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Some relief came with emigration to Argentina in April 1948, and in the autumn of 1949 there was finally a post at Florida State University. Still the vicious press paragraphs appeared, and it was not until a New York concert of 1953 that the Dohnányis emerged from the miasma of unsubstantiated charges against them. By then there was a Second Violin Concerto, at once brimful of wit and lyricism, hallmarks of Dohnányi on top form. The book takes its subtitle from the Cantus vitae of 1941, still unpublished, that perhaps most tellingly enshrines Dohnányi's attitude to life.

'Ernst von Dohnányi - A Song of Life' by Ilona von Dohnányi, edited by James A Grymes. © 2002 Indiana University Press
'Ernst von Dohnányi - A Song of Life' by Ilona von Dohnányi, edited by James A Grymes. © 2002 Indiana University Press

Ilona von Dohnányi catalogues in maybe too much detail (an Appendix might have done the job) the astonishing procession of concerts that punctuated Dohnányi's career, gifted as he was with prodigious powers of sight-reading, improvisation and memory. Richter brought him to London in October 1898 just after his twenty-first birthday. He played Beethoven's Fourth Concerto, and his English fame was secure. His last British appearance was at the 1956 Edinburgh Festival, for which I wrote some programme notes, including one on the Dohnányi Second Piano Quintet. He was interested enough to want to meet me, but I could not possibly escape from London at the time. Thus vanished my only chance of encountering one of the three giants who had hitherto dominated Hungarian music of the twentieth century. This affectionately written book shows a 'playful tintype' of Dohnányi brandishing a menacing guitar, Kodály opposite with a bellicose stick, and Bartók cowering between holding a gigantic ladle. If Bartók and Kodály were pathbreakers on the European scene, Dohnányi interpreted the Classical tradition for contemporary audiences with an originality and urbanity as yet insufficiently recognised.

Copyright © 13 July 2003 Robert Anderson, London, UK


Ernst von Dohnányi - A Song of Life
Ilona von Dohnányi; edited by James A Grymes

Indiana University Press, 2002

ISBN 0-2533-4103-5, hardback, 272 pages


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