Wednesday, May 16, 2012

and, the completion.

then walk up the hill the rest of the way. Don't miss the museum. And while in town, visit the Bathory Pizzeria, which has good food of all kinds. Say hello to the Mayor. Go! Enjoy! (and read the 2001 and 2004 journals for more stories.) Updated May 2006 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Is her story true? Yours? What was she like? It's mostly speculation. The few documents that exist are not available translated into a language I can read (alas, my Hungarian is limited to "köszönöm" and "jol" and "jo napot" and what I vaguely remember from my youth). Her diaries may be more fiction than fact. At least one person has told me that he has seen them and held them in his hands, and has relatives who can read them and have translated portions. Even that is not certain, because Erzsébet was known as "Hungary's national monster" -- a secret, a shame, not a national pride -- and to Slovaks, the "Tigress of Cséjthe". -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Speaking of Slovaks, I'm Slovak and your site angers me. Why do you glorify her? I don't glorify her. However, I do find her among the most ambiguous and complex individuals imaginable: a mother, a Countess, a brilliant woman, a wife, polyglot, perhaps bisexual, Pagan, Christian, Muslim as the occasion demanded, political, beautiful, shrewd, ruthless, engaging -- and the murderer of hundreds by her own hand. It is astounding, fearsome, and perplexing to be part of the same species as this woman. I do find it perplexing, however, that four centuries later, ethnic groups hold blood grudges. These people are long dead, and even their ghosts are probably tired. But they make good opera. That I find intriguing, which is why some of my libretto reads like this: Who am I to sing. I cannot sing again. I am Erzsébet. I am Countess Báthory. I am a noblewoman. Countess. I am Countess Báthory-Nadasdy. Ferenc was my husband. I remember him. Where are my children? I am cold, not hungry, but cold--and sick. What language are you? My native Magyar? Perhaps German? Latin? Copernicus was my friend. And the King my cousin. I am the Countess. My children, where are they? The barbarians... I turned them back East, I turned them back West. My tongue negotiated, my hand signed. I turned back my enemies, and each others'. Where are my children? My servants are faithless. A few dead peasants. Anna, sing to me, to me sing. O Lord of Cats, sing to me. When I visited Cachtice, by the way, I spent time with townspeople and Mayor Istoková (see this page for a photo of her and historian Ammer). At a celebratory dinner, we made peace between the Báthory family and the townspeople that suffered under Castle Cséthe and the Blood Countess. Updated April 2003 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yeah, but why do you glorify her? Sigh. Look, who better to ask than the people of the town of Cachtice, which looks up at the castle and which lost so many of its children to the Countess? Well, I did that. At a gathering of townspeople, I asked Mayor Anna Istoková whether talking about Erzsébet or her crimes or writing an opera brought back resentments or hate. She laughed and said that the opera must premiere at the castle! And as for how they feel about the Countess? She grabbed my arm, gestured at the town prospering from the Countess's memory, and said "She is ours now!" Bravo, Anna! Updated June 2004 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- That reminds me. Is the "Prayer of Erzsébet" for real? Probably. The original is said to have been Erzsébet's favorite, written in Slovak, and kept with her until the day she died. This was reported by the Reverend Ponikenusz, who was also reported (more third- and fourth-hand information) to have been a cold and harsh presence in Erzsébet's life. But the prayer (and the reportage) changed hands and was translated and republished several times, including in McNally (p.66), so its provenance is lost. It's the McNally version that I re-worked for poetic effect. It's powerful and moving, so whether it is really her prayer does not matter to me. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I've learned so much about her from [insert book or website or film name here]. Probably you haven't learned much. Most of the books are guesswork. The best biography in modern times had been McNally's "Dracula Was a Woman", (see the bibliography), alas out of print, as the more recent "Countess Dracula" by Tony Thorne now appears to be. But everything is now changed. What you need to have are Infamous Lady and The Private Letters of Countess Erzsébet Báthory, both by Kim Craft. These are the real deal. Don't believe what you read in vampire books or encyclopedias, on the web (even here!), and especially in fiction like Pizarnik's "The Blood Countess", Perez's "Siete Lunas de Sangre" (published here) or Codrescu's "The Blood Countess". They're inventions -- good ones, but inventions nonetheless. Turoczi's 1744 book might help if you can find a translation. If it really matters to you, go out and do the legwork. Go to Cséthe, Sárvár, Keresztur, and read the few authentic scraps that remain. (By the way, I'd love to publish the entirety of McNally's out-of-print book here, but he did not respond to my requests, and rights reverted elsewhere upon his death.) Updated November 2011 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Speaking of films, why don't you talk about films or recordings? There haven't been especially good films. Except for Ingrid Pitt's Countess (and she could have used a better script), they are all badly acted gothic melodramas of the bathing-in-blood down-through-the-centuries story. Nothing comes close to the true history of the times or the brutality and madness and brilliance of Erzsébet. Even Juraj Jakubisko's attempt fails; read my review. (I have not yet seen Delpy's The Countess.) As for tribute bands like Bathory or Cradle of Filth, they're out there and you certainly don't need me to help you find them! Updated November 2011 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Can you send me...? No. Whatever I know and have time to type is on this website. Two addenda: 1. News media are welcome to request high-resolution copies of photographs for publication. 2. If you want to use something from my site on your website, read this now. Please do not use or link to photos without contacting me! Updated April 2003 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Tell me more! (Visitor Comments #1) Okay. Here is what I have been thinking about Erzsébet, as I wrote in an email to a friend when she asked me, "I am still struggling with her rage. Are you saying that she took her anger out on the victims? Why did she murder them? Because they failed to be properly beautiful? That's just doesn't seem enough to torture over 200. What do you understand about her disorder? What was her childhood like? Did some one show her what to do?" This is the heart of the mystery of Erzsébet. No one knows these answers -- and there will be no real clues until we can read those diaries. What we do know is that Erzsébet was born into the most powerful family in Eastern Europe ... so great, they changed the name of the family to 'bathor' -- valiant. István (King Stephen the Great) ruled nearly all of present-day Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania. Erzsébet was reported to be precocious and exquisitely beautiful and transparently pale, china white ... the latter a characteristic of Hungarian beauty to this day. The skin seems so thin you can see the blood vessels under it even in the healthiest of children. She was educated in written and spoken Hungarian, Latin, and German, and was apparently fluent in all of them. She must also have had some knowledge of the language of the Ottomans (what was it then? Turkish?). She studied everything a Western boy-child might study, but in that more matriarchal society it was natural for her to do that. The men would fight. The women would negotiate. And that was one of her roles, keeping the Ottomans from Vienna for years. If you look at the geography of that area, you can see how the castles of the day formed a line along the formidable Vah, Vltava and Danube. That was her domain. So if we think about her as not only beautiful among her own kin, but also made to believe that she was a truly great beauty, we can guess how she must have hated her servants at Cséjthe. They were Slovak -- coarse of demeanor by the standards of that time's often inbred Hungarian nobility. This prejudice becomes exaggerated because Hungarians are not Westerners, nor is their language. They look different, as I've said: paler, more delicate. And the language is very harmonious, part of the Finno-Ugric group (the only Western languages that do not arise originally from Sanskrit, and surviving today as Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, and Karelian). [Note March 2002: Jonathan Saxon tells me Finno-Ugric languages are still spoken in the Mari-El and Udmurt Republics in central Russia.] The accent is without exception on the first syllable, and prepositional agreement is harmonic -- that is, the prepositions (which appear appended to the end of words) must sound lovely with the noun they belong to, and different speakers may use different relationships to achieve that. So Erzsébet's native tongue was like song itself and her nobility was all a so-called 'translucent beauty'. But her servants were not only peasants, they were speakers of a Slavic language full of gutturals and hard consonants unknown in Hungarian, and they were coarse-skinned from her ethnically narrow viewpoint. She probably loathed them in look and sound and peasant smell. That isn't enough, as you say, to torture and kill so many. So your word "disorder" has got to be included. I don't know how. Schizophrenia? To her family, she was an embarrassment -- power taken to extremes, once permitted because of her dominion and beauty. Later in life, as she became "very old" (over 50), and consumed by debt and making the mistake of killing Ilona Harczy (the minor Hungarian noblewoman in Vienna), she became politically vulnerable. She was taken to trial by Thurzo, the servants he hated were executed (along with Anna), and Erzsébet was imprisoned for more than two years in her own tower. How strong she still was to survive up there in that cold, alone, dirty and (eventually) sick to her death in 1614. That is the tower that still stands, and that you can see in my photos. It is a confounding sight, black even in the daylight. Updated April 2010 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Tell me more! (Visitor Comments #2) A recent correspondent objected in general to some of these thoughts. She wrote, "I am sure that Elisabeth, a noble woman, did not like the local poor people for various reasons, such as the language (she did not understand it very likely) and their harsh look and manners. Her attitude does not surprise me as it was natural for a person of her status. What does surprise me is your attitude to Slovak peasants - maybe I should say that it is the description and the final impression a visitor has after finishing reading the FAQ. You have described them in a way as if they were different (in a negative sense) from all other peasants - Hungarian, French or any other nationality. Your letter just suggests that