Sound Fountain




Ernst von (Ernö) Dohnányi (1877-1960)

Dohnanyi in 1949.

Ernst von Dohnányi around 1949 photographed in New York (edited picture taken from a Remington cover).






























The Violin Sonatas Nos. 2 and 3 of Johannes Brahms played by Albert Spalding and accompanied by Ernst von Dohnányi on an early Remington..

Violin Sonata No. 1 played by the same artists.









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In 1894 Ernst von Dohnányi went to Budapest to study with Hans Kössler (composition), with István Thomán (piano), and for a short time with famous composer and pianist Eugen d'Albert. Koessler later also taught Béla Bartók. Both d'Albert and Koessler were admirers of Johannes Brahms and on top of that d'Albert had been a pupil of Franz Liszt. Each certainly played a role in the education of young Ernö, either by influencing the development of the talent of the young pianist and composer, or most likely by reaffirming Dohnányi's affinity with the classical form which made him a great interpreter of Beethoven in his time.


Ernst von Dohnányi (Ernö Dohnányi) was born on July 27, 1877 in Pozsony (=Bratislava), then a Hungarian city close to the border with Austria. His father was not only an amateur cellist but also a physics professor who certainly loved the classics and had a feeling for form and structure more than he was interested in free music making and new ways of expression. This is not without significance because his father gave him the first lessons before he became a pupil of Karl Förstner, the organist of the Pozsony Cathedral.

Map of Hungary in the inter bellum period.
Pozsony (Bratislava) is the birthplace of Ernst von Dohnányi. Zoltán Kodály (born in Kecskemét) lived for several years in Galanta. And Béla Bartók was born in Nagyszentmiklós which is now called Sînnicolau Mare and is in Romania (on the map not far from Timisoara). Bratislava and Galanta are nowadays on Slovak territory.
Hungary as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Hungary before WW II - Map (c)1995, drawn by R.A.B.

After his graduation in 1897 - his Symphony in F was rewarded the King's Prize - Dohnányi made his debut in Berlin. Two years later his (First) Piano Concerto won the Bösendorfer Flügel Preis (also known as Von Bülow Preis) given by the famous Viennese piano manufacturer to the best student. Dohnányi dedicated his concerto to his teacher Eugen d'Albert.

Second prize winner of the competition was Jan Willem Frans Brandts-Buys (1868-1939) from the Netherlands with his Concerto in F. Third was Eduard Behm (1862-1946) from Germany. The final round of the competition was on March 26, 1899.

Dohnányi toured Europe and the United States until 1908.
After being a piano teacher in Berlin at the "Hochschule für Musik" until 1915, he returned to Budapest and at the age of 42 was appointed associate director of the National Hungarian Royal Liszt Ferenc Academy (Franz Liszt Academy).

Between 1921 and 1927 he again toured Europe and the USA where he was appointed chief conductor of the New York State Symphony Orchestra and that is where, in 1921, young Edward Kilenyi was presented to him.

Dohnányi performed in London and was a guest conductor of the (Royal) Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam. At the same time he continued teaching piano. Pianist Edward Kilenyi and conductor Laszlo Halasz (who started off as a pianist) were amongst his pupils in the nineteen twenties, and both are representatives of the Hungarian school. Dohnanyi was instrumental in the education of György Cziffra. Other pupils were Ervin Nyiregyházi and Ernö Szegedi. Even Béla Bartók studied with Dohnányi for a short time.

Ernö Dohnanyi as a young man.
Young Ernst von Dohnányi
Picture taken from the cover of the recording of Ernst von Dohnányi's Piano Concerto No. 1 performed by pianist Balint Vaszonyi and conductor John Pritchard (PYE LP TPLS 13052).

To the outside world this all seemed to be a glamorous career. But in fact Dohnányi's life knew turbulence and animosity. His biography tells us that his career was hampered because he refused to work under the dictatorial regime of Miklos Horthy (1921-1939). Although he had criticized Horty's links with fascism, he himself was accused of collaborating with the German occupants during World War II from 1944 until April 4th 1945. A severe blow was that his son Hans (father of conductor Christoph von Dohnányi) was executed because he was involved in the coup against Hitler in 1944, plotted by Claus von Stauffenberg and his group.
In that same year, 1944, Ernst von Dohnányi quit his post of conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra (which he held since 1919).

