Open the Door Before Music

The life of Bishop Martin of Tours was complicated enough even without the lofty embellishments of later hagiographers. A saint of the “undivided Church”, venerated by the Catholics, the Orthodox and the Anglicans alike, one of the first Confessors – witnesses of faith who somehow managed to die a natural death – Martin is also regarded as a pioneer of pacifist movements and modern humanitarianism. Contrary to Sulpicius Severus’ testimony, he did not run away from home to dedicate himself to God, nor was he forcibly dissuaded from baptism by his brute of a father or forcibly conscripted into the army.

The son of a Pannonian tribune seems to have simply missed the family calling. When he was a child, he moved with his family to Ticinum in Cisalpine Gaul – after his father had been granted veteran status as a reward for his faithful service, and with it numerous privileges as well as a large plot of land for cultivation. Indeed, Martin failed to meet the expectations of his progenitor, who named him after the Roman god of war for a reason. Not eager to fight, the ten-year-old Martin joined the ranks of the local catechumens, but was not baptised – not only out of fear of his parents, but also because the local bishop did not want to fall foul of the retired tribune and believed that one had to be mature enough in order to be initiated into Christianity. Martin became a legionary anyway, aware that as the son of a former cohort commander he did not have any other choice. According to some contemporary historians, he served in the army much longer than Sulpicius Severus claims, perhaps even as long as twenty-five years. Yet he did not turn out to be particularly good in this trade. On the eve of a battle against the Teutons, he tried to have his incentive bonus in the form of double pay exchanged for a discharge from the army. Arrested for cowardice, he faced serious consequences. He behaved like a true conscientious objector: he volunteered to go into battle at the front of the troops, defending himself only with the sign of the cross. But then a miracle happened: the enemy asked for peace.

Saint Martin dividing his cloak with a beggar. XIVth century wall painting from Skibby church, Denmark

Irrespective of whether Martin left the army as a youngster or a mature man, he was baptised shortly before returning to civilian life. He became an icon of charity thanks to a deed that ultimately determined his decision to become a Christian: when he encountered a half-naked beggar on his way to the city of Ambianum and was unable to give him alms, he cut his officer’s cloak in two and shared it with the beggar. His later life is the story of an unusual bishop of Caesarodunum (today’s Tours) who renounced the benefits of the his position in favour of living an ascetic life, preaching the faith “in the field” and ruthlessly fighting paganism. He zealously destroyed pagan idols and sacred groves, but forgave humans and took their sins upon himself. He died in missionary glory, away from his diocese. His body was ferried in secret on the rivers Vienne and Loire. A ceremonious funeral took place on 11 November 397 in Tours.

The day is celebrated as the Fest of Martin the Bishop. Strangely enough, it was on 11 November that the armistice between the Entente and the German Empire was signed in a railway carriage near Compiègne, France, ending the black night of the First World War. Even more strangely, in the early months of the conflict the London parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields was entrusted to the pacifist Dick Sheppard, who ran it like Saint Martin incarnate. Sheppard, too, had served in the army, but radically changed his views under the impact of his harrowing experiences during the Second Boer War. Shortly after the outbreak of the Great War, he volunteered, having become an Anglican pastor, to serve in a French field hospital, where he defended German soldiers from lynching by an angry mob several times. In 1915 he transformed his church into a centre providing help to all who needed it and called it the Church of the Ever Open Door. Every day he fed the homeless and put them up for the night there, cutting off any protests with one sentence: “You can’t expect to hear the truth on an empty stomach”. In 1924 he led the first ever religious service to be broadcast on the radio from St Martin-in-the-Fields. He would later boasts about letters from the faithful thanking him for the possibility of singing hymns in the company of their drinking mates in a nearby pub.

