The Rudolfinum is closely linked with the giant of Czech classical music – Antonín Dvořák. It houses a concert hall named after him, in which he conducted the first concert by the Czech Philharmonic performing the celebrated New World Symphony. The Rudolfinum remains the seat of the prestigious Czech orchestra till today.
The Neo-Renaissance building was built in the years 1875 to 1885 by architects Zítek (designer of the National Theatre) and Schulz (designer of the National Museum in Prague), and it represents one of the most significant buildings of its time. It is named after Crown prince Rudolf, son of Franz Josef I. In 1885, a big concert hall, which the city had been lacking, was inaugurated in the Rudolfinum. From its inception, the Rudolfinum was conceived as a multipurpose building, not only for classical music concerts, but art exhibitions as well.
During the First Republic, the Rudolfinum building served as a temporary seat of the Czechoslovak Parliament, returning to its original function during the Second World War, when it served as the seat of the German Philharmonic. The Czech audience only returned to the Dvořák Concert Hall, with its excellent acoustics and elegant ornamental decor, in 1946.
Apart from being the seat of the Czech Philharmonic, the Rudolfinum is also an important venue for festivals – the Prague Spring, Dvořák Prague Festival, and Strings of Autumn.
Attention: the programs of the Czech Philharmonic and the big festivals are independent of one another; the Dvořák Concert Hall is also regularly hired out to private firms, which organise programs for tourists, usually expensive and of varying quality.
Jiří Weil’s novel, Mendelssohn Is on the Roof, is partly set in the Rudolfinum: it takes place during the period of German occupation and symbolically deals with anti-semitism. In it, he posits that the Acting Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich gives an order to remove the statue of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy from the roof of the Rudolfinum, because the composer’s Jewish origins defile the sanctuary of German art. Two Czech workers, supervised by an SS member, set off to remove the “offensive statue”, but instead they almost destroy a sculpture of the Nazi darling, Richard Wagner, mistaking it for the statue of Mendelssohn due to Wagner’s prominent nose. Aided by a learned Jew, they realise their error, thus saving their own fate.In reality, you would be hard-pressed to find Wagner’s statue on the roof of the Rudolfinum – it never stood there.Marek, Avantgarde Prague