Enjoying the Prague Castle Complex shortly before visiting Lobkowicz Palace. Since today is June 1st and it was the beginning of June...

A Brush with Mozart's Royal Patrons

Enjoying the Prague Castle Complex shortly before visiting Lobkowicz Palace.

Since today is June 1st and it was the beginning of June that I arrived in Prague on my third and most recent trip to the Czech Capital, I thought I'd share a delightful memory! I had received a scholarship from the Mozart Society of America (MSA) to attend their joint conference with the Society of Eighteenth-Century Music (SECM). The Czech Mozart Society was the host organization. "Mozart in Prague" was the first international conference held on the subject of Mozart and his relationship with Bohemia, its artists, patrons and audiences. It also addressed Mozart's contemporaries within context of 18th-Century Bohemian culture.

Over the course of nearly five days, we explored a variety of topics in six scholarly sessions housed in beautiful historical locations both in and outside the city. We visited important public and private museum collections, great churches and monasteries, the Estates Theatre, where Mozart directed the premieres of Don Giovanni and La Clemenza di Tito, and the Villa Bertramka, where he resided as a guest of the Duscheks in 1787. It was all arranged by MSA President Dr. Kathryn Libin, who had been spent a great deal of time conducting research in Prague.

I took this photo of the 17th Century Baroque concert hall before the afternoon concert.

As befitting Mozart and his 18th Century world, the conference was anything but modest. A visit to the 16th Century Lobkowicz Palace was one of the first activities on our itinerary. We were to tour the exhibition and its "Beethoven Room." Being one of the oldest Bohemian noble families with a collection spanning six centuries of European art and music patronage, the House of Lobkowicz has one of the grandest private collections in Europe. Among the notable musical manuscripts we saw that day included original scores and manuscripts by Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and Gluck, including Beethoven’s 4th and 5th symphonies and Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s "Messiah" which I never thought I’d see in person. Watch this fantastic video series discussing Handel's original work and Mozart's "Der Messias" (K. 572).

The oratorio was written by Handel in 1741 and Mozart later arranged it to reflect contemporary Viennese taste in March 1789 which included a fuller orchestration. The original English text was also translated into German. Listen to "Uns ist zum Heil ein Kind geboren" ("For Unto Us a Child is Born") from Mozart's arrangement.

I was swept away by the whole experience, by the grandeur of the palace, the family’s history and portraits, the magnificent artifacts and paintings by great artists like Cranach. I'd visited many royal castles and residences before in my travels, but I'd never seen an art or music collection of such breadth. Since we were given time to wander independently, I became entirely immersed in my own world of discovery. I spent a great deal of time just beholding Mozart’s autographed score. 

Then, quite unexpectedly, before I knew what was going on, or what year it was, the current local ruling heads of this ancient noble family appeared. It was Prince William and Princess Alexandra Lobkowicz. Spending the afternoon revering a family who seemed almost God-like in their patronage of a "Who’s Who" of great European artists, it was a drastic break from that dreamy haze when we were met by living descendants. 

Prince William Lobkowicz and his family in Vanity Fair Magazine. July 2010. Getty Images.

I immediately panicked about royal etiquette. Should I address them as HRH? Should I curtsy? It soon became clear that this was a more informal affair. They were all smiles, gracious and friendly as they welcomed us with their American accents. I later discovered that the Prince was born in the U.S. and attended Harvard. In 1989, he moved to Prague to claim his family's heritage and has since focused on the restoration and maintenance of the properties now under his ownership. Watch a video featuring Prince William's introduction to the palace. 

Dr. Libin had been working extensively on their music collections, so they were aware of our scholarly meanderings and stopped by especially to meet us. The Prince and Princess were warm and sincere, making themselves and their history accessible. They were inquisitive and wanted to know what we enjoyed most in the exhibition. We found that they were just as passionate about the music and the preservation of artifacts. It was a beautiful exchange between royalty and commoners. Mozartians were we all! 

Afterwards, I attended one of their daily mid-day concerts in the palace’s stunning 17th Century Baroque concert hall and went to the terrace cafe. Although I don't have a photo of my royal encounter, I only have to glance at other photos from my visit and listen to Mozart's "Der Messias" to be transported to the memory of that splendid day! 

Sherry

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