A prominent pianist, conductor and composer, Ernst von
Dohnányi established himself as one of the leading figures of Hungarian music
during the 20th century. Born in Pozsony (modern day Bratislava) on
July 27, 1877, Dohnányi received his early and rudimentary musical instruction
from his father, a professor of mathematics and amateur cellist. Later he
enrolled in the Budapest Academy of Music studying piano and composition, and
where he was also classmates with Béla Bartók. His first concerts as a pianist,
in Berlin and London, garnered immediate praise and he was instantly recognized
as an artist of high caliber. This success as a pianist coincided also with his
growing reputation as a composer. His Piano Quintet in C minor earned the
approval of Johannes Brahms who arranged for the work's premiere in Vienna.
At the invitation of Joseph Joachim, Dohnányi taught at the
Hochschule in Berlin from 1905 to 1915. In 1919, he returned to the Budapest
Academy as its newly appointed director. His tenure, however, was short-lived
and he was ousted later in the year by Hungary's new fascist government. Taking
the directorship of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, he took an active role
in promoting the music of fellow Hungarian composers Béla Bártok and Zoltán
Kodály. In 1934, he returned to his post as director of the Budapest Academy.
However, growing tensions between Dohnányi and Hungary's fascist government led
to his resignation in 1941. Refusing to comply with the government's anti-Semitic
policies, Dohnányi resigned from his post as director. Furthermore, he entirely
disbanded the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra to prevent having to fire any of
his musicians on religious or racial grounds. He remained in Hungary during the
Second World War using his influence to help protect
Jewish musicians. After the close of the war and the establishment of Hungary's
new communist government, Dohnányi left his homeland for the United States.
In the U.S., Dohnányi was unable to completely revive his
career as a concert pianist, though he did continue to compose and conduct. In
1949, he accepted a faculty position at Florida State University which he held
until his death in 1960. He gave his final public performance on January 30,
1960 conducting Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. A little over a month later,
on February 9, he died in New York City of pneumonia.
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