Thursday, February 25, 2010

An introduction to Ernö Dohnányi

For the last ten days or so I've been listening to a lot of the music of Hungarian composer Ernö Dohnányi, the 50th anniversary of whose death fell this month. He's not an especially well-recorded composer; ArkivMusic lists 145 recordings (compared with, say, 222 for Delius, 301 for Dowland, and 1,742 for Dvorak). All I'd heard of him was the Variations on a Nursery Song for piano and orchestra, which has the most hilariously anti-climactic entry by the soloist, and a couple of solo piano pieces. So, with his anniversary, I decided it was time to take a proper listen. This is an opportunity that rarely arises - we build up our knowledge, and our music collections, in a haphazard way most of the time, so it's unusual to have the chance to immerse yourself in the works of a hitherto unknown composer.
Born in 1877, Dohnányi first made an impact aged 18 with his first piano quintet, which was admired by Brahms, and he was one of the finest pianists of his day. He was chief conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic for 25 years and director of the Budapest Academy from 1934 to 1941, when he resigned over government anti-Semitism. After the war, he fell foul of the communists, and he moved to the U.S.
I suppose you could call him a conservative composer, or at least not a ground-breaker. Bartók, whose music he championed, was only 4 years his junior but you'd never confuse the two. Having listened to quite a bit of Dohnányi's chamber and orchestral music now, I can say I enjoyed it without ever being blown away by it. But given my general tastes, that's not surprising. I certainly found enough fine music to easily compile an hour-and-a-half 8tracks mix, which is I suppose all that any composer can ask from posterity - I'm being facetious, but you know what I mean, don't you? Some composers, for various reasons, fall by the wayside, and I think a great way of getting them (back) into our consciousness is the well-put-together compilation album.


Nereffid said...

The works that appear in this mix are as follows:

Piano quintet in C minor, op.1
Serenade for string trio, op.10
Rhapsodies for piano, op.11
Suite in the Old Style, op.24
Concert Etudes, op.28
Ruralia Hungarica, op.32 (cello/piano and violin/piano versions)
String quartet no.3, op.33
Sextet, op.37
Symphony no.2, op.40
Violin concerto no.2, op.43
American Rhapsody, op.47

Robert said...

Thanks for this, tomorrow I will be adding to the 2 Dohnányi's I have which are different versions of the variations you mentioned although Katchen's Great Pianists series prefered "A Nursery Tune". Kocsis did the song.
Are well there you are......

Nereffid said...

I meant to say, I omitted the Nursery Song/Tune from the mix because the file was too long for 8tracks. Although at almost 25 minutes it wouldn't be ideal for inclusion anyway.