"The 29 October 1787 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart premiered one of his most famous operas at the Estates Theatre in Prague, it was a triumphant musical event and it brought instant recognition to its composer, who conducted the first performance himself.
Prague had never seen anything like this.
The premiere of Don Giovanni is shrouded in legend and mystery, but one thing is certain: the opening performance was originally postponed for two weeks because Mozart purposely forgot to compose the opera´s overture. It is said that he wrote it on the eve of the premiere, and that srcibes completed parts for the brass section a mere hour before the opening night..."
"In 1915, as the First World War raged and the Austro-Hungarian army looked for new sources to cover its materail needs, an increased demand for tin brought the order that one of most beautiful pipe-organs in Prague would be melted down. On the eve of confiscation, however, the majestic instrument was saved by the church´s warden, he came forth with the information that the organ was the only instrument of its kind to have been played by both Mozart and Haydn. Faced with the prospect of destroying a relic that had been used by two of their most famous countrymen, the Austrian officers backed-down and the pipe-organ was spared..."
Joseph Haydn arrived in Prague in the autumn of 1785, in order to prepare the ground for Amadeus, who was not yet known in the city. It is possible that Haydn´s mission included finding suitable sites for performances of Mozart´s work.
"During his first visit in 1787 Mozart promised his Masonic patron, Count Pachta of Rajov, that he would compose some new dance pieces for him.
As his stay lengthened, Mozart kept putting it off till the count began to lose hope, towards the end of Mozart´s stay, the count resorted to trickery.
During one of his visits Mozart was led into a chamber, where instead of finding his expected host, Mozart found a piano, some paper, ink , and a pen, as well as a note from the count. The note explained that the only way Mozart would free himslef from the chamber was by completing the promised composition. The pieces Mozart wrote was Six German Dances, which belong to the composer´s greatest compositions for dance. It is likely that the scene took place on the spot where Jan Joseph Pacht´s palace once stood..."
"The inspiration for "The Magic Flute" came from a story called Lullu, by German novelist and freemason Christopher Martin Wieland. Mozart, together with librettist Emanuel Schikaneder ( his descendent Jakub Schikaneder was a famous Prague painter in the 19th century, his paintings inspired to film in Prague the movie "Amadeus") , disguised many of the story´s Masonic motifs behind comic elements accessible to the Viennese public, making "The Magic Flute" into something of a fairy tale, a playful pastiche, with meanings that go deeper than meet the eye, and are more profound than any might guess..."
text - Jiri Kuchar - "Praha esotericka"
One of the architecturally most remarkable buildings in Prague was erected in 1876–1884. Designed by architects Josef Zítek and Josef Schulz, it was conceived as a multi-purpose cultural centre combining exhibition rooms with concert halls. This plan was carried out to perfection and Rudolfinum still fulfils its role in the 21st century.
Situated on the bank of the Vltava in the very heart of Prague, the majestic building of the Rudolfinum was conceived as a multi-purpose seat of the Muses: a home to music, an art gallery and a conservatoire. The origins of this project, which has transcended its time, bear witness to the changes in Czech nineteenth-century society. The construction effort was spearheaded neither by the aristocracy and the sovereign, nor by leading figures of the Catholic church: instead, the role of art patrons and donors was assumed by businessmen and financial institutions. Hardly any other contemporary social group could have afforded to finance the construction of such a costly and grandiose building as the Rudolfinum promised to be – and indeed still is today.
The construction of the Rudolfinum, a multi-purpose building whose concept was unique at the time, was initiated by Böhmische Sparkasse (Česká spořitelna). Founded in 1825, this savings bank was the oldest financial institution in the Kingdom of Bohemia.
The prestigious building project bore witness not only to the financial strength and potential of Böhmische Sparkasse, but also to its self-confidence, sense of corporate social responsibility and belief in the supreme role of art. The new building was to be located on the right bank of the Vltava, just opposite the Prague Castle.
