Nigel Thorpe remembers János Sebestyén

János, you remarkable man. I am so sorry I cannot be with you today, but my heart is there. And I carry with me your wonderful legacy, as do many others.

First, I suppose, I treasure the music you recorded. Over 88 albums, I believe. People will go on listening to you for many years. And I have too the CDs and tapes you made for me. Many of us had the privilege of hearing you play. You so often performed not just in public but in private for me, in my flat in Nyúl utca especially, but also in the grand Scitovsky villa on Lorántffy Zsuzsanna ut, a house you knew so well not just from us ambassadors but from your wartime childhood when you played there with your friend Tibor Scitovsky. Indeed your memories of that time were extraordinary. Do you remember the party in your flat when we were trying to work out where the Hungarian Prime Minister had sought refuge in the Turkish Embassy in February 1945? You deftly produced from your bewildering archive the 1945 telephone directory and looked up the address (it was on the Vár).

János, you so loved to play music. You once told me that if you could not play you would have no wish to live. You gave me the most wonderful concert when I finished my post as ambassador. We called it An Evening to Remember. And so it was. Glorious music from you and your friends, sprinkled with anecdotes about the Scitovsky villa and its many occupants. I still have the programme, of course. It ended, as did all the concerts we planned together with Vaughan William’s Linden Lea. You adopted that piece and I heard you play it elsewhere, as part of your repertoire.

You were a dear friend to me, János. We met in 1999, just before Christmas, at a dinner. On Christmas Eve we bumped into each other at the Fény utca market and you learned that I was on my own for Christmas. Later that day you came round with a present. How kind. I have never forgotten it.

Your friends were always important to you and you made them welcome in your home. For some reason you liked diplomats and they loved to join your exotic circle and the crazy club you had formed, based on a mythical republic in which we all held exalted positions. What fun we had.

János, thank you. Good luck. I miss you and will always be thinking of you.

Nigel Thorpe
HM Ambassador 1998-2003