The names of Mozart and Prague will be forever linked by the most famous work that he wrote for Prague, his opera Don Giovanni. Mozart, Don Giovanni’s musical father, wrote the monumental opera in 1787. Composed with a Prague audience specifically in mind, Mozart is reputed to have remarked “my Praguers understand me” – something borne out by the way that he was welcomed in the capital as the composer of Figaro, as well as by the rapturous response with which the people of Prague received the opera. Mozart’s music seemed indeed to be peculiarly suited to the Czech musical heart and while not his artistic domicile of Vienna, Prague nevertheless seemed to offer for Mozart that crucial sense of affirmation and acceptance which was lacking back in his home city. Mozart has left undoubted traces behind him – the musically curious visitor can follow the composer’s footsteps to the Estates Theatre for example, where the premiere of Don Giovanni took place, with Mozart conducting himself from the piano, on 29 October 1787. The opera, Don Giovanni, is then Mozart’s greatest footprint in Prague, along with the ‘Prague’ Symphony No. 38, which premiered in Prague during Mozart’s first visit of 1787. And these are lasting footprints – most certainly, they are his most significant legacy to the city.
But Mozart had been to Bohemia before – he was friends with the Czech composer Josef Mysliveček, whom he had met earlier in Bologna and whose compositions may have been influential in Wolfgang’s own work. Mozart travelled as a six-year old to Vienna, to meet the Empress Maria Theresia, at the imperial summer palace of Schönbrunn. Maria Theresia had been crowned as Queen of Bohemia in Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral on 12 May 1743 and Mozart’s later work, La Clemenza di Tito, set to an Italian libretto by Caterino Mazzolà, was commissioned to mark the occasion of the coronation of Maria Theresia’s son, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, as King of Bohemia.
In September 1767, exactly twenty years before Don Giovanni, Mozart left for Vienna, accompanied by his sister Maria Anna Mozart, “Nannerl” and his parents, for the wedding of Archduchess Josepha to Ferdinand IV of Naples; the wedding festivities were brutally interrupted by an outbreak of smallpox in Vienna, which tragically resulted in the death of the young Archduchess. As a result, Leopold Mozart took the family to Moravia on 23 October, arriving in modern Brno, where at the Schrattenbach Palais the Mozarts visited František Antonín Schrattenbach, brother of the Salzburg Prince-Archbishop, in whose service Leopold Mozart was engaged as Deputy Kapellmeister and to whom Wolfgang would be appointed as the third concertmaster in 1769. The Schrattenbach Palais still stands on Koblizná Street and is today the seat of the KJM central library. It was František Antonín Schrattenbach who helped organise the concert given by Wolfgang and “Nannerl” Mozart in Brno when the family returned to the city from Olomouc on Christmas Eve, 1767. A memorial plaque designed by J. T Fischer commemorates Mozart visit to the Schrattenbach Palais, which was unveiled in 1956 to mark the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. The performance of the Mozart children for the Regional Administrator of Brno took place in the surviving baroque Reduta Theatre and would appear to have been on the harpsichord, according to reports. Today this performance is commemorated by a sculpture of the child Wolfgang alone, in the guise of a winged cherub is in front of the theatre, by the sculptor Kurt Gebauer. The Reduta Theatre’s Mozart Hall is also named after him.
Olomouc has a rich childhood connection with the young Mozart. The Mozarts continued there from Brno because Leopold Mozart felt that they should continue there and delay the planned performance in Brno. The family first stayed at the Black Eagle, in a “bad, damp room”. It was there on 26 October that Wolfgang’s smallpox symptoms first began to emerge. He was wrapped in furs and given black powder as a purgative and margrave powder to address the fever. Leopold visited Count von Podstatsky, who offered lodgings to the Mozarts and sent his doctor to call on them, Joseph Wolff. Wolfgang was taken by carriage to the Cathedral Deanery. The chaplain, Johann Leopold Hay von Fulnek, visited the sick Wolfgang. It is possible that Wolfgang composed his Symphony No. 6 in F Major, during this time. A plaque near the Cathedral at Václavské Náměstí 4 records that Mozart convalesced here from 28 October – 23 November 1767. Another plaque in Olomouc with the reliefs of Leopold Mozart and Wolfgang is at the former site of the former Black Eagle – the Hauenschild Palace on Dolní Náměstí Square – commemorating where the Mozarts’ stay. It was designed by Vojtěch Směšný and unveiled in 2001. The Mozarts stayed at Olomouc until 23 December, leaving for Brno. They did not arrive back in Vienna until 10 January 1768.
The town of Caslav, some 70 kilometres east of Prague was also a place where Mozart stayed. Tradition claims that he stayed at an inn called the ‘Black Eagle’ (U Černého Orla); today a plaque which has an inscription by none other than Amadeus director, Miloš Forman, commemorates the composer having stopped here on 9 April 1789, on the site where the Inn stood. Interestingly, the most famous image today of Mozart, painted posthumously in 1819, was made by the portrait painter Barbara Krafft; who was herself born in the Czech town of Jihlava, on the old border between Moravia and Bohemia, in the region of Vysočina. A statue of Mozart is also at Templice.
Equally fascinating, however, is also the fact that the tomb of Mozart’s younger surviving son, the composer and pianist Franz Xaver Mozart, is at Karlovy Vary. Perhaps most poignantly, the tomb reads ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’, because as the inscription explains, “May the name of his father be his epitaph, as his veneration for him was the essence of his life”.
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.