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ClassicsOnline Home » ATTERBERG: Piano Quintet / Suite No. 1 / Horn Sonata
Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974)
The Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg, whose
works include 59 with opus numbers and several without, in many cases large
scale operas and orchestral compositions, was also instrumental in the
formation of the Swedish Society of Composers and of a copyright organisation,
STIM, of both of which he served, at times, as chairman. At the same time he
held the position of Principal Clerk at the National Patent Office, in addition
to his activities as a cellist and conductor and as a music critic.
Early in 1927 Atterberg set to work on a
composition probably intended for orchestra, sketching some thirty bars of a
lighthearted character, the beginning of what was to be his sixth symphony,
later arranged as the Piano Quintet in C major, Opus 31b. In the same year the
record company Columbia announced an international competition to mark the
death of Schubert, first of all asking for the completion of the so-called
Unfinished Symphony. This initial idea proved generally unacceptable, and it
was agreed that instead the competition would involve the composition of a work
using a theme from a Schubert symphony. Towards the end of November Atterberg
learned of this competition, with its original dead-line of 31st December,
extended first to the end of March 1928 and then to the end of April, with
preliminary rounds in various regions, the Scandinavian jury consisting of Carl
Nielsen, Ture Rangström, Hakon Børresen and Rolf Vass.
During this period Atterberg was busy with
international conferences, as a member of the world-wide copyright organisation
CISAC, and also as a conductor. It is possible to follow from his letters his
activities as a composer. By 6th February he had completed all but the coda of
the first movement and also half of the second movement and the whole finale of
the symphony. The slow movement was finished one month later and on 12th March
the first movement. On 8th April the symphony was submitted to the jury.
In early May Atterberg was invited, as
chairman of the Society of Swedish Composers, to attend a formal dinner at the
Nimb Restaurant in Copenhagen, when the verdict of the Scandinavian competition
jury would be announced. Rather than listen to applause for someone else,
Atterberg refused to go, only to read in the newspapers the next morning that
he himself had won the first prize of $750 from among 35 competitors. In the
end he also won the final international first prize, after the jury had
considered the Third Symphony of Franz Schmidt and a symphony by the Polish
composer Czeslaw Marek, among a total of five hundred entries from 26
countries. A cheque for $10,000 arrived, and the symphony was soon given its
nickname, the Dollar Symphony. The composer was able, with the prize-money, to
buy a new Ford and for the first time in his life sat behind the wheel of a
The symphony had its first performance on
15th October 1928 at a general rehearsal in the old Gothic Gürzenich Hall in
Cologne when Atterberg's work became a topic of the greatest interest, with his
symphony dissected and subjected to accusations of theft from a number of works
that he had never heard, including Stravinsky's Petrushka. Already, before the
first performance, Sir Thomas Beecham had, on 12th August, made a secret
recording, and he also played it in public the same year. The symphony was also
conducted by Georg Högberg in Copenhagen, by Hamilton Harty in Manchester, by
Mengelberg in New York, by Kajanus in Helsinki and by Schalk in Vienna.
Toscanini soon followed suit. The fame of the work also persuaded Atterberg to
arrange the symphony in 1942 as a piano quintet, the version now recorded for
the first time.
In 1913 Atterberg had been commissioned to
provide music for Ernst Didring's play Jefta, for its staging at the Royal
Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. He had recently received praise from the opera
singer John Forsell and when the director of the theatre, seeking a composer
who was both competent and young, and therefore cheap, asked for the advice of
the director of the Royal Academy of Music, he was given the name of Atterberg,
at 26 the most promising talent of the day.
Atterberg borrowed from Rabbi Raphael some
volumes of the Jewish Encyclopedia, from which he derived an idea of general
atmosphere and some useful Jewish melodic material. The project, however,
brought unexpected problems, since the theatre orchestra consisted only of four
incompetent old troupers, who found the music so difficult and so modern that
they could not imagine how it was intended to sound, even less how to play it.
Atterberg later explained how he was asked to come in to impose some order on
the proceedings and to save the first night, but this was in the days of the
silent movies, when any musician who could play even tolerably was employed at
the cinemas, the rest at the Dramatic Theatre. The only consolation was proved
by the girls of the ballet, an interesting distraction. The first performance
on 14th March was no success and after a few performances the play was
withdrawn. Atterberg's angry reaction came two weeks after the first
performance, when he sat down at the piano and embarked, in fury, on the
long-awaited finale of his second symphony, and then, in another mood, on a
romance with a ballet girl. The three-movement orchestral suite from this
incidental music was arranged during the 1940s for piano quartet and first
performed in that version in 1948.
Atterberg's Horn Concerto in A major,
written in 1926, is often played. His Horn Sonata, however, belongs in this
form to a later period. In 1925 he had written a Sonata for a single string
instrument, cello, viola or violin, but the version for French horn and piano
did not appear until 1955, at the request of Domenico Ceccarossi. The broad romantic
first movement, the folk-style second and the virtuoso finale are clearly well
suited to the instrument.
Ilona Prunyi was born in Debrecen in 1941
and studied at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, distinguishing herself in the
Liszt-Bartók Competition while still a student. Her career as a concert pianist
was interrupted by a period of ill-health, and for personal reasons she spent
ten years as a teacher at the Academy before making her debut in 1974. Since
then she has appeared frequently in solo and chamber music recitals and as a
soloist with the principal Hungarian orchestras.
György Kertész was born in Budapest in
1963, the son of the cellist Ottó Kertész. He began his study of the cello at
the age of seven, continuing at the Franz Liszt Academy as a pupil of Lászlo
Mezó of the Bartók Quartet. Winner of the 1986 Popper Violoncello Competition,
after earlier quartet awards, he joined in the same year, the Hungarian State
Symphony Orchestra and has been a member of the Budapest Festival Orchestra
since its foundation.
Imre Magyari was born in 1954 in Budapest
and studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, where he graduated in 1978. He
joined the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra as a principal horn-player in
1975 and since 1978 has served as a member of the teaching staff of the Teacher
Training Institute of the Academy. In 1980 he joined the Budapest Brass Quintet
and has appeared as a soloist throughout Europe, in the United States and in
Japan. Imre Magyari took first prize in four international competitions for
French horn, at Markneukirchen, Pabianice, Vercelli and in Budapest. He has a
number of recordings to his credit and was awarded the Franz Liszt Prize by the
Hungarian Minister of Cultural Affairs.
New Budapest Quartet
András Kiss, 1st Violin
Ferenc Balogh, 2nd Violin
László Bársony, Viola
Károly Botvay, Violoncello
The New Budapest Quartet was formed in 1971
and in the same year won third prize at the Haydn International Competition in
Vienna and second prize at the Carlo Jachino International Competition in Rome.
The following year the quartet worked under the famous Hungarian String Quartet
at the last of its summer courses and was hailed by critics as its successor.
Since then the New Budapest Quartet has toured extensively throughout Eastern
and Western Europe and in the Americas.
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