In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Mozart in Prague by Daniel E. Freeman
  • Allan Badley
Mozart in Prague. By Daniel E. Freeman. Minneapolis, MN: Bearclaw Publishers, 2013. [xx, 334 p. ISBN 978-0-97-942231-7. $27.95]

The Mozart mythology abounds with heroes and villains, their status all too often bestowed as a result of conjecture, circumstantial evidence, and to some extent, wishful thinking. Anecdotal evidence, often in the form of conversations recalled decades after the events they describe are alleged to have taken place, has been a rich source of many of the most vivid and engaging accounts of the composer’s life. But all too often these tales have proven on closer examination to be fabrications, even if their tenor strikes the reader as being essentially faithful to the received view many have of Mozart’s character. And so it is with cities. Salzburg is cast as a minor villain, a bully from Mozart’s youth; Vienna is demonized as fickle and undeserving of his presence within its walls; but Prague is exalted as the one city that truly understood Mozart’s genius and which in return was regarded by him with special favour. Freeman introduces this idea with a dramatic flourish in the opening pages of Mozart in Prague. The dismal story of Mozart’s sparsely attended funeral service at St. Stephen’s Cathedral on the afternoon of 6 December 1791, and his final lonely journey to a communal grave in the St. Marxer Friedhof, stands in bleak contrast to the impact the news of his death made in Prague. Eight days later a group of 120 musicians gathered to perform a Requiem Mass in Mozart’s honour. A newspaper report published the next day noted that the church could only hold 4,000 mourners and the remainder spilled out onto the square in front of the church. How Mozart came to enjoy such exalted status in Prague is the underlying subject of Freeman’s book and, as befits the leading authority on the musical culture of Prague in the late eighteenth century, he examines Mozart’s relationship with the city and its inhabitants in forensic detail. He explores the physical, cultural, and political landscape that Mozart found [End Page 240] himself in and by turns confirms, clarifies, contradicts, or condemns as fabrications the many anecdotes that are associated with the composer’s visits to Prague.

In his introduction Freeman draws attention to the paucity of scholarship on the topic of Mozart in Prague since the publication of Paul Nettl’s trailblazing Mozart und Böhmen in 1938, citing war, communist rule, and the language barrier as among the factors responsible. As was the case with Mozart und Böhmen, the great value of Freeman’s book lies in making so much vital information available for the first time in an international language, thus making it possible to consider Mozart’s musical activities in a richer context than has previously been possible.

Amidst the wealth of fascinating detail concerning the genesis of the works Mozart composed for Prague, the people he met and the places he stayed, there are larger themes that the reader is introduced to which are fundamental to understanding the society that embraced Mozart with such enthusiasm. Freeman provides an excellent if brief historical overview of Bohemia and its capital Prague which, in Mozart’s lifetime, was a seething cauldron of political unrest. A vast, huddled mass of serfs was owned by the nobility, who in turn supported the crown. The conditions endured by many serfs were appalling and the institution of robota, or forced labour, was particularly detested. Joseph II’s ‘liberation’ of the serfs (for economic as much as humanitarian reasons) replaced the hated robot with taxation which in its own way was equally repressive. He alienated at a stroke the ruling classes and many of his policies were overturned on the accession of Leopold II. This political background proves to be of enormous importance later in the book when Freeman discusses Mozart’s involvement in the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia in 1791.

Having set the national scene, Freeman narrows his focus to Prague itself, a royal capital without a king...