Perhaps it is the genius loci. Some years ago archaeologists discovered a burial ground beneath the church and a number of artefacts suggesting that a centre of Christian worship may have existed here already in Martin of Tours’ times – most probably built on the site of a sacred grove and demolished pagan altars. The first church of Saint Martin was built here in the thirteenth century – it was indeed located “in the fields”, outside the walls of London. Whether the monks of Westminster Abbey, who were in charge of the church, were guided by the teachings of the former legionary “who bought himself a place in heaven for a cloak”  – is hard to say. We know that in 1542 Henry VIII had a new church built on the site: to nurse and bury the victims of a mysterious plague called English sweating sickness as far away from the Royal Palace of Whitehall as possible. As an additional precaution, he had a pillory erected in front of it – as a warning for the less sick – fearing the collapse of the parish healthcare system. The brick structure of the church proved so fragile that as early as in 1710 the Parliament decided to build a new edifice, allocating for the purpose a substantial sum of 22,000 pounds.

The design of the church was entrusted to the Scottish architect James Gibbs, a discreet Catholic who skilfully smuggled into his buildings elements of the “classicising” Carlo Fontana-style Baroque, while remaining an ardent follower of the Vitruvian triad of utility, durability and beauty. As the available space was limited, his original idea of constructing an edifice with a circular floor plan was rejected. Gibbs then decided to go the whole hog with the design and came up with a solution that embodied the idea of the “undivided Church”: a building without any religious symbols on the outside, with a Corinthian portico, a Baroque spire rising from the roof and a bright interior lit by windows with no stained glass. The construction works were completed in 1726. Initially, the building generated controversy, but soon became a model of Anglican church architecture, imitated countless of times throughout the Empire.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, engraving by H.W. Bond after a drawing by Thomas H. Shepherd, 1827

In addition to the charitable work that the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields started with the local poor as early as in the eighteenth century, hiring adults to work in flax spinning and wool carding, and providing children with basic education in reading, writing and bookkeeping, the vicars of the church also made sure that services would have worthy musical settings. They hired the finest organists, beginning with John Weldon, a pupil of Henry Purcell and composer of incidental music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, staged in 1712 at the Drury Lane Theatre. In the twentieth century – thanks in part to the collaboration with the BBC started by Sheppard – the church was also transformed into a thriving concert hall. In 1959 it became the home of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, a chamber orchestra founded on the initiative of the violinist Neville Marriner, which played a key role in the British revival of historical performance of Baroque and Classical music. The Café in the Crypt has for years been welcoming jazz musicians. Less well-off music lovers can enjoy free afternoon concerts. In addition, the parish organises music education events, family events and the famous Concerts by Candlelight. Two months ago St Martin-in-the-Fields became the base of all of John Eliot Gardiner’s three ensembles: Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. The programme of the first evening at their new home featured Hector Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ.

Among this richness performances of Polish music have been sporadic and rather accidental. That is why Paweł Łukaszewski’s initiative to organise – in collaboration with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute – a festival of Polish sacred music, Joy and Devotion, at St Martin-in-the-Fields in November deserves special appreciation. Łukaszewski is an outstanding exponent of a strand of contemporary music appreciated much more in the United Kingdom than in Poland, where some critics remain sceptical about his oeuvre. Łukaszewski’s compositions fit perfectly with the British sensitivity to the sacred: perfectly constructed in terms of form, expertly exploring the possibilities and limitations of the human voice, they can appeal to the local audiences, from childhood accustomed as they are to choral music – the least expensive and most natural instrument of communal experience. The terms “anti-modernism” and “renewed tonality” do not bring to mind anything inappropriate to the Brits. The same categories of simplicity, subtle play with the past and purity of expression can be used to describe John Tavener’s oeuvre, the value of which no one questions in Poland. Maybe we are not detached enough, maybe we find “foreign” spirituality more palatable than our own, or maybe it takes truly phenomenal performers for music to speak to us fully.

Łukaszewski made sure such performers were in place and promises to attract them for the future editions of the new festival. As a composer he took a step back this time, adding just a few of his short pieces to the programme presented by the London Tenebrae Choir led by Nigel Short, a former member of the King’s Singers. The event also featured a concert by Echo, an ensemble active for four years and conducted by Sarah Latto, while the opening night featured the organist Rupert Jeffcoat and one of the UK’s most promising vocal ensembles, The Gesualdo Six – known to Polish music lovers as well – founded in 2014 by a young singer, conductor and composer, Owain Park. In addition to the oldest works of Polish vocal music, the programme of the entire event also included jewels of Polish Renaissance and Baroque, works by contemporary classics as well as pieces by representatives of the younger generation of composers, including Paweł Łukaszewski’s students.


