Ernő Dohnányi, Composer

Ernő Dohnányi (born July 27, 1877, Pozsony, Hung.—died Feb. 9, 1960, New York, N.Y., U.S.) was a Hungarian composer, pianist, and conductor, principally known for his Variations on a Nursery Song for piano and orchestra.

Dohnányi studied in Budapest at the Royal Academy of Music, where his first symphony was performed in 1897. As a pianist he traveled widely and established a reputation as one of the best performers of his day.

He taught at the Berlin Academy for Music (1908–15) and was conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic and associate director of the Budapest Academy of Music (1919). In 1931 Dohnányi was musical director of Hungarian radio. In 1948 he left Hungary as a political exile; his influence under the prewar regime was held against him, and his music was banned in communist Hungary for more than 10 years. He taught in Argentina and from 1949 held the position of composer-in-residence at Florida State University. He became a U.S. citizen in 1955.

Dohnányi’s music, which was chiefly influenced by Johannes Brahms, was late Romantic and conservative in style, and after 1910 he occupied only a minor place among contemporary Hungarian composers. His works include the Ruralia Hungarica for violin, three symphonies, a ballet, the Suite in F-sharp Minor, three operas, and chamber works, notably the Second String Quartet and the two piano and string quintets.

Symphonic Minutes

Ernő Dohnányi’s composition Symphonic Minutes comprises of five short movements, each only a couple of minutes long. It has undoubtedly become one of the composer’s most popular works, a popularity that predates the more recent renaissance in the composer’s fortunes. Indeed for the past few decades, it has been performed regularly in Hungary and could frequently be heard on the radio.

We can thank Dohányi’s second wife, Elza Galafrs for the work’s inception. Elza was a Berlin born actress and from 1912 Dohnániy regarded her as a collaborative partner for his own stage music creations. It was she who successfully mounted Dohnányi’s pantomime Pierette in Vienna, where earlier it had been a failure.

Dohnányi had long been preoccupied with the thought of turning his successful Ruralia Hungarica composition into theatre music, but the work was self evidently too short. The Symphonic Minutes are, then, a supplement to the Ruralia movements, and the two cycles combined became the dance legend Holy Torch. This was premiered at the Hungarian State Opera House on December 6th 1934, with choreography by Elza Galafrs, who devised an entirely novel system of notation for the work, writing essentially a dance score. She had long sensed that the traditional method of notating dance steps was both cumbersome and misleading, and so taking the five line system of music as her starting point, she wrote her instructions, which thus became readily comprehensible to even a layman, between five lines, each a few centimetres apart. This contained the music, a textual description of the action, precise movements of the dancers, the placing of the dance groups on the stage and even instructions for the lighting. In the choreography, she endeavoured for the placing of the dancers in each group scene to evoke a Hungarian folk motif. (This remarkable “score” is now on display at the Paris Museum of Dance.)

The composition however was premiered not in its stage version but in an orchestral guise. Earlier of course, there had been occasions when new works by Bartók, Kodály and Dohnányi were premiered together, but this still counted as a very special occasion. The first occasion was the legendary concert marking the 50th anniversary of the unification of Pest, Buda and Óbuda into modern day Budapest, in which Kodály’s Psalmus Hungaricus, Bartók’s Dance Suite and Dohnányi’s Festival Overture were all given their world premieres. Ten years later in 1933, the Orchestra of the Philharmonic Society celebrated its eightieth birthday with a concert that gave the first performances of Kodály’s Galantian Dances, Bartók’s Five Folk Songs with Orchestral Accompaniment, and Dohnányi’s Symphonic Minutes. The critics were enthusiastic – Aladár Tóth wrote appreciatively: “What nation could present three such geniuses at the same time?” He had this to say about Dohnányi’s work: “This little bagatelle is all harmony, form and lightness, which frolics in one place, is capricious in another, and pure song elsewhere; when it is witty it is also wild, in other words, a divertimento which not only entertains the mind but also raises the soul. It transfixes and liberates.”

We think of Dohnányi’s artistry in terms of its light handed composition, its virtuosity, its remarkable craftsmanship and its largely unclouded, upbeat charm. The score of Symphonic Minutes matches these expectations perfectly.

The opening moment, marked Capriccio, is awash with filigree woodwind passages which evoke the technique of German Romantic piano virtuosity, although perhaps we ought rather to think in terms of Mendelssohn’s fairy music. The handling of the orchestra and the richness and virtuosity of the orchestration evokes the art of Richard Strauss.

The Rhapsody movement begins with a sad, discursive melody on the cor anglais to which the clarinet responds. In this evocative music, we encounter both the nature music of late Romanic opera – for example Wagner’s shepherd boy’s melody (and we also hear a near verbatim quotation from Tristan) – coupled with a night monologue closely related to folk music that occurs often in the works of Kodály and Wagner.
At the centre of the work is the Scherzo which is momentous robustly orchestrated dance music. We could be forgiven for thinking we can hear the influence of Prokofiev. The brass sonorities of the emotional, lyrical  melody that counterpoints the boisterous principal section is late Romantic in character, although we can find similar emotional devices employed by film composers in the mid 1950s.