peasants of other nationalities had soft skin, noble manners and smelled after expensive French parfumes. It is nonsense, naturally. These kinds of differences were due to the social status of the particular person, not his nationality." To be clear, all Western peasants were comparatively coarse-skinned, not only Slovaks; however, for purposes of the opera, only Slovaks are of interest, as she had Austrian and Hungarian servants in the castles that are not part of the story I'm telling (I even relocated the singer from Austria). I had no reason to contrast the peasants' harsh manners with other nationalities any more than I had to contrast Erzsébet's nobility with other nationalities. (Would I be inclined to make the latter comparison, though, I would note that the Hungarian ethnic group, peasant or not, has extremely smooth skin in flat expanses, often considered the mark of beauty in the Western view.) She continues, "My next comment concerns the musicality of the language. I am sure you are partial mainly because of your Hungarian roots. But I find expressing only your personal attitudes to Slovak and Hungarian languages unfair. Everybody likes his mother tongue best (even if English seems to be your mother tongue) but it does not give him any right to despise other languages or nations. Can you add into FAQ a note that most foreigners find Slovak folk songs really charming?" Again, she is absolutely correct about song. But to restate my note above, Hungarian (which is not my mother tongue; English is, and my second languages are French and Dutch) and the other Finno-Ugric languages have characteristics which make them more akin to music as it is composed. That is, the languages are, in their native spoken state, more like musical expression to one who does not care about the meaning of the words. The consistent first syllable accent is one very interesting characteristic; the words contain their own downbeats, so to speak. The lack of gutturals and plosives is another; the former sound is absent, the latter suppressed (though these softenings are also noticeable in some French, Italian and Portuguese speakers). But for me, the third -- and foremost -- reason (speaking only of Hungarian here, because I'm not sure of the other three Finno-Ugric tongues) is that its grammatical inflection is harmonic in nature, and its diacritical marks (doubled vowels in Finnish) indicate differences in duration as well as timbre. This is a characteristic of no other Western languages, and very significant to me as a composer. February 2003: Eydís Björnsdóttir recently wrote to amplify this: "All that you say about Hungarian, especially the parts about the emphasis being on the first syllable: Well, I do believe Iceland is one of the Western nations, and the Icelandic language does exactly have that characteristic. And in poetry based on old poetry 'rules', the rhythm of the language is highly important." Many thanks to Eydís for that information. (See more about language in Visitor Comments #4, below.) My goal is not to defend Erzsebet, but to explain, in terms of breaking down unsupportable mythology and replacing it with a different one, more based on what can be ascertained about her behavior in more modern terms. Remember I'm writing an opera, not a history book. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Tell me more! (Visitor Comments #3) Sometimes it gets just plain weird, like this one: "First of all, yes you do 'glorify' her. You admire her avarice and power, latent or expressed. There is another issue besides 'blood' and 'ghosts.' There are people out there who are psychopaths. They should not be glorified. If you have ever experienced the suffering and loss of life-direction at the hands of a psychopath (whether murdering, cannibal, or just entrapping, using and ruining), it's very serious and very real. Maddening--incredibly horrible to any socially inclined person. I'm still looking for some commentary on your site that would explain how monsterous 'Bathory' was. The 'thing' (not person) was a monster. That so-called nobility permitted this to occur...and why does this always seem to come from Hungary and Romania. What's with you 'people?' Are you all carnivores?" Weird or not, let me take this on a little. First of all, this modern-day politically correct prattle is an infection. "Entrapping"? "Ruining"? "Life-direction"? Kids are being taught this stuff. Yuck. But to the topic: Nobility (if that's the word) nowhere in the world seems to have been immune from these predilections. The old testament is full of personal slaughter. What were the crusades but legitimized slaughter? The ritualized lynchings in near-modern America? Sometimes it's a religion -- Torquemada and his inflamed minions of death -- sometimes a title -- Henry VIII and his murderous impulses toward his wives, and who knows how many anonymous servants, while being a writer and composer -- and sometimes the madness in modern times is disguised in political/ideological terms, such as the lunatic behavior made manifest in rulers such as Pol Pot or Stalin or Idi Amin or Mao ... or yet still in personal one-on-one Erzsébet-like behavior (less the literally bloody hands) as in a Mengele. All, yes, modern people in modern dress with ancient madness. The world is made up of the psychopaths. Where we deviate from the norm, we show, in such political terms, anti-social behavior, and when we repeat it, anti-social pathology. Where it arises out of mental aberration (as an artist, I am by definition aberrant), it's psychopathological, an ongoing life's work of insanity. Everyone is a psychopath at some level. Sports are psychopathic manifestations. When employees lives are left in