The Gesualdo Six at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Photo: Marcin Urban

I went London to attend the inauguration – and to savour the incredible cohesion of the six quite distinct voices that make up The Gesualdo Six. Their singing is like a wise conversation, emphasising every rhetorical gesture, every rough and smooth texture, every mystery contained in the musical form. It finally revealed to me the phenomenon of Krzysztof Borek, the alleged maestro di cappella of the Cracow Rorantists. I hope that the living and the dead authors of the other compositions will forgive me: I only remember the Missa Mater Matris, a reworking of Josquin des Prés’ Missa Mater Patris – seemingly not far from the original, yet softer, more tender, full of strangely familiar harmonies. Perhaps this is what I had been missing in the few Polish performances of Borek’s works: a masterful familiarity with the style of the original and at the same time a fresh look at the work of a completely unknown composer. The ability to look into a score with the same attentiveness and emotion with which Martin – not yet a saint – once looked into the eyes of a frozen pauper on the road to Ambianum.

The Gesualdo Six shared with Borek everything they had. And they were none the worse for the experience. It is wonderful to be taught such a lesson in the church of Saint Martin in the Fields.

Translated by: Anna Kijak
Original article available at:

Święty Marcin wśród Pól

Pamiętają Państwo, dlaczego należy robić swoje? Otóż po to, żeby było na co wyjść. I tego się trzymajmy, choć widoki nasze marne. Chodzi mi ostatnio po głowie cytat z książki pewnego amerykańskiego eskapisty, który nazywał się James Branch Cabell. W Polsce mało kto o nim słyszał, a szkoda. Pewnie dlatego w polskim internecie, skąd mniej więcej połowa rodaków wciąż czerpie wszechwiedzę o wszechświecie, krąży informacja, że to aforyzm Oscara Wilde’a. Cytat brzmi „Optymista twierdzi, że żyjemy w najlepszym z możliwych światów, pesymista obawia się, że to prawda”. Tekst w poniższym linku ukazał się właśnie w „Tygodniku Powszechnym”, powstał na marginesie jednodniowego wypadu do Londynu i w założeniu miał być optymistyczny. Dziś już nie tylko się obawiam, że ten świat jest najlepszy z możliwych. Dziś sobie myślę, że ten świat jest gdzie indziej i coraz dalej od nas.

Święty Marcin wśród Pól

Diabeł, który nie powróci

Obiecałam i słowa dotrzymam. Będę robić swoje, choć w otaczającej nas podło-absurdalnej rzeczywistości przychodzi mi to z coraz większym trudem. Wkrótce relacje z Londynu i Bazylei, dalsze plany znów pod znakiem zapytania, więc na pociechę pozwolę sobie podzielić się z Państwem felietonem do miesięcznika „Teatr” – na marginesie ulubionej nie tylko przeze mnie opery. W listopadowym numerze także blok tekstów o przemocy w szkołach artystycznych, rozmowy z Małgorzatą Szczęśniak i Tomaszem Koniecznym, esej Piotra Dobrowolskiego o twórczości szwajcarskiego reżysera Milo Raua i wiele innych ciekawych rzeczy. Czytajmy, póki jeszcze się da.

Diabeł, który nie powróci

Symfonia tęsknot i oczekiwań

Wróciłam właśnie z krótkiego i bardzo owocnego wypadu do Szwajcarii, o którym za dni kilka. Jak zwykle muszę to i owo przemyśleć, co przychodzi mi z tym większym trudem, że plany na grudzień już zaczynają się komplikować. Tymczasem sięgam za pazuchę i wyciągam stamtąd krótki esej o I Symfonii Brahmsa – na marginesie koncertu NOSPR 13 marca, pod batutą Lionela Bringuiera. Może się komuś przyda.


