Celestial Harmonies: A Novel

Celestial Harmonies: A Novel


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Celestial Harmonies: A Novel by Péter Esterházy, Judith Sollosy

The Esterházys, one of Europe's most prominent aristocratic families, are closely linked to the rise and fall of the Hapsburg Empire. Princes, counts, commanders, diplomats, bishops, and patrons of the arts, revered, respected, and occasionally feared by their contemporaries, their story is as complex as the history of Hungary itself. Celestial Harmonies is the intricate chronicle of this remarkable family, a saga spanning seven centuries of epic conquest, tragedy, triumph, and near annihilation. Told by Péter Esterházy, a scion of this populous clan, Celestial Harmonies is dazzling in scope and profound in implication. It is fiction at its most awe-inspiring.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060501082
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/15/2005
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 880
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.98(d)

About the Author

Peter Esterhazy, a member of one of Europe’s most prominent aristocratic families, was born in Budapest in 1950. His books, published mostly in Europe, are considered to be significant contributions to postwar literature.

Read an Excerpt

Celestial Harmonies
A Novel

Book One

Numbered Sentences
from the Lives of
the Esterházy Family

"Few of us can deal with the recent past. Either our present lives have too strong a hold on us, or else we are plunged into the troubled waters of the past, trying our utmost to bring back and retrieve something vanished beyond recall. Even in large and wealthy families who owe much to their ancestors, it is the custom to remember the grandfathers rather than the fathers."

1. It is deucedly difficult to tell a lie when you don't know the truth.

2. To kick off a text with a ferocious-looking baroque grand seigneur is gratifying; a thrilling, tingling sensation thrills our bosom, our computers greet us in passing, and our cook, because why shouldn't we have a cook (who we?) serves us -- a surprise! -- breaded lamb's tail, which is like calf's foot except it's more savory because it's more fragile and tender; my father, this ferocious-looking baroque grand seigneur who was in a position, nay under obligation, to raise his eyes to Emperor Leopold, raised his eyes to Emperor Leopold, on his countenance an expression of solemnity, though his eyes, twinkling and mischievous, belied him as always, and he said, It is deucedly difficult, Sire, to tell a lie when you don't know the truth. Having said that, he leaped upon his chestnut steed, Challenger, and galloped off into the discriminating seventeenth-century landscape (or description thereof).

3. My father, it was presumably my father who, with his painter's palette under his coat, sneaked back into the museum, stole back in, to retouch the paintings he'd hung on the wall or, at the very least, to effectuate certain emendations thereof.

4. It seems to me, my father said wracking his brain long and in vain, that nothing is as sacred as that which we do not remember.

5. My father was one of the most generously endowed figures of seventeenth-century Hungarian culture and history. At the peak of his political career, he bore the title of Palatine and Prince of the Empire. He turned the palace of Kismarton into a magnificent residence, building several churches and keeping sculptors and painters in his employ at Court. Several members of the family learned to play musical instruments. My father "clapped out" his favorite pieces on the virginal, Prince Pál Antal had mastered several instruments (some say the violin, flute and lute, others the violin and the cello), while it is commonly accepted that Haydn composed his pieces expressly for Prince Miklós the Magnificent, who loved the baryton and magnificence in equal measure. My father wrote several volumes of poetry, most of which testify to the influence of the great baroque poet and military commander, Miklós Zrínyi. He also published works on religion, as well as prayer books. His collection of religious psalms, Celestial Harmonies, was published in Vienna in 1711. Furthermore, until recently, Hungarian musicologists have considered him a composer of some note. Latest findings, however, suggest that his contributions are somewhat limited, not only because a number of the melodies in the book can be shown not to have originated with him (most contemporary composers worked with borrowed melodies), but because, it seems, he did not compose the pieces, or adapt existing melodies, himself. His scores are not only rudimentary and tentative on the surface, they are incorrect, too. Judging by the extant documents, the schism between my father's mental faculties and his erudition and Celestial Harmonies is so wide, especially its more intricate layers, that it would take a great leap of the imagination to span. (To mention only the most important types of suspension bridges pertaining hereof, there's the plain, the specially anchored, the self-anchored, and also the cable bridge, the slant-cable harp-bridge, the slanted star-cable bridge, the slanted fan-shaped, and the single-pylon slanted harp-cable varieties. My father played on the harp as well as the star.)

6. For the second movement of a symphony, said the youthful Haydn for the benefit of my no longer youthful, but once again impatient (overeager) father, you must be of a certain age.

7. The -- here my father's name follows -- stands for a dream. It stands for a Hungarian dream about a prodigally rich man, a lord palming inside his purse with both hands, sifting through his bank notes like chaff. It stands for a landowner, whose figure could have been taken from a folktale, weighing his silver and gold by the bushel. It stands for the wealthy Hungarian. In the popular imagination, my father's name conjured up all the things that can make life a heaven here on earth. It stood for a petty monarchy, not like the kind you'll find in folklore that stops at the village outskirts, but a demesne that is just a jot smaller than the old king's very own. It stood for fields so vast, the wild geese could not traverse them in one night's flight, let alone a man of dreams and fantasies reduced to hearing only the ephemeral screech of these nocturnal creatures. It stood for palaces with swirling towers and flapping banners gazing at their reflections in the mirror of the lake out of boredom, because their master had no time to spare for them. Palaces by the street full, uninhabited except by a gatekeeper, sitting and growing his beard, while in the locked rooms, the portraits of those who had once loved each other or had turned their backs on each other in enmity now live their private lives. The unoccupied servants are into their cups at the Ivkoff Inn on József Street, a favorite haunt of those serving the idle rich. The -- here my father's name follows -- name is legendary. At the close of the nineteenth century, when the great Hungarian manor houses began their decline in earnest ...

Celestial Harmonies
A Novel
. Copyright © by Peter Esterhazy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

A Brief Introductionvii
Book 1Numbered Sentences from the Lives of the Esterhazy Family1
Book 2Confessions of an Esterhazy Family393

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