Edward Kilenyi (1910-2000)














Photo: APR



























The excellent recording of Liszt's Concerto No. 1 and Totentanz (archaic Todtentanz), Variations on Dies Irae, played by Edward Kilenyi.










Liszt's Hungarian Fantasia and Mozarts K488














Edward Kilenyi and Felix Prohaska on Remington R-199-44.















The cover of the first issue of R-199-44.



















Edward Kilenyi around 1957 on the cover of the re-release of the Remington recording of Chopin's 1st Concerto with the Austrian Symphony Orchestra and Felix Prohaska on Masterseal MS77.















Edward Kilenyi's popularity is reflected in a testimonial advertisement of Carlson-Stromberg promoting their reproduction 400 system. In the ad he is in the company of Ernst von Dohnanyi, Antal Dorati, Leopold Stokowsky, Alexander Hilsberg and Ellen Ballon. (High Fidelity Magazine, December 1953.) Kilenyi's statement: The Stromberg Carlson 'Custom 400' gives the most complete and stunning reproduction of music I have heard in my experience on both sides of the microphone. Here absolute fidelity becomes phenomenal reality." Kilenyi refers also to his job as producer.












Felix Prohaska
(Image reconstructed by RAB.)












  Frederic Chopin's Waltzes on R-199-82.












 Link to
Edward Kilenyi's Recordings on the APR label.



















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Edward Kilenyi was a gifted pianist and above all an admired teacher. He was the son of violinist-composer Edward Kilenyi Sr. who came from Hungary (1884, Békés, Hungary - 1968, Tallahassee, Florida) and who appeared in several movies, mostly uncredited (See the Internet Movie Data Base - IMDb - web site). From 1919 till around 1923 George Gershwin studied composition with him.


Edward jr., born on May 7, 1910, in Philadelphia, showed, already at the age of three, an exceptional talent for playing musical compositions by ear.
"His father gave him a thorough musical training, but without depriving him of the joys of a normal boyhood through premature exploitation as a child prodigy", according to the liner notes of R-199-166.
Ernst von Dohnanyi - teacher of Edward Kilenyi
Ernst von Dohnanyi, teacher of pianist Edward Kilenyi

At the age of 11, young Kilenyi played for Ernst von Dohnányi when von Dohnányi visited New York in 1921. The maestro proposed to take the boy's musical education in hand. So Edward Kilenyi traveled to his father's native land Hungary, in 1925, and started his studies in Budapest. A few years later Kilenyi already concertized with his teacher.

After receiving his diplome at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in 1930, he started to perform in Europe. When Thomas Beecham heard Kilenyi play he remarked: "That's the way to play the piano!" and booked young Edward on a concert tour to introduce him to the entire English music loving nation. That was in 1935. Beecham called him "The true successor of the great Romantics, an artist in the grand manner of Liszt and Rubinstein." And after having performed with Willem Mengelberg and the (Royal) Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, Mengelberg said: "There is but one young artist whom one may compare musically with Kilenyi - that is Menuhin." This not only showed Mengelberg's esteem for Menuhin's artistry, but indicated that Edward Kilenyi, a young pianist in his twenties, was a remarkable talent.

Kilenyi performed with other great European conductors of that era as well: Karl Muck (the opposite of Mengelberg), Sir Henry Wood, John Barbirolli, Paul Paray, Philippe Gaubert, Charles Munch, and also with George Szell.
His artistry grew in popularity. That was reason enough for the French record label Pathé to contract him to record works by Liszt: "Hungarian Fantasia" (Pathé PAT 119/20) and "Todtentanz" (Totentanz; Danse macabre, Pathé PAT 102/3) with conductor Selmar Meyrowitz . The Todtentanz recording won the Grand Prix du Disque in 1939. The recordings of these works were released in the US on the Columbia label (78 RPM). At the time he also recorded with conductor Meyrowitz Liszt's Fantasia "The Wanderer" (Pathé PAT 136/8), plus a series of solo works like Mephisto Waltz and Au bord d'une source (Pathé PAT PG104/5) when living in Paris.

