Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Prague
an enthusiasm for Mozart that has passed into legend, with Prague seen as the good city that supported and understood him at a time when he had allegedly been neglected, even scorned, by Vienna.
Mozart is claimed to have said, "Meine Prager verstehen mich" ("My Praguers understand me"), a saying which became famous in the Bohemian lands.
The Prague premiere of Figaro
Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro, which premiered in Vienna, was produced in late 1786 in Prague with tremendous success. The reviewer for the Prague newspaper Oberpostamtzeitung wrote "No piece (so everyone here asserts) has ever caused such a sensation as the Italian opera Die Hochzeit des Figaro, which has already been given several times here with unlimited applause." The orchestra and some affiliated music lovers funded a personal visit by Mozart so he could hear the production. Mozart arrived on 11 January 1787 and was feted everywhere. On 19 January he gave an "academy" (that is, a concert for his own profit) at which the famous Symphony in D major, K. 504—now called the "Prague" Symphony—was premiered. Mozart also improvised solo on the piano—including variations on the popular aria "Non più andrai" from The Marriage of Figaro. Afterward, Mozart said he "counted this day as one of the happiest of his life."
The great success of this visit generated a commission from the impresario Bondini for another opera, which like The Marriage of Figaro was to have a libretto by Mozart's great collaborator Lorenzo Da Ponte.
The premiere of Don Giovanni
The world premiere of Mozart and Da Ponte's Don Giovanni took place in Prague on 29 October 1787 at the Estates Theatre. The work was rapturously received; the Prager Oberpostamtzeitung reported, "Connoisseurs and musicians say that Prague has never heard the like," and "the opera ... is extremely difficult to perform."
Mozart returned to Prague in 1789 during a trip to Berlin, but stayed there only briefly; for details see Mozart's Berlin journey.
The premiere of La clemenza di Tito
Mozart wrote La clemenza di Tito for the festivities accompanying Leopold II's Prague coronation as King of Bohemia in September 1791; Mozart obtained this commission after Antonio Salieri had allegedly rejected it.
Why didn't Mozart stay?
After Don Giovanni, Mozart had an offer to stay and write another opera for Prague, yet he chose to return to Vienna (where he revised the opera for the local premiere). Maynard Solomon suggested that the reasons were first that Prague lacked the musical talent available in Vienna; in particular, the execution by the musicians of the Don Giovanni premiere was faulty and not up to the standard set in Vienna. In addition, a career like Mozart's depended on the support of the aristocracy, and Prague was only a provincial capital. The wealthy, music-supporting aristocrats whose estates were in the region were more likely to spend their time in Vienna than in Prague.
Another possible reason why Mozart didn't stay is given by Volkmar Braunbehrens, citing Schenk: the death in Vienna in November 1787 of Gluck, whose post in the Imperial musical establishment Mozart sought (and ultimately got, though at a much lower salary); Mozart needed to return home to lobby for the position.
Why did Prague appreciate Mozart?
Braunbehrens also gives a fairly deeply rooted explanation of why Prague gave Mozart's music such an enthusiastic reception. Prague was the capital of the former independent nation of Bohemia, which following the loss of the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 was incorporated into the Austrian Empire. Much of the native Czech aristocracy was displaced by Germans, and those who remained largely stayed on their own estates rather than moving back and forth to Vienna as the Austrian nobility did. The area was poor, in part because of the continuation of serfdom, used by some of the new German aristocracy to support the development of industrial enterprises. In addition, after the conquest Bohemia was forced to re-convert to Roman Catholicism, and an important part of the program of reconversion involved church music. An extraordinary law required that every village schoolmaster should compose, rehearse, and perform with his students at least one Mass per year.
These factors combined to create a very musical country: due to the reconversion law, a great number of young people received musical instruction and became professional musicians, often employed by the aristocrats in jobs combining the function of musician and servant. In addition, many of the musicians sought employment outside of Bohemia; a number of Mozart's musical colleagues in Vienna were emigrant Bohemians. The sedentary character of the Czech nobility led to a great deal of music-making in the country; and the fact that Prague was not a national capital meant that there was no jaded nobility there to hold back new music; more open-minded bourgeois tastes prevailed.
All of these created an enthusiastic and knowledgeable public in Prague for Mozart's operas when they were performed there.
Commemorating Mozart in Prague today
Many tourists follow his tracks in Prague and visit the Mozart Museum of the reconstructed Villa Bertramka, where the composer stayed with his friends the Duscheks on visits to Prague.
- Solomon 1995, 417
- Solomon 1995, 419
- Deutsch 1965, 303
- Davenport (1932), 360–361: "The Emperor Leopold II was to be crowned king of Bohemia in early September and the national States assembly at Prague had sent Wolfgang a commission to write the festival opera. Again Prague showed a loyalty that Vienna had never once indicated. Wolfgang would not refuse. He wished he had done so, however, when he learned that he was expected to write a new score to Metastasio's La clemenza di Tito (K. 621), a stiff, tiresome tragedy, of the Italian vintage of Wolfgang's boyhood in Naples. But for this there was no remedy."
- Eisen and Sadie, section 6
- Braunbehrens 1990, 303
- Source of this section: Braunbehrens 1990, 293–298
- Braunbehrens, Volkmar (1990) Mozart in Vienna. New York: Grove Weidenfeld.
- Daniel E. Freeman (2013) Mozart in Prague. Minneapolis: Bearclaw. ISBN 0979422310
- Eisen, Cliff and Stanley Sadie. Article in the New Grove, online edition. (Accessed 9 May 2006)] (subscription required)
- Solomon, Maynard (1995) Mozart: A life, Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-092692-9