Obituary: Zoltn Szekely

By Campbell, Margaret | The Independent (London, England), October 19, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Zoltn Szekely

Campbell, Margaret, The Independent (London, England)

ZOLTAN SZEKELY was a distinguished violinist who became known internationally as a soloist, chamber musician and teacher. He was also a gifted composer whose works included a string quartet and a duo for violin and cello. His arrangement for violin and piano of Bartk's Romanian Dances became one of the most popular in the repertoire.

Szekely was born in Kocs, Hungary, in 1903 and showed early talent for the violin. He was accepted, as one of its youngest students, into the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, where he was a pupil of Jeno Hubay for violin and Zoltn Kodly for composition.

He graduated at 18 having been awarded the Maestrodiplom and shortly afterwards gave a series of sonata recitals with the composer Bela Bartk. The two men became close friends and henceforth Szekely was a tireless promoter of Bartk's music at a time when it achieved little popularity in the music world in general.

It was Szekely who commissioned Bartk's Second Violin Concerto and gave the premiere with the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Willem Mengleburg in Amsterdam in 1939. A recording was made of that live performance which was recently played on the radio. The distinguished violinist and teacher Yfrah Neaman, who happened to hear the broadcast, told me that for him it was quite a revelation:

This concerto is normally played in the rugged Magyar style where the violence and protest is expressed quite strongly. I was very surprised to hear a performance that was so much more mellow

and lyrical than the way in which we are accustomed to hear it. Personally I found it enchanting.

Although he was an accomplished soloist, chamber music was Szekely's real love. He succeeded Sndor Vegh as leader of the Hungarian String Quartet soon after its foundation in 1935 and very soon it became one of the most celebrated quartets in Europe. Although their main repertoire was based on the standard quartet literature, they also played many works by contemporary Hungarian composers, the most important of which were the six quartets by Bartk, which was due to Szekely's close association with the composer.

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