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Born Nov. 7, 1810, in Gyula; died June 15, 1893, in Budapest. Hungarian composer, conductor, teacher, and figure in the music world.
Erkel studied under H. Klein in Pozsony (now Bratislava). From 1828 to 1835 he was in Kolozsvár (now Cluj), where he taught and, in 1830, was a bandmaster. In 1835 he took up residence in Budapest, where from 1838 to 1890 he served as the principal conductor and music director of the National Theater. He was appointed music director of the Philharmonic Society in 1853 and of the National Hungarian Association of Choral Singers in 1868. From 1875 to 1889 he served as principal and professor of piano at the National Academy of Music in Budapest; F. Liszt was the academy’s president.
Erkel was the founder of the Hungarian national opera. Most of his operatic works are based on tragic episodes in the struggle to liberate Hungary from its conquerers, the most important being the heroic lyric operas Hunyadi László (1844) and Bánk ban (1852; staged: Pest, 1861; Moscow, 1957; Novosibirsk, 1958), which gained great popularity among the composer’s contemporaries. Several melodies from these operas, some set to new lyrics, became mass songs that were sung during the revolutionary popular demonstrations of 1848–49 and 1918–19.
Erkel achieved a synthesis of contemporary Western European opera and traditional Hungarian music, making use of the verbunkos (dance) style and Hungarian folk melodies. Among his other operas—he composed a total of nine—are Báton Mária (1840), Dósza György (1867), and two comic operas. Erkel also composed the Festival Overture (1887), works for the piano, incidental music for “popular plays” (népszinmü), and choral works, notably “Hymnusz,” the Hungarian national anthem (1844).
REFERENCESSzabolcsi, B. Istoriia vengerskoi muzyki. Budapest, 1964. Pages 71–74. (Translated from Hungarian.)
Maróthy, J. “Put’ Erkelia ot geroiko-liricheskoi opery k kriticheskomu realizmu.” In Muzyka Vengrii. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from Hungarian.)
Abrányi, K. Erkel Ferenc élete és müködése. Budapest, 1895.
Legány, D. Erkel Ferenc miüvei és korabeli történetük. Budapest, 1972.
P. F. VEIS