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Dohnányi, Ernő

Dohnányi Ernő [Ernst von] (b Pozsony [now Bratislava], 27 July 1877; d New York, 9 February 1960) next to Liszt ranks as the most versatile Hungarian pianist, whose influence reached generations in all spheres of musical life. He is considered the first architect of Hungary 's musical culture in the 20th century.

His life and his works

He received his early training in Pozsony. Having finished at the Gymnasium he decided to obtain his formal education in music at the Budapest Academy. He was the first Hungarian of significant talent to do so and his example, as well as his personal intervention, induced Bartók (his friend from early schooldays) to follow the same course. Dohnányi studied the piano with Thomán and composition with Koessler and received his artist's diploma in 1897, after three years.

His op. 1, the Piano Quintet in C minor (which he composed after 67 juvenile works), had already been acclaimed by Brahms in 1895, and Brahms himself arranged the première in Vienna. In 1899 his Piano Concerto op.5 received the Bösendorfer Prize and by 1900 he had established himself, in both Europe and the USA, as the greatest Hungarian pianist and composer after Liszt. In 1905 Joachim invited him to teach at the Hochschule in Berlin. Dohnányi remained there for ten years, from 1908 with the rank of professor. He nevertheless continued his extensive concert tours and, while in Berlin, composed some of his best works. In 1915 returned to Budapest. His activity reached a peak in 1919-21 when he gave (in the absence of visiting artists) about 120 concerts each season in Budapest alone. According to Bartók, Dohnányi was providing the entire musical life of Hungary. From 1916 he taught the piano at the Budapest Academy, for which he worked out a comprehensive reform plan in 1917. Some of this he was able to put into practice when appointed director in February 1919 by the republican government. However, in October 1919 the new regime replaced him with Hubay. Between 1921 and 1927 he made extensive annual tours of the USA, and in 1925 the New York State Symphony Orchestra appointed him chief conductor.

Dohnányi returned to the Budapest Academy in 1928 as head of the piano and composition master classes. In 1931 he was appointed musical director of the Hungarian radio and in 1934 director of the Academy once again. By 1941 he had resigned his directorial post, rather than submit to the anti-Jewish legislation. In November 1944 he went to Austria. With major tours in England (1947-48), he was on the verge of reviving his international career when family reasons forced him to find security on the other side of the Atlantic. For a few months he was head of the piano department in Tucumán, Argentina, before finally settling in Tallahassee in Septem­ber 1949, as pianist- and composer-in-residence at Florida State University. In 1956 he made a last appearance at the Edinburgh Festival. He died while making some gramophone records, at a time when invitations from everywhere were beginning to come once again.