In 1940 he made his debut in New York's Town Hall and as a consequence appeared with such prominent conductors as Otto Klemperer, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Eugene Ormandy. Ormandy said: "It is not easy to rouse my enthusiasm, but he (Kilenyi) did, the minute he touched the piano."
For Columbia Kilenyi recorded with the Minneapolis Symphony and conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos.
Edward Kilenyi's recording of Chopin's Concerto No. 1 with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra under Dimitri Mitrropoulos on Columbia's budget label ENTRE, ref, RL 3028. Recorded in the 78 rpm era: Columbia CM-515 (4 x 12").

Edward Kilenyi's concert repertory included:

Ludwig van Beethoven: Concertos Nos. 1, 3 and 5
Johannes Brahms:
Concerto No. 2
Frederic Chopin: Concertos in E Minor and in F Minor
Frederick Delius: Concerto in C Minor
Ernst von Dohnanyi: Variations on a Nursery Theme
Franz Liszt: Concerto No 1, Hungarian Fantasia, and Todtentanz (Dance of Death)
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdi: Concerto in G Minor
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concertos K488 and K 467
Franz Schubert-Franz Liszt: Wanderer Fantasia
Robert Schumann: Concerto in A Minor
Peter Iljitch Tchaikovsky: Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor, Op. 23

Edward Kilenyi and his teacher Ernst von Dohnányi around 1955. Together they had made a recording for Columbia playing on two pianos 'Suite en valse' coupled with Kilenyi playing Dohnányi's 'Waltz Settings', on a 12 inch Columbia disc (ML-54256).
Picture courtesy of The Ernst von Dohnányi Collection
at The Florida State University.

Kilenyi was performing in the United States when World War II broke out in Europe. His career was more or less interrupted by the war. It was then that he enlisted in the US Army and served for four years as a welfare officer. Sent to Europe in 1945, he was appointed Music Control Officer for Bavaria (Germany) in the US Military Government. Germany was completely bankrupt. The Americans wanted to rebuild the cultural life because music and theatre are the basic ingedients for building society.

Edward Kilenyi's task was to reorganize and stimulate the cultural life in that region. Conductors Hans Knappertsbusch, Herbert von Karajan, Eugen Jochum, and more famous names, were banned from allowing to perform. It was important that life should get back to normal. When a conductor had to be hired for the Orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, Edward Kilenyi as music control officer was able to testify and help clearing any suspicion on the conduct of Georg Solti. Although Solti had lived in Switzerland, he was Hungarian and that could probably have meant that he had been on the wrong side in the war. But thanks to Edward Kilenyi pianist/conductor Georg Solti - also a pupil of Dohnanyi - was cleared. Kilenyi's intervention became more or less the basis for Solti's carreer.

In those years Edward Kilenyi got to know the German way of life and made contacts with artists and orchestras. His stay in Europe and subsequent travels led eventually to his recordings for the Remington label. In 1950 he recorded Chopin's Concerto No. 1, Debussy's Preludes, Chopin's Etudes Op. 10, and Liszt Hungarian Fantasy. As Remington's Music Director he traveled to Europe once again in March 1951 and visited Vienna, Salzburg, Paris and Milan. Kilenyi's early recordings for the Remington label were produced by Marcel Prawy, possibly together with Don Gabor and/or Laszlo Halasz who traveled to Europe at that time. Laszlo Halasz recorded the Suite from Zoltan Kodaly's 'Hary Janos' in Vienna, released on R-149-44. Halasz was not yet Recording Director for Remington.

In 1953 Edward Kilenyi took up the post of professor at the Florida State University of Music in Tallahassee and joined his former teacher Ernst von Dohnanyi, who had joined the FSU faculty four years earlier, in 1949. Kilenyi taught there for nearly thirty years until 1982.

Edward Kilenyi in his late twenties.

Edward Kilenyi at the beginning of his carreer
Photograph taken from the booklet of the Appian 2-CD of the Pathé recordings. Copyright APR

His famous prewar Pathé recordings of Liszt's Todtentanz (Danse macabre), Hungarian Fantasia for piano and orchestra and other works by Liszt and Chopin, recorded in the 78 RPM era, have been transferred to CD thanks to the devoted work of former Kilenyi students Jane Perry-Camp and her husband, the composer Harold Schiffman. This according to the booklet accompanying the CDs. It is also mentioned that original matrixes did not exist anymore, hence it took a lot of effort and time to collect the shellac records and prepare them for re-recording.


