A musical meander through Prague, from Beethoven to The Beatles
Scores of notable musicians have called the Czech capital home – and as the city prepares to host its Proms, Adrian Mourby explores a sonorous heritage
The Czech capital resounds to music at this time of year. With the Prague Proms starting later this month you're almost bound to bump into a Barenboim, Bartoli or Bostridge somewhere around Stare Mesto (Old Town). But there's plenty of music on the other side of the Charles Bridge too. Rocky Mala Strana (Lesser Quarter) is where Beethoven chose to stay when he visited in 1796, turning his back on the fashionable Stare Mesto, with its opera houses and concert halls.
Start your walk here in the gardens of the Wallenstein Palace (00 420 221 714 444) where the brass band of the Castle Guard often performs. In 1858, Smetana wrote a symphonic poem Wallenstein's Camp about the hubristic count who built this palace to outshine the Holy Roman Emperor. Ferdinand II riposted by having him assassinated.
Leaving the palace gardens, turn right along Letenske, past The Augustine Hotel (00 420 266 11 22 33; theaugustine.com), built on the site of the St Thomas Monastery and Brewery. Here, you can still sample its dark brew, the second oldest beer in the Czech republic (after U Fleku).
A right turn brings you quickly up to up Malostranske Namesti (Lesser Town Square). This collection of Baroque mansions and bijou palaces is dominated by the massive dome and towers of St Nicholas Church. When Mozart died on 5 December 1791, 4,000 people met here to honour the composer, who had an affinity with Prague. These days there are choir and organ concerts most evenings at 6pm. The lack of concert halls on the slopes of Mala Strana meant music colonised the churches. Opposite St Nicholas, dip into the music shop under the Lichtenstein Palace. Via Musica (00 420 257 535 568; iprovas.cz) sells CDs of Czech music and popular classics, as well as concert tickets.
Heading out of the square, up Nerudova, note house No 12 with its cartouche of three violins. This is the House at the Three Fiddles where, in 1796, Beethoven arrived to have his violin repaired by the Edlinger family. Today, it is a traditional restaurant (00 420 257 532 062; utrihouslicek.eu) and a reasonable place for a pit stop, providing you don't mind the loudspeakers belting out Eighties techno pop.
Nerudova, with its colourful Baroque façades, is one of the most picturesque streets in Mala Strana. Look out for the Italian embassy in the Thun-Hohenstein Palace with two gigantic, menacing-looking eagles over the main doorway. If you carry on up the street, it's only 500m on the left to the Premonstratensian Monastery (00 420 233 107 711; strahovskyklaster.cz) where Mozart was overheard improvising at the organ after the premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787. What he was playing was transcribed by the order's organist and is now known as Fantasia in G minor.
Taking a steep left from the top of Nerudova down Jansky Vrsek brings you past the KGB Muzeum (00 420 272 048 047; kgbmuzeum.com) on Vlasska and then the Aria Hotel (00 420 225 334 111; ariahotel.net) on Trziste with its superb composer cartoons by Josef Blecha. Each of the music-themed rooms is dedicated to a particular composer or style of music.
As Jansky Vrsek joins the main drag of Karmelitska, there's a plaque to Giovanni Punto (pioneer of horn technique). When he met Mozart in Paris in 1778, the latter wrote to his father describing Punto's playing as "magnifique!". Punto died at 2 Jansky Vrsek in 1803 and his funeral was accompanied by Mozart's Requiem.
Turning right down Karmelitska brings you to Czech Museum of Music (00 420 257 257 777; nm.cz) in an old Dominican monastery on the corner of Harantova. Currently the museum is hosting a display on the life and work of Antonin Dvorak. Walk north-east to Lazenska and, at No 25, the Palac Beethoven rears up in front of you. Today, it's an apartment block but in 1796 it was the Inn at the Golden Unicorn where the taciturn composer lodged. Here, he composed four chamber works dedicated to the Czech countess Josephine de Clary.
Turning right down Velkoprevorske Namesti towards the River Vltava brings you to the most unusual music memorial in Prague, the John Lennon Wall, with graffiti created by students after Lennon's death in 1981. Nowadays it's an evolving tribute to all music. "No Standing. Just Dancing," visitors are informed.
The Prague Proms (00 420 267 215 576; pragueproms.cz) starts on 16 June for three weeks. Highlights include Death in Opera, a collection of opera finales, and Carl Davis conducts Broadway showstoppers.
Cotto Crudo (00 420 221 426 880; cottocrudo.cz) is the new dining room at the Four Seasons Hotel.
The Museum of Alchemy (00 420 257 224 508; muzeumalchymistu.cz) is on Jansky Vrsek in a tower where the 16th-century English alchemist Edward Kelley lived.
The writer travelled with Railbookers (020-3327 2439; railbookers.com), which offers a four-night package from London to Prague: out from St Pancras via Brussels and Cologne to Prague, staying at a three-star hotel (with breakfast) and returning by air. You can fly to Prague on British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from Heathrow to Prague; Bmibaby (0905 828 2828; bmibaby.com) from Birmingham; easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) from Gatwick, Stansted and Bristol; Wizzair (0906 959 0002; wizzair.com) from Luton; and Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) from Manchester, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Leeds/Bradford.
Four Seasons Prague, Veleslavinova 1098/2a (00 420 221 427 777; fourseasons.com/prague) has double rooms from €480, including breakfast.
Czech Tourist Board: 020-7631 0427; czechtourism.com
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