A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Papa Haydn Part 4

21 March 2014

The courtyard of the palace at Esterháza


Touring the Esterházy Palace

In Part 3 of this blog entry we traveled by train from Eisenstadt, Austria to Esterháza, Hungary, and discussed some of Haydn’s activities at the palace and some of the works that he composed there.  Now we will continue with our tour of the palace.

After my two-kilometer walk from the train stop, I stepped into the horse-shoe shaped courtyard, where only a few people were strolling about.  Not only was activity subdued, but the palace itself seemed much more reserved than the ochre eruption I had seen in pictures.  It was now a very light, pastel peach in color, with off-white accents.  The palace is being completely refurbished.

I went into the ticket office near the gate, greeted the man there in Hungarian, “Jó napot,” and asked, “Beszél angolul? [Do you speak English?]”

“Nem [No],” was the reply, but he did speak German.

So, I bought a ticket, learning that the next (and last) tour was at 4 p.m.  (It was now around 3:40.)

I was elated and thanked God that, although I had to untangle a gnarly train schedule, there was still one tour left for me!  Online information about transportation in Hungary was ambiguous, to say the least.  So, with my remaining 20 minutes, I circumambulated the Baroque palace, walking through a wooded area on the side that — I don't know if its the feeling of the ground or air, or some spiritual quality — had the sweet, pungent aroma that I remembered from the last time I was in Hungary.  The feeling was like the heady mystery of Kodaly's Galántai táncok (Dances of Galánta).  Language, culture, land, there is something uniquely rich here.  I strolled slowly and soaked it up.


The palace at Esterháza viewed from the south


At the rear of the palace are French gardens:  geometric, symmetrical, straight and diagonal intersecting paths (what in French is called a quinconce), cone-shaped shrubs alternating with spherical shrubs, everything lining up with the structural unity of the palace.  Men were working at the back of the castle, with equipment, noise, etc.  Otherwise, everything was still and vast, big enough for a royal ego.  On the east side there was even more renovation work being done, with concomitant machinery, noise, mud.  I came around to the entrance gate and entered the courtyard again.  Soon, the guide and the rest of the tour group arrived.


The garden behind the palace


Our guide's name was Monika, and taking the tour with me were a Japanese couple and their translator, who was Hungarian. Initially, Monika told me that she would be conducting the tour in Hungarian and would give me a guidebook in English to read along, but then, apparently due to the composition of our group, she decided to do it in English.  I was glad that the tour was in English — it made the long day in two countries a little easier.  Besides, Monika often interacted with me, making it a little more personal, so that when she wasn't certain of the exact English word or phrase, she would consult with me and then we would compare English and Hungarian angles on various concepts.

The Esterházy Palace, which began as a hunting lodge for Joseph Esterházy in 1720, was finished in 1776, but additions were made by Prince Nikolaus "the Magnificent" until his death in 1790 (that's when Haydn was, to his own advantage, given the boot, as the court was moved back to Eisenstadt).  Our guided tour would cover 25 of the 126 rooms in the palace.

We walked through several chinoiserie salons, containing lacquered artwork that was being restored.  The color-theme of the rooms is blue-and-white, alluding to the ceramic ware from China.  The Sala Terrana was beautifully gilded.  There was ornate Louis XV furniture, and the carved trim on the walls — still in the process of being restored by historian-artisans, was incredible.  In one room, the prince's bed-chamber, was a canopy bed that was taller than it was long.  Monica explained that in those days people did not sleep lying down, but sitting up, as they thought it was healthier — thus, beds did not have to be so long.


A Louis XV table at the palace


In another room was a clock that consisted of a vase that spins and a little cupid that points at the hour on the vase's rim.  Another room had a 'cello resting on a settee; Monika explained that no baryton, Prince Esterházy's favorite instrument, was available at the time.  Every room was full of period furniture.

 It was a convivial group, although no communication existed between the Japanese couple and anyone other than the man who translated for them, as they spoke no English.  Occasionally I would make a wry remark, and the Hungarian man would instantly smile, understanding the arcane humor.  Upstairs there was a room of Haydn memorabilia, and Monika played a recording of a Haydn string quartet.  When I asked her if she knew the opus number, she did — I forget which now, but I think it was one of Haydn’s early ones. I was simply pleased that she knew so much about Haydn’s music and that this was not just another job for her.

On the palace grounds were an opera house, a marionette theater and a hall within the palace for the orchestra to perform.  We saw this hall, still under renovation, where Haydn's Paris Symphony was premiered, as well as his six masses and Beethoven's Mass in C.

The banqueting hall upstairs was spectacular.  There is a ceiling fresco by J.B. Grundemann of Apollo's chariot, with four horses, which appears to be charging toward one wherever one stands in the room.  Medallions in each corner of the ceiling had cupids with bows and arrows.  Everything is covered with Baroque gilt or creamy white, even the ceramic stoves in each room, which are accessible from the walls by servants, so as not to disturb the prince and his guests.


