Hungary’s Romantic Heritage Written in C

Loose yourself in Hubay's melodies as the sun slowly sets... © Charles Thibo
Loose yourself in Hubay’s melodies as the sun slowly sets… © Charles Thibo

Majestic introductions seem to have been the forte of the Hungarian composer Jeno Hubay. Take his Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor. Op. 21: wham-wham, wham-wham, wham-wham – the brass and the violins shake you through. A few minutes into the first movement, the solo violin finally provides some relief, and yet, vigorously played by the British violinist Chloë Hanslip, it underlines the message of Hubay: drama! He aptly called this piece “Concerto Dramatique”. This said, the second movement is one of nicest, softest and most gentle melodies I have ever heard. Music from a fairy tale…

From Budapest to Paris and Brussels

Hubay wrote his first violin concerto in 1884, shortly after having become the head  of the violin section at the Brussels Conservatory, and two years before he returned to Hungary to occupy a similar position at the Budapest Academy of Music. Upon his departure from Brussels, the Belgian composer and violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, whom we have met in an earlier post, succeeded him at the Conservatory.

Hubay had studied the violin with bis father and furthered his musical knowledge in Budapest and Berlin. He caught the attention of Franz Liszt, whom he accompanied at concerts in Budapest. It was upon Liszt’s advice that Hubay went to Paris in 1878, where he soon became a prominent performing artist at musical salons. Concerts all over France, in Belgium and the United Kingdom followed. Hubay developed an intense friendship with Henri Vieuxtemps, one of Ysaÿe’s teachers in Brussels, and orchestrated Vieuxtemps’ 7th violin concerto shortly before the composer’s death in 1881.

From 1886 on Hubay’s centre of activities was Budapest, but he extensively toured Europe. He wrote around 200 violin pieces. His second violin concerto (op. 90), set in E major and written in 1900, and Violin Concerto No. 3, set in G minor and written in 1906/1907 have an equally dynamic introduction as Violin Concerto No. 1. I can recommend all three of them because they are beautiful-beautiful all three of them.

A sketch of a masterwork

There is one piece however that beats all the three because of its sensuality: the Viola Concerto in C, op. 20, which Hubay started to write in 1884… and never finished. The first movement, completed by Hubay in 1885, is oh so romantic! It makes me shiver each time I hear it, it really goes under my skin. Quite promising! The second and the third movements existed only as sketches, but they have been arranged by Lajos Huszar, a contemporary Hungarian composer born in 1948.

Of course, we do not know what Hubay would have made out of the two movements, but Huszar is an experienced composer, having studied in Budapest and in Rome. As a member of the Polish-Hungarian avant-garde of the 70s, he used in his own compositions atonal elements, but he maintained a link to the late Romantic era, and was as such well suited to arrange Hubay’s works.

Adagio non tartando??

The second movement labelled “adagio non tartando”, starts with a slow, drawn out trumpet part. Before I wrote up this post, I hadn’t heard of that tempo designation: it means “at ease and not gradually slowing down”. Flawless! I will use that one next time my boss bursts into my office asking: Where is [whatever she is looking for]?” Adagio non tartando. Cool it, but stay alert. The third movement has a joyful, jubilant intro that takes up a theme from the first movement and ends on a kind of celebration hymn. Mmmmmmh!

Hubay’s violin concertos nos. 1 and 2 have been recorded by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chloë Hanslip (solo). Violin Concerto No. 3 has been recorded by the Dvorak Symphony Orchestra and Ragin Wenk-Wolf (solo), while the Viola concerto has been recorded by the Erkel Chamber Orchestra and Peter Barsony on the viol.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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