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Ernst von Dohnanyi: Ernst von Dohnanyi (b. Pressburg [now Bratislava], 27 July 1877; d. New York, 11 Feb 1960).
Born into a Hungarian family in the Austro-Hungarian town of Pressburg, which is now Bratislava and Czechoslovakian, Ernst von Dohnanyi was destined from childhood for a life in music. His father, a professor of mathematics, was a good amateur 'cellist who encouraged his son to study music, and who placed him with the organist of the Pressburg cathedral for lessons in harmony as well as instruction in keyboard instruments. The young Ernst von Dohnanyi had already begun to compose when he left Pressburg at the age of seventeen to enrol at the Budapest Royal Academy of Music. His teacher there, Hans Koessler, also taught Bartok and Kodaly. When Ernst von Dohnanyi left the Academy, it was to embark upon a career as a concert pianist, which he did, in Berlin and Vienna, with enormous and immediate success. He played only the Viennese classics, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, and those who heard him felt convinced of the essential 'Tightness' of his performances, in the way that a later generation responded to Otto Klemperer's interpretations of the Ludwig van Beethoven symphonies.
Ernst von Dohnanyi's concert career, however, came to an early end, when he decided to abandon it for teaching and composition. For ten years he taught at the Berlin Hochschule, then returned to Budapest where he became Director of the Academy where he had formerly studied. Though he did not retain this post for long, his life in his native Hungary continued to be one of administrative and public posts. He became the conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, and on his fiftieth birthday in 1927 was awarded a huge grant from the State. Later, he was appointed Director of the Hungarian Broadcasting Service. He survived changes of regime to become, in extreme old age, the Grand Old Man of Hungarian music.
As a composer, Ernst von Dohnanyi was much admired in his own lifetime and in his own country. Some of his early chamber and piano works were liked by Brahms, but it is only the Variations on a Nursery Song (Op.25) for piano and orchestra which has endured, and which is still performed in concert programmes throughout the world.
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