The building of Brunsvik Castle (Martonvásár) itself, actually, is typical of its kind. Beautiful but nothing to write home about. Its large garden, however, is rather impressive, especially considering concerts there as part of the cult of Beethoven, who had friendly relations to the one-time owners. His romantic relationship to the “Immortal Beloved”, who may have been one of the Brunsvik girls, adds an unsolved mystery to the history of the castle. Some rooms open to the public are home to an exhibition to commemorate the renowned German composer.
Beethoven, who enjoyed a friendly relationship with the Brunsviks (which, allegedly, changed to romantic with some of them) paid a visit to the castle three times at uncertain dates to meet the family in their home.
In 1799, the composer was introduced by a mutual friend to Widow Mrs. Anton Brunsvik, who travelled to Vienna with her two daughters (Theresa aged 24, Josephine aged 21). She asked Beethoven aged 29 at the time to give piano lessons to her girls. Despite Beethoven regarded teaching music as something for those unable to compose, he said yes to the request and taught the girls for 16 days. He later got to know their brother, Count Franz Brunsvik, who became his friend and patron. Beethoven even dedicated Appassionata to him, which was allegedly finished in the castle garden.
First as a castle, later as a military hospital
As opposed to the Festetics or Nádasdy dynasty, for example, the Brunsviks are not among the well-known count dynasties of Hungary. Their title and the estate in Martonvásár were awarded by Queen Maria Theresa. The castle was built in 1785 in Baroque style, however, later extensions and remodelling works added Neoclassical and neo-Gothic elements. The last major construction took place in the late-1870s. The castle was home to 4 generations of the Brunsviks and then it was passed into the hands of Archduke Joseph Karl of Austria. He soon sold it to Austrian brewer Anton Dreher. In 1945, the castle was used as a military hospital. After the war it was nationalised and has been home to the Agricultural Research Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences since then (this part closed to the public).
The museum highlights Beethoven’s ties to Hungary and the life of 4 Brunsvik generations. Theresa, who was long believed to be the composer’s love, was a truly versatile person. Besides having a talent for various arts, such as drawing, painting, playing the piano, writing poems in German and poetry recitation, she was the one who established the first nursery school in Austria-Hungary in 1828 (with male teachers at the time). Assisting her niece, Blanka Teleki, she contributed to founding the first women’s educational institute in Hungary. Also, she was the first in the country to decorate a Christmas tree in 1824. Her work and the development of preschool pedagogy are presented in the neighbouring Nursery School Museum.
It has been just recently discovered that in fact, it was not Theresa but her sister, Josephine who got involved in a romantic relationship with Beethoven. Her fate, however, is not to envy as she was forced to marry a much older man, Count Joseph Deym. He died a few years later, but despite their mutual love, Josephine could not marry the composer being a commoner. Her second husband was Count Stackelberg from Estonia but their marriage was not happy either, and serious financial difficulties also challenged them. Josephine died at the age 42.
„Even in bed my ideas yearn towards you, my Immortal Beloved, here and there joyfully, then again sadly, awaiting from Fate, whether it will listen to us. I can only live, either altogether with you or not at all.”. This is a citation from Beethoven’s famous love letter to an unnamed recipient. It was supposedly penned to Josephine, however, researchers have come up with two other potential recipients: Antonie Brenato, wife of a German merchant and Giulietta Guicciardi, the Brunsvik sisters’ cousin. A copy of the legendary letter to the “Immortal beloved” is presented in the exhibition.
Not just his musical sheets but his hair too
Besides musical instruments of the 19th century and Beethoven’s musical sheets, even a locket with his hair encased is displayed in the museum in an authentic environment. A wall was partially removed and the stamped bricks made in the family’s own brickyard are exhibited. The marks help to identify the period when a certain part of the castle was constructed. A statue of Beethoven in the largest room of the museum demonstrates his signature gait with a lean forward and arms behind his back.
One of the most beautiful English gardens
It may be hard to imagine that in 1783, when Anton Brunsvik acquired the estate in Martonvásár it was just a large wetland with a house, a few huts and a tree. It was his son, Franz Brunsvik, who established a garden of 100 hectares (nearly 70 today). It was designed by Heinrich Nebbien, who was later involved in the design works of Városliget in Budapest. After draining the wetland alders and dwarf alders were planted. Later plane trees and exotic species followed. The stone benches, the three-arched bridge and the red marble well were placed in the garden in the 1820s.
During WW2 the estate was badly devastated. Restoration works began in 1949, and in 1953, the park gained a nature reserve status. Today the castle park is one of the most beautiful of its kind in Hungary. It contains several remarkable species, such as red-leafed Japanese maples, gingkos, tulip trees and a bald cypress - the garden’s pride. The picturesque view is further enhanced by a large fishpond with a bridge and an island in the middle, which serves as a venue for open-air classical concerts too. You may encounter various animals in the park, for example songbirds and waterbirds, squirrels, hedgehogs, turtles, martens and sometimes otters too. Fun fact: The lion statue guarding the castle was meant to decorate the Chain Bridge in Budapest, however, a statue by another candidate, sculptor János Marschalkó was chosen in the contest and the one here was sold or donated to owners of the castle.