„Nie próbujcie sobie nawet wyobrażać, co czują muzycy, słysząc za plecami stąpanie takiego olbrzyma” – tak Brahms podsumował swój kompleks Ludwiga van Beethovena, kiedy był już w pełni dojrzałym, cenionym przez krytykę kompozytorem. Onieśmielało go też mistrzostwo dorobku symfonicznego pozostałych klasyków wiedeńskich, zwłaszcza Josepha Haydna. Sam długo nie miał odwagi skomponować „prawdziwej” symfonii. Powtarzał, że nie jest dzieckiem swojej epoki, że urodził się zbyt późno, że starcie z geniuszem Beethovena to dla niego nie igraszka, lecz sprawa życia i śmierci.

Nie miał jeszcze dwudziestu lat, kiedy usłyszał od Roberta Schumanna, że w każdym jego utworze na fortepian kryje się „zawoalowana symfonia”. To Schumann odkrył w nim potencjał rasowego symfonika, to on pierwszy przeczuł, co się może wydarzyć, kiedy Brahms skieruje swą „czarodziejską różdżkę” we właściwą stronę: ku potężnym chórom i rozbudowanym składom orkiestrowym.  Robert nie doczekał spełnienia swych przepowiedni. W 1854 roku przeżył gwałtowne załamanie psychiczne. Kiedy wylądował w szpitalu po nieudanej próbie samobójczej, młody Johann zamieszkał w Düsseldorfie, żeby zaopiekować się jego żoną. Ponieważ Clarze nie wolno było odwiedzać męża, Brahms pełnił rolę posłańca między obydwojgiem. Wizyty u Schumanna poświęcał nie tylko na przekazywanie listów i wiadomości, lecz także na bardzo poważne rozmowy o muzyce.

Johannes Brahms w 1868 roku

Właśnie w tym czasie stworzył czteroczęściową kompozycję, którą właściwie można by nazwać jego symfonią „zerową” – opracował ją w wersji na dwa fortepiany, po czym rzucił w kąt, zanim zdążył się zabrać za orkiestrację. Utwór ostatecznie nie ujrzał światła dziennego. Brahms – niezadowolony z plonów własnego natchnienia, zaprzątnięty chorobą przyjaciela i zatroskany o jego żonę – przerobił pierwsze dwie części na analogiczne człony komponowanego równolegle I Koncertu fortepianowego, materiał części trzeciej wykorzystał dużo później w Niemieckim Requiem, finał uznał za całkiem bezużyteczny.

Pierwsze szkice do symfonii c-moll, która w końcu miała stać się Pierwszą Brahmsa, powstały w 1855 roku. Kompozytor wrócił do tych luźnych zapisków w drugiej połowie następnego roku, już po śmierci Roberta Schumanna. Wciąż jednak nie miał pomysłu na spójną, a zarazem wystarczająco oryginalną strukturę, w jaką mógłby ująć cisnące mu się do głowy myśli muzyczne. W końcu lat pięćdziesiątych stworzył dwie niezwykłe serenady symfoniczne – D-dur na pełną orkiestrę i A-dur na orkiestrę bez skrzypiec. Współcześni badacze zbyt łatwo ulegają pokusie nazywania ich „wprawkami” do I Symfonii: to raczej studia nad stylem klasycystycznych serenad i divertiment, ćwiczenia nie tyle z formy, ile z samej techniki pisania muzyki na duże składy instrumentalne. Więcej w nich Haydna i Mozarta niż plonów nadziei pokładanych w Brahmsie jako kontynuatorze wielkiej tradycji beethovenowskiej.

