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Biography of

Ernst von Dohnányi

27 jul 1877 (Bratislava) - 9 feb 1960 (New York)
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The native form of this personal name is Dohnányi Ernő. This article uses the Western name order.
Ernő Dohnányi

Ernő Dohnányi (July 27, 1877 – February 9, 1960) was a Hungarian conductor, composer, and pianist. He used the German form of his name Ernst von Dohnányi on most of his published compositions.

The Dohnányi family was ennobled by Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary.



Dohnányi was born in Pozsony, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary (today's Bratislava, capital of Slovakia). He first studied music with his father, a professor of mathematics and amateur cellist, at gymnasium, but afterwards became a pupil at the Budapest Academy of Music, studying piano and composition with Carl Forstner, organist of the Bratislava Cathedral. In 1894 he became a pupil of István Thomán for piano and of Hans Koessler for composition. Béla Bartók was one of his classmates there. Dohnányi's first published composition, his Piano Quintet in C minor, earned the approval of Johannes Brahms, who promoted the work in Vienna.

After a few lessons with Eugen d'Albert, Dohnányi made his debut in Berlin, 1897, and was at once recognized as an artist of high attainments. Similar success in Vienna followed, and thereafter he made the tour of Europe with the greatest success. He made his London debut at a Richter concert in the Queen's Hall, where he gave a memorable performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4.

Using his position as a conductor, Dohnányi pioneered Bartók's more accessible music to boost its popularity.

During the following season, he visited the United States. There, he established his reputation playing, again, the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 for his American debut with the St. Louis Symphony.

Unlike most other famous pianists of the time, Dohnányi did not limit himself to solo recitals and concerto solos, but also played chamber music.

In 1902, one of his two sons, Hans von Dohnányi, was born to Ernő and his wife Elisabeth, who was also a pianist. Hans later distinguished himself as a leader of the anti-Nazi resistance in Germany, and was a friend and collaborator of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Hans in turn became the father of the well-known orchestral conductor, Christoph von Dohnányi.

Joseph Joachim invited Dohnányi to teach at the Hochschule in Berlin, which he did from 1905 to 1915. Going back to Budapest, Dohnányi organized over a hundred concerts there each year. In 1919 he was appointed director of the Budapest Academy, but was replaced the same year for purely political reasons. He became music director of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra and promoted the music of Bartók and Zoltán Kodály and other Hungarians, but did not play his own music too often. Dohnányi's pupils include Andor Földes, Ervin Nyíregyházi, Géza Anda, Annie Fischer, Edward Kilenyi, Bálint Vázsonyi, Sir Georg Solti, Istvan Kantor, Joseph Running, Georges Cziffra, Frank Cooper and Ludovit (Lajos) Rajter.

In the 1920 season, he played the complete piano works of Beethoven. During the 1920s, he also recorded several of his works on the AMPICO reproducing piano.

In 1934 he was again appointed director of the Budapest Academy, a post he held until 1941, when he resigned from the post "as a protest against the anti-Jewish legislations [of that year]".[1] That year he also had to disband the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra.

After World War II, which had claimed the lives of both of his sons, one in combat and the other executed by the Nazis for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler, Dohnányi moved to the United States. He had remained in fascist Hungary during the war, though using his influence and expending his own fortune to protect Jewish musicians. A whispering campaign against him was promoted by the new Communist government of Hungary, to the point where he found it necessary to leave. He was not able to revive his career as a concert pianist, but continued to compose, and became interested in American folk music; his last orchestral work, in 1953, is entitled American Rhapsody. This piece was written for the sesquicentennial of Ohio University and includes folk material such as On Top of Old Smokey and I am a Poor, Wayfaring Stranger. Dohnányi also found a teaching position for ten years at the Florida State University School of Music in Tallahassee, whose music library holds a large archive of Dohnányi's papers, manuscripts, and related materials. A link to searchable databases at Florida State's Warren D. Allen Music Library is provided below. An International Ernst von Dohnányi Festival was held there in 2002.

Dohnányi's gravesite at Roselawn Cemetery, Tallahassee, Florida, USA

His last public performance, on January 30, 1960, was at Florida State University, conducting the university orchestra in a performance of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 with his doctoral student, Edward R. Thaden, as soloist. Following this performance, Dohnányi traveled to New York City to record some Beethoven piano sonatas, as well as other works, on stereo LP discs. He had previously recorded a Mozart concerto, his own Variations on a Nursery Tune, the second movement of his Ruralia Hungarica (Gypsy Andante), and a few solo works (but no Beethoven sonatas) on 78 rpm and various works, including Beethoven's Tempest Sonata, on early mono LP discs. He died ten days later, on February 9, 1960, of pneumonia in New York City. The BBC issued an LP recording taken from one of his last concerts with sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert, now considered one of the glories of the heritage of Romantic pianism.

His books entitled "Daily Finger Exercises for the Advanced Pianist in Three Volumes by Ernst Von Dohnanyi" was published by Mills Music, Inc. in 1962.


Dohnányi's compositional style was eccentric. Although he colored upon influences from Hungarian folk music, he is considered a nationalist composer like Béla Bartók or Zoltán Kodály. Dohnányi's approach is deeply rooted in the strongest traditions of European classical music, and particularly bears the imprint of Johannes Brahms.


  • Der Schleier der Pierrette (The Veil of Pierrette), Mime in three parts (Libretto after Arthur Schnitzler), Op. 18 (1909)
  • Tante Simona (Aunt Simona), Comic Opera in one act (Libretto by Victor Heindl), Op. 20 (1912)
  • A vajda tornya (The Tower of the Voivod), Romantic Opera in three acts (Libretto by Viktor Lányi, after Hans Heinz Ewers and Marc Henry), Op. 30 (1922)
  • A tenor (The Tenor), Comic Opera in three acts (Libretto by Ernő Góth and Karl Sternheim, after Bürgerschippel by Karl Sternheim), Op. 34 (1927)


  • Szegedi mise (Szeged Mass), Op. 35 (1930)
  • Cantus vitae, Symphonic Cantata, Op. 38 (1941)
  • Stabat mater, Op. 46 (1953)


  • Symphony in F major (1896, unpublished)
  • Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 9 (1901)
  • Suite in F-sharp minor, Op. 19 (1909)
  • Ünnepi nyitány (Festival Overture), Op. 31 (1923)
  • Ruralia Hungarica (based on Hungarian folk tunes), Op. 32b (1924)
  • Szimfonikus percek (Symphonic Minutes), Op. 36 (1933)
  • Symphony No. 2 in E major, Op. 40 (1945, revised 1954-7) [2]
  • American Rhapsody, Op. 47 (1953)

Solo instrument and orchestra

  • Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 5 (1898) (the opening theme was inspired by Brahms's Symphony No. 1)
  • Konzertstück (Concertpiece) in D major for cello and orchestra, Op. 12 (1904)
  • Variationen über ein Kinderlied (Variations on a Nursery Tune) for piano and orchestra, Op. 25 (1914)
  • Violin Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 27 (1915)
  • Piano Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Op. 42 (1947)
  • Violin Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 43 (1950)
  • Concertino for harp and chamber orchestra, Op. 45 (1952)

Chamber and instrumental

  • Piano Quartet in F minor, unpublished, (1894)
  • Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 1 (1895)
  • String Quartet No. 1 in A major, Op. 7 (1899)
  • Sonata in B minor for cello and piano, Op. 8 (1899)
  • Serenade in C major for string trio, Op. 10 (1902)
  • String Quartet No. 2 in D major, Op. 15 (1906)
  • Sonata in C minor for violin and piano, Op. 21 (1912)
  • Piano Quintet No. 2 in E minor, Op. 26 (1914)
  • String Quartet No. 3 in A minor, Op. 33 (1926)
  • Sextet in C for piano, strings and winds, Op. 37 (1935)
  • Aria for flute and piano, Op 48, No. 1 (1958)
  • Passacaglia for solo flute, Op. 48, No. 2 (1959)


  • Four Pieces, Op. 2 (1897, pub. 1905)
  • Waltzes for four hands, Op. 3 (1897)
  • Variations and Fugue on a Theme of EG, Op. 4 (1897)
  • Gavotte and Musette (WoO, 1898)
  • Albumblatt (WoO, 1899)
  • Passacaglia in E minor, Op. 6 (1899)
  • Four Rhapsodies, Op. 11 (1903)
  • Winterreigen, Op. 13 (1905)
  • Humoresque in the form of a Suite, Op. 17 (1907)
  • Three Pieces, Op. 23 (1912)
  • Fugue for left hand (WoO, 1913)
  • Suite in the Old Style, Op. 24 (1913)
  • Six Concert Etudes, Op. 28 (1916)
  • Variations on a Hungarian Folksong, Op. 29 (1917)
  • Pastorale on a Hungarian Christmas Song (WoO, 1920)
  • Ruralia Hungarica, Op. 32a (1923)
  • Waltz Suite, for two pianos, Op. 39a (1945),
  • Limping Waltz for solo piano, Op. 39b (1947)
  • Six Pieces, Op. 41 (1945)
  • Three Singular Pieces, Op. 44 (1951)


  1. ^ Peter Laki, program notes for the American Symphony Orchestra's Dohnanyi CD, Bridge 9160
  2. ^ Grymes, James A. (1999). "Ernő Dohnányi's Revision of His Symphony in E major, Op. 40". Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae (Budapest, Hungary: Academiae Scientiarum Hungarica) 40 (1/3): 71–84. doi:10.2307/902553. 

2. Dohnanyi, Ilona von, Grymes, James A., editor.(2002). "Ernst von Dohnanyi: A Song of Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-253-34103-5

This article is based on a text from the Etude magazine, prior to 1923, that is in the public domain.

External links


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ernst von Dohnányi. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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