The J.B. Grundemann fresco on the banqueting hall ceiling




There were also some multimedia touches, including one screen on which one of the Esterházy fireworks programs was recreated, complete with a stage-set that ended up being engulfed in flames.  (A little over-the-top, in my opinion.)  In another room were a harpsichord (Wilhelm Schwab, a Hungarian maker) and a fortepiano (“F. Piere in Wien, Schuler von Bösendorfer [F. Piere in Vienna, student of Ignaz Bösendorfer]”).


An F. Piere piano at the palace


And then, something quite curious.  On one wall were some graffiti that had been left uncovered.  Apparently, during WW II, the Russians had occupied this palace and one soldier had doodled on the wall:  he depicted two airplanes, one of which had just been shot down, its pilot suspended from a parachute, and an explosion on the ground — maybe a projection in time of what would happen to the second plane.  We all stood there marveling at the picture, perhaps longer than at any other art in the palace.  This work seemed to have immediacy for everyone, and generated much discussion.

Graffiti drawn by Russian soldiers during World War II

Graffiti (detail)


Afterward, I enjoyed talking with Monika for a while.  She lives in Sopron and has been giving guided tours at the palace for about six months.  I asked her about restaurants in the area and she mentioned Granator Etterem, just across the street from the palace.  I then asked what the name meant and she struggled, at first, saying “grenadine,” and I said, “Oh, pomegranate.”  She was surprised at the English word, and kept repeating it.  I recalled reading about this place on the Internet when she mentioned the name; I just hadn't consulted my notes yet.  I then asked about public transportation back to the train station and she said, as I had already expected, that none existed.  Oh well — I like to walk, even if today probably exceeds my 10K average.


A fountain in the courtyard of the palace


I entered the restaurant and found that I was the only human there.  Eventually a waitress emerged, and we struggled to communicate in German.  She was kind, however, and recommended some traditional Hungarian fare when I asked.  I ordered Szürkemarha Vadasan Szálve Tagombéccal for 2590 forints (beef in venison sauce with bread dumplings), and for dessert, Somloi galuska for 650 forints (an incredible topography of various spheres, made up of cake, cream, who knows what else, and drizzled with chocolate – as with most European desserts, not too sweet, but delicious).

I left the restaurant around 6:15 and it was just starting to get dark. Although my train wouldn't arrive until 7:22,  I thought it best to walk in what light there was left.  At first it was fairly quiet and peaceful, but the farther along I got, the more dogs starting barking and it began to grow dark quickly.  Then the air became thick with smoke as it was quite cold and people were using their fireplaces.  Once in a while a car with loud, menacing music would drive by.

I started to wonder, “What is this?  Dante's Inferno?  Outer darkness, billows of smoke, dogs growling.   Would I soon see a fire breathing dragon, profligates perpetually chased and mauled by ferocious dogs, and Attila the Hun trying to cross the River Phlegethon?”  (This is Attila's home turf, after all) . . . . but I eventually nudged these thoughts out of my mind:  it's way too cold for an inferno, Dante’s or otherwise.  So I trudged on.


Traveling Back to Vienna

I arrived at the Bahnhof at around 6:40 — now I had to wait until 7:22.  There was very little light outside the little house that pretended to be a train station.  The main street that connected Fertöd and Fertöszéplak only occasionally saw a car.  It was forty minutes, but it felt like two hours and it was quite cold.  At about 7 o'clock, a headlight appeared on the tracks, but when a passenger got off the train and I asked if this were the “Zug nach Wien Südbahnhof,” she said “Nein” – and then something like  “zehn Minuten [ten minutes].”  That's when my train was due, so I relaxed somewhat.

At long last, at 7:22 in fact (this is the ÖBB after all), my train came and to make sure that they really wanted to stop – because I certainly did not want to sleep in the Hungarian Puszta – I stood on the tracks for a moment and waved my hands in the beam of the headlight.  I can be dramatic once in a while.  I boarded and was happy to find that I had the entire car to myself.  The train was fast, the ride smooth and quiet, I took my shoes off and put my weary feet up, I weeded photos on my camera, wrote some notes for my journal, and generally relaxed, enjoying myself being out of the curious eyes of foreigners, looking forward to my return to civilization in Wien.  At 8:55 I arrived at the Wien Südbahnhof (technically the Südbahnhof Ostbahn — to be replaced with a new station, Wien Hauptbahnhof, by 2015), skirted the crater of construction activity, caught the Tram D, got off at the Oper, said hi to the Goethe and Schiller statues as I walked by, and reached my hotel in Vienna by around 9:30.





 This blog entry, due to its equal relevance to Austria and to Hungary, has been posted under both of those thread headings.

The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (Austria)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

Other Threads in This Blog: