The Esterházys were an immensely rich and powerful family. From the sixteenth century they held a prominent position in the Habsburg Empire and were important patrons of the arts. The family owned palaces in Vienna and throughout Hungary; Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt, Austria was the family’s principle residence. In 1766, the magnificent Eszterháza Palace in Fertőd, Hungary was completed.
The Haydnsaal is a concert hall in Schloss Eszterházy, named after Joseph Haydn, who dedicated most of his working life to composing for the Esterházys.
The Esterházys were music lovers. Haydn began his service in 1761 and served the family for nearly 40 years, spanning the patronage of four Esterhazy princes. Prince Paul Anton was the only Esterházy who took little interest in music, and during his reign, Haydn was sent away from court and lived in Vienna.
The palace contained two opera houses, as well as a theatre to seat 400 and a marionette theatre; it was intended that it should be the cultural centre of Europe. Haydn conducted his own and others’ operas at the palace. His first opera, Acide, was written for the Esterházys. Indeed, 1762 to 1784 was an intense period of operatic activity at court for Haydn, who composed no fewer than 15 operas.
Under Esterházy patronage, Haydn was obliged to compose music at the behest of his prince. He was the third highest paid officer in the household; this demonstrates his significant position at the court and how highly he was regarded by his patrons.
Nicholas II (1765-1833) cared more for sacred music than any other music, therefore during this period, Haydn was required to compose many masses; one of his most celebrated was The Creation (1797-1798). He told his biographer “…I was never as devout as when I was at work on The Creation; I fell to my knees daily…”. From 1795 until 1802, Haydn composed a mass every year to celebrate the name day of Esterhazy princess Maria Josepha Hermenegild (1768-1845).
Haydn’s legacy in the region lives on: a Haydn Festival in Burgenland was established 1986 and an impressive concert scene still thrives at the Esterházy Palace. In 1993, the International Joseph Haydn Foundation was founded in Eisenstadt for research purposes.
Haydn composed according to the taste of his Prince, meaning that his musical output directly related to the desires of his employer at the time; the Esterházys doubtless had a great influence on his work. He was dedicated to the family, who cherished him until his death in 1806.