|About this Recording
GP786 - SZÉCHÉNYI - PIANO MUSIC FROM A HUNGARIAN DYNASTY, 1800-1920 (Kassai, Lázár)
The Széchényi family of counts is one of Hungary’s most significant noble dynasties. The Széchényi line gave birth to a wide range of major figures including politicians, bishops, generals, scientists, writers and artists. The most eminent scions of the family were Count Ferenc Széchényi, founder of the Hungarian national library, and Count István (Stephan) Széchényi, who established modern-day Hungary.
The members of the Széchényi family consisted of generations of passionate music-lovers, who were close to many famous composers including Haydn, Schubert, Donizetti, Liszt, Johann Strauss and many notable singers and instrumentalists of their time. Eleven family members were themselves composers, and music from seven of them has survived, including piano works. This recording presents a selection of those works for piano.
Lajos (Ludwig) Széchényi (1781–1855)
Lajos, eldest son of Ferenc Széchényi, studied law. He took part in the nobles’ rebellion against Napoleon, took charge of a group of 187 soldiers and fought at the battle of Győr in 1809, where he was wounded. From 1824 to 1845 Lajos Széchényi was chief court chamberlain for the Archduchess Sophie, mother of the later Emperors Franz Joseph and Maximilian. Lajos was an assiduous follower of his brother István’s pioneering activities in the name of Hungary, and supported him through his writing.
Lajos was a talented actor, wrote German poetry, composed music and was a good pianist and singer. There are reports of two of his concerts given before an imperial audience, in which he performed his own compositions for piano. The Archduchess Marie Louise, who would later become Napoleon’s wife, wrote in 1810, ‘Yesterday we heard some very fine waltzes, compositions by Louis Széchényi.’
In 1817 Schubert set two of his poems to music (Die abgeblühte Linde (‘The Faded Linden Tree’) and Der Flug der Zeit (‘The Flight of Time’)) and went on to dedicate the famous song Der Tod und das Mädchen (‘Death and the Maiden’) to Lajos. It is thought that Lajos may have been a pupil of Haydn. In 1825 Benedict Randhartinger (1802–1893), who later became a court singer and deputy Kapellmeister, became Lajos Széchényi’s private secretary on Schubert’s recommendation. Randhartinger dedicated his Grand Trio, Op. 10 to Lajos.
Befitting his social standing, Lajos ran an impressive salon in Vienna. It was here that he presented a young Franz Liszt in 1835, laying the foundations for friendly relations between the Széchényi family and Liszt that would be continued by Lajos’s brother István and son Imre.
Lajos wrote music for piano, songs, chamber music and orchestral works. His compositional oeuvre, such as we are aware of it, can be dated largely to the period of his first marriage (1801–22), to Countess Aloyzia von Clam-Gallas.
He composed the piano piece 10 Ländler and 1 Mazurka in 1812. The work consists of three sections, with the dances linked by themes and tonal relationships. The names of several wind instruments are mentioned in the piano part, which could also suggest a later arrangement.
The piano piece Deutscher mit Coda follows a dance pattern fashionable at the time, the most familiar example of which is the first movement (‘alla tedesca’) of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op. 79.
The three undated Magyar tántzok (‘Hungarian Dances’) contained in the manuscript score are of particular interest in the context of musical history, being early examples of the Hungarian dance style. They are related to the works of Lajos’s contemporaries Antal Csermák and János Lavotta. Judging by their stylistic characteristics, these dances can probably be dated to before 1820.
Franciska (Fanny) Széchényi-Batthyány (1783–1861), Hungary’s first female composer
Franciska, eldest daughter of Ferenc Széchényi, was born in Vienna in 1783 and died in Pinkafő (now Pinkafeld in Austria) in 1861. She married Count Miklós Batthyány. Ferenc’s much-loved daughter was a musician, a poet and a painter. During the Vienna Congress of 1814–15 Franciska made an impression with her outstanding piano-playing. Her own compositions were regularly performed at the church chapel in Pinkafeld, where she played the organ and conducted the choir. Franciska was a central intellectual figure in the Romantic circle of the priest Klemens Maria Hofbauer (1751–1820), canonised in 1909 by Pope Pius X. Franciska put the ideals of the Hofbrauer circle into practice in her own everyday life: in 1851 she moved the Merciful Sisters of St Vincent de Paul from Graz to Pinkafeld and founded a convent with a girl’s school, an infirmary, an orphanage and a nursery.
In order to finance her charitable work, she cultivated her estates with a view to maximising their profit. She arranged for the irrigation of her country estates, introduced fish ponds, bred sheep and cows, had a variety of fruit trees planted, set up a paper factory and a distillery, as well as buying spinning and threshing machines.