Ernst von Dohnanyi conducts Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1 (Franz Liszt) on a 78 rpm shellac disc - Columbia 9550.
A pre World War II recording of Ernst von Dohnányi conducting the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra in Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1 (the orchestral version of No. 14) on Columbia 9550/1 (listed as such in The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music, Simon and Shuster, New York 1942).

In 1931 he had become music director of the Hungarian State Radio and in 1934 had been appointed director of the Budapest Conservatory (Franz Liszt Academy), a post which he officially held until 1948.

Christoph von Dohnanyi studied with his grandfather, Ernst von Dohnanyi in Florida.
After Christoph von Dohnányi (born in Berlin in 1929) had won the "Richard Strauss Prize for Conducting and Composition" in 1951, he went to study with his grandfather Ernst von Dohnányi in Tallahassee, Florida.
Image Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.

But by that time he had left Hungary, running from his personal enemies and fleeing for the communists who aligned Hungary to the Soviet Union. Dohnányi went to live in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he stayed only for a short time. On the instigation of conductor Laszlo Halasz and pianist Edward Kilenyi the then seventy two year old maestro applied for the post of professor at the Florida School of Music, Tallahassee. He started teaching there in 1949 and four years later (1953) he was joined by his pupil Edward Kilenyi. Amongst Dohnányi's pupils in Florida was his grandson Christoph von Dohnányi who received his formation as a conductor.

In 1955 Ernst von Dohnányi became a US citizen. During his stay in New York in 1960, where he recorded his Second Piano Concerto for Bob Whyte's Everest label, Ernst von Dohnányi died, on February 9.

In his time Ernö Dohnányi was a great interpreter of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Liszt. As a composer his style was influenced by Brahms and Liszt and did not develop into a modern idiom (contrary to the styles of Bela Bartók, and to a certain extend the idioms of Zoltán Kodály and Leo Weiner). Dohnányi's style is romantic, somewhat less Hungarian, but above all very personal.
His best known composition is his Opus 25 from 1914: Variations on a Nursery Song for Piano and Orchestra, which has been recorded by the big record labels and the famous pianists the world over.

His Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 27, from 1914 (also stemming from his most prolific period of the early nineteen hundreds), is less comprehensive, and more rhapsodic. It is not a virtuoso piece for the sake of virtuosity. There are influences of Brahms, Bruch and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, yet it is truly Dohnányi's.

The concerto had to wait until 1986 to receive its first recording. The performance of this four movement concerto by violinist Gottfried Schneider and the Bamberger Symphoniker (Bamberg Symphony) conducted by Yoel Levi was released on the Schwann label, as a CD and as LP (Schwann VMS 2112). It is a sensitive performance of this music evoking drama and passion.

Dohnányi's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor from 1899 had to wait until 1972 to be premiered on LP on the PYE label from Great Britain, reference TPLS 13052. The passionate concerto written in a flamboyant style was very well performed by Bálint Vaszonyi, excellent Brahms interpreter, who came to Florida in 1958 to study with Dohnányi. In fact he was Dohnány's last pupil.

Edward Kilenyi and his teacher Ernst von Dohnanyi in Florida.
Ernst von Dohnányi and his pupil Edward Kilenyi around 1955.
Together they had made a recording for Columbia playing on two pianos 'Suite en valse' coupled with Kilenyi playing 'Waltz Settings', on a 12 inch Columbia Long Play disc (ML-54256).

Copyrighted photo courtesy of The Ernst von Dohnányi Collection at The Florida State University.

Edward Kilenyi was Recording Director of Remington Records, Inc. until 1953, the year he took up the post of teacher at the Florida School of Music. Then Laszlo Halasz became Recording Director of Don Gabor's label. The contacts of Ernst von Dohnányi with Edward Kilenyi, and with his fellow countrymen Donald Gabor and Laszlo Halasz, resulted in several recordings for the Remington label.

