library and the astronomical tower are open to the public.
This palace in the centre of Prague was built for the aristocratic Gallas (later Clam-Gallas) family in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were well known patrons of the arts and the palace became an important centre of artistic and scientific life in the city. Mozart was a visitor, along with his wife Constanze and Josefina Duskova, and later Beethoven also visited the palace. In the 20th century the owners rented part of the palace as offices; at one time Franz Kafka worked here. After the Second World War the palace became property of the City of Prague, and today it houses the city archive www.ahmp.cz
. Exhibitions and concerts are also held there.