The thwarted lover who took his revenge on Dvorak

The statue of Antonin Dvorak in Jan Palach Square

For many years, I've been observing a rather unusual phenomenon taking place in Prague. Very likely, there is no other city whose counsellors and citizens hold such different views regarding the erection of monuments dedicated to the nation's favourite sons and daughters.

The statue of Antonin Dvorak in Jan Palach Square
In the first place, it gives us a real pain in the neck trying to find the right place for them (or any place at all, as it often turns out) and, secondly, we can't seem to agree on whether the statues should be protected in some way against vandalism or even groups of exhausted tourists who often want to sit down on various parts of public monuments and eat their snacks. For some reason, experts from Prague's City Gallery, which is in charge of most of the Czech capital's monuments, see this behaviour as "highly unaesthetic..."

I'm sure that if the composer Antonin Dvorak had been born in any other country besides the Czech Republic, he would have been cut in stone within a year of his death and given pride of place in the centre of the capital. Our Dvorak statue is indeed in the city centre, but it took us 96 years following his death in 1904 to put him there. (Plans were made as early as 1931, and around 1957 the statue was actually completed, but no decision was made on where to erect it until the year 2000).

Now the composer stands with his back turned to everybody who passes through Jan Palach Square. He is standing on the lawn in front of the Rudolfinum, where he conducted the very first concert of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in 1896. Dvorak was unfortunate in that a much better place a few metres away in a nice, cosy park near the Vltava River, which had been originally intended for him is now occupied by the lesser-known painter Josef Manes.

And who is responsible for this situation? Many blame Zdenek Nejedly who was a Czechoslovak Minister of Culture in the period just after the Second World War. As a young man in the 1890s, Nejedly had courted Dvorak's daughter Otylka. She, however, rejected him in favour of her father's pupil, composer Josef Suk. More than 50 years later, Minister Nejedly said 'no' to the idea of installing Dvorak's statue on the intended spot. Of course, up to this day, nobody can tell with absolute certainty if his thwarted love for Dvorak's daughter was the main, or, only reason for Nejedly's decision. But one thing we know for sure is that he never liked Dvorak and always favoured Smetana at his expense... Whatever the reason, it's just one example of how Prague is not an easy place for its most famous citizens to be properly honoured!