Dohnányi, Piano Quintet in C Minor, Op. 1

Ernő Dohnányi [Ernst von Dohnanyi], 1877-1960

Piano Quintet in C Minor, Op. 1, 1895

Ernő DohnányiErnő Dohnányi is apt to be the greatest composer you have never heard. He is celebrated as the “greatest” Hungarian “musician” after Franz Liszt, great because his musicianship encompassed his diversity of profound gifts as a epic concert pianist, tireless conductor, superb composer, educator, administrator and ambassador that essentially encapsulated the entirely of Hungarian classical music culture for decades leading up to WWII. Likely owing to his international career and a bit of marketing, he often went by the more German version of his name, Ernst von Dohnanyi without the odd punctuation.

Dohnányi wrote nearly a dozen chamber music masterworks that should be more frequently played. His two most famous works are a Serenade for string trio and this extraordinary piano quintet, the first of two. You might be curious about how classical works often have a funny catalog label in their titles like “Op. 1”. “Op.” stands for the Latin word opus which means “work”, and the number is just used to order the works in a sequence. So, this is essentially Dohnányi’s “work number 1”, his first officially published composition, Dohnányi and the very start of his composing career. Dohnányi, who was only 18 at the time, started with a bang: Brahms looked at the quintet and is supposed to have said “I could not have done it better myself.” The music is often reminiscent of Brahms (who was mostly retired at this point), and perhaps, also, of Dvořák. Throughout the rest of his chamber music, Dohnányi maintains this excellence while expanding into more modern sounds and techniques, even more of the greatest music you have never (yet) heard.

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