Most probably, we think first of the legendary historical café on Vienna’s Albertinaplatz, when we hear the words ‘Café Mozart’, or perhaps of the café of the same name on Salzburg’s Getreidegasse, the same street as the Mozart Geburtshaus, where W. A Mozart was born in 1756. Yet there are other much lesser known cafés in other cities which claim an important connection with him, such as Munich and London. There are, for example, also three in Czechia, namely at the Náměstí in Žebrák and on Pražské Předměstí, in Pisek. But there is another, on Prague’s Staroměstské náměstí, part of the Grand Hotel, not far from the Estates Theatre where the world premiere of Don Giovanni was performed in 1787. Where then, did Prague’s Café Mozart originate and how does in fit in with the others?
The Café Mozart in Prague is described by the Grand Hotel as being the only place where “the twelve apostles will wish you for breakfast a good morning,” because of the Café’s unique first-floor view onto the magnificent fifteenth-century Astronomical Clock on the south wall of Prague’s Old Town Hall. It is a claim not unlike the caption for the image in the seminal photographic book, “Praha” by Jiri & Ivan Dolezal, taken looking down from the Tower of the Old Town Hall onto the gathered crowds below: “Waiting for the Apostles.” The Café Mozart plays recordings of Mozart’s music, houses a unique collection of French clocks and Meissen porcelain and offers homemade cakes, even Mozart tortes, in the shape of spinets and pianos. The Café seats eighty on two levels and holds regular concerts of classical and jazz music, with a four-course menu. With a touch of charm, the extensive range of coffees have names such as ‘Coffee Idomeneo,’ ‘Coffee Figaro,’ ‘Coffee Papagena’ and of course, ‘Coffee Mozart,’ the latter of which is 7g lungo coffee, served together with a Mozart ball.
To a greater or lesser extent, these Cafés Mozart all celebrate the composer, his profile in an eighteenth-century silhouette cutting in black, white or gold on the house serviettes, with popular sequences of his music playing or pictures hung on the walls, such as that showing the most recognisable portrait of Mozart. The posthumous portrait from 1819 by the Czech-born artist Barbara Krafft – which appears at the 1915 Mozart Café on Frankfurt’s Töngegasse. Vienna’s Café Mozart stands on the Albertinaplatz, and its history is closely linked with the urban expansion of the square. The K.u.K. Hofoper opened nearby with a performance of Don Giovanni in 1869. The statue of Mozart by Viktor Tilgner which today stands in the city’s Burggarten, originally stood in front of the Café until 1953, five years after the Café Mozart featured in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man”. The café has nothing of the alternative kitsch of the Mozartian cult and instead nods discretely to its namesake, as one of Vienna’s most elegant café addresses.
The magnificent success of the Mozart’s ‘confectionary’ brand feeds into a myth that has little to do with the man or his life; but such myths can point to a quest for the truth about Mozart, providing we remove a layer of sweet wrapping to get to that truth. This vast market allows us no more than the most superficial ‘taste’ of Mozart, something best symbolised by the veritable industry which has grown out of Paul Fürst’s original creation of the ‘Mozartkügel,’ the pistachio marzipan ‘Mozart ball’ from Salzburg, normally served in Mozart cafés. The presenter Tom Service in his BBC 2015 documentary, ‘The Joy of Mozart’ offered his comment on this: “here is the myth made real…
Mozart reified into little gold-wrapped confections… they’re transubstantiations of the Mozartian myth, people literally want to eat a piece of him…” This story of this particular myth – born on his early demise – has helped Mozart remain more of a statue than a human – something which only his music or the reading of his letters could help to dismantle – by restoring his reality and putting blood back into the white marble. Indeed, this cult has developed its own, alternative Mozart, thereby alienating us even further from the real man, already hypostatized by his own early death. Mozart has been virtually obscured by the very myth that celebrates him, defining him by his early demise. But yet the myth is important because it tells us more about our own beliefs about Mozart, our relationship with him and our response to his premature death. Musical posterity remains troubled by Mozart’s ‘lost’ grave, his lack of patronage and full acknowledgement during his lifetime. When interviewed for the same Mozart documentary in 2015, the British conductor and musical scholar Jane Glover suggested that the Mozart myth helps to assuage our feelings of guilt: “That I think was the beginning of the Mozart industry… it’s almost as if they were atoning for all those years when they misbehaved him…”
This does not mean that the Cafés Mozart subscribe to the myth in a negative sense. It is likely that Mozart would have been at best amused – at worst bemused – by this distortion of his image on the Mozart balls, which in itself is a Pop Art version of the Barbara Krafft portrait. The words of the Austrian musician Falco’s 1985 hit ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ championed him as “…A superstar, he was so popular…” Mozart would certainly have expected to see his name at a theatre, not at a coffeehouse. Mozart is widely credited as having frequented many cafés in Prague. For example, the Mozart family drank at the Café Tomaselli in Salzburg and Mozart himself performed at the Café Frauenhuber in Vienna, founded by Maria Theresia’s cook; his 1790 opera buffa, Cosi fan tutti, even has its opening scene in a café in Naples. Yet there is an undeniable charm in the many splendid cafés named after him. If you are able to reach the music beneath the chocolate – they are a tangible testament to Mozart’s universal appeal as well as the stupendous success of a whole souvenir industry. Mozart, was in the midst of financial difficulties in 1789, begged his fellow Freemason brother Michael Puchberg to loan him money, would surely have been astounded at the net worth of his roughly 5 billion EUR industry brand today, a brand which has little resemblance to Mozart himself, but still bears his name.
The sumptuous, late baroque Café Mozart in Prague at 22 Staroměstské náměstí, claims its own oral tradition about Mozart; popular legend credits him as having stayed in the very building which occupies today’s Grand Hotel, because of its “proximity to the Stavovské Theatre” (Estates Theatre). Indeed, the location is close enough to the Theatre located on Železná, in Prague’s Old Town, but we do know that Mozart stayed at the ‘House of the Three Lions’ on Uhelny Trh, in 1787.
Ultimately perhaps, this no longer matters, because the oral traditions have a purpose in themselves, having become part of a city’s body of cultural history. They also perpetuate an association, which co-exists alongside the Mozart cult – whether in uneasy proximity or in harmonious parallel, it is not always easy to tell.
Either way, there is undoubtedly a charm about ordering a “Coffee Don Giovanni,” in a magnificent café named after Mozart, one street away from where his grand opera for Prague was premiered.
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