In 2002 the world of libraries commemorated the noble gesture of a Hungarian aristocrat called Count Ferenc Széchényi of making a generous offer, which was to form the basis of the Hungarian patriotic public collection, the Hungarian National Library.
This nobleman’s private library had a stock of music scores from the start, and in the course of time more musical pieces were added to it. However, only at the beginning of the 20th century did the plan of an independent music collection, separate from the core collection, take shape. It was in 1904 that the library purchased the bequest of Hungary’s classical composer Ferenc Erkel (18101893). Thus the sudden growth of musical documentation necessitated further fine-tuning of the Musica section set up in 1865, leading to a collection of musical manuscripts (Manuscripta musicalia) and one of music-related letters (Epistolae musicae).
The Music Department became an independent organisational unit in 1924 as a sub-section of the Hungarian national library that collects special documents. Although it did not become a “legal entity” in its own right, it had a national collection scope for all written and audio manifestations of Hungarian music, whether produced as prints, photocopies or audio records.
The Music Department stores some 300 thousand units at present, of which 150 thousand are music prints and 30 thousand are manuscripts of music. The chief source of its growth is the library’s entitlement to deposit copies. As stipulated in the founding document, all domestic prints, including printed music scores should have a copy sent to the national library.
The time frame of collection is as follows: Manuscripts with music scores from before the 16th century are kept in the Manuscript Collection, while printed scores from before the 18th century are in the Collection of Early Prints.
The earliest coherent partial collection of the Music Collection is the scores of the Bártfa (present-day Bardejov in Slovakia) Basilica of St. Egidius, the so-called Bártfa Collection (15371669) which has maintained from the heyday of 16th and 17th century polyphony of singing 2645 works in the form of manuscripts and printed part-singing books. In 1914 the Hungarian state bought for its central music collection in the library’s core stocks the Italian, German and Hungarian masters’ sources, which are often unavailable anywhere else.
The National Széchényi Library purchased our most valuable pieces, original manuscripts of Mozart, Beethoven, Robert Schumann and Ferenc Liszt at auctions, while the world’s most remarkable Károly Goldmark (18301915) collection, comprising not only music manuscripts, but also memorabilia of the Hungarian-born composer, was acquired through a library swap.
Our most outstanding 20th century bequest is that of the composer and pianist Ernő Dohnányi (18771960), whose collection obtained through a donation, poses a major challenge for IT specialists and scholars researching the material. The collection is made up of original music manuscripts, small prints, program leaflets, photos and other re-alia as well as sound recordings, which as requested by the donors, is to be preserved as one unit.
The collection of musical theatres, ranging from protected music scores used by early 19th century wandering troupes, through the music repertory of the National Theatre and the Popular Theatre in Pest, to the archives of the Budapest Opera House, fills up some 550 meters of shelves. State of the art arrangement, exploration and digitisation of the most valuable layers has been launched recently as a scholarly spin-off of the full Erkel Collection.
Of stocks with the same provenance, because of its exceptional source value, special attention is due to the Esterházy Collection, which found its way into the Music Collection of the Széchényi Library as a result of the 1949 parliamentary act on stopping entailed property. However, two additional remarks need to be added to this sentence.
The Esterházy Collection, in the historical way it has been left to us is only part of an earlier larger collection, namely of the Esterházy Archives in Tárnok urtca in Buda since the 1920s, which suffered serious damage during the siege of Budapest.
In the practical implementation of the 1949 entailed property act, the extant parts of the Esterházy Archives were taken over by different public collections. Thus the family letters were transferred into the Hungarian National Archives, keeping the name of the Esterházy Archives, while library-type documents, including letters, books, maps, theatre scenery and costume designs, as well as sheet music went into the national library’s relevant collections.
The most precious group of sources in the Music Collection’s Esterházy material is the bequest of Joseph Haydn, who was in the Esterházy family’s service for about fifty years, giving a good example of a fortunate historical meeting between an artist and his patrons.
For Joseph Haydn’s development, the years (17621790) he spent in the court of Nikolaus Esterházy, a prince with inspiring musical taste and European education, were of decisive influence.
