Ernő Dohnányi was born in Pozsony (now Bratislava) in 1877. During his early years he showed great interest in music, and he later opted for further musical study in Budapest rather than, more conventionally, in Vienna, setting an example that was followed by his younger contemporary Bartók. His acquaintance with musicians like Hans Richter, Johannes Brahms and Joseph Joachim helped him to establish his early musical career as a composer-pianist in several important cities in Europe. He returned to Budapest in 1915, where he taught at the Budapest Music Academy and played a leading part in forming the musical culture of Hungary, although there were difficulties with the régime that replaced the first republican government of the country a few years later. The unsettled political environment in Hungary made Dohnányi move to Austria in 1944, but rumours continued to haunt him and caused him to halt his performing career several times. He finally settled in the United States in 1949, teaching at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he was also active in performing and composing until his death.
The work of Ernő Dohnányi has in recent years been unduly neglected, although at one time his Variations on a Nursery Theme for piano and orchestra, at least, formed a regular element in concert programmes. In part this neglect was due to both political circumstances and changing musical fashions in which the overt nationalism of a younger generation of Hungarian composers was favoured over the German Late Romanticism that characterized Dohnányi’s work. While Bartók and Kodály had recourse to Hungarian folk music as a source of inspiration, often expressed in the case of the former with a certain astringency, Dohnányi belonged much more to the German tradition in which he had largely been trained.
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