In his only work of music, a great Hungarian writer warns against putting up fences

Péter Esterházy died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at the age of 66.

The most renowned of Hungarian literary authors, his breakthrough novel Celestial Harmonies traced his family’s fortunes from the days when Haydn worked on their estate to the post-Communist era.

Péter Esterházy showed little interest in contemporary music – with one exception. He wrote an oratorio, Halleluja – Oratorium balbulum, with Péter Eötvös, five years ago. It will be premiered at the end of this month in Salzburg by Daniel Harding and the Vienna Philharmonic.

Eötvös says: ‘Péter Esterházy, proved to be a true prophet when he wrote these lines in 2011: “We need borders. We put up fences everywhere; we even fence within the fences. We’re on the inside, but outside… well, that’s not us. […] Perhaps for the first time, we now have nothing to say about the future.”‘

peter esterhazy

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  • It’s not true that he “showed little interest in contemporary music”. He was a huge admirer of Kurtág, and he often spoke with great enthusiasm about Hungarian composers of his generation, like Zoltán Jeney, László Sáry, László Vidovszky. Also, some of his works (like, for example, the short story collection titled Esti) have some references to contemporary music.

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