Located close to Vienna, Kismarton and Eszterháza, the main scenes of serving the prince and transmitting several of Europe’s current trends, provided an ideal background for an artist of Haydn’s calibre.
The culture, taste and spiritual character of the four princes following one another placed different responsibilities on the composer, who in the meantime was growing into a European master: After 1790 the relationship between Haydn and the Esterházys was becoming more formal. Nevertheless, not for a second was it questioned that the composer of the London Symphonies, The Creation or The Seasons would name the princes as the beneficiary of his spiritual legacy.
“Back in 1807, because of the favourable conditions he was offered, Haydn committed himself to leaving his books, printed music, manuscripts and coins to the Esterházy princes,” as his biographer Griesinger remembers. This unwritten agreement, that people around Haydn were fully aware of, was a guarantee that the heritage would be maintained and properly looked after. One year after Haydn’s death, in the spring of 1810 the 527-piece musical collection was taken to the Esterházy Archives, thus was kept among the most valuable gems of the princely family’s sheet music collection. The material survived safely and in good condition the turbulence of history, and is today the most significant group of source for international Haydn research.
By 1959, the 150th anniversary of Haydn’s death, resulting from Hungarian and foreign Haydn experts’ work in the National Széchényi Library, important scientific findings had already been made, constituting a new chapter in Haydn scholarship. At the time of conferences, concerts, music and record publications and exhibitions, Jenő Vécsey, then head of the Music Collection compiled Haydn’s Compositions in the Hungarian National Széchényi Library (Budapest, 1959), a still valid handbook and catalogue of the Library’s Haydn collection, available in English, German and Hungarian.
One of the scientific sensations of 1959 was discovering in the handwritten materials of the Esterházy opera collection the documents of Haydn as a conductor preparing their performances. Scholarship by Dénes Bartha, László Somfai and Dorrit Révész summarises the basic research of some fifty shelf meters of musical material related to Haydn.
The Eszterháza Opera House opened in 1768, where Prince Nicolaus, the “Bright” expected his conductor to acquire, adapt to the stage and conduct some one hundred Italian operas. Between 1776 and 1790, Joseph Haydn worked on 88 premieres, six new adaptations and the staging of a further ten Italian operas. In the everyday practice of the “theatre factory”, handwritten music scores were purchased from Vienna, Dresden or Italy, while the parts were copied under Haydn’s supervision, and if required, as a composer he contributed to cuts, additions and transpositions to be made. These are also primary handwritten Haydn sources, often with arias composed and inserted by Haydn, in the Ms. mus.-OE (Manuscripta musicalia Opera Eszterháza) classification group of the princes’ sheet music collection.
Autographs, authentic copies and printed music sheets are supplemented by the so-called analekta group with mixed contents, preserving various realia that all reflect contemporaries’ respect for Haydn, among them two of his violin strings and the original libretto manuscript of the oratory The Creation written by Gottfried van Swieten (Ha. I/128).
The rich bequest of music and objects is complete with a huge amount of mostly untapped material, which under the sign Acta Musicalia comprises mostly the items that, based on their content, the archivist János Hárich separated from the family archives in the 1930s. These 4505 music-related documents are a major source for studying the music and theatre of the Esterházy residence and Haydn’s office commitments.
The staff of the National Széchényi Library are fully aware of the huge responsibility of handling these unparalleled music and cultural sources. The computerisation of special collections in the neighbourhood of books, in the 90s put the issue of digitising the Esterházy Collection on a “temporary waiting list”. Partly initiated by the Music Collection’s staff, the Hungarian Haydn Society was set up in 1996. Building on the Esterházy Collection, it has clearly become the driving force of the Haydn revival at Eszterháza. The eight September Joseph Haydn Festivals so far, and the plan of the reconstruction of the listed Eszterháza castle with the co-operation of several disciplines is the framework to unite the participants of the World Heritage Eszterháza Joseph Haydn program.
The increased international interest in the Esterházy Collection also suggests that in the background of the Joseph Haydn bicentenary events in 2009, the national library’s music services should be presented to the world at the highest level of music science and information technology, thus demonstrating and continuing the best Hungarian Haydn traditions of the past.
Katalin Szerző email@example.com