An early construction effort on the site had given rise to a riding hall; this was later replaced by a prison and Brosche's chemical factory, which, in turn, gave way to a sawmill owned by the leading businessman Sir Vojtěch Lanna. Now it seemed the site would finally be used for a truly outstanding purpose.
The exceptional status of the investor and the project itself is evident from the list of illustrious names that had been asked to take part in the architectural tender: A. V. Barvitius, V. Lunch, G. Niemann, O. Thienemann, V. I. Ullmann, A. von Wiellemans, J. Zítek and J. Schulz.
The grand opening of the Rudolfinum was supposed to have taken place on 24 January 1885, but it was postponed because of the illness of Crown Prince Rudolf. The bank Böhmische Sparkasse decided to hold the opening ceremony on 7 February 1885, although Rudolf was again unable to come (he did not see the building for the first time until in April). Nonetheless, the grand opening was a major event. In the presence of the bank’s director, both architects, and Prague’s notables, the guests viewed the newly opened Old Masters Picture Gallery and the halls of the Museum of Industrial Arts, and the climax of the celebration was a gala concert. The first work played there was Ludwig van Beethoven’s overture The Consecration of the House.
The Czech press welcomed the opening of this magnificent temple of culture, completed only shortly after the National Theatre. The only complaints of the journalists were that few Czech artists took part in the grand opening, and few Czech compositions were heard. Nationalistic disputes over the Rudolfinum came to a head in 1891 with the competition for decorating still blank areas on the walls of the Ceremony Hall. Important Czech-speaking painters were offended that they had not been the only persons approached by the bank Böhmische Sparkasse and also that too many professors from the Vienna Academy were sitting on the jury. For this reason, they refused to enter the competition. In the end, three of the fourteen submitted designs were selected as winners, but they were never realized. For this reason, these areas of the walls still contain no artistic décor.
After its opening, the Rudolfinum became the home of the Picture Gallery (established by the Society of the Patriotic Friends of the Arts, the forerunner of the National Gallery), the Conservatory of Music (with the backing of the Association for the Promotion of Music in Bohemia), and the Museum of Industrial Arts (established by the Chamber of Trade and Commerce). The bank Böhmische Sparkasse signed contracts with all three institutions for the use of the building free of charge, as long as such use would fulfill its original purpose, namely, support for the arts. For this reason, the Association of Fine Arts also held exhibitions in the building every year, supplemented occasionally by exhibitions given by exclusively German-language arts associations.
On Saturday, 4 January 1896, Rudolfinum witnessed the inaugural concert of the Czech Philharmonic which forever linked the orchestra’s beginnings with one of the most famous Czech composers. Antonín Dvořák ascended the stage to conduct his own works: Slavonic Rhapsody No. 3 in A Flat Major, the world premiere of his Biblical songs No. 1 to 5, his Othello Overture and also the already world-famous Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”. The concert hall that saw the performance, now the home stage of our leading orchestra, bears Dvořák’s name today.
The well-known quotation says that in times of war the Muses fall silent. In the Rudolfinum, however, the Muses fell silent once again after the war when, in 1918, the newly-created Czechoslovak state started looking for a worthy home for its parliamentary chamber. The building was adapted for its new purpose in several stages between 1919 and 1932. The alterations were supervised mostly by architects Václav Roštlapil and Rudolf Kříženecký and involved substantial changes of both function and appearance, especially in the interior.
During the first phase, the stage was brought level with the concert hall floor; the organ was removed shortly afterwards. The loggias, galleries and lounges were also adapted. Connecting the north and east parts of the building together with construction changes in the lobby facilitated communication between the various parliamentary premises. To create rooms that could be used for the meetings of parliamentary clubs and for the newly founded canteen, the builders had to lower the ceilings and partition the halls in the gallery wing of the Rudolfinum.