Many people have contributed to the project, amongst those Edward Kilenyi himself, who had several records in his personal collection. The transfers were done by Bryan Crimp who was already known for his transfers in the nineteen seventies (e.g. the Felix Weingartner recordings in the HMV Treasury Series - RLS 717). For the Kilenyi recordings he succeeded in achieving a distortion free and distinctive sound which is especially remarkable because in most cases the quality of the original discs was far from pristine. The recordings were released on APR (Appian Publications and Recordings), the label from England that specializes in great performers of the past.

In 1954 Kilenyi recorded Todtentanz once again, coupled with the Concerto No. 1, but then for the Remington label with the RIAS Symphony Orchestra and Rumanian conductor Jonel Perlea. These are structured and balanced performances. They show Kilenyi's virtuosity and above all his sense for timing, drama and sensitive poetry and the ability to create the right atmosphere for the individual movements and variations. These are excellent performances which are in the same vein as the recordings made in France before the war, but now in a sound recording of a high standard. This disc not only ranked high on the list of recordings of these works available in the early nineteen fifties, they also can withstand fierce competition of today's pianists. The collaboration of Jonel Perlea is exemplary.

The cover for Kilenyi's 1954 Remington MUSIRAMA recording of the Liszt Concerto and Todtentanz with Jonel Perlea and the RIAS Symphony Orchestra on R-199-166. Cover by Kaebitz.

A few years earlier Kilenyi had recorded the Hungarian Fantasia with the Austrian Symphony Orchestra under Felix Prohaska. This is a very articulate performance which shows Kilenyi's skill to the full. His playing is precise and intense. Kilenyi again shows that he is in command of the keyboard and masters the Hungarian Fantasia the same way as he mastered the work some fifteen years earlier in the 78 RPM era with conductor Selmar Meyrowitz (Pathé 119/120, Columbia CX 120 later renamed MX-120). The same is true for Chopin's Etudes Op. 10 which are performed with an emphasis more on the pianistic qualities of the compositions, however there are studies with a deeper, imaginative interpretation. On modern equipment the recordings do reveal sensitive playing.

These are the Remington albums of Edward Kilenyi:

R-199-44 Chopin: Concerto No. 1 with Felix Prohaska conducting the Austrian Symphony Orchestra (1951)

R-199-50 Debussy: Preludes Book 1 (1951)

The cover of an early edition of Twelve Préludes (Debussy) played by Edward Kilenyi on RLP-199-50:
Delphic Dancers, Soils, Wind in the Plains, The Sounds and Perfumes turn in the Evening Air, The Hils of Anacapri, Footsteps on Snow, What the West Wind Saw, The Maiden with the Flexen Hair, The Interrupted Serenade, The Sunken Cathedral, The Dance of Puck, Minstrels.
A very personal interpretation, yet an impressive performance.

R-199-57 Chopin: Etudes Op. 10 (released in the Fall of 1951). While Warren DeMotte was not too positive about Kilenyi's recordings of the Piano Concerto, either under Dmitri Mitropoulos or under Felix Prohaska, he was positive about the Etudes Op. 10 and wrote: 'Kilenyi is at his best in this recording; this is good playing in a good tradition.'

R-199-61 Liszt: Hungarian Fantasia, with Felix Prohaska and the Austrian Symphony Orchestra - Mozart: Concerto K 488 with Paul Walter conducting the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra (released in the Fall of 1951)

The early, pre-Steinweiss cover of RLP-199-61 with Liszt's Hungarian Fantasia with a relatively slow pace, and Mozart's Concerto No. 23, K 488.

