Some of the world's great composers have become inextricably linked to important European cities. Think of Vivaldi and Venice, Bach and Leipzig, Mozart and Salzburg, Berlioz and Paris or Dvorak and Prague.
For Franz Joseph Haydn, the 18th century composer who became known as “the father of the symphony,” it was Eisenstadt, Austria, that figured so prominently in his professional life. Haydn spent nearly 30 years (1761-1790) as a court composer there for the Princes Esterhazy (Paul Anton and Nickolaus).
A small town just seven miles from the Hungarian border, Eisenstadt has championed Haydn's music for more than two centuries. Contributing to that legacy is a summer music festival that has been held in Eisenstadt for the past 36 years.
Richard Zielinski, an associate professor of choral music at the University of Oklahoma, will soon return to Austria for his sixth year as festival artistic director and principal conductor of the Eisenstadt Summer Academy.
“People from all over the world come to Austria and live in the city where Haydn worked for 30 years,” Zielinski said. “We immerse ourselves in Haydn's music and for two weeks, we get to become part of the fabric of their city.
“Walking around the vineyards and farmlands of eastern Austria, it's easy to imagine Haydn being at one of the pubs or establishments. A festival like this provides participants with a rare connection to a real life. That personalizes things for us. It then becomes a spiritual experience.”
Jane Magrath, regents' professor of piano and pedagogy at OU, will return for her second visit to Eisenstadt early next month. She supervises a piano seminar that runs concurrently with the music festival.
“I envisioned this festival for three kinds of pianists: young professionals in the field, college professors who are teaching and playing, and conservatory or university pianists,” Magrath said. “Many of the participants will be featured on one of two scheduled recitals.
“I had some students who attended the piano institute last year and noticed that the maturity of their perspective had changed. They came away from this experience with a real love for Haydn's music. It gives people a chance to connect totally with his music.”
Nearly three dozen pianists will participate in this year's festival. They'll attend master classes presented by four noted pianists on the piano faculty — Magrath, Jeongwon Ham (also from OU), Alan Chow and Maria Elena Fernandez — and devote most of their remaining time to practice.
“One can't escape the aura and reverence for the history that took place there,” Magrath said of Eisenstadt. “You're literally walking in Haydn's footsteps. Being where the music was composed and where it has been performed for centuries is something special.