As a widow she entered the very convent she had founded in 1854 as a novice, taking the vow in 1860 and devoting herself to caring for the elderly and sick.
Franciska Széchényi composed works for piano, songs, duets and religious works (liturgical songs, numerous four-part choral works, a German Mass and a Latin Mass), which have all survived in manuscript form. Two of her spiritual songs have been published, appearing in the work Orgeltöne (‘Organ Sounds’) assembled by Ladaslaus Pyrker.
We have been unable to find any information on the composition of her piano work 6 Ländler. This miniature series of dances shows the composer’s sophisticated taste, while the technique required to perform the pieces is testament to her talents as a pianist.
Imre (Emerich) Széchényi (1825–1898)
Imre, the eldest son from Lajos’s second marriage, to the Austrian Countess Françoise von Wurmbrand-Stuppach, was born in Vienna in 1825 and died in Budapest in 1898.
At the age of 20 Imre entered the diplomatic service, first in Rome, then in 1848 he was posted to Stockholm. During 1850–51 he was based in Frankfurt, where he would become acquainted with Bismarck, who would subsequently become Chancellor; in 1852 he was based in Brussels and Paris, and from the summer of 1854 in St Petersburg, where he met Johann Strauss and began a friendship that would last a lifetime. In 1860 he became ambassador in Naples, and in 1878 he was the ambassador of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Berlin. The Emperor Franz Joseph awarded him the Order of the Golden Fleece for his services, and Kaiser Wilhelm II presented him with the highest of all Prussian decorations, the Order of the Black Eagle.
Imre Széchényi’s musical career followed a similar trajectory to his work in the diplomatic service. He wrote songs, dances, chamber music and orchestral works: some recordings worth exploring are the albums Forgotten Compositions, Hungaroton HCD 32748; Lieder, MSG Audiomax 903 2019-6; and Complete Dances for Orchestra, Naxos 8.573807.
In 1891 three booklets were published with Waltzes for pianoforte four hands by Imre Széchényi, by Carl Paez in Berlin, from which the first waltz recorded on this disc was recorded. The piece shows all the characteristic traits of Imre’s compositions—the richness of melody, the elegance, the variety and the humour.
Ödön (Edmond) Széchényi (1839–1922), the composing pasha
Ödön, younger son of István Széchényi and Countess Crescentia von Seilern-Aspang, was born in Bratislava in 1839 and died in Constantinople in 1922.
Ödön was notable for a variety of unusual activities during his life: in 1862 he rowed along the Danube from Passau to Pest, in the company of only his dog. He established the fire brigade in Hungary, and together with composer Ferenc Erkel founded a chess club in 1864 in Pest. In 1867 Ödön travelled exclusively by waterways from Pest to the Exposition Universelle in Paris in his Danube steamship Hableány (‘The Mermaid’), which he had specially designed for the purpose. This journey attracted a great deal of interest, and indeed Hableány went on to win the gold medal at the exhibition in Paris. In 1874 he moved to Constantinople with the aim of setting up a fire brigade at the court of Sultan Abdul Aziz, an aim which he achieved with alacrity. This fire brigade, organised along strict military lines, was subject to the ministry of war, with Count Széchényi Pascha at the head of the battalion. In 1896–97, Ödön Széchényi was closely linked to Theodor Hirzl, who was hoping for the support of the Sublime Porte to found a Zionist state. Hirzl asked Ödön to arrange a meeting for him with the Sultan, which ultimately did not come to fruition.
There are a number of piano works and one song known to have been composed by Ödön Széchényi. The works for fire brigade orchestra have been lost.
The Marien-Polka, which has survived as a manuscript score, was written in Cinfalva (Siegendorf, Burgenland) and was probably his first work.
The waltz Viszontlátási örömhangok keringő (‘Joyful Sounds Upon Meeting Again’) already shows considerable progress in Ödön’s compositional technique, and was published under the pseudonym ‘Felsővidéki Ödön’.
The piece Ez az élet gyöngyélet, Csilli csárdás (‘This Life is a Pearly Life’) is a highly accomplished csárdás, which suggests that the young Ödön had been taking lessons in composition from Mihály Mosonyi in the meantime.
The other pieces point to his activities in setting up the seafaring institute in Hungary: the popular Hajósegyleti polka (‘Shipowners Association Polka’) was published in two editions. Pull-on! galopp, and the Hableány polka (‘Mermaid Polka’, recalling Ödön’s steamboat trip from Pest to Paris via freshwater routes) are also inventive pieces. The title of the Regatta négyes (‘Regatta Foursome’) is ambiguous, as the piece itself is, musically speaking, a quadrille in six movements.
