Classical music is as integral to the Prague experience as beer, goulash or a stroll across Charles Bridge, and just as big a draw for visitors. As Mozart famously once said when explaining his symbiotic love affair with his adopted home: ‘My Praguers understand me’ (‘Meine Prager verstehen mich’). In fact, his Symphony no 38 is dedicated to the city where he first wowed audiences and where his star skyrocketed into ascendance.
Mozart was not alone in his praise for Europe’s cultural capital either. Other great composers such as Beethoven, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Liszt and Schumann also extolled its virtues and loved to play the city’s opulent concert halls. Needless to say, the musical heritage of the country once described as the conservatory of Europe does not begin and end with Mozart; it has also produced some much vaunted home-grown talent in the form of Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček. These maestros are credited with catapulting Czech music into the international arena and helping to redefine Prague as a beacon for classical music aficionados.
As you are walking the cobbled streets of the city, it is impossible to ignore the mellifluous strains of music wafting from doors and windows across the Old Town and environs of Prague Castle. The melodies serve as a perfect complement to the exquisite architecture and old-world charm of Prague and it is this irresistible marriage of pitch-perfect music and picture-perfect scenery that adds to the city’s allure and ensures it retains its mantle of Europe’s honeymoon hotspot. Yet even if Cupid’s arrow seems to have passed you by and you don’t know your cantata from your cavatina, you would be foolish not to soak up at least one classical performance while you’re here.
There are year-round performances often daily and nightly in the many concert halls and churches dotted throughout town, but it’s the balmy summer months when trade is briskest. Prague’s premier classical music venues are all celebrated centres of cultural and architectural significance and should be on everyone’s must-see list when visiting Prague.
The Rudolfinum, on the banks of the Vltava River in the Old Town is a neo-Renaissance masterpiece and home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Its main hall – named in honour of Dvořák – is famed for its incredible acoustics and regularly hosts the most prestigious musical events on the classical calendar.
Key shows to look out for include the Prague Spring International Music Festival (the Big Kahuna of Prague’s classical festival circuit), which draws not only top soloists and orchestras from around the world, but huge crowds as well. It was founded in 1946 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the end of World War II and the 50th birthday of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and, since its inception, has been a breeding ground for new talent as well as a gathering of the foremost names in the field of classical music. For its 64th year, the opening date in 2010 has been set for May 12th, but the closing date is yet to be confirmed.
If you’re arriving outside the spring months, fear not; with Dvořák’s Prague Festival in August and September, the Prague Autumn International Music Festival in September and October and the Prague Winter International Music Festival in January, you’ll still have plenty of opportunity to sample some classical culture. Running from 2 to 7 January, the Winter Festival, with the best of opera, ballet and classical music, is held in some of the most beautiful venues in the city, including the Prague State Opera, the National Theatre and the Rudolfinum. The year 2010 will be the festival’s 38th anniversary and music lovers can look forward to compositions from Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Lehar, Strauss, Smetana and Shostakovich.
The stunningly ornate Municipal House (Obecní dům) on Náměstí Republiky is the other mainstay of Prague’s classical music scene. This Art Nouveau building houses the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, which regularly plays in the awe-inspiring Smetana Hall.
Don’t forget to check out the churches too, as these also hold regular concerts: St Nicholas Church in Old Town Square, St George’s Basilica in the Prague Castle complex, Bethlehem Chapel, St Jilji Church and St Martin in the Wall Church in Old Town are all great places to catch a classical performance. Remember to bring some warm clothing with you though, as it can get a little chilly even in summer!
Tickets for any of the key festivals or concerts sell like hot cakes, so booking in advance is always advisable. You can check availability and purchase tickets online easily and securely through www.ticketstream.cz and www.ticketpro.com.
So even if you’re usually more at home pogoing at a Skinny Puppy gig and you wouldn’t know Dvořák’s New World Symphony if it poked you with a conductor’s baton, give your Doc Marten boots the night off and go discover for yourself the lifeblood running through Prague’s veins – not its beer, but its music!