Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Bartók's Pozsony: An Examination of Neglected Primary Sources

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Bartók's Pozsony: An Examination of Neglected Primary Sources

Article excerpt

In his Selbstbiographie of 1921, Béla Bartók gave the following assessment of his musical training as a schoolboy in Pozsony, Hungary (which was also known as Preßburg and is now Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia):1

Preßburg hatte zu jener Zeit unter den Provinzstädten Ungarns jedenfalls das regste Musikleben, so daß es mir möglich wurde, einerseits bei László Erkel (Sohn unseres bekannten Opernkomponisten Franz Erkel) bis zu meinem 15. Jahre Unterricht in Klavier und Harmonielehre zu genießen, anderseits manchen - allerdings weniger guten - Orchesterkonzerten und Opernvorstellungen beizuwohnen. Auch an Gelegenheit zur Ausübung von Kammermusik fehlte es nicht, und so lernte ich bis zu meinem 18. Jahre die Musikliteratur von Bach bis Brahms - Wagner jedoch nur bis zum "Tannhäuser" - verhältnismäßig genügend kennen.

Scholars generally recognize that Bartók's unenthusiastic assessment of Pozsony understates the musical life of a city that - due to both its close proximity to Vienna and its distinguished history as Hungary's capital, coronation city, and legislative seat for three centuries -was arguably one of the most musical cities in Europe. While Bartók scholarship has provided a great deal of information about Bartók's early years, very little attention has been paid to alternative primary sources that directly address the cultural milieu in turnof- the-century Pozsony. To fill in the gaps left by Bartók's Selbstbiographie, this article will consider autobiographical statements written by two other musicians from Pozsony: Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) and Ernõ Dohnányi (1877-1960).2

The Church Music Association of St. Martin's Cathedral

The orchestra concerts that Bartók described as being substandard were doubtlessly those performed by the Church Music Association of St.Martin's Cathedral. According to the Preßburger Zeitung,3 the purpose of the association was "An Sonn- und Feiertagen so auch an Geburts- und Namenstagen des apostolischen Königs den Gottesdienst in der vorgenannten Krönungskirche mit einem wohlbesetzten Orchester und Chor zu begleiten sowie profane Konzerte zu veranstalten." In his Autobiographische Skizze, Schmidt shared Bartók's assessment of the quality of the Church Music Association performances: "Das grösstenteils aus Dilettanten bestehende Orchester aber kaum mittelmässig zu nennen war." The performers may have been amateurs, but they were certainly ambitious. In her examination of St. Martin's concert programs from 1870-1874, Jana Lengová found that the most frequently performed masses were those by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, as well as those by Cherubini, Diabelli, Hummel, Schubert,Weber, and Barbieri.4 In his Memoirs,Dohnányi recalls the repertoire:

In addition to the Viennese sacred composers who were popular then, masses by Joseph and Michael Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert were performed. Liszt's Gran Mass was often performed as well. Beethoven's great work the Missa solemnis was performed by the Pozsony Church Music Association, which had performed the work during Beethoven's lifetime and had since performed it in the cathedral every year on Saint Cecilia's Day. Similarly, Haydn's seldom-played The Seven Last Words of Christ was performed every year on Good Friday.5

Dohnányi wasmistaken about the frequency of the Church Music Association performances of Beethoven's Missa solemnis. Because the Association was not founded until 1833, they could not have performed the work during Beethoven's lifetime. Furthermore, although the Church Music Association performed the Missa solemnis every St. Cecilia's Day between 1891 and 1895 and again between 1897 and 1900, this was just one of many large works with which the association celebrated this day and other major festivals. Between 1873 and 1890, for example, they performed Liszt's Gran Mass eight times, including two performances in 1873 that the composer himself attended.

Despite the later statements by Schmidt and Bartók about the quality of the ensemble, Liszt praised the Church Music Association's performance of the Mass: "Elle a été fort convenablement exécutée le Dimanche de Pâques au dôme - et vu les bonnes dispositions des exécutants et de l'auditoire, elle a fait bonne impression. …

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