Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The House of Esterházy (- German, in Hungarian: Eszterházy, in Slovak: Esterházi) was a noble family in the Kingdom of Hungary since the Middle Ages, which was among the great territorial magnates of the Kingdom of Hungary, during the time it was part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire.
Initially, the Esterházys were part of low gentry in what is today south-western Slovakia (at that time part of the Kingdom of Hungary).
The family rose to prominence under Count Nikolaus Esterházy (1583-1645) and his son, Prince Paul Esterházy (1635-1713). In the 17th century, after Nicolaus' acquisitions, the family split into 4 basic family lines:
- the older Forchtenstein (Hungarian: Fraknó) line : founded by Nicolaus Esterházy, main seat: Eisenstadt (Hungarian: Kismarton)
- the younger Forchtenstein line
- the Zvolen (Hungarian: Zólyom) line: founded by Paul Esterházy (died 1641)
- the Czesznek line: founded by Daniel Esterházy (died 1654)
The success of the family arose from the steady accumulation of land, and loyalty both to the Catholic Church and to the Habsburg Emperor. The latter factor was perhaps the most important. A consistent theme of Hungarian history was an ardent and sometimes violent wish to become free of Austrian rule, a wish that was finally fulfilled at end of the First World War. But the Esterházy princes were consistently loyal to the Habsburg monarchy, and on several occasions rendered vital services to it in times of crisis. These included the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 and the outright occupation of the city by Napoleon in 1809.
Ultimately, at the beginning of the 20th century, they became among the largest landowners in the Habsburg Empire. Most of their lands were situated in present-day Slovakia.
The family derived its name from the settlement Esterháza near Dunajská Streda in today's south-western Slovakia (the settlement does not exist anymore and is not to be confused with the later castle of the same name), which they inhabited since the Middle Ages. Since 1421 they became the owners of a property in Galanta.
Another important seat of the Esterházys was in Eisenstadt, where they occupied a palace built in the 14th century and rebuilt 1663-72. Eisenstadt now lies in the eastern portion of Austria, but at the time of the Esterházy princes (and until 1920), it was within the legal borders of the Kingdom of Hungary. Its Hungarian name is Kismarton.
The Esterházys maintained a number of other residences all over the Kingdom of Hungary and Transylvania, and those Esterházy princes who preferred the stylish life of the capital spent most of their time in Vienna. In the 1770s, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, who disliked Vienna, had a magnificent new palace constructed at Eszterháza, in rural Hungary on the site of a former hunting lodge. This is the most admired of the Esterházy homes, often called the "Hungarian Versailles," and is a prominent tourist attraction today.
The main line of the Esterházy family was generally bilingual, in Hungarian (as a result of their ethnicity) and German (as they were aristocrats of the Austrian Empire). Esterházys living in parts of the Kingdom of Hungary where other (esp. Slavic) main languages were spoken also spoke primarily or secondarily those languages.
Indeed, some family members went by both German and (rather distinct) Hungarian names. Thus, Paul Anton (German) was the same person as Pál Antal (Hungarian), and Nikolaus Josef (German) was the same person as Miklós Jozsef. In discussions written in English, the Esterházy princes are occasionally given English versions of their names, as in "Nicholas".
The family name is also rendered variously: Eszterházy (Hungarian spelling), Esterházy (German), and Esterhazy (typographic convenience). The full family name since the 16th century was Eszterházy de Galántha (later also styled von/of Galanta).
The Esterházy family is perhaps best known for its association with the celebrated composer Joseph Haydn, who served as their Kapellmeister. Haydn was hired by Prince Paul Anton in 1761, and worked for most of his years of service (1762-1790) under his successor Nikolaus. During the following reign, that of Prince Anton (1790-1794), the Esterházy family mostly did without the services of musicians, and Haydn, retained on an honorary appointment, spent most of this time in trips to England. Finally, during the reign of Nikolaus II, Haydn performed largely ceremonial duties, principally consisting of composing an annual Mass for the name day of the Prince's wife (and Haydn's friend), Princess Maria Josepha Hermenegild (1768-1845). The aging Haydn continued to perform this annual service, with increasing difficulty, until his health failed entirely in 1802.
The main Esterhazy line (the old Forchtenstein line)
Hungarian names are given in brackets.
Third son of Nicholas, born in Eisenstadt. Elected Palatine in 1681 and created Prince in 1687 by the Emperor. Paul was a poet, a harpsichordist, and a composer; a number of his cantatas survive. He also wrote a number of religious works.
Under Paul the palace in Eisenstadt was rebuilt.
son of Paul
Son of Joseph, a soldier who rose to the rank of Field Marshall.
Son of Joseph, in his youth a decorated soldier. He was the primary patron of Haydn and builder of Esterháza (see above).
Nikolaus was "magnificent" not just in his palaces and patronage of music, but also in his choice of apparel, which included a famous jacket studded with diamonds.
Nikolaus played the cello, the viola da gamba, and (his favorite instrument), the difficult and now-obscure baryton. For the latter instrument, Haydn wrote a great deal of chamber music, which is seldom played today.
In his later life Nikolaus played much less and became something of a couch potato, listening to ceaseless performances of operas produced by Haydn and his troupe both for the main theater and for the marionette theater at Esterhaza. Haydn wrote several of these operas himself, and these are likewise among his least remembered works.
There is no sign that Nikolaus had any real interest in Haydn's string quartets, now considered among his greatest works.
However, this is one area of Haydn's oeuvre where Nikolaus can be uncontroversially considered a great patron of musical arts, as he was the primary sponsor of Haydn's series of symphonies. Of the 106 symphonies, those coming after the few written for Count Morzin (Haydn's first employer) and for Paul Anton, and before the "Paris" symphonies of the late 1780s, were written specifically at Nikolaus's instigation. They were premiered by a small orchestra that Nikolaus provided to Haydn, giving the composer ample rehearsal time, salary levels to attract top personnel, and full artistic control. Few composers can ever have claimed to have possessed such an incubator for their creations, and the symphonies that Haydn wrote for this ensemble can fairly be regarded as Nikolaus's (inadvertent) gift to posterity.
Nikolaus was disconsolate when his wife died in 1790, and Haydn found himself hard pressed trying to keep his employer's spirits up with music during the few months that the prince survived his wife. The composer was touchingly loyal to his prince, but probably felt a certain sense of relief when the Prince finally died.
Son of Nikolaus I, disbanded the Esterhazy musical establishment for the duration of his reign.
Son of Anton. In his youth he served as an officer in the Guards and took the Grand Tour. Later on he served the Empire as a diplomat.
A dramatic moment in Nikolaus's career occurred in (1809) when Napoleon made him an offer to become King of an independent Hungary. Nicholas helped save the Empire by rejecting Napoleon's invitation. Actually, he went further than this, and raised a regiment of volunteers to help defend the Empire, an action he had previously taken in 1797.
During his Grand Tour experience Nikolaus developed a taste for the visual arts, and as Prince Nikolaus accumulated a great collection of drawings and paintings. His profligacy as a collector cause financial difficulties for the next two generations of the family.
Haydn biographer Karl Geiringer describes Nicolaus II thus: "He was as complete an autocrat as his grandfather had been, but lacked the latter's charm, kindliness, and genuine understanding of music ... contemporaries described the prince's nature as 'worthy of an Asiatic despot'".
Nikolaus II commissioned the six late masses of Haydn noted above, as well as the Mass in C of Ludwig van Beethoven. At the first performance of the Beethoven Mass, the Prince criticized the work, and Beethoven left his house in a rage.
The Prince could play the clarinet, or so it would appear from one of the portraits of him.
The splendor of Nikolaus II's reign was greatly diminished by a financial crisis that shook Austria in 1811.
Served Austria in a series diplomatic posts, and in 1848 was briefly Foreign Minister.
The family encountered financial trouble during his reign, and (according to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica), "the last years of his life were spent in comparative poverty and isolation, as even the Esterhazy-Forchtenstein estates were unequal to the burden of supporting his fabulous extravagance and had to be placed in the hands of curators."
Prince [Anton Rudolf Marie Georg Christoph Hubertus Johannes Karl Aglaë] (born 1936)
Other members of the Esterházy family
Another was Joseph Eszterházy (nephew to Palatine Paul), the ban of Croatia between 1733 and 1741. Francis Eszterházy also held that title between 1783 and 1785, but he was opposed by Francis Szechenyi .
The renowned contemporary Hungarian writer Péter Esterházy is a descendent of the historical Esterházys.
- The quotation from Karl Geiringer above is from his Haydn: A Creative Life in Music (Norton, New York, 1946).
- Portrait of Prince Paul Anton III (1786-1866)
- Esterhazy genealogy, from Miroslav Marek's GENEALOGY.EU site: Part 1, Part 2.
- Book review of Die Fürsten Esterhŕzy: Magnaten Diplomaten and Mäzene
- An Esterhazy family Web site (in German)
- Another Esterhazy family Web site (mostly in German)
- Article in 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
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