On 15 January 1787, W. A Mozart began a letter in Prague; unusually for him, especially in times of constant creativity, he finished it on the same day. The letter was addressed to one Gottfried von Jacquin (1767-92) back in Vienna. Jacquin worked at the Court Chancellery and had been one of Mozart’s closest friends in Vienna since 1781; Jacquin was himself an amateur composer and even collaborated with Mozart in musical composition; Jacquin’s sister Franziska was also one of Mozart’s keyboard students. It is thanks to Mozart’s warm friendship with Jacquin, that we have his own account of this first trip to Prague which he made with his wife, Constanze, to conduct a performance of Le Nozze di Figaro; during which time he gave a concert, as part of which his symphony K504 (“Prague”) was also included.
That the National Library of the Czech Republic in Prague should contain a collection of Mozartiana should perhaps not initially surprise; the fact that the National Library is held within the Prague’s Klementinum could, however, hint at a possible richer connection between Mozart and the building in which these manuscripts are to be found, as indeed is the case. That Mozart should pour his attentive energies into his scores as opposed to his letters, especially on his musical journeys, is natural. But this means that the reader only has his words. Even allowing for the fact that all letters only contain what the writer has chosen to include, Mozart’s travel correspondence differs greatly to the rich descriptions of his father Leopold Mozart’s letters, which were normally written to be shared with the Salzburg community back home, via his landlord and friend, Lorenz Hagenauer. In many ways then, Mozart’s own letters are a testament to his busy, peripatetic lifestyle – and we have to reconstruct whole events from the merest of sentences. Mozart, in fact, confirms this in the opening line of the January letter to Jacquin: “I’ve finally found a moment to write to you…” The world premiere of Don Giovanni in Prague on Mozart’s second 1787 visit is laconically referred to in a letter, also to Jacquin, less than a week later: “My opera Don Giovanni was staged on 29. October and met with the most tremendous acclaim”.
The first January letter to Jacquin from Prague, is however, unusual – because, it makes fleeting references to Mozart’s movements outside of his musical performances, offering us a window into his social engagements and into the Prague that he encountered in early 1787 – a Prague as he saw it, a city of buildings and acquaintances, as well as of theatres and opera. This letter also enables us to have primary evidence of several of Mozart’s activities in Prague, which we can separate from a large amount of oral tradition that exists about him in the city’s cultural history; we can actually pinpoint him on the map. From this letter, for example, we learn that Mozart visited that great complex in Prague, known as the Klementinum.
The Klementinum – originally a Jesuit dormitory, built between the mid-sixteenth and eighteenth centuries – still occupies two hectares on Prague’s map, stretching almost to the edge of the Charles Bridge itself and including two churches, the St. Salvator Church and the Cathedral of St. Clement. We must suppose that Mozart’s visit took place on 12 January 1787, because Mozart arrived in Prague the day before and described sleeping in the next morning, but being up in time to “get to Father Ungar’s.” This last description is important because it refers to Karl Raphael Ungar (1743-1807), who was the director of the Klementinum Library. Ungar introduced books in Czech into the Library’s collections and also a cataloguing system, still in use to the present day. Mozart met Ungar at 11 o’clock, “for a worm’s-eye view of the Imperial and Royal Library and General Seminary.” The reference to the “Imperial and Royal Library” is also significant – because the Jesuit College at the Klementinum was abolished in 1773 and with the aid of Count Kinsky, the Klementinum’s University and Library was granted the title of “Imperial-Royal Public and University Library”, by Empress Maria Theresia. Mozart’s use of “we” implies that he made this visit together with Constanze, as he refers to every other companion in Prague directly by name, such as his fellow Freemason Joseph Emanuel, Count Canal of Malabayla, to whose house they drove for lunch after the visit. The visit appears to have been extremely detailed because Mozart wrote that as result of it “our eyes were nearly popping out of our heads”. The Klementinum’s Baroque Library Hall impresses as much today as did then, with its outstanding collections, frescoes and globes. The Astronomical Tower at the Klementinum collects meteorological and climatic information even today, having done so since 1775 – twelve years before Mozart’s visit – when it was introduced by the mathematician Josef Stepling.
A pleasant sequel to Mozart’s visit is the fact that the Klementinum’s magnificent 1724 Mirror Chapel [Zrcadlová kaple] is a favoured venue for classical concerts in Prague, which regularly include Mozart’s more popular works. A bust of Mozart may be seen close to the entrance to the Chapel, commemorating his visit. One of the two exquisite organs in the Mirror Chapel is widely said to have been played by Mozart although unsurprisingly, there is no mention of this in Mozart’s letters, in which neither this organ, nor the organs he is credited to have played at Strahov Monastery or the St. Nicholas Church in Prague for example, are described. Mozart’s visit to the Klementinum is also the reason for why the Klementinum has its own Mozart Hall, although the latter is not open to the public.
These are yet further proofs, of Prague’s fond commemoration of a composer that it adopted as its own, understanding Mozart as a city, perhaps unlike any other.
Elizabeth Jane Timms is a writer, historian and freelance royal journalist. She contributes to an international academic journal about royalty and also writes for magazines and the web.