"The People of Prague Pay Homage To Me" - a tribute to Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, photo: www.nkp.cz

In this week's Arts, we visit the Mirror Chapel of Prague's Clementinum, where a new exhibition has just opened. It is part of the MOZART PRAGUE 2006 project launched this year to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the great Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The exhibition is called "The People of Prague Pay Homage to Me". Marc Niubo, a music professor and one of the organisers of the exhibition, explains why this particular title was chosen and how the exhibition - which only runs until November 26th, is different from others:

"They say that Mozart once said after the premier of Don Giovanni that the Czech people understand him very well. The quote was 'moji Prazane mi rozumeji', which means 'my people of Prague understand me' and we changed that quote a little bit for the title 'the People of Prague Pay Homage to Me'. This is certainly true."

So how are they paying homage to Mozart?

"In the beginning of the 19th century, there was a large Mozart cult and we wanted to portray how much his music was performed, what music was performed, in which way it was performed, and what the people thought about it. It's very important to note that there was no competition in Prague. Mozart did not have to worry about other composers pushing for the same position. With Don Giovanni, he had a free commission and could almost do what he wanted. The audience was probably also much warmer than in Vienna because they were much more delighted and appreciated that someone as talented as him had come to Prague."

How often was he here?

"There were three stays that were real trips to Prague. The first was at the beginning of 1787 when he was invited to see the production of the Marriage of Figaro. After this visit, which was very successful, he was commissioned to write Don Giovanni - a new opera especially for Prague. That was his second stay in the autumn of 1787; he finished the opera in Prague and produced it here. And the last time he visited Prague was in 1791 when he was asked again by the director of the Prague Opera to write a stage work opera for the coronation festival of the new emperor Leopold II, who became the Czech king. So, this is when he wrote his last opera La Clemenza di Tito. It's his last opera if we judge that the Magic Flute is a singspiel."

So what can visitors find at this exhibition?

"The exhibition is centred on the Mozart Memorial. It is a special collection that was founded in Prague in 1833 and contains mostly Mozart's music in manuscript, in contemporary copies, as well as in first prints. There are a few things which came from Mozart's family such as several letters written by Mozart, his father, mother, and his wife Constance. But there are also a few books about Mozart and librettos of his first operas."

The Mozart Memorial that you mentioned is one of the first collections of things documenting his life and work...

"Yes, it was the first collection of its kind. It was founded with the intention of promoting Mozart's music; allow for it to be studied, copied, and distributed making it more popular. It was an original and successful idea that was very important at a time when it was expensive to buy sheet music and hard to copy it."

You mentioned letters. What are some of the lines that are in them?

"The most interesting, perhaps, is one letter by Mozart that was written in 1781. What's even more interesting is that it is only part of a long letter that he wrote to his father. But as it happens, he started writing it one day, continued another day, the next week, and it took him about a month before he finished it. In it he explains why he is so delayed and he wishes his sister all the best on her name day. He also sent some music enclosed with this letter and he explains what should be done with it."