Wednesday 19 September 2018

More than just Haydn: cultural revival at Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt

Haydn's Armida in the Haydnsaal, Schloss Esterházy at Herbst Gold 2018 (Photo Jerzy Bin)
Haydn's Armida in the Haydnsaal, Schloss Esterházy at Herbst Gold 2018 (Photo Jerzy Bin)
The town of Eisenstadt in Austria is synonymous with two names, that of the princely family of Esterházy, whose eponymous Schloss dominates the old town, and the composer Joseph Haydn who worked for the Princes Esterházy for some forty years. Now owned by a private cultural foundation, Schloss Esterházy is the centre for a remarkable revival of musical activities in the form of an annual Autumn festival and a year round concert series, exploring the music of Haydn, his contemporaries and alongside that of more recent composers.

Despite vicissitudes and the splitting of the family estates between Austria and Hungary, Schloss Esterházy remained in the custody of Prince Paul (1901-1989) who, from 1920, husbanded the family's Austrian domains (the Hungarian ones were taken in land reform in the 1950s). He died without issue and left his estates to his wife Melinda (1920-2014), a Hungarian dancer who created a series of family foundations which now own and manage the estates for cultural benefit [the princely title has passed to a distant cousin, except of course neither Austria nor Hungary now recognise such titles].

The foundations, created in 2001, have some 300 employees involved in the winery, the estates, the extensive holiday accommodation, the Burg Forchstein, Schloss Esterházy, Schloss Lackenbach and the St Margarethen Quarry in which opera is performed.

Thus, as a museum, Schloss Esterházy is relatively young and though the house does not wear its history lightly (the 20th century saw many depredations) there is a liveliness to the way things are displayed. When I went round, on a very engaging English speaking guided tour, I was impressed with the way artefacts from the collection (there are some 1 million objects in the Esterházy collections) had been used to create a display linking to the theme of this year's Herbst Gold Festival, of which more anon, with statuettes of Napoleon and manuscripts of Haydn's masses. There was also an exhibition about Melinda Esterházy whose remarkable life across the 20th century was counterpointed by a desire to see the family legacy preserved in the cultural foundation.

Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt (Photo Roland Wimmer)
Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt (Photo Roland Wimmer)

As music is so central to the Esterházy story, with Haydn at its apogee, it was perhaps logical for the Esterházy foundation to invest in music as part of its cultural legacy. Adam Fischer's Austrian-Hungarian Haydn Philharmonie is best known for its recordings of the complete Haydn symphonies. Now under a new name, the Haydn Philharmonie, a new artistic director, Nicolas Alstaedt, the orchestra has returned to Schloss Esterházy as orchestra residence for the Classic Esterházy concert series and the Herbst Gold Festival.

Under the artistic direction of Andreas Richter, these two are the foundation's way of reinforcing the musical legacy, combining the music of Haydn and his contemporaries with more contemporary music. But the cultural programme does not just involve bringing audiences to Schloss Esterházy, the foundation also wants to take the Esterházy name to the wider world, and to support young artists. So amongst other activities, it sponsors a prize at the Wigmore Hall String Quartet Competition and the winner of the prize last year, the Esme Quartet, was in residence at this year's festival.

The Schloss is where the Haydn Philharmonie plays and rehearses (they were filling it with music when I went on my tour), but the orchestra also goes on tour. And the Schloss is not without its limitations. For all its grandeur and fine acoustics, the Haydnsaal is unheated so in winter months concerts concentrate in the smaller Empiresaal.

Those familiar with Haydn's career will understand that not all of his music was written for Eisenstadt, much was used at the family's other main residence, Esterháza (now in Hungary) whilst the oratorios were given in Vienna. But the festival and concert series explore the whole range, and this year Herbst Gold has given the first in a planned series of Haydn operas in the Haydnsaal of Schloss Esterházy  [Armida this year and Orfeo ed Euridice next year]. In fact, it is known that the operas were sometimes done in Schloss Esterházy in Haydn's time, in the Haydnsaal as today.

The festival brings in a variety of influences as well as the music of Haydn, with jazz and Balkan and Roma music (which is strong in the region and was also highly influential on classical composers). And there is food, wine and literature too.

Culturally the foundation is a major force in the region (Burgenland) and the concert and festival also attract concert goers from areas closer to Eisenstadt than Vienna. Inevitably, tourists are also a big factor in the Summer months, and by creating packages with links to the countryside, wineries etc, the foundation hopes to attract people from Vienna and further for cultural tourist stays.

The theme of this year's festival was War and Peace, with artistic director Andreas Richter's approach exemplified by the opening concert which included Haydn's Military Symphony, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and Elgar's Cello Concerto (written in 1918), along with a contemporary art installation referring to peace negotiations war.

The Haydn Philharmonie at Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt for Herbst Gold 2018
The Haydn Philharmonie at Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt for Herbst Gold 2018
Eisenstadt and the Esterházys have a complex history. Until 1921 the region was, in fact, part of Hungary, whilst after World War II Prince Paul Esterházy was imprisoned by the Hungarian regime.  This year is only the second Herbst Gold Festival but the festival and the Classic Esterházy concerts seem set to develop Schloss Esterházy as a cultural destination much more than the mandatory day trip from Vienna to see where Haydn worked.

See my reviews of Haydn's Armida and Anna Prohaska & Eric Schneider's An der Front at the 2018 Herbst Gold festival. 

Herbst Gold 2019 runs from 11 to 22 September 2019 with Haydn's Orfeo ed Euridice on 19 September 2018.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Riveting and remarkable: Anna Prohaska & Eric Schneider in An der Front at Herbst Gold in Eisenstadt (★★★★★) - concert review 
  • Haydn at Eisenstadt: Armida at Herbst Gold festival Schloss Esterházy (★★★★) - Opera review
  • From Haydn and Elgar to Rap and Grime: Matthew O'Keeffe and Brixton Chamber Orchestra  - interview
  • Music, puppets & poetry: Goldfield Productions' Hansel & Gretel - a nightmare in eight scenes  - interview
  • In search of the Great American Opera, the strange case of Samuel Barber's Vanessa - feature
  • Essential Listening: Rossini's Semiramide revealed in a new complete recording from Opera Rara  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Practical & working composer: Vaughan Williams choral premieres from Royal Hospital, Chelsea  (★★★½) - CD review
  • Distracting opera for distracted times: The Second Violinist (★★★½) - Opera review
  • A journey through time and music: 12 Ensemble at the Barbican, on tour and a debut disc  - feature
  • An imaginative Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress from British Youth Opera (★★★★½)  - Opera review
  • Just what it says on the tin, an enchanting Enchanted Island from British Youth Opera  (★★★★) - opera review
  • A substantial monument: Patrick Hawes talks about The Great War Symphony - interview
  • A vivid theatrical, orchestral experience: John Eliot Gardiner's all-Berlioz prom   (★★★★½) - Concert review
  •  Home

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