There is quite a lot that goes unrecognized in this world. There is hard work that goes under-appreciated. When we listen to a quaint piece of orchestral or chamber music, there is much more to it than meets the eye. Each has a story to tell, a fable to share, with interesting little details that will help us appreciate them just that much more. This is how I see it with Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi, whose serenade, Opus 10, is featured in the DaPonte String Quartet’s performance here at the Denmark Arts Center on June 22, at 7:30 pm.
Ernő Dohnányi was born in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1877, to an ennobled family. He first studied music with his father, and then at the Budapest Academy of Music, which he would eventually become Minister of, after touring Europe with his many cello and piano works. Much of his work was praised by composer Johannes Brahms. Leaving Hungary at the end of World War II, Dohnányi became a resident (of all places) in Tallahassee, Florida, where he taught music at the Florida State University until his death in 1960.
Ernő Dohnányi’s personal life contains many peculiar details. Dohnányi was married thrice, his first two marriages ending in divorce before 1940 – odd for the time. Before World War I Dohnányi met and fell in love with his second wife, German actress Elza Galafrés, who was married to the great Polish violinist Bronisław Huberman. They could not marry as their respective spouses refused to divorce them. They nevertheless had a son out of wedlock, Matthew, in January 1917. They married in 1919 and divorced fifteen years later when he met Ilona Zachár, who was married with two children. He and Ilona travelled throughout Europe as husband and wife, but were not legally married until they had settled in the United States.
When Ernő Dohnányi was minister at the Budapest Academy of Music, he was branded as a Nazi sympathizer. To keep his love of music alive in his home country, he agreed with Nazi politics. This involved firing his his favorite Jewish pupil, Gyorgy Farago. At the same time he did nothing to save his one time friend and colleague, Leo Weiner, from losing his job and later did nothing to keep him from starving in the Budapest ghetto. Dohnányi also ignored the 6% of Jews still permitted by the anti-Jewish laws to enter the Master Class of the Academy, purging the entire Academy of Jewish participants. After his death in 1960, his widow Ilona Zachár mounted a campaign to disprove his reputation as a Nazi sympathizer.
As a composer, Dohnányi favored piano compositions, aiding his pursuit of becoming an acclaimed concert pianist. This is why his string piece, the Opus 10 is quite rare, and we are pleased to be presenting it Saturday June 22, at 7:30 pm with the DaPonte String Quartet.
With a messy life containing divorce, scandal and even Nazis, Ernő Dohnányi’s one constant in life was his music. He dedicated much of his life to sharing and teaching music to the world, a value we share here at The Denmark Arts Center.
Below, take a look at Ernő Dohnányi and his music across Europe, in this great file footage: