Re:Source – ‘Mozart in Prague’

Opus Osm

Mozart’s premiere of ‘Don Giovanni’ at the Theatre of the Estates, and many other connections, are described in ‘Mozart in Prague’

Book: Mozart in Prague
By Daniel E. Freeman

2013, Bearclaw Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
In English, 334 pages

American musicologist Dr Daniel E Freeman has repeated the service begun with his earlier book Josef Mysliveček, ‘Il Boemo’ by releasing another very helpful and authoritative volume in English, this time about Mozart’s musical, social, and financial connections to Prague.

The author says in his introduction that one of his goals was to balance the expectations of general music lovers and of musicologists, in order to appeal to the largest number of readers possible. With his meticulous scholarship, technical descriptions of some of Mozart’s music, descriptive historical sketches, excerpts from “gossipy” letters, journals, and reviews of the time, and interesting maps, prints, and photos, he has achieved his goal.

The first part of Mozart in Prague provides old information in a new way, furnishing a lively context for well-known historical facts. He gives a painless and quick history of the Czech lands starting with the 13th-century Přemyslid dynasty, explains the impact of the Thirty Years War, recounts the rise and fall of political leaders, and describes the cruel, slave-labor conditions in the Hapsburg empire’s hinterlands known as Bohemia. (This explains why many well-known composers and musicians of the time are cited still up until today as being German or Austrian, when in fact they were Czech.)

Further, readers will learn how the lack of a royal court relegated Prague as a site merely of “summer cottage” status for the powerful and wealthy (who built palaces in Prague for cheap summer or social retreats). During Mozart’s time there were some 300 such palaces in Malá Strana alone, and using Mozart in Prague readers can see where some of them still stand today.

The author also explains how the lack, for many years, of a professional theatre capable of mounting operas also led Prague to cede to Vienna and Italy its potential as a musical capital; and he touches on the historical roots for social bickering among the elite of the time concerning establishment of the National Theatre, Theatre of the Estates, and State Opera.

Mozart in Prague details Mozart’s struggles to establish himself in Vienna and elsewhere, and describes his appreciative, but rather powerless, fan base in Prague. Dr Freeman has done a great service by providing, for the first time, English translations of many original documents such as local newspaper notices of Mozart’s comings and goings in the city, including original comments on his Prague premieres, Don Giovanni and La Clemenza di Tito.

Update: Mysliveček Film
A feature film on Mozart’s Czech friend and teacher, composer Josef Mysliveček, will begin production for release in 2016, according to producer Jan Macola of the Czech, Mimesis Film company. The script, adapted from Dr Freeman’s books, is by Petr Václav.

Anyone who remembers the painful but mainly accurate Vienna funeral scene from Miloš Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus will feel Mozart has been vindicated, when reading Dr Freeman’s description of Prague’s reaction to the composer’s death. The author shows that the Bohemian musicians were devastated, organized a massive, standing-room-only memorial Mass, and even helped organize charity concerts for Mozart’s impoverished widow.

The final part of Mozart in Prague is devoted to a detailed background, analysis, and history of Mozart’s works with strong Prague connections — the two operas, The Prague Symphony, and others. Also included are surveys of the musical ‘numbers’ for the two operas, a description of Prague locations visited by Mozart that can still be seen today, a genealogy of the Přemyslids, and detailed chapter notes, bibliography, and index.

About the Author
Dr Daniel E Freeman is also the author of The Opera Theater of Count Franz Anton von Sporck in Prague (1992), Josef Mysliveček-’Il Boemo,’ (2009) and of published research on 18th-century music in Bohemia, keyboard music, and Baroque opera; and on Vivaldi, JS Bach, and Mozart. He lectures on music at the University of Minnesota and at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Where to Find the Book: Mozart in Prague is available through the Opus Osm eshop (click the black Shop tab on the top of this page); or contact editor@opusosm.com. The book is also available in Prague at Shakespeare & Sons bookstores, and at the Lobkowicz Palace bookshop at Prague Castle.

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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