Spotlight on Ernö Dohnányi

One of the works in our Sydney Soloists concert on 2 August 2019 at The Concourse Chatswood is the Sextet in C, Op. 97  for piano, violin, viola, 'cello, clarinet and horn by  Ernö Dohnányi, the Hungarian pianist, composer, teacher and conductor. Composed in 1935, the Sextet in C is an expressive work that shows Dohnányi's mastery  of the grand Romantic style of the late nineteenth century and his embrace of the vibrant spirit of the  early twentieth century.

          Erno Dohnanyi

                           Photo credit  George Grantham Bain Collection,  Library of Congress, USA
 

Dohnányi was born in Pozsorny (now Bratislava) in 1877. He studied music in Poszorny and Budapest. At age 20 he won a prize for his first symphony composition and began establishing his reputation in Berlin and Vienna as a pianist of outstanding ability. Johannes Brahms admired the young Dohnányi, both as a performer and composer. Dohnányi performed extensively in Europe and America for many years. In 1919 he took up the post of Director of the Budapest Conservatory and later became the Director of Hungarian Radio. After the Second World War, he left Hungary and eventually settled in America, where he continued to perform, conduct and compose. He died in New York in 1960. 

Dohnányi's music is finely crafted and melodic with rich textures and expression  that owe much to Brahms. While he is regarded as more 'German' in style than his 'nationalist' contemporaries, Bartók and Kodály, at times the folk idioms of his Hungarian heritage can be heard in his compositions. The energy and rhythms of twentieth century modernism are also elements in his later works. 

He is best known for several orchestral suites, including the Ruralia Hungarica Suite, the popular Variations on a Nursery Song for piano and orchestra, and the charming Serenade for string trio.  After settling in America, Dohnányi developed an interest in  American folk songs, incorporating several into another very popular work American Rhapsody  for orchestra.

It is particularly pleasing for Sydney Mozart Society to feature an Ernö Dohnányi work in our August concert. In pre-WWII Hungary, one of Dohnányi's piano students was Bela Siki who would go on to enjoy a very successful performance career and to become one of the early patrons of Sydney Mozart Society.