Dohnányi’s Symphonic Minutes also employs a self-explanatory variation form. The Tema con variazioni takes as its subject matter a nobly simple 16th century melody (“Tema del seicento”). The variations initially resolve the rhythm of the theme into soft, constant motion, but then the music takes on a more steely edge. The mood of this music was to return in the chorale of Bartók’s Concerto. The gracefully shaped clarinet melody of the penultimate variation seems very distant from the original theme, but the final variation faithfully returns to the theme, whereupon a celesta joins in, and its secretive sonority raises the music into a hitherto unsuspected ethereal world.

The closing movement (Rondo) is full of energy and again, we find the virtuosity of the opening fairy scherzo music. But here the music takes on folk music character: it is good humoured, cloudless and joyful, a fitting successor to Brahms’ Hungarian Dances.

Although Dohnányi’s composition is a treasure trove of musical historical associations, when we hear the five movements performed together, we derive an unmistakeable impression of a first rate musical personality.

Gabriel Fauré, composer

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th-century composers and he was best known for his Requiem.

Life and Music
It would appear that Fauré’s exceptional gift for music was obvious to everyone except his father, Toussaint-Honore.

Composer-teacher Louis Niedermeyer was so impressed by the nine-year old Fauré that he was belatedly enrolled (free!) at the Ecole de Musique Classique et Religieuse Paris. He stayed there for 11 years.

Among the budding young composer’s earliest published works are Chants Sans Paroles (Songs Without Words), and the Cantique de Jean Racine, a ravishing choral miniature from 1865.

In 1883, Fauré married Marie Fremiet, daughter of the renowned sculptor, Emmanuel.

In 1888, after almost 20 year’s labour, Fauré’s Requiem, a radiant masterwork affirming the composer’s unshakeable belief in the afterlife, received its first performance.

In 1892, Fauré was appointed Inspector of Music in Paris. By then he had begun an affair with Emma Bardac (who later became Debussy’s wife), an effervescent, musically cultured woman who gave birth to a daughter, Helene in June of that year.

In 1896 he was appointed chief organist of the Madeleine and, succeeding Massenet, professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire. During his 25 years there, he taught an extraordinary array of talented pupils including Ravel, Cortot, Enescu, Roger-Ducasse and Nadia Boulanger.

At the turn of the century Fauré met 24-year old Marguerite Hasselmans, a highly intelligent and gifted pianist. She was to remain his mistress and constant companion to the end of his days.

Behind the public success lay the private tragedy of Fauré’s increasing deafness and the onset of disturbing aural hallucinations.

Fauré died in 1924 from pneumonia.

Did you know?
It wasn’t until he was 50 years old that Fauré’s exceptional talents began to be recognised.

Kelly-Marie Murphy, composer

With music described as “breathtaking” (Kitchener-Waterloo Record), “imaginative and expressive” (The National Post), “a pulse-pounding barrage on the senses” (The Globe and Mail), and “Bartok on steroids” (Birmingham News), Kelly-Marie Murphy’s voice is well known on the Canadian music scene. She has created a number of memorable works for some of Canada’s leading performers and ensembles, including the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver Symphony Orchestras, The Gryphon Trio, James Campbell, Shauna Rolston, the Cecilia and Afiara String Quartets, and Judy Loman.

Dr. Murphy’s music has been performed around the world by outstanding soloists and ensembles, and has had radio broadcasts in over 22 countries. Her music has been interpreted by renowned conductors such as Sir Andrew Davis, David Brophy, Bramwell Tovey, and Mario Bernardi. Her music has been heard in iconic concert halls, such as Carnegie Hall in New York, The Mozarteum in Salzburg, and The National Concert Hall in Dublin.

Besides many academic scholarships awarded in Canada and England, Dr. Murphy has also won prizes for her music, dating back to 1992. She won first prize and the People’s Choice Award at the CBC Young Composer’s Competition in 1994 (string quartet category); received 2 honorable mentions in the New Music Concerts competition in 1995; earned fifth place at the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris in 1996 for her first orchestra piece, From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat. . .; was awarded first and second prizes in the Maryland Composer’s Competition at Loyola College in Baltimore, 1998; won third place in the Alexander Zemlinsky Prize for Composition in 1999 for her work, Utterances; won first prize in the International Horn Society’s Composer’s Competition, 2001, for her work, Departures and Deviations; and in 2003 won first prize for her harp concerto, And Then At Night I Paint the Stars in the Centara Corporation New Music Festival Composer’s Competition.

Dr. Murphy has completed short residencies at the Snowbird Institute for the Arts, Utah, with Joan Tower; Tapestry Music Theatre/Canadian Opera Company, Toronto; rESOund Festival of Contemporary Music, Edmonton; Strings of the Future International String Quartet Festival, Ottawa; Soundstreams/Encounters, Toronto; and at the Banff Centre for the Arts. In 2004 Dr. Murphy was honored with The Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Calgary, and in 2005 as the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition from the University of Toronto. Dr. Murphy was granted the distinction of Honorable Mention in the 2008 Barlow Prize for composition. From 2006 to 2008, she served as composer-in-residence to the National Youth Orchestra of Canada.

Kelly-Marie Murphy was born on a NATO base in Sardegna, Italy, and grew up on Canadian Armed Forces bases all across Canada. She began her studies in composition at the University of Calgary with William Jordan and Allan Bell, and later received a Ph.D. in composition from the University of Leeds, England, where she studied with Philip Wilby. After living and working for many years in the Washington D.C. area where she was designated “an alien of extraordinary ability” by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, she is now based in Ottawa.

Curiosity, Genius, and the Search For Petula Clark

Curiosity, Genius, and the Search For Petula Clark

This piece was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with the support of the Government of Canada and the Glenn Gould Foundation. It is a single movement work for orchestra written to celebrate Glenn Gould’s 85th birthday and the 70th anniversary of his debut performance with the TSO.

Glenn Gould was a prodigiously talented pianist who had already made his mark on the concert stage by the age of 30. He retired from the stage in 1964 and turned his energies towards recording, broadcasting, and communication. He had a staggering intellect and was interested in everything. He read many newspapers each day, and at least 4 hard cover books each week. One wonders when he found the time to practice?

For this piece, I wanted to explore the difference between the public perception of Glenn Gould (quirky, odd, ingenious, obsessive), and how Glenn perceived himself (a regular guy with many interests; possibly wearing a cheap suit). He did a fascinating series of radio documentaries, the first of which was called The Search for Petula Clark. Essentially, Glenn was intrigued by chasing radio relay stations on a drive up to Northern Ontario. At certain intervals, he could hear Petula Clark’s current hit, “Who Am I?” By the end of the drive, Glenn was quite an expert on the piece, and the distance between relay stations. Another thing you need to know about Glenn was that he loved games, especially guessing games. You can imagine him driving so as not to miss any of the relayed broadcasts of Petula Clark on his way up north! He speaks about this pop song with the same focus, attention, and intellect as he would use on Bach. It is both funny and charming. I tried to weave these elements through the piece — energy, curiosity, reflection, and satisfaction.

I am very grateful for the support of the Glenn Gould Foundation, and to Lorne Tulk – Gould’s longtime friend and recording engineer. It was a wonderful experience getting to know more about what made Glenn Gould an extraordinary person.

Premiere: First performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor, Toronto, September 2017.

Suite for Improvisor and Orchestra

From the composer, Kinan Azmeh:

I have always loved to compose, always loved to play as a soloist with orchestra and I have always loved to improvise, so I decided to write a piece that would allow me to do it all at once!

The three movements: Love on 139th Street in D, November 22nd and Wedding were originally written in 2005 for my project Hewar, an ensemble made of clarinet, oud and voice, and what began simply as three lead-sheets ended up becoming a full orchestral work and my most performed work.

The suite tries to blur the lines between the composed and the improvised, which comes from my belief that some of the best-written music is one that sounds spontaneous and improvised, and some of the best improvisations are the ones that sound structured as if composed. This work is meant to both turn an orchestra into a band and to give a great room for the soloist to improvise
and to “composer on the spot” and to play freely within the larger structure of
the work.

Love on 139th street in D, is inspired by NewYork City’s neighborhood of Harlem where I lived for few years, a simple homage to its cultural mix and a dedication to my downstairs neighbor who blasted reggaetone all day long!

November 22nd is a meditative work that tries to depict that ambiguous emotion one encounters by feeling at home somewhere far from one’s original home. I wrote this piece in the US inspired by the sonic memory of a marketplace that used to exist behind my parents apartment back in Damascus, it seemed to have a slow and steady pulse to it similar to the rhythm of life which keeps moving forward regardless of our emotions about it.

Wedding is made of two contrasting sections, a relatively calm one followed by a fast and energetic dance. It tries to capture the general mood found in a Syrian village wedding party usually held in the public square for everyone to attend. These parties are always exciting and never predictable.

Join us at the Hub

The concert ends, you exit TCU Place, and you’re still brimming with excitement after such a fabulous evening. Where to next?

Cross the street and join us over at the Hub at Holiday Inn!

It’s the perfect place to grab a post-concert drink, and snack, alongside fellow SSO patrons, musicians, and the feature guest artists.

We have complimentary appetizers on a first come first-serve basis!