The palace is large and very yellow, and it appeared even yellower in the dull, drizzly weather while I was there. Photography was made more difficult – as so often seems the case – by the scaffolding and building works at one end of the facade. So I headed fairly quickly over the attractive and well-worn wood-block entranceway to the inner courtyard, and bought a ticket for the guided tour.
The tour was in German, although brief but very adequate English notes were provided with the ticket. Photography without flash is allowed, and I was very thankful for the excellent performance of the Nikon D300 at ISO 1600, and more. Even so, most exposures were around 1/20 or 1/30 at best, so the VR lens was working overtime too.
The building started life as a 13th century Gothic castle, which was then enlarged into a mediaeval city castle at the end of the 14th century. From the middle of the 15th century it belonged to the Habsburgs, then the ruling dynasty in Austria and much of the rest of Europe, coming into the possession of the Esterházy family in 1649. The future Prince Paul I commissioned the Italian architect Carlo Martino Carlone to redesign the castle as a Baroque palace, to be his main residence. This nine-year building project from 1663 to 1672 included the construction of the salon that is now known as the Haydnsaal.
All the rooms are richly and heavily decorated, and include a remarkable display of porcelain and silver. Everything is impeccably arranged. But of particular interest to me, before reaching the Haydnsaal, were the two music salons. The first displays a set of string quartet instruments, and commemorates the appointment of Haydn as Assistant Director of Music in 1761, by Prince Paul II Anton, and his 'invention' of the string quartet form.
The second music salon contains a beautiful folding music table, opened out into an eight-seater music stand. Also on show is a baryton (a modern copy of an original in the National Museum in Budapest), a fiendishly difficult member of the viol family, about the size of a cello, which has (in this example) seven gut strings played with a bow plus 11 sympathetic wire strings which can also be plucked for tonal contrast. The baryton was the favourite instrument of Prince Nikolaus I, clearly an accomplished musician, and Haydn composed for him no less than 126 baryton trios and a number of octets.
Eventually the tour arrived at the Haydnsaal, the the focus of my visit here. It's very dark; I'm using 1/20th of a second on ISO 2500! The hall has quite a simple design, but is massively and beautifully decorated. The tour guide played part of a Haydn symphony from loudspeakers on the stage, and the sound was excellent; a pity I wasn't here a few days ago for the final concerts of this year's Haydn festival.
After a visit to the Bergkirche and Haydn mausoleum, I came back to the palace to walk through part of the extensive gardens in the rain, en route to the Haydn-Haus.