When it comes to music, people in Hungary think European

Bat times people think big in Hungary. Then one tries to deal with the collective tragedies of the country even for individual mishaps in everyday life, quotes Mohács, the small patch in the south of Hungary where the Ottomans invaded in 1526 and established their illegitimate rule. Or one recalls Trianon, where treaties were concluded in 1920 that created a new state reality that was associated with great territorial losses for Hungary. The writer Péter Esterházy also thought big when he called his family chronicle “Harmonia Caelestis”; not without a slight irony, which got stuck in his throat shortly before completion of the work when he learned of his father’s involvement in the machinations of the Hungarian secret police and was forced to give the Chronicle an “improved edition” with excerpts from currently available agent reports to attach.

At the Haydneum Festival, which now took place over four days in Budapest and in Esterháza Palace near Fertőd, not far from Lake Neusiedl, one was involuntarily reminded of the tradition of great thoughts in Hungary. Because with the name Joseph Haydn, heavenly harmonies and the glorious times of the Habsburg monarchy are associated with that loyal noble family of the Esterházys, in whose service the composer worked for thirty years. The cultural initiative is by no means intended to be just another music festival among many in the music city of Budapest. Haydneum is conceived as a national project with appropriate state support: as a center for early music with annual concerts, an archive, a research and educational facility, scientific publications and sound recordings; at the same time integrated into a network of already existing cultural institutions.

As the initiator of the center, the intrepid conductor and president of the Hungarian Academy of Arts, György Vashegyi, must have paraphrased a sentence from Péter Esterházy that was provocative for ideologists: “The writer should not think in terms of people and nation, but in terms of subject and predicate.” Senses, he has now invited specialists for early music from Germany and France for the first music festival, knowing full well that what is considered to be the subject and predicate of historically informed performance practice, the Hungarian early music movement, to which he himself gave important impulses, still has some catching up to do, although the Capella Savaria, with luminaries such as Nicholas McGegan, once belonged to the pioneers of historical performance practice east of the Iron Curtain in the 1980s.


Christophe Rousset (right) is rehearsing for the opening of the Haydneum.
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Image: Willow wax

So now no Hungarian was hired as artistic director for the Haydneum, but the French musicologist Benoît Dratwicki, who also heads the Center de Musique Baroque Versailles and who is one of the most respected experts in music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. After all, the Haydneum does not only want to rediscover or revive Hungarian music, but rather music that was performed in Hungary and at the court of Prince Esterházy, where not only Haydn’s works were heard at the time, but also contemporary music, regardless of the origin of the composers ; truly a European-style idea.

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