After that came a different life altogether, because I never lived in the country again until after I was married. We were always in town: Budapest first, then Brussels, then Paris for a little while, and finally London. I don't remember the preparations that were made for our departure from Tisza-Abád, but I do remember how terribly sad papa and mama nearly always looked after that awful night in July. They tried to smile, poor darlings, when they thought we were looking at them; but somehow even I, child as I was, realized that there was no joy in their hearts. The destruction of the crops at Tisza-Abád, complete though it was, did not necessarily mean black ruin, though it went some way towards it, but I imagine that it hardened papa's heart against the country which he loved and against the people to whom he had shown nothing but kindness and good will.

He often told me afterwards that the tragedy wrought a very great change in him morally, but that it conferred one inestimable boon upon him, one for which he thanked God with all his heart. It turned his whole mind back to music which, deep down in his soul, he had always loved passionately. As a boy in the days of Tarna-Örs his tutor, a learned professor from the University of Weimar, was devoted to music and gave the boy his first lessons in that sublime and divine art. After his death my father did three years' study at Weimar University, and there he continued to study music so earnestly that at sixteen ears of age he was familiar with the works of all the great masters: he had taught himself composition, counterpoint, and orchestration. He always played the piano divinely: his touch on the piano, as well as on the harp and the organ, had in it a quality which I for one have never heard equalled.


It was in Weimar that the first seeds were sown of my father's friendship with Franz Liszt, then at the apogee of his glorious career, a friendship which endured throughout the life of the great master and influenced not only my father's destiny but strangely enough mine also. It was he who induced my father to accept the position of Intendant (Supreme Administrator) of the National Theatres in Budapest-a Court appointment which as so often happens in cases of this sort (and I venture to say in most countries where special appointments are dependent on Court or Government patronage) had hitherto been assigned to gentlemen highly distinguished no doubt in their military or administrative careers, but who knew about as much of music as 'the cock that crows in the morn' or of dramatic art as 'the maiden all forlorn'.

I have often been told, years afterwards when I began to understand things, that my father was 'very difficult'. I can quite believe it. Music, through a divine and highly-elevating art, is a hard task-mistress. She plays havoc more often than not with the artist's nerves and with his temperament, makes him over-sensitive to pin-pricks. And my dear father, I know, suffered terribly from pin-pricks. The position of 'Intendant of the National Theatres' was a coveted one. There was a clique who felt they had a prescriptive right to nominate, if not actually to appoint, a successor to the outgoing official

There were certain privileges attached to it and if one did not worry too much as to the artistic qualities of opera or drama, and was content to give the public the old things that had become the stock-in-trade of the National Theatres, things went on pretty smoothly. But in this, as in everything else that was progressive and cultural, the Hungarian 'man in the street' hated any kind of innovation. His father had applauded Trovatore, Barbière, La Fille de Madame Angot and what not, and these were quite good enough for him. He didn't want to know anything of that German humbug called Wagner and his entirely tuneless and noisy opera Lohengrin.

Sándor Ürkény, the old chef d'orchestre, who had conducted the orchestra of the National Theatres for umpteen years was not going to worry himself studying any new scores with brass instruments galore, some of which he had never even heard of. He had a great many friends. He was popular. A cabal formed itself around him against what was loudly termed a revolution in the administration of the country's most cherished institution. He tendered his resignation as chef d'orchestre, thinking, no doubt, that this would create a regular uproar against the 'aristocratic musician' (meaning my father) who had foreign ideas and foreign sympathies altogether at variance with Hungarian traditions.

The resignation did not create the desired uproar but it let loose a number of pin-pricks, attacks in the Press, discontent among the upholders of the old régime, among the old actors and singers who should have been pensioned off long ago, but had carried on simply because they had acted and sung on the stage of the National Theatre to the delight of the past generation.

My father felt the pin-pricks keenly, but he was an obstinate man, and as in the case of the discontented peasants in Tisza-Abád he did not realize that the tide of discontent in the reactionary elements of the city was rising against him. As he had striven to make Tisza-Abád a model farm, so he strove now to make the Budapest Opera take its rank-during his administration-among the great musical institutions of Europe.

He accepted old Ürkény's resignation with ill-concealed pleasure, and called Hans Richter over from Bavaria to take his place. The latter was then conducting an insignificant orchestra somewhere in Bavaria. My father had somehow got to know of him and as soon as troubles with old Ürkény began he went over there, heard that greatest of all conductors at work and soon induced him to come to Budapest; where, by the way, the project of building an opera house worthy of the noblest musical traditions was already being seriously considered. And that was the beginning of Hans Richter's career.

Under my father's patronage his fame spread beyond the confines of Budapest, and when my father in the end-tired of squabbles and pin-pricks and attacks in the Press-resigned his position as Intendant of the National Theatres, Vienna took Richter on; from thence he went to Bayreuth and was acclaimed all over Europe as the greatest chef d'orchestre it had ever known. And he certainly was that.

England acclaimed him as warmly as any of these ever did. He was received everywhere with the greatest kindness and hospitality. Manchester vied with London to shower honours and munificence upon him. And all this he repaid with the basest ingratitude. His German blood asserted itself to the full when at the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war he set himself to work to vilify England and everything English in articles and letters published in the German Press. It would be impossible to imagine conduct more sordid and more vile on the part of an man who dared to abrogate to himself the noble name of 'artist'. We all remember that unspeakable anti-English manifesto which was issued by the German intelligentsia, by authors, artists, poets, and musicians at the outbreak of the 1914 war. Hans Richter-whom England had loaded with kindnesses-put his name to that.


But all this will seem irrelevant to those dear kind readers who do me the honour of wanting to hear about my doings and my destiny. I have only spoken of them because our stay in Budapest for the three years when my father was engaged in what should have been the most welcome activity in public and social life and alas! proved to be so nerve-racking for him, was one of the most important links in the chain of my life. The great and ever mysterious 'if' comes into play there, for had those activities been congenial from a mental as well as from a social point of view, he would no doubt have continued them, and we should never have left Budapest and Tarna-Örs, and never have come to England . . . and, The Scarlet Pimpernel would never have been written.


©Blakeney Manor, 2001