Prague: A musical meander, from Beethoven to the Beatles

By Adrian Mourby

Mala Strana (the Lesser Quarter) is where Beethoven chose to stay when he visited Prague in 1796, turning his back on the fashionable Old Town, with its opera houses and concert halls. Photo / Thinkstock
Mala Strana (the Lesser Quarter) is where Beethoven chose to stay when he visited Prague in 1796, turning his back on the fashionable Old Town, with its opera houses and concert halls. Photo / Thinkstock

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 (the Old Town).

But there's plenty of music on the other side of the Charles Bridge too. Rocky Mala Strana (the 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 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, 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 Malostranske Namesti (the 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 December 5, 1791, 4000 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 (website in Czech) 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 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 facades, 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 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 on Vlasska and then the Aria Hotel 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 (a 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 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.

- INDEPENDENT

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