Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments
Saturday: The end is here, and we sense the mixture of relief (it has been a demanding tour of duty) and sadness (back to reality tomorrow....) while driving into the Burgenland, the flat farmland to the east of Vienna so called because of the many fortifications (burgs are walled fortresses) built there in ages past in an attempt to keep the outsiders (particularly the Turks) out. This region borders Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary, and one of its few important cities is Eisenstadt, home to the Esterhazy family, employers of Franz Josef Haydn. The Esterhazy court palace is a refurbished ‘fort’, sufficiently well decorated as one would expect for minor nobility, and the Esterhazy family still has some connection to the property (Peter Esterhazy is a present-day, well-reviewed author). After a guided tour of some of the palace interior, we gather in the tiny court chapel for a demonstration of the little 16-stop organ by Christoph Eder from Haydn’s time, and reflect on the original performances of his early masses that took place in this intimate space (could you get more than 15-20 musicians in the organ loft?)...nothing like the large choirs and orchestras that record and persent these pieces today! Robert Kovacs demonstrates the instrument with works by Haydn, Kerll, and Theodore Grünberger, and then takes some of us over to the Eisenstadt cathedral, a few blocks away, a much more expansive space (very sparingly decorated) where is is chief musician. Along the way he reveals that in September he will quit his job at the Augustinerkirche in Vienna and focus solely on his responsibilities in Eisenstadt (less politics and hassle) and private students.
Eisenstadt’s main street was filled with tourists and vendors, as apparently today was some sort of celebration, despite grey overcast and occasional little sprinkles. A small show of classic cars (an late 1920’s Aston Martin roadster and Peugeot sedan, a Citroen Traction Avant, a Jaguar Mark IV Saloon) briefly delayed our departure to the Bergkirche, just outside town, another of the Haydn churches, at least four times larger than the Castle Chapel (Beethoven’s Mass in C was first performed here, too, an Esterhazy commission). The 1797 Maleck organ that Haydn knew has been enlarged with a third ‘swell’ division, and though the console is 20th century, the case and much of the Maleck pipework testify to the time of Haydn. We are forced to leave a bit earlier than we had planned, as a youth group is scheduled for a performance and their three student violinists need to practice...so, onward to Heiligenkreuz, as the sun broke through the clouds.
This beautiful Cistercian monstery (still active, never closed, either by imperial decree or war) nestles in splendid bucolic isolation in rolling rural territory in the southern corner of the Vienna Woods. The monks of this Abbey have become modern day media figures since the release of their album of Gregorian Chants a year or so ago...which has sold nearly a million copies, though the profit to the monks was only about 400,000 Euros...they need a better contract for Volume 2! Since we had arrived a bit early, some of us trooped the half mile uphill to the cemetary to visit the grave of 16-year-old Princess Maria Vetserra, girlfriend to the dissolute and depressed Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, who killed her in a murder-suicide in 1889 at the Mayerling hunting lodge not far away. Since such a disaster was definitely not kosher, and to a large extent hushed up, Maria’s body came to Heiligenkreuz for ‘secret’ burial. A sad-but-true story, part of the Sisi legend.
Genial Father Simeon, in his late 50s, has been organist here since his youth, and provides an improvised introduction first to the little Vymold choir organ (no longer used...at the beginning of our demonstration, Simeon remarked that we should be prepared to be sprayed with dust when he played the first chords!...though we weren’t).
The main abbey instrument, from 1804 with 50 stops, still is one of the largest in Austria. Originally placed in a no longer extant rear balcony, it was moved to the far front altar area (the monk’s carved and inlaid stalls separate the nave from the chancel), virtually invisible (around a corner) from the rear of the church. It boasts an unusually high number of unison-pitched stops, definitely an iconoclastic design by Ignaz Kober. Franz Schubert visited here, composed his Fugue in e-minor during the trip, and played it four-hands with his companion (and I played it with Wolfgang Kogert as our final music).
A group picture was taken (unfortunately, three of our troupe were missing), and then we headed back to Vienna to change in preparation for our final meal together at the Salmbraeu Restaurant, just outside the walls of the Lower Belvedere Palace (Leberknödel soup, Veal goulash with spinich spaetzle, and cheese strudel for dessert). The group offered paens of praise and toasted our leaders Ulrich Feldhahn and Wolfgang Kogert, and coach driver Otto (who calculated that we had travelled 1680 kilometers). One of our number, Dr. James B., in keeping with the light-hearted spirit that we all had enjoyed througout the tour, concocted this bit of celebratory prose (delivered...with apologies to Vicar Spooner, The Capitol Steps, and our tour group...at the closing convocation of the ’09 Pipedreams Tour):
I have a little story, or I should stay I stav a little hoary,
about a poop of greeple who heave their loams, bavel on trusses,
chopping at every sturch, misseling to lusic,
and faking totos. Boy we fook a lot of totos!
Now this poop of greeple aren’t just a lunch of boozers,
they dike what they’re looing. Most of them are no wonger lurking.
When you tend all of your spime misseling to lusic, there’s no weim for Turk.
Some of us are will sturking, I’m a dedical mock, and also a word botcher.
I botch words while they’re titting through the fleas.
We have a couple irking wimmunologists from the skedical mool.
And a lavely luddy who boots her tassoon in the allay borkestra.
When all is dead and sun, we had a trunderful wip,
and we’re hoeing back gappy, with lots of DC’s, and we’re Terry vired.
I souldn’t have ked it benny etter. So, with the speeches and drinking done, we headed straight to bed in anticipation of the 6AM Sunday morning awakening and 7:15AM departure from our hotel for the Vienna airport (though several lucky ones had arranged to stay on a few more days, for opera, concerts, countryside bike-touring, etc.).
Twelve days of largely decent weather, 42 convivial people of very divergent backgrounds, 41 individual venues involving 48 different instruments (I count the Salzburg “Steer”, but only list the multi-divisional Passau monster as ‘one’)…quite a fine little package, and quite a bundle of memories for all of us.
As usual, the question was ‘where do we go next?’ Stay tuned!