R-199-82 Chopin: Waltzes  (released in the Spring of 1952)

R-199-83 Beethoven: Sonata No. 21 (Waldstein) and Sonata 26 (Lebewohl) (released in the Spring of 1952)

R-199-90 Chopin: Sonatas Nos. 2 & 3. (Released in November 1952)

R-199-91 Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, Brahms: Variations on a theme of Handel (released in the Fall of 1952)

R-199-164 Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 with Jonel Perlea conducting the RIAS Symphony Orchestra (released 1955)

R-199-165 Schumann: Carnaval, Chopin: Prelude Op. 28, No.16, Berceuse, Etude in F minor (Op.posth.), Barcarolle (Released in December 1955). Harold C. Schonberg writes in his discography of The Piano Music of Robert Schumann, published in High Fidelity Magazine of September, 1956:

Kilenyi's performance is thoroughly dependable, save for a lack of flexibility in such finger-twisters as Pantalon and Columbine, and the recorded sound on his disk is clear though lacking in color. It is a good buy at the price. I would avoid the stiff Brailowsky performance and the clumsy, error-laden one of Cortot. Badura-Skoda is conscientious but not very exciting; the Sandor version has as much warmth as an icicle; Magaloff also lacks communicative power; and the Pressler version is abridged (he plays Nos. I, 4, 11, 12, and 13).

On several of my pages a short file with music automatically starts playing. However not in a browser like Firefox. If you did not hear music when opening this page, click on the link below.


Click here for a Sound Clip of Chopin's Etude in F minor Op. Posth.


R-199-166 Liszt: Piano concerto No. 1 and Todtentanz, with the RIAS Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jonel Perlea. (Released in December 1954)

NOTE A recording in a slightly different tonal balance and in fake-stereo appeared on Palace PST-610 and is attributed to the Viennese Symphonic Orchestra and conductor Kurt Baumann. No mention is made of the pianist. It is not entirely clear if this is an original recording or a dubbing of the Kilenyi performance.

Picture taken from the November 1942 issue of ETUDE magazine. Edited by R.A.B. (From the SoundFountain Archive)

Kilenyi's talent and personality, both as a teacher and as a performer, are profusely illustrated in an article written by Rose Heylbut for The Etude Magazine, published in November 1942, entitled "Profitable Piano Practice". Studying scales and practicing the score, and working on the interpretation from the score, is not enough, the maestro says. Speaking about studying a composition and the interpretation, one has to know more about the composer and the composition. Kilenyi takes Robert Schumann as an example:


"Schumann must be approached in the world in which he lived; must be reconstructed and brought to life through his music. Only then can the student hope to offer an adequate interpretation of Schumann's work. To achieve this, he must live with Schumann! He must realize that Schumann was a great intellect; and not only that his music was 'romantic', but also that it was made so by the great florescence of romantic literature in Germany at the time. If the student reads that Schumann was enormously influenced by Jean-Paul Richter and E.T.A. Hoffmann, he should be inspired (by enthusiasm as well as by a desire for self-improvement) to search out the works of those writers and discover for himself what they had to say. It is quite impossible to play the "Kreisleriana", for instance, without steeping one's self in the spirit of Hoffmann's mad Kapelmeister, Johannes Kreisler. Every composer must be approached, not as an isolated phenomenon, but as the reflection of the life, the movements, the tastes, even the fads of the epoch that bred him." - Edward Kilenyi

On January 6, 2000 Edward Kilenyi died at the age of 89 in Tallahassee.
Pianist Deborah Yardley Beers, one of Kilenyi's pupils, described the qualities of Edward Kilenyi as a teacher: 

"At the heart of the piano lessons I took from Kilenyi were his wonderful demonstrations at the piano of sections of pieces on which I was working. With the exception of pieces by Messiaen, Schoenberg, and Haydn, he could demonstrate by heart from any point in any piece that I ever studied with him. (...) Of course he expected me to play correctly (...) and he expected me to play with some understanding of the historical context of the pieces (...). Above all, though, I believe his real goal was for me to find my own voice as a musician, and to learn to speak with it from the keyboard." - Deborah Yardley Beers (2001)

Deborah Yardley Beers can be heard playing Haydn, Brahms and Bartok and several of her own fascinating compositions, like A Spoonful of Honey, on YouTube (Link added March, 2017.)

Rudolf A. Bruil, Page created and published in November 2000

On January 14, 2001, a "Edward Kilenyi Memorial Concert" was given at the Florida State University, Tallahassee. The noted composer David Ward Steinman, a former student of Edward Kilenyi, performed a new work he had composed in Kilenyi's memory, and fourteen of Mr. Kilenyi's former students came from across the United States to take part and perform in this program.




Copyright 1995-2010 by Rudolf A. Bruil