Erno Dohnanyi (1877 - 1960)
Six Concert Etudes, Op.28 (1916)
Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song, Op.29 (1916)
Pastorale (Hungarian Christmas Song) (1920)
Ruralia Hungarica, Op.32a (1924)
Hungary has given us some of the most extraordinarymusicians. Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Franz Lehar (1870-1948), Bola Bartok(1881-1945), Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), JosephSzigeti (1892-1973), George Szell (1897-1970) and Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985),just to name a few. The world pantheon would of course be incomplete withoutErno Dohnanyi, the elder colleague and promoter of both Bartok and Kodaly.
Dohnanyi was born in 1877 in a town located 35 miles eastof Vienna, the capital of Austria. The town of Dohnanyi's birth was Hungary'scapital for hundreds of years, known then as Pozsony. In German, when Hungarywas part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918), its name became Pressburg.
Now this town's name is Bratislava, and today it is the capital of Slovakia.
Erno Dohnanyi's own name also has a German version, Ernst von Dohnanyi.
Political turmoils in Europe, affected citizens of manycountries of that continent, not just the Hungarians. The two world wars andthe frequent rearrangements of national borders were, however, far more severein European lands east of France. Many eastern European classicalinstrumentalists and composers born at the end of the nineteenth century foundthemselves displaced and forced to seek safe havens allover the world.
The fate of Dohnanyi is especially ironic, because he wasfor a long time Hungary's pre-eminent musical force. He was an internationally acclaimedpianist, world-renowned composer and, for a quarter of a century, conductor ofthe Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he performed more than one hundredprogrammes each season. Dohnanyi championed younger composers, such as Bartokand Kodaly, was the director of Hungarian Radio, gave concertos all over theworld promoting Hungarian music, and presided over the Budapest Academy, wherehe taught piano and composition for many years. In short, from 1915 to 1944Dohnanyi had a powerful influence on the musical development of his native country.
Yet by 1948 he was hounded out of Hungary and, after brief periods in Austriaand in England, he found a temporary respite in Argentina, where he chaired thepiano department at the University of Tucuman, some 800 miles north-west of Buenos Aires.
From 1949 until his death in 1960, Dohnanyi lived in the United States, thanks in great part to the foresight and largesse of Florida State Universityin Tallahassee, which provided him with a faculty position in its musicdepartment. His appointment by an American institution of higher learning doesnot appear to be an unusual event until one realises that in 1949 Dohnanyi was already72 years old, seven years older than the then standard mandatory retirement agefor employees, including professors.
The musical journey that ended with a heart attack and afatal bout of influenza in early February 1960 in New York City had begun atthe age of eight when Dohnanyi started his piano and harmony lessons with KarolyForstner, the Pressburg Cathedral organist. By 1893 Dohnanyi entered the Royal Hungarian Academy of Music in Budapest, where he was taught piano by Stephan Thomen andcomposition by Hans Koessler. He also received a few master lessons from Eugen d'Albert(1864-1932), a pupil of Liszt.
Dohnanyi's musical career started very auspiciously. His Op.1,the Piano Quintet No.1 in C minor, was warmly praised by Johannes Brahms.
In 1896, Dohnanyi was awarded the King's Prize in composition by the Hungariangovernment. In 1899, his Piano Concerto, Op.5 won the von Billow(Bosendorfer) Prize in Vienna, beating more than sixty competing compositionsby others. His 1898 debut as a pianist in London, where he performed hisfavourite Beethoven piano concerto, No.4 in G major, Op.58, was atremendous success.
In 1954, Ohio State University awarded Dohnanyi anhonorary doctorate. In his waning years, he composed and performed much less.
His last public recital was in Tallahassee in 1959. He continued to record,however; at the time of his death, Dohnanyi was in New York City making studiorecordings of Beethoven's music for Everest Records.
The works included in this first volume of Dohnanyi'scomplete piano music are representative of his fresh, upbeat, and muscular style.
Dohnanyi was a piano virtuoso of the highest rank and most of his piano piecesrequire powerful technique.
The Six Concert Etudes, Op.28 are bravura piecesfor steel fingers and marathon stanlina - from start to finish there is no timeto catch a breath. The first Etude's solemn, pounding melody, introduced at thebeginning by the left hand, is literally showered by swift torrents of chordsplayed initially by the right hand; the hands alternate in their roles,producing a spectacular effect. In the second Etude, three groups of two sixthsin one hand whizz by three groups of three notes in the other; the listenerhears a coy, playful scherzo, while the pianist contends with a significanttest of dexterity. The third Etude deserves to be experienced not just aurallybut also visually; the finger acrobatics, where the two hands play interlacedthroughout, one under the other, are something unique that has to be seen to bebelieved. Etude No.4 recalls the majestic march-like flavour of the firstEtude; its insistent bass melody imbues the piece with both sadness anddignity. Etude No.5 is a rush of demisemiquavers, an avalanche ofsparkling musical frosting. The sixth and final concert Etude, subtitledCapriccio, is the best known of the set, one of Dohnanyi's most popularpiano solo compositions, and an enduring, favourite encore of virtuoso pianistseverywhere.
Dohnanyi's Op.29 is a Hungarian folk song themewith ten variations. The variations differ greatly in length and character, butthey flow into each other, turning the theme and variations into a seamlesslyevolving tone poem of contrasting moods and textures.
The Pastorale is an improvisation on the Hungarian Christmascarol, Mennybol az angyal (The Angel from Heaven). Dohnanyi used itsfirst few bars as a seasonal salute that he penned onto his hand-writtengreeting-cards to friends and relatives. The serene, crystalline, background bellsoffer a persistent, mellifluous holiday atmosphere.
Dohnanyi wrote his Ruralia Hungarica in 1923-24 inthree versions: for piano solo (Op.32a), for orchestra (Op.32b),
and arranged for violin and piano (Op.32c). The seven pieces are basedon familiar gypsy melodies. The folklore is used as a spice, however, to late romanticharmonizations. The first of the seven is first syllable