Zuzana Růžičková remembers János Sebestyén

There used to be a musician's joke: when two pianists happen to travel on the same train, each takes a different car - as far as possible from each other, violinists seek different compartments, cellists sit one in a corner and the other at the window, while harpsichordists and organists sit together, discussing instruments, fingerings and registration until they miss their destinations. I don't know whether this applies still, but even then I wondered why. Maybe because even at school we needed each other to turn pages or put on registers, and so have few professional secrets. I'll never forget my horror when, as a "beginner", I discerned that my page turner was George Malcolm.

And thus, I hardly know where to begin to remember my friends and colleagues. Maybe at that unique flat in Budapest, rooms full of books, recordings and papers seemingly haphazardly heaped from floor to ceiling, invaluable documents worth a life to any collector, and in the midst of them, János Sebestyén, organist, harpsichordist and journalist, moves nonchalantly to and fro. Any colleague or friend is welcome at any time of day or night, and a surfeit of goodies, intellectual and others, is in store for them. A required item will, unbelievably, by sleight of hand, be produced by János instantly from the middle of a chaotic and dangerously collapsible heap. And there is never a lack of space, be it on top of the piano or harpsichord, for a sumptuous feast, for János is a Magyar and therefore a gourmet.

I'll never forget the day when János, surprisingly unannounced, rang the bell of our Prague home. We had just sat down to lunch, consuming with delight one of our favourite meals, early potatoes with cottage cheese, a rare delicacy in the Communist times. When I offered János pot-luck, he couldn't hide his horror. "May I leave my luggage and make some necessary calls?" he quickly apologized. In half an hour he reappeared with a huge box of special Prague sandwiches, beaming, and characteristically commenting: "Only a nation of long history and culture can produce something like this!"

In that flat on Fillér utca in Budapest, you could meet scientists, doctors, diplomats, ministers... maybe even heads of states. If you even hinted that you needed some information or maybe were just curious about something, János immediately established a connection with the most knowledgeable person in the field. With his dry English sense of humour, his ever present camera, his all-embracing musicianship, he is unforgettable, a refuge to all his friends, lovable, outgoing and sensitive.

Zuzana Růžičková

This excerpt from Zuzana Růžičková's book Královna cembala was kindly translated by the author.


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