Na olśnienie Brahms musiał poczekać do roku 1868 – tak przynajmniej wynika z kartki, którą 12 września wysłał ze Szwajcarii do Clary Schumann, z okazji jej urodzin. Na kartce, oprócz życzeń, zanotował melodię z ostatniej części planowanej symfonii i opatrzył ją komentarzem: „tak dziś grał róg pasterski!”. Zanim słynny motyw rogu alpejskiego wybrzmiał przed publicznością prawykonania, upłynęło osiem kolejnych lat. Ale Brahms postanowił już wówczas, że symfonię napisze niejako od końca – że ostatecznym celem rozwichrzonej, pełnej wewnętrznych napięć narracji I Symfonii c-moll będzie Più andante z introdukcji do finału. Tam właśnie pojawi się motyw nawiązujący do zasłyszanej gdzieś w Alpach piosenki z refrenem „w górę zbocza, w głąb doliny, ślę ci tysiąc powinszowań”. I oblecze się w pamiętną szatę muzyczną: dostojnej fanfary waltorni i puzonów, płynącej nad roziskrzoną chmurą barw w smyczkach.

Każda z czterech symfonii Brahmsa ma całkiem inny charakter. Pierwszą – najburzliwszą i najbardziej dramatyczną – można nazwać symfonią oczekiwania. Brahms uwypuklił ten niezwykły nastrój we wspomnianej już czwartej części, która rozpoczyna się dwuczłonową introdukcją, od nieledwie tragicznego w wyrazie Andante po triumfalne wejście motywu rogu alpejskiego, który odtąd będzie nawracał, w coraz bardziej ekstatycznej postaci, aż po sam finał dzieła. Pomysł na wprowadzenie podobnego zabiegu w części pierwszej zakiełkował w umyśle Brahmsa po latach pracy nad utworem. W wersji z 1862 roku Symfonię otwierało „tradycyjne” Allegro, które dopiero później Brahms uzupełnił rozbudowanym, pełnym wewnętrznego niepokoju wstępem, nadając całej części formę sonatową z rozbudowaną introdukcją. Części skrajne utworu tworzą potężne ramy konstrukcyjne całości, naznaczonej wszechobecną aurą wędrówki, nieubłaganego pędu w stronę ostatecznej, zaskakująco spokojnej konkluzji.

Otto Dessoff, dyrygent prawykonania I Symfonii

Prawykonanie I Symfonii, dziecka, które Brahms nosił pod sercem przeszło dwadzieścia lat, odbyła się 4 listopada 1876 roku w Karlsruhe, pod batutą Feliksa Dessoffa. Większość krytyków – w tym wiecznie niezadowolonego konserwatystę Eduarda Hanslicka – wprawiła w niekłamany zachwyt. Hans von Bülow ogłosił narodziny pogrobowca: z dawna wyczekiwanej „X Symfonii”. Brahms docenił komplement wpływowego dyrygenta i kompozytora, przyjął go jednak z mieszanymi uczuciami. Pytany o odwołania do Piątej, a zwłaszcza Dziewiątej Beethovena, o nawiązania do późnych kwartetów mistrza i jego Missa solemnis w drugiej części Andante sostenuto, odpowiadał z nutką irytacji, że przecież „każdy osioł to słyszy”.

Na uznanie nowatorstwa I Symfonii – jej nietypowych harmonii, niezwykłego kolorytu brzmieniowego orkiestry, „ultraromantycznej” logiki narracji – przyszło poczekać jeszcze dłużej niż na jej spóźnione narodziny. Dziś łatwiej nam dostrzec odbite w tym arcydziele janusowe oblicze Brahmsa – kompozytora zapatrzonego z równą intensywnością w przeszłość i w przyszłość, który potrafił z obydwu tych spojrzeń wydestylować kipiące od emocji, zniewalające urodą muzyczne tu i teraz.

Ucieczka od wolności

Dziś nie będzie dla Państwa słów otuchy, bo sił mi zabrakło. Coraz mocniej się obawiam, że w kraju niepotrzebnych lutni pozostanie nam „jedno płakać smutnie”. Trzeba teraz żyć mądrze i rozważnie, nie próbując pojąć tego, co i tak niepojęte. Trochę o tym jest mój szkic o Fideliu dla „Tygodnika Powszechnego”: o operze, która przez dwieście lat z okładem diametralnie zmieniła swój pierwotny wydźwięk. Tym razem trochę więcej o historii, a trochę mniej o muzyce – ale wszystko na marginesie najnowszej premiery w TW-ON, której największym (i chyba niedocenionym) bohaterem jest dla mnie Lothar Koenigs, odpowiedzialny za stronę muzyczną spektaklu. Przypominam o możliwości bezpłatnego dostępu do artykułu w ramach miesięcznego limitu.

