On our return to Germany from Budapest we’d stayed in a small town that transported us back to the 1800s. From the horse drawn carriages, the chickens running free in the alleys, the cows herded across the cobbled streets, the piles of coal next to sunken houses, and the lack of most modern conveniences, coupled with the antiquated mode of people’s attire, made us feel out of place with our jeans and t-shirts. But now we’d left that time-displaced nodule behind us and drove our little red Jetta out into the pre-dawn mist.
Looking at the map we noticed how close we were to Kraljevec and Eisenstadt. Spontaneously we decided to visit either the birth place of Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, or go and see Schloss Esterhazy in Eisenstadt, where Haydn had lived and composed for almost forty years. We opted for Esterhazy.
The sun broke through the mist when we arrived, and the morning was spread in gold. We parked the car under a row of sturdy oaks and walked through the cast iron gates toward the baroque edifice. We passed along the colonnaded vista of court stables toward the yellow main façade with its ornate stucco-work. No one was around and we wondered if the palace was even open. As we ambled along, we imagined the pompous comings and goings of lords and ladies, dressed to the hilt in all their finery.
To our surprise the heavy doors of the main entrance were open, and we were welcomed by a portly, elderly dame, who spoke in low, slow tones. After paying our admission fee, we were ushered into an antechamber and asked to put on veldt slippers, large enough to cover our shoes. We waited a few minutes until the official 8:30 opening time, after which we were joined by a family of five. As soon as they got into their slippers, the first tour of the day got underway. I hadn’t had any coffee yet and my head was in a haze, and I wondered how much I’d get out of this tour, saddled, as we were, with a compulsory guide. Silently we shuffled and glided over the parquet floors, which, so we were told, helped keep the floors spotless and shiny.
Each room was unique in its décor, including a variety of frescoes, silk hangings, murals, busts, and other splendors. There were glass cabinets exhibiting Haydn’s wig, manuscripts, old music stands, violins and other items and accoutrements used by the maestro. The furniture, paintings, and other treasures of the Esterhazy family interested me less than the life and work of Joseph Haydn, whose biography is not as sharply nor as dramatically defined as Mozart’s or Beethoven’s, the other two giants of classicism. I was thankful that our guide let us take in the atmosphere of the place without offering excessive historic information. I moved like a somnambulant from one grand room to the next, through the Haydnsaal (famous for its exceptional acoustics), the blue and red salon, the Chinese room and many more.
When we entered the Mirror Hall, the morning sun shone through the large windows, getting caught in the chandeliers that hung from the ceiling, casting prismatic sparkles throughout the hall. The polished surface of the floor melded with the light from above and was reflected in the tall mirrors that lined the walls. The interplay of light stood in stark contrast to some of the darker rooms we’d traversed. I bathed in the sun’s warmth as it washed through the glass that allowed us to look across a wide balcony and over into a manicured lawn with stables. After explaining that it was the original reception hall of the Prince of Esterhazy, the guide led us on to the next room. But I couldn’t leave.
I remained behind and savored the warmth and light; I could almost taste it – an elixir to my waking spirit. And as I absorbed the mood of this royal room, I imagined Haydn playing his clavichord or violin close by. I pictured the distinguished guests from the courts of Europe gathered in this very place making small talk or listening attentively to the music. My envisioning brought them into focus, and gradually I began to hear fine strands of music seep through the walls, coming from the periphery. I continued to listen and the music grew and spread, carried on the wings of light, becoming defined and distinct. It was the amalgamated music of Esterhazy – trios, quartets, sonatas and symphonies, et al – filtering in from all sides. Was I tapping into the ethereal record of pieces performed and premiered by Haydn and others? Was it a composite of all the music that once filled this historic Schloss – treasured monument of the Burgenland, reaching as far back as the 13th century? Was it a sonic apparition of works created and experienced, from the kitchen to the Haydn Hall?
The warmth, light and music found its focus in that confluent moment. I wanted to laugh with joy, hearing the disembodied strains all around, the subtle cadences, the breath of dynamics, subtleties of phrasing. But, as soon as I became too aware of the otherworldly concert, the haunting and sweet sounds dissipated. My intellect got in the way and erased the harmonic fabric. The delicate, melodic filaments melted away, like dreams fading in the morning light. But I’d heard them. I’d witnessed a living recreation of Haydn’s original compositions.
I caught up and joined the others, enriched with a secret I wished to impart, but couldn’t. Some revelations are best left unspoken.
Eric G. Müller was born in Durban, South Africa, and studied literature and history at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Currently he is living in upstate New York, teaching music, drama, and English literature. He has written two novels, Rites of Rock (Adonis Press 2005) and Meet Me at the Met (Plain View Press, 2010), as well as a collection of poetry, Coffee on the Piano for You (Adonis Press, 2008). Poetry, articles and short stories have appeared in various journals, anthologies and magazines. http://www.ericgmuller.com
© 2011, Eric G. Müller