ruins by ravenous corporate executives, it's because of psychopaths at work. Cops who beat and maim suspects until they're dead are among them, as are mothers who drown their children one by one, and terrorists who dump feeble humans off cruise ships in the apotheosis of a vacation. Certainly all, yes, manifesting the madness, and there's an opera about that last one ("The Death of Klinghoffer"). What the bruised and battered and damaged goods among us must know is that Erzsébet's acts of long ago are gone, taking with them and her both her own malevolence and the anguish of her victims. Now she can speak only through artists and writers like me, and our self-styled obligation is to re-interpret humanity for our fellow humans, escape it though you desire. We are far from her time, but we have not grown consistently well as a species. But no, the opera -- and the distant story of her life -- is no morality play. It's a thrilling and horrifying story by which we learn if we have separated ourselves from our demons. We ask again and again and again. And discover again and again and again that we have not. How else would we artists have given birth to Dracula and Frankenstein and fearsome modern Hannibal Lecters and even the more mundane Freddies and Chuckies? We are fascinated, hypnotized, by the incomprehensibly horrible. And we, as artists, swim in that rank pool of horror so that you need do little more than read or hear or watch the summarized and sanitized result that may raise momentarily a hair on your neck. (Between snacks. And emails upbraiding us.) So when someone writes to me as they have in this note, they reveal a clear misunderstanding not only of art, but demonstrate also a psychopathic, if you will, focus on the centrality of their own existence in their own world, and their simple-minded weakness in facing what it is to be human. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I'm interested in language. (Visitor Comments #4) Okay. I'm no expert. But some folks are. Here is what Margaret Radcliffe had to say: I ran across your page by accident (attracted to the Hungarian name in my daughter's links to free sheet music), was intrigued enough by your list of compositions and lectures to search google for more about you and found the Erszébet opera site. I just wanted to comment on the question of emphasis in Hungarian vs. Icelandic. Not that I'm an expert, or particularly qualified. I have studied both languages but have no real fluency in either. The point that Eydís misses is that, while in Icelandic there is emphasis on the first syllable of every word, the emphasis alternates through the rest of the word, as is frequently found in English. So, the 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc. syllables are also emphasized. What you get then, is natural iambics that match the stresses in our most prevalent musical meter - 4/4 time. No wonder it's called "common." This, of course, is not the case in Hungarian, where only the first syllable is emphasized. This is what gives these Finno-Ugric languages that strange (to western ears) singing but monotonous (literally) quality. Of course, this is the characteristic that makes it pretty much impossible for us non-native speakers of Hungarian to ever speak it well. I have a friend whose first language is Estonian and who was a foreign exchange student in Finland. She assures me that the emphasis is only on the first syllable in Estonian and in Finnish, as in Hungarian. Estonian also has the longer duration associated with long vowels, like Finnish and Hungarian. As for the "old poetry rules"--they involve two different sets of alliterative consonants in the two halves of each line, internal assonance, and "kenning," where the poet substitutes metaphors for everything possible, thus making the meaning so obscure that only gnostics can understand what it's about! One last thing--I don't want to bore you or take up more of your time--but I think you do a great job in the FAQ of answering those who criticize your failure to condemn Erszébet. I don't understand why it is that our society believes that every possible fictional and public figure must be a role model, represent an ethnic or national group, or make an overt political statement. Who is so stupid or unimaginative that they want to imitate all of the actions of someone in sports, politics, a book, or a movie? I have tried several times to start reading groups (just to have someone to talk to about books) only to discover that most people are unable to read or discuss any piece of literature except as a personal self-help guide. Frankly, it had never occurred to me to read Lolita as a sociological text... Anyway, bravo to you for plowing forward, at whatever pace you can manage, in your musical career. Köszönöm és jó estét. Updated February 2004 John Kahila adds: As you say, in Finnish the stress is invariably on the first syllable. Also in Estonian, which is closely related. I don't have personal familiarity with other Finno-Ugric languages such as Hungarian, but it doesn't surprise me to learn that they follow the same stress rule. And, as one of your correspondents says, other syllables within a word are not stressed, which can cause Finnish speech to sound oddly monotone to someone accustomed to Indo-European languages. (But it doesn't sound that way to me -- I adore the sound of spoken Finnish.) However, Finnish also permits words to be strung together in long compounds. In compounds, the initial syllable of the first component receives a strong stress, and the initial syllables of the remaining components receive a weaker stress. For example, among Helsinki's many architecturally interesting sites is Temppeliaukiokirkko, the "temple square church" (usually translated into English as Rock Church), which is carved out of native bedrock. Pronounced TEMP-pel-li-Au-ki-o-Kirk-ko. (Reference) Disclaimer: I'm not much of a Finnish speaker. My father's parents spoke Finnish (grandfather Erkki emigrated to the USA from a small town on the west coast of Finland). I lived in Helsinki for a couple of years while in graduate school, but almost everyone who graduates from high school speaks English there, so there wasn't a lot of incentive to go beyond basic tourist language. I'm somewhat better at reading it, though. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Courtney's simple explanation, entitled "The glorification of and/or reindroduction of Erzsbet's humanity into her legend". (Visitor Comments #5-#9) The assumption that there must have been some 'sane' reason behind her killings is just an extension of gender-role prejudice that holds that women are incapable of killing for its own sake. Additional insights from Ryan A couple of months ago i stumbled upon a story about Erzsbet, about the apparent murders she commited. I researched her a lot and from your site, other sources and looking at her portrait i have been able to create an idea of who she was. Now i'm not sure if you get this a lot but ever since i first read her story she has always been on my mind in some form and I'm afraid i am infatuated by this woman. From the information i have read i have forever kept in the forefront of my mind that 'It is the victors who write history'. From this i can derive that not all the information available to us is true and much of it fiction. I believe the bathing in blood is an outstreched rumour. I believe she only commited a few murders out of what could be called 'innocence' and because she could. I do not for a second belive that she did any of the crimes she was accused of. It was all to do with politics as many things are. She was set up by those closest to her, those who she and her husband might have trusted once upon a time. But because we enjoy Legends more than we do good people we are blinded by lies. From looking into her eyes in the portrait it is easy to see the love and sadness she contained. Notes from Dave about men and women and Erzsébet You say not many men, are really that into the countess. Well, you have now met one. I will explain it like this, first, you find a persons story rather interesting, you start reading about her, then, you start reading everything there is to read on the internet, and everywhere else, you dream about her, its as if you really know her, especially the more you learn about her, i highly disagree, when you say, she was very contraind by royalty. i would dare to say, while she was royalty, she had the power, to do whatever she wanted, and she did. that goes sexually as well. it was well known for her to spend many times with her aunt Klara, which you know, im sure. and her entire entourage, was of "different" sort of people. just about every person she had around her was considered a witch, devil worshipper or some sorta deviant. she was attracted to those kinda people. my opinion of her, was she was constraind, when she had to be. Like we all are at work. the reports of wild orgies, that were witnessed by the raiders of her castle on 1610. My attraction to her, is her power, you didnt dare say no to her. she was undoubtedly a very beautiful woman. and her incredibly intelligence only adds to her attraction, combined with her dark side, is just an irresistble combination. you have now met a man, that can equal any womans fascination or love for her. Drago has ideas about her personality I'm not exactly sure how I came across your website or how I became interested in Erzsebet Bathory, but I think that I may have discovered some insight into her behavior. I picked up McNally's "Dracula Was a Woman" book in a used book store while on a business trip in San Fran. Some things which caught my eye were ... •Elizabeth had violent seizures where she would pass out •She suffered ts of uncontrollable rage •There are certain forms of epilepsy which create short-circuits in the brain resulting in a violent temper. A normal person goes through the various stages from mild annoyance, to anger, to rage. A person with this epileptic disorder instantly jumps from calm to rage. The best example that I can give would be to place a pot of water on the stove. Even with the flame at full force, it will take some time for the water to come to a boil. That would be considered a normal person gradually going through the stages of annoyance, anger, fury. A person with this epileptic disorder, however, would be like a pot of water that is already simmering. Even a slight increase in the flame will instantly cause the pot to boil over. While it is impossible to know for certain, it sounds like Erzsebet Bathory suffered from this type of disorder. If so, she was not responsible for her actions. She had a temper with a mind of it's own. The least little annoyance to her wishes was like turning up the flame on that simmering pot of water causing her to boil over with rage. And while she may not have been responsible for her action, it does not minimize those actions but on the contrary, it intensifies them. Not only did the girls physically suffer from her wrath but the psychological fear they must have had of the Countess's ungovernable temper must have been unbelievable never knowing when some minor thing would send her into a rage. Feel free to use any of this information if you believe it will add additional insight into this poor woman and perhaps paint her in a less than horrible light.

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