Félicie Széchényi, née Horváth de Szentgyörgy (1838–1920)
Félicie, wife of Ferenc Széchényi’s grandson Gábor, was born in Pest in 1838 and died in 1920 in Hegyfalu, in Hungary. Her father Antal Horváth was a hussar captain and her mother was Baroness Paula Orczy. In 1873 Félicie gave birth to her daughter Eugénia, 14 years into her marriage.
Félicie Széchényi published her polkas Herzblatt (‘Sweetheart’), 7 Uhr früh (‘7 in the Morning’) and Dorette with the Vienna publishers, Musikaliendruckerei von Jos. Eberle & Co. The Eberle house was established in 1873 and operated under the name Waldheim-Eberle from around 1890. The works must therefore date from between 1873 and 1890. Félicie wrote these pieces in the same year her daughter was born or shortly afterwards, seemingly in the flush of motherhood. Immer lustig (‘Always cheerful’) was published in 1914 by Max F. Aichwalder Musikalienhandlung und Verlag Wien.
Her dances are lively, melodious and atmospheric pieces, making them ideal to open this album.
Andor Széchényi (1865–1907)
Andor (András) was the son of Ödön Széchényi, from his first marriage, to Baroness Almay. He was born in Pest in 1865 and died in 1907, in Nieder-Ollwitz.
Young Andor appears to have been a hot-tempered young man, having in his youth survived four pistol duels and seven sword duels. Between 1888 and 1890 he travelled to the South Sea Islands, then to Somalia from 1891 to 1893, subsequently making his way via Russia, Persia and India to China. His travel journals were published by the Austrian Geographical Society. Andor also went on test flights with dirigible airships.
He composed dances for the piano, including the Gedanken-Walzer (‘Thinking Waltz’), Ein Marsch mehr! (‘One More March!’) and his Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka, published in 1889 by J. Engelmann, Wien.
Andor was not only an accomplished swordsman and sharpshooter, but a good pianist. The theme of the work Ein Marsch mehr! takes up the theme of his father’s fast polka Nixe, using greater rhythmic values (augmentation). The technique used here, the ‘walking bass’, calls for a very grand style of performance. Andor was evidently no friend of empty words. His Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka makes no secret of its similarity to the Hungarian Eselsmarsch (literally ‘Donkey March’), known in English as the Flea Waltz. His Gedanken-Walzer is a personal confession, not intended ironically.
Gisa Széchényi, née Haas von Teichen (1890–1945), the world’s first female film composer
Gisa, wife of Ferenc Széchényi’s great-grandson, the naval officer Gyula, was born in Vienna in 1890, dying there in 1945. Baroness Gisella was the daughter of the industrial magnate Baron Philipp Haas von Teichen. Gisa Haas von Teichen was a beautiful woman with a gift for music, and an excellent pianist. It is said that a number of her admirers once hauled a piano to the top of a mountain for her to play.
Gisa wrote the music for her father’s melodrama Abendsonne (‘Setting Sun’), which received its first, highly successful performance on 6 April 1911 at the Vienna City Theatre in the presence of Archduchesses Maria Theresa and Maria Josepha, Princess Mathilde von Sachsen, Archduke Franz Salvator and numerous other members of the high nobility.
A film of Abendsonne was also made in 1917—a silent film, shown with piano accompaniment. The music was a great success and it was reported in the Viennese press on the occasion of the 1917 première ‘Countess Széchényi-Haas contributed the delightful, heartfelt music.’
Kálmán Széchényi and István Kassai
The Széchényi family is one of the most prominent of Hungary’s noble families, and the whole Hungarian nation has much to thank them for. Being a pianist, I first got to know Imre Széchényi’s works, and later on as a producer and promoter I also discovered his orchestral dances. When I heard that other family members besides Imre were amateur composers, I became very curious—and ever since, several of the piano pieces presented here have become some of my favourites. I hope these delightful and enjoyable dances—once their scores have also been published—will find their place in international musical life.
The rediscovery of the works presented here was a great surprise to me. As I studied these compositions more closely, it gradually became clear to me that this album was not a case of indulging in memories of musical history, but of preserving outstanding and sophisticated music that could become an integral part of pianists’ repertoire. Given that several members of the Széchényi family were extremely accomplished musicians, I feel honoured to be able to contribute something towards the ‘resurrection’ of their works.
For further information, please see:
In eine bessre Welt entrückt’: Die Grafen Széchényi von Sárvár-Felsővidek und die Holde Kunst (‘“Transported to a Better World”: The Counts Széchényi of Sárvár-Felsővidek and the Noble Art’)
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