Mozart Timeline

Villa Bertramka

Famous villa in Prague where Mozart composed Don Giovanni

19 December 2013 Sights

Bertramka, located in what is now the Smíchov district in Prague 5, is precious to Mozart lovers because of its association with Mozart’s visits in 1787 and 1791, when he visited his friends Josefa and František Dušek at the villa and worked at composing Don Giovanni and other music. Originally a farmhouse surrounded by vineyards, Bertramka was converted into a genteel villa with a park and gardens early in the 18th century and named after one of its owners, Franz of Bertram; it was purchased by the Dušeks in 1784 and inhabited by them until František’s death in 1799. 

Mozart’s sons Carl Thomas and Franz Xaver Wolfgang both spent some years in Prague after their father’s death, and Bertramka became a second home for them. Adolf Popelka, whose father Lambert had acquired Bertramka at auction in 1838, held the memory of Mozart in some reverence. It was he who began to treat the villa as a shrine, erecting a bust of Mozart by Tomáš Seidan in the garden in 1876 and organizing a festive gathering there to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Don Giovanni’s première. After the death of Popelka’s widow in 1918 Bertramka passed to Mathilda Sliwenská, who willed it, by now in poor condition, to the Salzburg Mozarteum in 1925. 

Thus the Czech Mozart Society came into being, with the enormous task of negotiating with the Mozarteum to buy Bertramka, and raising the necessary funds. Leading members of Prague’s musical and financial communities joined this effort, which finally succeeded with the purchase of Bertramka by the Mozart Society in January 1929. In the years that followed, burdened now with heavy debt, the Czech Mozart Society worked with a sympathetic government, musicians, and other Prague citizens, to begin restoration of the house and gardens, present exhibitions and concerts, and start a publication program. During the 1980s the Mozart Society came under intensive pressure to turn over Bertramka to the city and signed a document doing so in 1986; but only three years later, as the communist government fell, its members decided to apply for restitution of all its property.

What should have been an unequivocally joyful moment–the restitution of one of Prague’s most significant cultural monuments, the villa Bertramka, to the Czech Mozart Society in 2009–was marred when it was handed back to its owners as an empty shell, stripped of its furnishings, its lighting fixtures, its exhibition including instruments and paintings as well as wall displays, part of its heating system, its kitchen cabinetry, and much else. A storage building, which had housed the Mozart Society’s archive, was found in a state of complete disrepair and providing shelter for a family of martens.

Though rather daunting, there is no doubt that this is nonetheless a rare opportunity to re-envision Bertramka as a space where Mozart’s memory can be meaningfully preserved, and as a special setting for the enjoyment of his music. It is fitting that the citizens of Prague, who since Mozart’s lifetime have been foremost among those who understand and appreciate him, should once again have the protection of this beloved part of his legacy in their hands.

Friends of Bertramka has been created by the Mozart Society of America to aid its friends and colleagues in the Czech Mozart Society in repairing both recent and long-term damage to Bertramka and restoring its museum and educational programs. To read further information and make a donation, please visit www.mozartsocietyofamerica.org/bertramka. For the latest news and updates, please join Friends of Bertramka on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bertramkafriends

By courtesy of Kathryn Libin, Mozart Society of America

Villa Bertramka in Prague

Villa Bertramka in Prague

Photo: Sherry Davis
Villa Bertramka in Prague - Lawn

Villa Bertramka in Prague - Lawn

Photo: Sherry Davis
Villa Bertramka in Prague - Mozart Bust

Villa Bertramka in Prague - Mozart Bust

Photo: Sherry Davis