Ucieczka od wolności

Trzy funty lnu

Praktyka zen jest tak odległa od codziennych wyobrażeń Europejczyków, że czasem trudno nawet zdefiniować jej poszczególne elementy. Taki na przykład koan wcale nie jest „opowiastką opartą na paradoksie lub zawierającą jakieś szokujące stwierdzenie”. Koan sam w sobie jest metodą, szczególnym ćwiczeniem umysłu, paradoksem, który ma nas wyzwolić od uporczywych schematów myślowych. Jeden z najsłynniejszych sprowadza się do krótkiej i z pozoru absurdalnej wymiany zdań między uczniem a mistrzem. Uczeń pyta: „czym jest Budda?”. Mistrz odpowiada: „trzy funty lnu”. Rozwiązanie tej zagadki jest boleśnie proste: mistrz właśnie rozważał len. Skupiony na własnej pracy, nie mógł udzielić innej odpowiedzi. Jego myśl odzwierciedliła teraźniejszą rzeczywistość. Odważam len. Robię to, co właściwe. Budda jest moją czynnością.

Po co o tym piszę? Żeby przybliżyć Państwu metodę na ten straszny świat. Nasz przydługi europejski koan można sprowadzić do słów Wojciecha Młynarskiego. Róbmy swoje. „Bo dopóki nam się chce, drobiazgów parę się uchowa: kultura, sztuka, wolność słowa, dlatego róbmy swoje. Może to coś da?” Na abstrakcyjne pytanie „czym jest Budda?”, odpowiem jak zawsze. Operą. Zapomnianym głosem. Mądrym spektaklem. Teatralną katastrofą. Dzieckiem na granicy. Skrzywdzoną kobietą. Bezsensowną śmiercią. Zawiedzioną nadzieją na przyszłość.

A czasem też niespodziewanym w listopadzie światłem. Samotnym liściem na uśpionym drzewie. Kilkoma dniami spędzonymi w towarzystwie dobrych ludzi, dzięki którym znów nabrałam sił, żeby dalej Państwu pisać o tym, co trudne, brzydkie, piękne i podłe. Nie ma innej rzeczywistości. Swoją zatrzymałam w kilku zdjęciach, których tym razem nie opiszę. Za kilka dni znów pojawi się tu coś nowego. I może znów coś da. Róbmy swoje. Ważmy len. Innego świata nie będzie.

A New Harmony

Gregor Joseph Werner failed in health quite early – ­ his body began to give up on him just after he turned sixty. This may have been caused by overwork, for Wener performed his duties as the Kapellmeister at the Esterházy court very conscientiously. He was hired by the regent Maria Octavia – rumour has it that this happened at the instigation of her seventeen-year-old son Pál Antal – who, seven years after the premature death of her husband József, decided to rebuild the musical stature of the family.

In 1728 Werner was welcomed as a herald of a new era for the House of Esterházy. A teacher of the young prince and a prolific composer – author of more than twenty oratorios and forty masses as well as symphonies, trio sonatas and a collection of “new and very curious” orchestral suites for the twelve months of the year – Werner raised the Eisenstadt Kapelle to European heights. Faithful to the late Baroque style almost as much as to his princely patrons, never for a moment did Werner suspect that anyone would undermine his position at the Esterházy court. And then that man arrived. A youngster who was not yet thirty, two generations Werner’s junior, endowed with extraordinary personal charm and even greater talent.

His name was Joseph Haydn and he arrived in Eisenstadt thanks to the patronage of his previous employer, the Bohemian Count Karl Josef Morzin, who had been forced to disband his orchestra in Dolní Lukavice for financial reasons. Prince Pál II Antal, nearly fifty and suffering from numerous ailments, decided that it was high time to follow in his mother’s footsteps and once again open a new era in the history of the Esterházy family. Out of respect for Werner, he kept him – at least formally – in his position and in 1761 appointed Haydn vice Kapellmeister of the court. He granted both men an annual salary of four hundred gulden, but gave Haydn considerably more responsibilities. From then on Werner was to compose only religious music. The old master was unable to swallow the insult. The conflict escalated a few months later, when Pál Antal died without an heir and the title was inherited by his younger and even more musical brother Miklós József Esterházy, who immediately raised Haydn’s salary to six hundred gulden a year.

