The Prague Rudolfinum

The grounds of the Rudolfinum on the Old Town side of the riverbank have not always looked so grand. Previously the site had been a nitrate bed, a riding school, a prison and a saw mill before construction started on the current building in 1875.

prague rudolfinum in sunshine with blue sky
Rudolfinum, home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

50 years earlier a bank called “Bohemiche Sparkasse” had opened in 1825 and by 1875 was the largest financial institution in the country. Using the new “corporate social responsibility” belief combined with an elevation of art to a higher level, it drives the design of a multi-purpose arts and cultural centre to be named Rudolfinum after the son of Emperor Franz Joseph, Arch Duke Rudolf d’Este.

When the Rudolfinum opened in 1885 there was a bit of a spat as the majority of the attendees were German or spoke German and it seemed that Czechs were being marginalised. This was almost certainly the case as the Czech Reformist movement was beginning to gather pace and strength during this time.

The Rudolfinum was built to accommodate two specific functions. The largest concert hall of it’s time (the Dvorak Hall) and art galleries. In 1896 it hosted the first performance of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (under the direction of Antonin Dvorak himself) and is the home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra to this day.

Post-independence, in 1932 the Dvorak Hall was converted to host the Czech Parliament Assembly of Deputies but it’s converted back into a concert hall during the German occupation. Post-war the Rudolfinum was internally redesigned and a second smaller concert hall (the Suk Hall) was added on the ground floor. Post-war also saw the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra share the Rudolfinum with the Prague Academy of Performing Arts and the Prague Conservatoire which required further internal design changes. The last renovation was between 1989 and 1992 when the building was returned largely to the original 1875 design.

The Rudolfinum is one of the main venues during the Prague Spring International Music Festival and the story is included in my Prague Old Town and Jewish Quarter Walking Tour. Or check Classical Music in the Dvorak Hall for events at this venue.

Note that the square in front of the building is now called the Square of Jan Palach but in the Communist era was known as the Square of Red Army Soldiers (read the Ivan Goncarenko post to find out why) and in the second world war had been called Mozartplatz.