Exploring Prague

Prague has always been a city with a rich cultural and musical life. Artists from all over the world were inspired by the city, lived here, created their famous pieces and met other influential figures. The city is not called the Heart of Europe for nothing. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited Prague five times altogether and his fondness for Prague and its citizens is well known and spoken of. Although the famous quote "My Praguers understand me" is probably fabricated, Lorenzo Da Ponte said:
"It is not easy to convey an adequate conception of the enthusiasm of the Bohemians for [Mozart's] music. The pieces which were admired least of all in other countries were regarded by those people as things divine; and, more wonderful still, the great beauties which other nations discovered in the music of that rare genius only after many, many performances, were perfectly appreciated by the Bohemians on the very first evening."
Those are indeed some fine words by the famous librettist of the Le nozze di Figaro. The musical taste of Prague’s citizens has been cultivated throughout the centuries. One of the important factors for such blossoming progress was the foundation of the Prague Conservatoire in 1811, which has been training professional musicians ever since. Other significant structures were built in addition to the Estates Theatre, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni had its premiere. Some of them even twice! The National Theatre, which was opened in 1881, burned down due to a devastating fire. It had to be built once again and opened for the second time in 1883. Many operatic gems of Czech origin have been premiered in this magnificent building. The Prague National Theatre was not only a leading institution within the country, but also in a European context. The memorable performance of Berg’s Wozzeck in 1926, right after the premiere in Berlin, escalated into a fantastic scandal!

What would an article about music in Prague be without the world-renowned composer Antonín Dvořák? The famous Czech artist, the son of a butcher, was a musical genius, who usually wrote the modest words “Thanks be to God” at the end of his scores. It was under his baton that the first ever concert by Czech Philharmonic Orchestra took place on January 4th, 1896. The orchestra played, among other pieces, a premiere of the orchestral version of Dvořák’s Biblical Songs. The Czech composer Karel Knittl, who later became the head of the aforementioned Prague Conservatoire, attended the concert and wrote about it to the Czech musical magazine Dalibor:
"Only an artist whose rich musical style is able to conceal the deficiencies of the language of translation, which stands in stark contrast to the modern world with its pictures and parables, can set the unchanged, unmodified text of the psalms of David to music. Dvořák’s pious mind has immersed itself in the spirit of this ancient poetry and in doing has only noticed some details at the very moment when they suited his musical setting. The result is the aforementioned dignified, calm and pious style of these songs."
Not only dignified, calm and pious things were happening in Rudolfinum during the 20th century. There was a parliament there between the First and Second World Wars and when the Communist Party came into power in 1948, the solemn Ceremonial Hall was converted into a gym for students. Today, the Rudolfinum serves its initial purpose. It is home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the finest orchestras in the world and offers rich and high quality musical content for Prague citizens. It is located not far from the Municipal and National Libraries, where the IAML 2020 congress will be held.

To see most of the concert halls and venues designed for concerts of classical music, one should visit the prestigious Prague Spring festival, which has taken place in Prague every year since 1946. Fantastic musicians, from Leonard Bernstein at the beginning of the festival to Daniel Barenboim in recent years, have performed here. Not only classical music is played during the festival and not only classical music has made history in Prague.
Although it was not easy to host international, and especially western, artists during the communist era in 1948-1989, there was a period of time in the 60s, when the rigid totalitarian regime weakened and progressive thinking, music and partnerships thrived among the people. One of the highlights of this in terms of music was a visit by Satchmo, the great jazz trumpet player and artist Louis Armstrong. He played nine concerts in the Lucerna Hall and they were all sold out of course. A few years after that, in 1968, soviet tanks came here to supress the “counterrevolution” and culture in the Czech lands faded for the coming decades.

In the turbulent years between 1989 and 1992, our country changed from a Soviet satellite into a young democracy. And, because good music is always connected with freedom, some very free spirited musicians came to Prague in those years. In 1990, there were posters all over the Prague with an unforgettable slogan: “Tanks Are Rolling Out, The Stones Are Rolling In.” Václav Havel, a writer of plays and essays and the first Czech democratic president, loved those crazy rockers and befriended them. Mick Jagger said about Havel:
“Havel is perhaps the only head of state who has made, or would imagine making, a speech about the role that rock music played in political events leading to a revolution in the Eastern Bloc of Europe. He is the one politician I am proud to have met. Lovely guy.“
After The Stones rolled out of Prague, other great musicians came to play to the freshly born democratic country. Frank Zappa had his penultimate concert in Prague in 1991. Bob Dylan played here in 1995.
The list of artists of all genres and styles, who have shared their talent with Praguers (whom Mozart liked so much) in the last 30 years of our independency would be too long for this article, maybe even a whole book. The rich cultural past is resonating throughout the city as you will experience for yourself in July 2022 at the IAML 2022 congress.

© Jiří Slabihoudek 2020
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is one of the most attractive and most visited cities in Europe. The city offers its visitors a breathtaking historical atmosphere, presenting architectural masterpieces ranging from the Roman era basilicas to the art nouveau, functionalist and cubist houses of the 20th century. We invite you to visit, among other places, the unique large complex of Prague Castle overlooking the city from one of its hills, to walk over the Charles Bridge built in the 14th century, and to wander the narrow romantic streets of the Lesser Town and Old Town. Prague will also unveil itself to you as a busy, modern Central European center of culture and business with numerous restaurants, bars, music clubs, galleries and concert halls, and, of course, friendly people.

For more information about the city please visit the following website:
City of Prague
Prague Information Service