Esterháza palace in Fertőd. Photo: Zsolt Batár

Desperate, in October 1765 Werner decided to take action against his rival. He wrote a letter to His Royal Highness, politely informing him that Haydn was unable to control the musicians, was flinging money around, was not taking proper care of the instruments entrusted to him, was committing financial abuses and was an inveterate liar. There may have been something in these accusations, because the prince reprimanded his protégé, ordering him to keep the archives in order, be more active as a composer and concentrate on trios for viola, cello and baryton (the aristocrat’s favourite instrument, similar to the viol). Less than six months later Werner died. In 1766 Haydn became the court Kapellmeister, a new residence – the Esterháza, a palace described, without any exaggeration, as the Hungarian Versailles – was ceremoniously blessed in the town of Fertőd and the prince increased Haydn’s salary to eight hundred gulden a year.

It is better not to draw too rash conclusions from this story. Haydn was not only a great composer, but also an expert on human nature, a natural-born diplomat and, deep down, a righteous and good-natured man. He used the almost thirty years he worked in the service of the Esterházy princes to the advantage of both sides, strengthening the position of the aristocratic Kapelle and his own status as one of the most outstanding artists of the period. He did his job and at the same time gave in to the whims of the prince, whose love of the baryton was later replaced with a passion for opera and puppet theatre. The Kapellmeister did not hide his admiration for his frustrated predecessor Werner, arranging six introductions and fugues from his oratorios for a string quartet in 1804.

Haydn left the Esterházy court in 1790, after the death of Miklós, whose successor, Antal I, disbanded the orchestra, but granted the composer a life salary of one thousand gulden. When Johann Peter Salomon invited Haydn to England and offered him a contract to compose twelve symphonies, Haydn was a free man, bathed in enough glory to spend the last years of his life in Vienna, which he had used to hate so much.

It is also better not to succumb to the magic of the formula which emerged after the fall of the Bar Confederation and not to compare the Esterházy patronage to any of the initiatives of Polish magnates.

As an old adage would have it, Pole and Hungarian brothers be, but certainly not when it comes to artistic patronage, also because – perhaps above all – of different historical circumstances. When the founder of the family, Miklós Esterházy de Galántha, was building his position, he was doing so in a country torn between the Kingdom of Hungary, the Principality of Transylvania and lands seized by the Turks. He converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism, married twice into wealthy aristocratic Hungarian families, and in 1625 sided with Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor from the House of Habsburg. The Habsburgs rewarded the Esterházy family’s contribution to the fight against the Ottoman invasion by elevating Miklós and his son Pál to the rank of palatine of the Kingdom of Hungary. The Esterházys remained loyal to the German dynasty during the Thirty Years’ War, the Napoleonic Wars and the Hungarian Spring of the Peoples. Their actions – unlike those of many Polish magnates – were not undone by the indelible stigma of high treason. The identity of modern Hungarians was forged in the course of a somewhat anti-romantic struggle for freedom: a struggle in which the imagined welfare of the community was often put before the tangible welfare of the individual.

György Vashegyi. Photo: Pilvax

This was mentioned by the late Péter Esterházy, a descendant of one of the branches of the family and author of the novel Harmonia Caelestis, in which he intricately wove together a half-imagined history of his ancestors with a half-imagined history of Hungary. He subsequently had to add a supplement to the novel, having learned about his father Mátyás’ long collaboration with the Hungarian security services. It is worth returning to Esterházy’s book, if only in an unsuccessful attempt to understand the paradoxes that govern Hungary. I thought about it constantly during a recent visit to Budapest – as part of a trip organised for journalists by the Munich-based PR agency Ophelias Culture – to attend the first festival organised by the Haydneum, an institute recently established by the Hungarian government.

