While Vienna was undoubtedly Mozart’s creative home, the city of Prague opened its arms to him in the 1780s and received him as the composer of ‘Figaro’, which was given its Czech premiere in the Estates Theatre in 1786, to overwhelming success. This particular appreciation for Mozart’s music was peculiar to a late eighteenth century Prague taste, in contrast to that of Vienna, which had received Figaro with a moderate enthusiasm. Mozart travelled to Prague in January 1787 to conduct a performance of Figaro, together with his wife Constanze – during this visit, he gave a performance of K504 ‘Prague’, possibly written to be directed that January. Certainly, the high sophistication of the Prague’s musical public meant that Mozart found a receptive acceptance there, by the words attributed to him “My Praguers understand me”, although such words lack documentary evidence, as the musicologist Daniel E. Freeman has pointed out. Prague’s artistic adoption of Mozart also means that the places where he lived take on a special meaning because his sense of being at home creatively also has a domestic aspect.
Mozart’s own letters from Prague lack the rich detail of his father Leopold Mozart’s letters home; certainly written with a careful eye for posterity, whose contents were expected to be shared with the wider community back in Salzburg. Mozart instead wrote hurriedly, with little time to spare. Salzburg’s Mozarteum lists five known letters that he wrote from Prague – one to his friend, the amateur composer Gottfried von Jacquin on the first January visit of 1787, two more to von Jacquin during the second 1787 visit for the Prague premiere of Don Giovanni – his commission from the impresario Pasquale Bondini – and two letters to Constanze, dated Prague 1789, when he was passing through the city en route to Berlin.
During the first stay in Prague, he and Constanze were guests in the palace of Count Thun-Hohenstein (the imperial court violinist Franz de Paula Hofer had also accompanied them). This has led to some confusion, because, Johann Joseph Anton, Count Thun-Hohenstein lived at the Thun palace, the site of the present British Embassy; this is not be confused with the Palais Thun-Hohenstein, also in the Lesser Town, which houses the current Italian Embassy. Mozart had composed his symphony K425 for Count Thun in 1783. Mozart arrived at the Thun palace on 11 January – he asked von Jacquin to “address your letters to Count Thun’s palace”. The current British Embassy dates from a later period, and it would appear that Count Thun’s original palace was damaged by fire in the early 1790s. Popular tradition has credited the Embassy with the possession of a letter by Mozart in his own handwriting, thought to be a ‘thank you’ note – but correspondence with the author has established this claim to be false. Mozart relates little physical description of the palace, other than that a “very good” pianoforte was placed in his room, and that one evening, a quartet was played instead of his composing.
On 1 October 1787, Mozart and Constanze left Vienna for the Prague premiere of Don Giovanni. Mozart stayed at the House of the Three Golden Lions on Uhelny TRH 1 (Coal Market) – separated from the Estates Theatre by Rytirska Street. A charming tradition records that Mozart worked with Lorenzo Da Ponte, his librettist for Don Giovanni, through an open window as Da Ponte was occupying rooms opposite. The house is now maintained in part by Prague Residences, who let out one of the ABC suites as the ‘Mozart Historic Apartment’. Two musical touches – there are two prints on the walls of the suite of the famous Mozart portraits by Barbara Krafft and Saverio Della Rosa.
Correspondence with the Prague City Archives has allowed the present author to discover that no documents exist concerning the house which is older than 1813; the oldest floor plans date from 1852. A plaque commemorated Mozart’s stay in 1787, and a medallion bust of him can be seen. The ground floor contains an Italian restaurant and the adjoining hair-studio is fitting called ‘Amadeus’. Mozart composed the song K530 ‘Das Traumbild’ and dated it, Prague 6 November 1787 – so, possibly written in this house.
The 1789 visit to Prague was fleeting as Mozart was on his way to Berlin – he arrived on 10 April. He stayed one night at U Zlatého jednorožce near the Maltese Square in Malá Strana, but a bust of Beethoven is there instead. He mentions in a letter to Constanze of driving to see “Pachta” (Major General Johann Joseph Philipp Pachta von Rayhofen.) The Pachtuv Palace today keeps an association with Mozart alive. A charming tradition has it that Mozart wrote his K509 (‘Six German Dances’) while locked in one of the palace’s rooms – something which was confirmed by the Smetana Hotel that now occupies the former palace, to the present author – one of the hotel’s rooms has a ‘Mozart Suite’. It is also thought to be the place where Mozart met Giacomo Casanova.
What is notably missing is the name of the Dusek villa Bertramka in Prague-Smichov, which formerly housed a ‘Mozart Museum’. While tradition has it that Don Giovanni was completed at Bertramka, this is information which is at best second-hand, and no real evidence of Mozart at Bertramka appears to survive. Given the Dusek connection, it is highly likely that Mozart visited the villa, where it is alleged that Mozart also composed the aria “Bella mia fiamma addio” for Josefina Dusek (Prague.eu). Daniel E. Freeman states that the best evidence we have of Mozart at Bertramka at all, comes from his second son Karl Thomas, but that even he was repeating what he had heard from friends of his father’s (Daniel E. Freeman, Mozart in Prague, pg 138-39.)
Don Giovanni achieved Mozart’s immortality in Prague on 29 October 1787. Perhaps then, the Estates Theatre is Mozart’s musical address in the city.
Elizabeth Jane Timms is a freelance writer, royal historian, and journalist. She contributes to an international academic journal about royalty and also writes for magazines and the web.