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Bach: Prelude & Fugue No. 17 in A flat Major, BWV886
(The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II)
Gusztáv Fenyő, piano

and from the Archive

Ernő Dohnányi: Sextet in C Major for Pianoforte, Violin, Viola, Violoncello, Clarinet and Horn, Op. 37

– I Allegro appassionato

– II Intermezzo: Adagio

– III Allegro con sentimento – IV Finale: Allegro vivace, giocoso

Michael Collins, clarinet; Stephen Stirling, horn; Susanne Stanzeleit, violin; Susie Meszaros, viola; Timothy Gill, ‘cello; Gusztáv Fenyő, piano

Concert performance at the Cottier Theatre, Glasgow on 22 November 1995 as part of a programme commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Béla Bartók. See Cottier Theatre page for further details.

In the accompanying programme notes Gusztáv Fenyő wrote:

“Tonight’s programme, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Béla Bartók, brings together representative works by the four leading Hungarian composers of the first half of the [twentieth] century. Contemporaries born between 1877 and 1885, they illustrate in quite individual ways their various reactions to the traditions from which they sprang. Ultimately, however, they were all nationalists and it is, perhaps, symbolic that in a Hungary which, following World War I, had lost some of its richest lands through the Treaty of Trianon, Bartók, Kodály and Dohnányi – who were close colleagues at the Liszt Academy – were all asked to contribute a major work to the 1923 merging of Buda and Pest as one city.

Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960), the oldest, was and remained a romantic, cosmopolitan traditionalist, as befitted someone born in Pozsony, the old capital of the kingdom of Hungary (now Bratislava), which was populated by a quadrilingual ethnic mix. His decision to gravitate for his studies to Budapest rather than the much more highly reputed Vienna, was indeed symptomatic of his nationalism and served as an example to the younger Bartók. Dohnányi was a prodigious pianist from a young age and drew extravagant critical praise. As composer, he was encouraged by Brahms’s genuinely warm appraisal of his Opus 1 Quintet. The Brahmsian influence was to remain ever-present throughout his extensive and varied output, which included sonatas for ‘cello and violin, two piano quintets, three operas, symphonies and, of course, numerous piano works.

Posterity has not been kind to Dohnányi’s early reputation: as his flow of compositions slowed after World War II and as his Germanic sympathies forced him to leave for the USA in 1948, so did performances of his works. For decades only the Variations on a Nursery Song (Twinkle, twinkle little star to us) was performed – and even that, only sporadically. In the last few years we have been rediscovering many of his works and from the chamber output perhaps the Serenade for Violin, Viola and Cello and the Sextet are his most successful.

The Sextet [written in 1935] in fact embodies almost every characteristic of Dohnányi’s style: a strongly disciplined classicism of form, with cyclic use of main themes; superbly effective writing for each instrument and for groups of instruments within the ensemble; and, above all, his highly personal style which, despite Brahmsian and even Wagnerian influences, remains uniquely Hungarian in its bitter-sweet alternation of the major and minor modes and the funeral march character of much of the Intermezzo. However, many of the best passages look back upon an Austro-Hungarian fin-de-siecle decadence, a mood reminiscent of waltzes in Vienne cafés, as in the last movement, where he alternates between a waltz and restatements of the jovial jazz-like theme.”