The objective of the Haydneum is to promote not Hungarian early music, but the oeuvres of composers associated with Hungary – above all, with the Esterházy court – in the Baroque, Classical and early Romantic periods. The generously funded activities of the institute are to include publishing, research as well as organisation of concerts, training courses and masterclasses – in international cooperation with distinguished specialists and representatives of the historical performance movement. The brains behind the venture is the conductor, harpsichordist and teacher György Vashegyi, founder of the Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra, and for the past four years president of the Magyar Művészeti Akadémia, or Hungarian Academy of Arts. The artistic director of the Haydneum is Benoît Dratwicki, a cellist, bassoonist and musicologist, expert on eighteenth-century French opera, artistic director of the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles and co-founder of Palazzetto Bru Zane – Centre de Musique Romantique Française in Venice.

Performers at this year’s festival included – in addition to Vashegyi’s ensembles – Les Talents Lyriques conducted by Christoph Rousset, Capella Savaria conducted by Zsolt Kalló and the Freiburger Barockorchester. I was able to make it only to the first two days of the event, which – like the whole venture – I initially approached with reserve similar to that shown by Gregor Joseph Werner to the newly appointed vice Kapellmeister of the Esterházy court. The European art circles have for years been debating Article 10 of the new Hungarian constitution of 2011, which includes a worrying provision concerning the scholarly and artistic freedom of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian Academy of Arts. According to its opponents, cultural institutions in Hungary have fallen prey to the government, becoming a tool of a new narrative managed by corrupt oligarchs, a narrative that is closed to the world, anti-liberal and anti-modernist. According to its supporters, the Hungarian state’s current cultural strategy prevents thoughtless squandering of funds on projects of slight artistic value but with a powerful propagandistic message – not to mention the fact that it effectively protects the autonomy of art against the designs of all kinds of politicos and unrealistic ideologues.

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, as in the case of the young Haydn, who did not always deliver the princely commissions as promised and sometimes abused his patron’s trust, but who managed his staff efficiently and undoubtedly knew what the composer’s craft was all about.

The co-founders and organisers of the Haydneum certainly know what the work of the newly established institution is all about: something that cannot always be said of those behind similar projects elsewhere in Europe. I had many opportunities to see evidence of their extensive knowledge combined with genuine passion: when reading the excellent programme book; during curatorial visits to the National Széchényi Library, the Museum of the History of Music and the Hungarian State Archives; and, above all, during unofficial discussions about the interpretation of works by Haydn, Werner and other artists associated with the court, about the acoustics, technical and architectural solutions of the opera theatre at Esterháza, about the need to find a compromise between a faithful reconstruction of the Fertőd palace and the needs of contemporary audiences. When talking to my Hungarian peers, I discovered that we had surprisingly similar memories of our first experiences with early music.

Christoph Rousset. Photo: Pilvax

However, something stopped them in their tracks or perhaps pushed us too far ahead. During the first concert at Müpa Budapest – featuring works by Joseph and Michael Haydn, and Johann Georg Albrechsberger – I had the impression that the performance aesthetics of the Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra were deeply rooted in the tradition of the pioneers of historical singing and playing. That their interpretations were very clever, but not experienced, that they lacked the spontaneity or even casualness of the Italians, the French and the more courageous among the Brits.

The following day we encountered a completely different world in the recently opened concert hall in a former Carmelite monastery. In Gregor Joseph Werner’s oratorio Job Les Talents Lyriques, led by Rousset, inspired the Hungarian choristers as well, making music freely yet precisely, with a perfect feeling for the composer’s late Baroque. I have the impression that with time these two worlds – listening friendly to each other for the moment – will start intermingling. Like in the Kapelle of the Esterházy princes, which attracted the best musicians from all over Europe for so many years.

After returning home I found myself right in the middle of the Polish storm, which almost blew my nightcap off my head, as it once happened to Haydn after a short visit to Vienna. I still don’t know what to think about the Hungarians’ cultural policy, but I do envy them the Haydneum idea.

Translated by: Anna Kijak

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