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Etelka Freund (1879-1977)


















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At the age of 67, Hungarian born pianist Etelka Freund came to live with relatives in the United States, in 1946, though she had tried to cross the Atlantic already before World War II broke out. When she arrived her dear teacher and friend Béla Bartók had already died.


Many excellent European artists had fled Europe already before the war and populated the music centers and all were trying to find work which, understandably, was very difficult with such an abundance of migrated talent. No big record company was interested in recording the art of Etelka Freund, the legendary pupil of Johannes Brahms, Federico Busoni, Bela Bartók, and of her brother - the neglected pianist and composer - Robert Freund. Robert Freund was a pupil of Ignaz Moscheles and he introduced himself to Franz Liszt and played the B Minor Sonata for the maestro.

Only insiders knew of Etelka Freund's existence, talent and European fame. No wonder. Etelka Freund had stopped performing when she married in 1910 at the age of 30, but had started performing again in Europe's major cities at the age of 57, a few years before World War 2 broke out.

Pianist Etelka Freund, pupil of Brahms and Busoni, when she concertized in Berlin.
Etelka Freund

There were many musicians who were really remarkable and were not offered any sort of contract by a leading record company in Europe. So it is understandable that "The Encyclopedia of Recorded Music" of 1948, which lists all the 78 RPM recordings available at that time, has no entry of any performance by Etelka Freund, nor has the 1942 edition.
Though her early fame as a concertizing performer, who had started a second career, must have been known in the United States, she only was invited by a radio station to perform for live broadcasts; some of these have been preserved and reissued on CD: Bach, Liszt, Brahms, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Kodaly and Bartok.
And there was, of course, Don Gabor who released 2 LPs with recordings made with her around 1952.

On R-199-109 Etelka Freund plays music of Johannes Brahms: Sonata in f minor Op. 5.  and Intermezzi Op. 117, No. 2, and Op. 116, No 2.
John W. Freeman wrote the liner notes for this release:

Few women are named in the history of great pianists, but those few have earned a right to the highest places in their art and profession. Etelka Freund, one of the truly legendary musicians of recent times, links the tradition of Clara Schumann with that of today's few great women pianists. Born in Vienna, where her talent was recognized at an early age, Madame Freund actually knew Brahms and learned from him the interpretation of his works. Later she studied in Switzerland with her brother Robert, an outstanding pianist of his time, and in Germany with Busoni, who always considered her the greatest of his many pupils.
Etelka Freund made her first concert appearance in Berlin when, with Busoni conducting the orchestra, she played three major concertos on the same program - an astounding feat in terms of physical endurance, especially for a young girl. Newspaper critics of the time observed that she was "of the same timber of which the greatest ones are carved," and for many years she played successful concerts, growing all the while in musicianship and reputation. Her home in Budapest, ruined during World War II, was a meeting place for leading musicians and composers of the past half century, since in addition to her skill as a pianist Madame Freund was also highly esteemed for her musical taste, knowledge and understanding. Among her souvenirs of an illustrious musical life spanning one of music's fullest epochs, Etelka Freund still has the original manuscript of Brahms' Second Concerto and some letters. - Notes by John W. Freeman.

Warren De Motte wrote about this disc in The Long Playing Record Guide: "Etelka Freund actually knew Brahms and although he probably did not coach her in this sonata, she plays it with an understanding that indicates she must have profited from the relationship." 

Listening to Etelka Freund playing Brahms one can hear how close Brahms could be to Schumann's idiom especially in these Intermezzi which are played here with such a lightness and naturalness. The Sonata is a different story, especially in the complex structures and loud pasages. Nevertheless one easily forgets about the choleric Brahms and the more 'heavy' interpretations by a few other pianists. "It is like floating on a peaceful, sunny day, on a raft on the ocean towards an open destitny", as a reviewer explained. And the Sonata in F receives an assertive, yet sensitive reading. It is assumed that the sound recording was made in the Mastertone Studios in New York City where other Remington artists made recordings: Edward Kilenyi, Simon Barere, Jorge Bolet, Ossy Renardy, Pierre Luboshutz and Genia Nemenoff, a.o.

Etelka Freund also recorded the Waltzes of Frederic Chopin which were released on Gabor's Plymouth label, reference number P-12-125, as to not to compete with Edward Kilenyi's set of the Waltzes on R-199-82, Kilenyi being a major Remington artist.
Although the Plymouth release is considered by some not as worthwhile as her Brahms, it is quite interesting to hear Etelka Freund's unaffected performances of Chopin's pieces.

The Pearl CD has the Remington recording of the Sonata in F minor Op. 5 and Intermezzi Op. 116 No. 2 and Op. 117 No. 2 together with the Scherzo in E flat minor Op. 4, Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel Op. 35, Intermezzo in E flat minor Op. 118 No. 6, and Capriccio in F sharp minor Op. 76 No. 1 which came from other sources.

On a second CD other recordings can be found of works by Bach (from The Well-Tempered Clavier); Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (Fantasia); Liszt (Funérailles, Valse oubliée, St. Francis of Assisi's Sermon to the Birds, Impromptu); Kodaly (from Nine Piano Pieces Op. 3); Béla Bartók (Bagatelle, Sketch, from For Children, from Folk Songs, Ten Easy Pieces, and Evening in Transylvania). Worth investigating.
Read Jonathan Woolf's review on Music Web


Click here for a Sound Clip of a Intermezzo by Brahms.

NOTE The recording of Schumann's 'Fantasy' coupled with Brahms's 'Schumann Variations' on Gabor's Merit Records Label, reference number M200-28, has been attributed by various collectors and record dealers to Etelka Freund. The cover mentions the performer as being "v. frieda, pianist". This prompted a record dealer and many music lovers whose brains fantasized ad lib to suggest that the artist was Etelka Freund. The container of the tape apparently was labeled "v. frieda" by someone in Austria or even by producer Marcel Prawy himself, before the tape was shipped and Gabor or an assistant must have thought that the artist was "v. frieda" and had this copied onto cover and label. It is the custom to write first the family name (or the initial of the family name) followed by the Christian name, especially when indexing performers. It also shows that the staff of Remington Records (and even Don Gabor for that matter) did not always know about every artist, let alone that they did meet everyone in person. The pianist however is not Etelka Freund but the Austrian Frieda Valenzi. 

Although some people still maintain that on this recording these works were played by Etelka Freund, Mrs. Frieda Valenzi told that these are her recordings of the 'Fantasie' and the 'Schumann Variations'.

Rudolf A. Bruil. Page first published February, 2001



Copyright 1995-2009 by Rudolf A. Bruil