LEO WEINER (1885 - 1960)
Leo Weiner was born on April 16th, 1885 in Budapest. His parents did not give him a musical education. He began his musical studies on his own initiative and learned to compose by analysing the works of the great composers. At the age of 16 he applied for admission to the Liszt Academy in Budapest, where he was a pupil of János Koessler (1853–1926), a representative of the Brahms tradition, and who was the teacher of Bartók, Kodály, Dohnányi, Emerich Kálmán and Victor Jacobi, among others. Weiner himself taught there from 1907 until his death. In his chamber music faculty he taught generations of musicians for half a century. Almost all the world-famous Hungarian musicians of this period were his pupils. Weiner was not only the living embodiment of a tradition, but he consolidated his pedagogical activity with his writings (text books on music theory, musical analyses).
Weiner’s career as a composer began like a comet. In his fifth year of study he won all the awards possible at the Liszt Academy. In 1908 he was awarded the Franz Joseph prize for his compositions, and this covered his study tour around Europe, to Vienna, Munich, Berlin and Paris.
His earliest works were already characterised by his knowledge of classical culture, an imaginative use of colour and bravura instrumentation, combined with lyrical emotion. Weiner managed to synthesise in an original way the tradition of Schumann and Mendelssohn together with the language of European and Hungarian music of the period. He composed true Hungarian music, without using folk melodies. He immediately made a stir with his new, captivating sound. The works written by the composer in his twenties were welcomed on the prestigious concert podiums of the world and were published by famous European publishing houses.
The pressure of the new modern, diverse musical developments that were so distant from Weiner’s personality, threw him into such a creative crisis that he even relinquished his position as a professor of composition at the Liszt Academy. The inspiration of folk music showed him a way out of the crisis. He made use of folk music in a somewhat different way from Kodály and Bartók. As the writer of a monograph on the composer, Melinda Berlász, says, “For Weiner, folk music represented a solely musical consideration. It was a precious musical material, rich in individual characteristics, which, as he confessed, he could stylize ’with refined artistic self-restraint’ in his works and make ’classical’.” These works also met with international success. The inferno of World War II caused him another creative crisis that lasted for seven years. After the war he polished and orchestrated his earlier pieces, wrote both works for pedagogical purposes and others that were a summation of his compositional output. He was awarded the highest Hungarian state award, the Kossuth Prize, twice in this period. He died on September 13th, 1960.