WRITERS AND COMPOSERS

1. Franz Kafka

Although he wrote in German and almost none of his work was published in his lifetime, Franz Kafka is Prague. Many of his disturbing novels seem to foresee the Communist years. His peripatetic wanderings across this city, brooding features and death by tuberculosis all add to the mystique.

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Franz Kafka was born in Prague

2. Gustav Meyrink

Almost completely unknown outside Austria and Germany, Gustav Meyrink is nevertheless responsible for one of Prague’s most marketable notions: the Golem. In 1915 he wrote a novel drawing upon the legend of the clay automaton (see The Golem), created then deactivated and locked in the Old-New Synagogue’s attic by the Prague rabbi Judah Loew.

3. Karel Čapek

This Czech writer is best known for his science fiction and psychologically penetrating novels. With his 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) he gave the world a word for an automaton, from the Czech word robota, meaning “forced labour”.

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Karel Čapek

4. Jaroslav Hašek

A notorious joker and the author of the celebrated satirical dig at the Austrian army, The Good Soldier Švejk (published in 1921), Hašek was also the creator of the Party for Moderate Progress Within the Bounds of the Law.

5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Prague and Vienna continue to duel over the legacy of the musical genius, with the Czechs always claiming that Mozart loved them better. The composer premiered his opera Don Giovanni in Prague’s Estates Theatre and Prague residents mourned his death in 1791. Regular Mozart concerts are held in the city.

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Mozart

6. Bedřich Smetana

The composer wrote his opera Libuše, based on the legendary princess, for the reopening of Prague’s National Theatre in 1883. Smetana vies with Antonin Dvořák for the title of best-loved Czech composer; the former’s ode to beer in The Bartered Bride gives him a certain advantage.

7. Antonín Dvořák

The works of Dvořák, such as his Slavonic Dances, regularly incorporate folk music. He composed his final New World Symphony while he was director of the National Conservatory in New York City.

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Antonín Dvořák

8. Bohumil Hrabal

The poetic author used to sit in the Old Town pub U Zlatého tygra, taking down the stories he heard there. He died falling from his hospital-room window in 1997.

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A portrait of Bohumil Hrabal

9. Václav Havel

The former Czech president was known as a playwright and philosopher before he became a civil rights activist protesting the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968 (see Prague Spring). His absurdist works and his fame helped draw international attention to the struggles of his country.

10. Milan Kundera

Czechs have a love-hate relationship with their best-known contemporary author. Since his emigration to France in 1975, Kundera has had little to do with his native country, even writing his novels in French. His works convey a philosophical comic scepticism.

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Czech-born writer Milan Kundera

TOP 10 WORKS OF ART, MUSIC AND LITERATURE

1. Slav Epic

Art Nouveau master Alfons Mucha celebrates the Czech mythic past in this cycle of 20 large canvases.

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Detail, Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic

2. The Castle

Kafka worked on this novel of social alienation while living in Prague Castle’s Golden Lane.

3. The Good Soldier Švejk

Hašek was so effective in sending up the army and the Austro-Hungarian empire that Czechs still have a hard time taking authority seriously.

4. The Trial

The protagonist Joseph K. of Kafka’s 1925 novel finds himself accused of a crime he did not commit.

5. R.U.R.

Karel Čapek’s science-fiction play is a sometimes dark study of labour relations and social structures.

6. The Grandmother

Author Božena Němcová based the narrator in her 1855 novella Babicka on her own grandmother, from whom she heard many of these stories.

7. Vltava

Smetana’s Má vlast (My homeland) is a set of six tone or symphonic poems celebrating Bohemia. The second, Vltava, follows the eponymous river’s course.

8. New World Symphony

With his ninth symphony, composed in 1893, Dvořák incorporated the style of black American folk songs.

9. Disturbing the Peace

Havel meditates on Communism and the values underlying Central Europe’s pursuit of democracy.

10. The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The novel is Kundera’s non-linear tale of love, politics and the betrayals inherent in both.

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