Anecdotes in Eszterháza
When Maria Theresa visited Nikolaus Esterházy in his palace in Eszterháza, the prince gave her a royal welcome. He extended the palace with an enormous hall where the celebration would be held but this wing of the building had burned down a short time before the queen’s arrival. The prince then immediately decided to have a small mansion built for Her Majesty in the park, in which garden entertainment took place.
After a night like this, Maria Theresa asked the prince how much this wonderful little mansion had cost.
- Eighty thousand forints.
- 'O, das ist für einen Fürsten Esterhazy eine Bagatelle!’ (Oh! This is a fillip for an Esterházy Prince!)
In a bat of an eye, the word "Bagatelle" was glaring above the gate of the mansion. This has been the name of the luxurious building since then.
“Farewell” Symphony 1772
One occasion the prince, in spite of his custom, intended to prolong his stay in Eszterháza by weeks. Terrified from the news, the affectionate husbands – the musicians - asked Joseph Haydn for advice since their wives had to be left at home in Kismarton and were not allowed visit them in Eszterháza. Haydn had the idea to write a symphony during which each instrument stops playing taking turns. The symphony was performed to the prince on the very first occasion. Each musician was ordered to snuff out the candle, pack their notes and leave with their instrument in his hands after finishing with his phrase. The prince understood the message of the symphony-covered dumb show, which was also strange in its key (f sharp minor), and left the day following the performance.
Maria Theresa and Haydn
It was recorded during Haydn’s Viennese stay that when the young chorus-singers started jumping around shouting on the scaffolding of the newly built Schönbrunn Palace, Empress Maria Theresa ordered the ringleader Joseph to be taught ‘a lesson of note’. Her command was fulfilled right away. When years later, in 1773 the already famous master was met by the empress in Eszterháza and told what had happened, Maria Theresa only replied: ‘It seems smacking had its results since Haydn became a famous person.’ and offered a beautiful golden snuffbox covered with diamonds for the once beaten boy as monetary compensation.
"If I want to hear a good opera performance…"
Royal size of the palace had to come with a royal court. It was only natural that Nikolaus ‘the Magnificent’ also tried to follow the Versailles example set by the Sun King regarding luxury of the courts. He did not save costs. His household cost an average of 40,000 forints a year, which made up only a small proportion of his revenues of 1,800,000 forints a year. Abundant fee was rewarded for the actors, painters and musicians of the court, first and foremost to the nearly world famous conductor of the Esterházy-orchestra, Joseph Haydn amongst them. The nobility of Vienna all headed for Eszterháza to hear his music. Maria Theresa used to say: "If I want to hear a good opera performance, I’ll go to Eszterháza.’
In 1789, John Bland, a concert organiser travelled from London to Eszterháza to win Haydn over a concert tour. The tour was not realised since the old and ill Prince Nikolaus would not let his precious conductor away, but Bland did not leave empty-handed. The story goes:
‘When I visited Haydn in Eszterháza, he was shaving. Slapping his bad and dull razor to the strop angrily he vowed: I would give my best quartet for a good English razor. Without any hesitation, I turned around and took my own one from the inn, which I handed over to the master, who in return presented me with a recently finished, wonderful masterpiece.’
This quartet, written in f sharp minor, really sounds like a razor being stropped rhythmically. Since then this string quartet has been known as Razor-quartet (Rasiermesser-Quartett).