The rehabilitation of the Rudolfinum as an arts centre began, somewhat paradoxically, during the Second World War. The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was not an autonomous political entity so there was no longer any need to house the nation’s supreme legislative and political body. Although not all of the original plans were implemented, the alterations made between 1940 and 1942 brought the building back to its original use, if only for the German Philharmonic, active in Bohemia until 1945.
Architects Bohumír Kozák and Antonín Engel, the latter a student of Josef Zítek, restored the original function and decoration of the concert stage and auditorium, but also tried to improve the hall’s acoustics, which had been criticised ever since the beginning of concert activities in the building. They also made an important creative contribution by adding another small concert hall on the ground floor, the present-day Suk Hall, whose design and decoration correspond with the original design of the Rudolfinum interiors.
The history of the Rudolfinum under the Nazi occupation is connected with the last finished novel of Jiří Weil, a Czech author, literary critic and journalist. A deeply symbolic story, Weil’s Mendelssohn Is on the Roof begins with an order of the acting Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich to remove the statue of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy from the Rudolfinum parapet, since the composer’s Jewishness allegedly taints the shrine of German art.
Two Czech workers, supervised by a Schutzstaffel member, are sent up to remove the “enemy statue”, but barely escape demolishing the statue of the Nazi idol Richard Wagner, misled by his prominent nose. With the help of a learned Jew they discover their mistake just in time to avoid a tragic fate – while below them Heydrich himself watches a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni as the stone statue of the Commendatore drags the rake into hell.
In 1946 the Czech Philharmonic returned to the Rudolfinum and, until a major reconstruction in the 1990s, shared it with the Academy of Performing Arts and the Prague Conservatoire. While the southern part of the Rudolfinum continued to serve as a venue for concerts and other music performances, the northern part had to get used to a quite different form of “art”.
To accommodate the requirements of the secondary school curriculum, the Ceremony Hall was converted into a gym for conservatoire students. The majestic space of the hall resounded with the thumping of table tennis balls and the shouted instructions of P. E. teachers rather than sophisticated art discussions. In the late 1980s the Ceremony Hall almost fell victim to plans for the demolition of the central staircase and the construction of another concert hall. Fortunately, these came to nothing and the hall was preserved in its original appearance.
With the designation of the Rudolfinum as a cultural monument in 1989 it became quite clear that the whole building was in urgent need of reconstruction. It also needed new technical equipment, air conditioning, security systems, a gas boiler room etc. The reconstruction, which took place between 1990 and 1992, was entrusted to a team of architects led by Karel Prager. Their task was to carry out the required work while respecting as much as possible the original design by Josef Zítek and Josef Schulz.
After its reopening in 1992, the whole building was once again dedicated to the service of the arts, to which it had been consecrated from the start. The Czech Philharmonic is currently its main resident institution; the reconstructed exhibition premises in the northern part serve the Rudolfinum Gallery.
The historical building of the National Theatre, constructed in 1883, is generally considered the prime stage in the CzechRepublic. It is the flagship of the National Theatre institution, today amounting to five buildings and encompassing four companies. You can see there Opera, Drama and Ballet performances.
The National Theatre is the embodiment of the will of the Czech nation for a national identity and independence. Collections of money among the broad mass of the people facilitated its construction and hence the ceremonial laying of its foundation stone on 16 May 1868 was tantamount a nationwide political manifestation.
The idea of building a stately edifice to serve as a theatre was first mooted in the autumn of 1844 at meetings of patriots in Prague. It began to materialise through a request for “the privilege of constructing, furnishing, maintaining and managing” an independent Czech theatre, which was submitted to the Provincial Committee of the Czech Assembly by František Palacký on 29 January 1845. The privilege was granted in April 1845. Yet it was not until six years later – in April 1851 – that the Society for the Establishment of a Czech National Theatre in Prague (founded in the meantime) made its first public appeal to start collections. A year later the proceeds of the first collections allowed for the purchase of land belonging to a former salt works with the area of less than 28 acres, which predetermined the magnificent location of the theatre on the bank of the river Vltava facing the panorama of Prague Castle, yet at the same time the cramped area and trapezoidal shape posed challenging problems for the building’s designers.
The era of Bach’s absolutism brought to a halt preparations for the construction and gave rise to the concept of a modest provisional building, which was duly erected on the south side of the land according to the plans of the architect Ignac Ullmann and opened on 18 November 1862. The Provisional Theatre building subsequently became a constituent part of the final version of the National Theatre – its external cladding is still visible in the elevated section of the rear part of the building and the interior layout was only effaced during the latest reconstruction of the National Theatre (between 1977 and 1983).
Concurrently with the implementation of this minimal programme asserted by F. L. Rieger and the Provincial Committee, the young progressive advocates of the original ambitious concept of the building (Sladkovský, Tyrš, Neruda, Hálek) went on the offensive. In 1865 they attained leading positions in the Society and asked a 33-year-old professor of civil engineering at the Prague Technical College, the architect Josef Zítek, to draft a design for the National Theatre. He then won a later-invited tender and in 1867 construction works began. On 16 May 1868 the foundation stones were laid, and by November the foundations themselves were complete. In 1875 the new building reached its full height and in 1877 the theatre was roofed over. From 1873 there were ongoing competitions for the interior decoration of the building, whose scenario had been elaborated by a special commission headed by Sladkovský: the themes were, on the one hand, classical, in the spirit of the Neo Renaissance concept, while on the other they were inspired by the contemporary enthusiasm for Slavonic mythology and the stories of the Manuscripts – both these concepts, based on Mánes-style painting and connected with contemporary Romantic landscape painting (also thematically linked to Czech history), provided the fundamental conceptual base for the artistic expression which today is designated as the art of the National Theatre Generation.
The National Theatre opened on 11 June 1881 to honour the visit of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. It staged another 11 performances before the building was closed down to enable the completion of the finishing touches. While the work was under way, a fire broke out on 12 August 1881 which destroyed the copper dome, the auditorium and stage of the theatre. The fire was considered a national disaster and induced an immense resolve for new collections: within 47 days a million gulden had been collected. This national enthusiasm, however, was in marked contrast to the behind-the-scenes battles that raged following the catastrophe. The architect Josef Zítek was pushed aside and his pupil Josef Schulz was summoned to work on the reconstruction. He was the one to insist on the extension of the building to include a lodging house owned by Dr Polák that was situated behind the building of the Provisional Theatre. He made this building a part of the National Theatre and also changed the layout of the auditorium somewhat in order to improve visibility. He respected with the utmost sensitivity the style of Zítek’s building and managed to merge three buildings by different architects to form an absolute unity of style.
The National Theatre was inaugurated on 18 November 1883 with a performance of Smetana’s festive opera Libuše, specially composed for this occasion. The building, in technical terms perfectly equipped (electric lighting, a steel stage structure), served without any major modifications for almost one hundred years. It was only on 1 April 1977, following a performance of Jirásek’s Lantern, that the theatre was closed down for six years. The architect Zdeněk Vávra was appointed to take charge of the overall reconstruction. This extensive redevelopment, combined with finishing works on the entire surroundings of the theatre, was completed to meet a binding deadline, the date marking the 100th anniversary of the opening of the National Theatre: 18 November 1983. On that day the historical building opened again to the public with a performance of Smetana’s Libuše. At the present time, this beautiful and historically extremely important building, together with the modern operational building, which also includes the main box office, is the main stage of the three artistic ensembles of the National Theatre: the Drama, Opera and Ballet.
The entire nation collected money for the National Theatre. When looking into period documents, we realise the truly toilsome endeavour preceding these collections. Let us strive for a sober analysis, one devoid of folkloric sentiment, focused on highlighting the facts. It is true that the so-called kreutzer and gulden collections were a large source of income. However, a number of other sources existed besides them. All receipts and expenditures were meticulously recorded in the account books – one for Prague, one for other Czech municipalities and one for places beyond the Czech lands. The collection for the National Theatre was not the only one at the time; finance was also gathered for other purposes, for example, the completion of St Vitus Cathedral. The enthusiasm and self-sacrifice were immense and hence it comes as no surprise that during the 30 years in question the flow of money varied significantly, depending on the economic and political situation. For instance, the situation was negatively affected by Bach’s absolutism in the second half of the 1850s and the crash on the Vienna stock exchange in 1873. The accounting and period materials reveal plenty of interesting things. For example, even before the official announcement of the collections the first contributions had arrived from Polička and Litomyšl. Significant sums were donated by the nobility (Prince Lobkowitz: 6,000 gulden, one of the largest donations by a single individual; the Count of Chotkov’s family: over 4,500; Count Kolowrat-Krakowsky: 4,000; the Schwarzenbegs, Kinskys, Černíns, Nostitzes, Harrachs...), with the bourgeoisie, scientists, artists (Ringhoffer, Rott, Palacký, Rieger, J. R. Vilímek...) not lagging far behind. Money arrived from Moravia and Slovakia, as well as from Krakow, Graz, Lvov, and even Cambridge. Grains of washed gold worth one ducat came from California. Worthy of mention too are monies acquired through purchase of gifts, some of them rather quaint from today’s point of view (Mr Hostivít Hušek from Kutná Hora donated for sale 60 copies of "Instructions for dealing with pests on mangel-wurzel"). In the autumn of 1866 the construction designs were put on display at the Old Town Hall. The exhibition was visited by Emperor Franz Joseph II, who on this occasion donated his first personal contribution, amounting to 5,000 gulden, and later on added another 13,000. Photographs of the plans went on sale, the Provincial Committee of the Kingdom of Bohemia released 14,700 gulden, Czech female patriots held a jumble sale on Žofín island (which brought in almost 6,000 gulden). The 1877 Great National Lottery yielded another 238,000. House-to-house, municipal and club collections, informal meetings, balls, trips, auctions were organised too. To give a better picture – the annual salary of a clerk at the time was about 300 gulden, the daily wage of a mason about 1 gulden, 3 kreutzer. Nor did the funds dry up after the fire. Besides the settlement of insurance and a voluntary contribution from the insurance company, interest and other earnings, 634,000 gulden arrived from Bohemia (of which 223,000 from Prague and its suburbs alone), 50,000 from Moravia and Silesia, over 17,000 from other provinces of Austria-Hungary, 26,000 from the imperial family and 16,600 from abroad (including America, Asia and even Africa). It is also necessary to mention material building aid and handicraft works provided both by individuals and companies free of charge. Total incomes from 21 August 1850 to 30 June 1884 were 3,204,129 gulden, total expenditures, including taxes and fees, 3,204,129 gulden. Everything was recorded in detail and accounted.
A number of minor and major myths, legends and interesting stories are connected with the National Theatre. For example, it is said (and written) that in 1868 a cask containing the holy water with which St Cyril baptised the Slavs was walled into the foundation stones. Another matter of interest can also be read in period documents. The first donors during the public collections included Otylka, a little girl from Vienna (she and her little brothers gave a gulden each). Her name also appeared years later during other benefit projects aimed at supporting the Theatre’s construction which she organised throughout the countryside, sending the yields on to Prague. Later on, her name would become famous on the stage of the National Theatre - Otýlie Sklenářová-Malá. Some interesting stories, both documented and undocumented, date from recent times. For instance, a story is told at the Theatre that during the latest reconstruction in the 1980s the actor Josef Kemr, with the assistance of workers, climbed up above the stage and screwed in three golden screws with the engraved names of his wife Eva Fousková, his colleague Rudolf Hrušínský and himself.
Our popular tours are outlined on our web sites: