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Hungarian pianist, composer, conductor, teacher, and administrator.

Dohnanyi and Schenker

Dohnanyi had established himself internationally as a pianist in 1898, and had been recognized by Brahms as a composer in the mid-1890s. Although active as a critic at the time, Schenker seems not to have reviewed any of his performances, or the performances of his works, in Vienna in the 1890s.

Schenker's first discussion of Dohnanyi's music is a handwritten note (OC 31/331) dated February 2, 1903 about Dohnanyi's Symphony No. 1, in which he says that flexibility (Plastik) borrowed from other composers leads to formlessness: Accordingly, flexibility borrowed from Brahms does not work (because it is hindered by inflexibility elsewhere [in his music]), nor does Dohnanyi-ian inflexibility evolve into flexibility just by importing and interspersing flexible elements from other composers. Shallow unoriginality.

At some point, Schenker became acquainted with Dohnanyi, for his diary for August 6, 1906 records "Evening with Kessler from Pest, Dohnanyi, Löwe and others, together with Ochs." And on March 26, 1908, after attending a concert conducted by Moriz Violin, he reports staying up to 2 a.m. "in company, including that of Dohnanyi."

Hellmut Federhofer includes Dohnanyi in a long list of conductors and solo instrumentalists on whom Schenker held an "equivocal or unfavorable opinion." On November 9 and 29, 1906 Dohnanyi gave two concerts in the Bösendorfer Recital Hall. At the former, Schenker writes that the performance was up to scratch technically in a selection of Brahms pieces, but failed in a work by Liszt [he probably meant Schumann's Carnaval ] and in the Beethoven Sonata Op. 2, No. 3. At the second concert Schenker praised the performance of the Adagio of the Beethoven Sonata Op. 106, but that the first and last movements were "performed with only inadequate technical means," and the fugue, although with a clear overall conception, was "muddied with pedal." He assessed one of the pianist's own compositions, Winterreigen, as Schumannesque but "lacking the higher, more distinctive quality of imagination of the latter." On March 23, 1907, Dohnanyi played Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto (the work that first made his name) "too weakly, without support from the left hand."

Nor did Schenker's rating of Dohnanyi improve with the years. On November 11, 1927, Schenker heard a recital by him on the radio, and commented that Beethoven's Sonata Op. 101 was "completely misunderstood", Schumann's F-sharp minor Sonata was "mainly rushed, in a slapdash manner (in places, admittedly, played with a beautiful, intimate tone)." The performance of Brahms's Intermezzo, Op. 117, No. 1 was "unforgivable: the text incorrect, the performance sloppy."


  • Grove Music Online (Bálint Vázsonyi)
  • Federhofer, Hellmut, Heinrich Schenker nach Tagebüchern ... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985), p. 269
  • Ian Bent