About this Recording
8.223317 - ERKEL: Piano Works / Chamber Music

Ferenc Erkel (1810–1893)
Piano Works Chamber Music


The Hungarian composer, conductor and pianist Ferenc Erkel was born at Gyula in South-Eastern Hungary. The Erkel family had a long association with Bratislava (the Hungarian Pozsony), where the name appears in records dating back to the 15th century. Ferenc Erkel’s grandfather and father were both musicians, and the former was invited in 1806 to move with his family to Gyula in the service of Count Ferenc Wenckheim, an admirer of Beethoven, who was anxious to form his own musical establishment there. Ferenc Erkel’s grandfather was employed by the Count as a steward and his father assumed the duties of schoolmaster and conductor of the church choir. The latter married the daughter of a farm bailiff in the service of the Count, and Ferenc Erkel was the second of the couple’s ten children. As a child Erkel had frequent opportunities to hear chamber music played by his father, the leader of astring quartet in which Albert Rosty, head of the county administration, played second violin, with the viola-player Brunszvik and cellist Josef Wagner. Both Rosty and Wagner were to be of material assistance to Ferenc Erkel in his later career.

At the age of twelve Erkel moved to Bratislava to study at the Benedictine school, where his teachers included the cathedral organist Heinrich Klein and the pianist Károly Turányi. Bratislava, known in German as Pressburg, was near enough to Vienna to share something of the cultural life of the time, and here Erkel had the opportunity to attend concerts, see operas and even hear the popular Hungarian music of Janós Bihari, who played there at the coronation of Queen Carolina Augusta in 1825.

In 1827, now aged seventeen, Erkel took employment as music master in the house-hold of Count Kálmán Csáky at Koloszvár (the modern Romanian town of Cluj-Napoca), the centre of a district of great importance in the development of Hungarian theatre and opera. Here, during the course of the next seven years, he won a reputation for himself as a pianist and had his first known experience as a conductor of opera with a company that moved first to Nagyvárad and then to Buda, where it formed the basis of the later Hungarian National Theatre.

Erkel was quick to establish himself as a leading pianist in the twin cities of the capital. He spent two years as conductor of the Municipal German Theatre in Pest and then, with the help of Albert Rosty, was appointed chief conductor of the Hungarian National Theatre. From 1853 he conducted the concerts of the Hungarian Philharmonic Society and from 1875 until 1887 was the principal piano teacher and director of the newly established Academy of Music, of which Liszt, a regular visitor, was president. Erkel retained his abilities as a performer, and one year after Liszt’s death in 1886 was able to play, at a Liszt birthday concert, that composer’s Fantasy on I Puritani. To celebrate his own eightieth birthday he played Mozart’s D minor Piano Concerto, with his own cadenza. His last appearance as a conductor was in 1892, when his Second Royal Anthem was performed. He died in 1893.

Erkerl’s early compositions are lost. The first of his works to survive is the Duo Brilliant of 1837. His Introduction and Capriccio, Erinnerungen an H.W. Ernst was written in 1840, under the inspiration of the famous violinist’s third concert, on 31st May, 1840, at which he had played his own Elégie sur la mort d’un objet chéri, published in that year and his variations on Cara mia Mamma, Le carnaval de Venise. Within three months Erkel had published, with the help of the former cellist of his father’s quartet, Josef Wagner, his own tribute to Ernst, making use of the therne of the Elegy in his introduction and adding nine virtuoso variations of the popular Venetian song that Ernst had used for his own variations. Two relatively insignificant Albumblätter survive in manuscript. The first of them was dedicated to Julia Bauholzer, a pupil of Erkel and of Liszt, to mark the occasion of the award of a Liszt scholarship in 1882. The second, without dedication, “mit Verschiebung”, was written in 1839, perhaps for Erkers pupil Nina Baldieri, who gave frequent performances in Pest. The Original Ungarischer was published in Pest in the journal Der Spiegel in 1845. It is in two sections, of which the second was to reappear 29 years later as part of a March in the opera Brankovics Gyärgy.

Erkel conducted the first performance of András Bartay’s comic opera Csel (“Ruse”) in Pest on 29th April, 1839. He later wrote three works basedon themes from the opera, the third of which survives in an autograph of 1839 with the German title Begleitungs-Stimmen zu den Csel Variationen (“Accompanying Parts to the Csel Variations”), apparently for piano quintet, for which the string parts were never written. The work opens with a section marked Animato, followed by a slower section, based on a traditional Hungarian recruiting dance from the opera. Three variations follow, the first and third marked at the end “segue tutti”, implying the repetition of the first section with the strings. After the third variation there are three slow bars, to which the present performer, István Kassai, has added an untitled work by Erkel, an Adagio and a Presto, ending with an extended cadenza. The word “tutti” appears again above the autograph of the Presto, and the paper and ink used suggest still more strongly that these were intended as part of the same composition.

Souvenir for Liszt: Rakóczy’s March (“Emlékül Liszt Ferenczre Rakóczy indulója”) was written under the inspiration of concerts given by Liszt in Pest between 27th December, 1839, and 12th January, 1840. On three occasions, on 4th, 9th and 11th January, Liszt played the patriotic Rákóczy March. Erkel had already written three versions of this, now lost, but now he published through Wagner aversion that contemporary press accounts describe as a passable imitation of Liszt’s style, although Erkel presumably intended the work for lesser talents.

The Introduction and Verbunkos for Viola and Piano was found in the possession of one of Erkel’s granddaughters. The manuscript, without title, bears the date 1890, and was written in Budapest. The twenty pages of the autograph offer a complete piano part, with the viola part only up to page 11 and for the last seven bars. There are various corrections in the existing viola part, which has been completed by the Hungarian conductor, composer and music historian Amadé Németh. The work opens with an introduction followed by the Verbunkos theme, three variations and a coda.

The Duo brillant en forme de fantaisie sur des aires hongrois concertant, for violin and piano, is Erkel’s first published work and was played by the young Vieuxtemps with the composer at three concerts in Pest in 1837, the year of its composition. The following year Erkel played it with Jansa, in 1841 with Sivori and again with Vieuxtemps in 1843, followed in 1850 by a performance with Wilma Neruda. In 1838 the Duo was published abroad by Schott, through the agency of Vieuxtemps, whose own name was added, with a change of title to its present French form. Presumably Vieuxtemps had some hand in the writing of the violin part. The Duo opens with an introduction followed by a Hungarian theme, from a Verbunkos by Antal Csermák. There is a ritornello partly based on motifs from the Rákóczi March, three variations, a modified repetition of the ritornello, leading to the appearance of a new theme with three variations, before a final Verbunkos and a concluding Presto.

Dezsó Legány
English adaptation by Keith Anderson

Close the window