Ferenc Erkel – Ünnepi nyitány (Festival Overture)
(b. Gyula, 7 November, 1810 — d. Budapest, 15 June 1893)
Ferenc Erkel was born into a Danube Swabian family in the small town of Gyula situated in the southeastern part of Hungary, close to Romania. His German father Joseph Erkel was a musician, his mother Klára Ruttkay was Hungarian. Ferenc considered himself to be Hungarian. His family on his father’s side included a long line of musicians, so, it was quite natural for him early on to gravitate towards music. Childhood years were spent in what is present day Bratislava (Slovakia). He was tutored in music initially by his father, grandfather and later formal studies with the composer Henrik Klein. In 1835 Erkel moved to Pest (Buda and Pest were not united into Budapest until 1873). As an ardent Hungarian nationalist, he spent his entire life in a Hungary that was ruled from Vienna and was part of the Habsburg Empire. A talented pianist, initially he was able to make a living as both a soloist/accompanist and later as a conductor. One of his first important conducting assignments was at the Buda Castle Theatre, and shortly after that he led the German Theatre of Pest. In 1838 he became the first conductor of the newly opened Hungarian Theatre of Pest, later named the National Theatre. He worked tirelessly to promote Hungarian language performances and operas that could compete with the German and Italian operas being produced by the German Theatre. This led him eventually to compose his own operas in the Hungarian language, including Bátori Mária (1840), Hunyadi László (1844), Erzsébet(1857), Bánk bán (1861), Sarolta (1862), Dózsa György (1867), Brankovics György (1874), and Névtelen hősök (1880). Aside from local performances none have entered the permanent international repertoire. In addition to his work at the National Theatre and Hungarian State Opera House, he wrote music for popular plays, founded and conducted the Philharmonic Society and was instrumental in establishing the Academy of Music where he served both as director and piano professor. In 1844 a work by Erkel (Himnusz) won first prize in an anthem competition. It eventually became Hungary’s national anthem. Amazingly he also found time to play chess at a very high international level and founded the Budapest Chess Club in 1864. This aspect of his career is honored and propagated by the Erkel Ferenc Sakk Emlékverseny (Erkel Ferenc Chess Memorial Tourney), an annual event in Hungary encouraging young school aged chess talents. His vast contributions to the nation’s cultural life are preserved in a museum in his birthplace of Gyula and elsewhere in Hungary where there are numerous musical institutions named after him, including the countries’ highest musical award, Erkel Ferenc Díj. He has been commemorated on postage stamps and on gold and silver coins issued by the Hungarian National Bank on the 200th anniversary of his birth, for his contributions to Hungarian culture. Four of his sons, Gyula, Elek, László, and Sandor carried on the family musical tradition.
The c. 12 minute long Festival Overture dates from 1887 and was composed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the National Theatre in Budapest. It is his lone extended work for symphony orchestra. A potpourri in a grand romantic style, it weaves together a number of themes, including Hungary’s national anthem (Erkel’s own Himnusz), and also Appeal, the nation’s second national anthem. There are also references to melodic material from some of his operas and concludes with a brilliant coda.
Karl Hinterbichler, University of New Mexico, 2023
For performance material please contact Edition Musica, Budapest.
German preface / deutsches Vorwort lesen> HERE