Although Dohnányi's performances have to be judged in view of his age, it is regrettable that Don Gabor did not make better sound recordings, especially when 'Dohnányi plays Dohnányi' (Four Rhapsodies) and Schumann's 'Scenes from Childhood' (Kinderszenen). It would have been welcomed if more takes had been recorded. However the original tapes of the recordings show much intensity. That is especially the case in the performance with Albert Spalding of his Violin Sonata Op.21.

Ernst von Dohnányi's Remington recordings:

R-199-16 - Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 17 and Andante Favori in F Major. Haydn: Variations in F Minor

C.G. Burke made an comprehensive study of the recordings of works by Beethoven which was published in High Fidelity Magazine, Spring 1952 edition. He explained how the study was made.

"There are 230 recorded versions of 119 Beethoven works, occupying 329 sides (...) this compendium reviews every Beethoven work recorded on LP as of mid-January. (...) Since the synopsis was conceived as a practical guide for music lovers, the writer has submerged his own prejudices as rigidly as he could. He has tried to indicate the broader, the more universal values of the discs, rather than certain niceties or certan eccentricities pleasing or repellent to himself."

About Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 17 Burke wrote:

"Two versions have patent merit with that of Mme. Novaes somewhat preferable in the sound of her piano (although the recording is good average in both cases), and especially because of an episodic delicacy very rewarding in the simple outlines in the candid and open-hearted Sonata. The Dohnanyi has some superirority of dynamics without the gentleness of Mme. Novaes's poetry." - C.G. Burke - High Fidelity, Spring 1953

Ernö Dohnany was about 74 when he recorded this Sonata for the Remington label and Guiomar Novaes 18 years younger.

Click here for a Sound Clip of a fragment of the Third Movement of Beethoven's Sonata No. 17 performed by Ernö Dohnanyi.


R-199-43 - Dohnányi: Four Rhapsodies Op. 11, Schumann: Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), announced by Ernst von Dohnányi himself. The interest of this recording is the fact that the composer plays his own Op. 11, but regrettably at a rather late age, and therefore not always in a controlled manner, which can also be said of the rendition of the Beethoven Sonata.

R-199-49 - Brahms: Sonatas Nos. 2 and 3 for Violin and Piano - Albert Spalding, violin, with Ernst von Dohnányi, piano; released in 1951.

R-199-84 - Brahms: Sonata No. 1 ("Regen") Op. 78 Albert Spalding, violin, with Ernö Dohnányi, piano - coupled with Hungarian Dances Nos. 8,9 and 17, with Anthony Kooiker at the piano.
This record was released in the spring of 1952. The liner notes, written by Edward Tatnall Canby, suggest that these performances with Spalding were recorded in the fall of 1949 when Dohnányi came to New York when visiting the United States, before he took up the post of professor at the Florida School of Music.

Dohnányi: Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 21 (written in 1912 in Berlin) was recorded in 1952 with violinist Albert Spalding and Ernst von Dohnányi at the piano, but was never released on Remington records. Tom Null issued this performance for the first time on Varèse-Sarabande VC 81048 in 1978 - coupled with Enesco's Violin Sonata No. 2 played by George Enesco himself and Céliny Chailley-Richez at the piano. See The Remington Series.

Researched and written by Rudolf A. Bruil. Page published in the Fall of 2002.

To honor the 125th anniversary of Dohnányi's birth and to commemorate the ten years he spent as a teacher at the Florida State University, an International Ernst von Dohnányi Festival was held from 31 January through 2 February 2002. Many guest artists who attended and performed were conductor Matthias Bamert, pianist Barry Snyder, cellist János Starker, musicologist and leading Dohnanyi scholar Alan Walker, pianist and Dohnanyi researcher Deborah Kiszely-Papp, and pianist Bálint Vázsonyi. - R.A.B.



Copyright 1995-2008 by Rudolf A. Bruil