JULIUS BELICZAY: Serenade Op. 36 / Symphony Op 45 /Budapest Concert orchestra MÁV conducted by Tamás GÁL —

— CD of Pannon Classic PCL 8003, 1997. Booklet 1-2. p.

JULIUS (GYULA) BELICZAY (1835–1893)

 

Several eminent composers are known to have starter their careers as army officers, civil servants or even physicians. It is, however, rare that someone like Julius (Gyula) Beliczay should achieve outstanding results both in his civil post and in music. Beliczay was bam on 15 August 1835 in the Hungarian town Komárom. His education started in his home town, then, from the age of twelve on, he continued his studies in Pozsony (Pressburg, the modern Bratislava, capital of Slovakia). Showing considerable talent in mathematics, he matriculated at his father’s request at the Polytechnic of Vienna in 1851 from where he graduated as an engineer in 1857. From 1858 onwards he was working with the Theiss-Bahn as an engineer at its Vienna directorate. Founded in 1846, this private railway company was about to establish its large-scale railway network in Hungary. As a result, Beliczay moved to Pest (now Budapest, capital of Hungary) together with the directorate the next year. In 1872 the Hungarian Royal Ministry of Trade appointed him to chief engineer of the shop service department (D II) of the Hungarian Royal State Railways (MÁV) established four years before. In 1875 he made a tour of Germany, France, Holland and Belgium on government commission to study the European railway engineering services and, at the same time (!), the higher music education systems. Taking advantage of the reorganisation of the Hungarian railways, Beliczay abandoned his position as chief counsellor and chief of section in 1886 and retired to devote his life exclusively to music. In 1888 Ödön Mihalovich, a successor to Ferenc Erkel as director of the Academy of Music, founded by Ferenc Liszt invited Beliczay to be professor of composition there. He could not work long he fell ill in 1892, resigned from his post and died on 30 April 1893.

Beliczay’s musical talents manifested themselves early in his childhood. He studied piano with Gyula Csáder in his home town, Josef Kumlik and Christelly in Pozsony as well as with Karl Czerny and later Anton Halm in Vienna. His achievements as a pianist were spoken of later in terms of appreciation by Anton Rubinstein and also by Ferenc Liszt.

Though he tried his hand at composition in his childhood, he did not receive thorough instruction in music theory until his engineering studies in Vienna. His masters were the church composer Joachim Hoffmann, then Franz Krenn, a professor at the conservatory who offered him a diploma in chor conducting in 1856. Beliczay studied counterpoint between 1858 and 1860 under Martin Gustav Nottebohm who, on this part, was Mendelssohn’s and Schumann’s pupil in Leipzig, a friend of Brahms. His solid conservative background had a lasting effect on his musical style later on as well. His disarming professional knowledge was coupled with good taste and wit. All this made Beliczay internationally the most successful Hungarian composer of the last third of the nineteenth century. (Liszt’s career should be considered, of course, as a matter apart.) For the edition of his works prestigious publishers (Haslinger, Kahnt, Breitkopf, Durdilly) vied. Beliczay’s works were rendered by outstanding performers all over the world from St.Petersburg to New York. Of his works for piano - including the twenty-five pieces with opus numbers and several unnumbered items - his Sonata op.40 and the series of studies, Douze grandes études Op.52 deserve particular mention. The latter found its way even into the curriculum of the Conservatoire of Paris. Though he wrote songs and secular choruses as well, he achieved the greatest success with his chamber music and numerous church music compositions. For his Ave Maria, Op. 9 (1870) he was decorated with the gold medal Viribus unitis. His Mass in F Major, Op.50 has been steadily on the programme ever since its premiere and is performed regularly at the City Parish Church of Pest. He wrote only one suite for large orchestra (Op. 55, 1890) and two symphonies (Op.45, 1887 and Op.62, 1892)

Beliczay was invited to the Academy of Music in Pest as a renowned professor who had already taught music in Vienna while still a university student there. During his last Viennese years he was an engineer and a teacher at the Skiva conservatory at the same time. His pupils included, among others, the Wagner biographer Nicolaus Oesterlein, the composer and choir conductor Mór Vavrinecz and the church musician, music historian and titular bishop Mihály Bogisics. Even his wife came from among his pupils: in 1879 he married Anna Tarczalovich to whom he dedicated his Nocturne, Op.15. On occasion Ferenc Liszt would also play music gladly with these two excellent pianists at the home of the Beliczays’.

His reviews, articles and reports appeared in German, Austrian and Hungarian newspapers from his youth. He was author of several entries on music in the Pallas Lexicon. Of his planned five-volume tutor entitled Composing in Theory and Practice only the first part. The Rudiment of Music came out in print in 1891. Due to his early death this work has remained incomplete.

Beliczay’s style as a composer was influenced - in addition to the classical masters, above all Beethoven – by Schubert in the first place. Through Nottebohm he may have got a deep insight into the working methods of Mendelssohn and Schumann later. The latter exerted a profound influence on him. In Vienna he might even have made the acquaintance of Brahms and Bruckner personally. In Pest, he was more influenced by personalities like Robert Volkmann, Ödön Mihalovich and Ferenc Liszt while Ferenc Erkel and Mihály Mosonyi had less impact on him. It was also in Pest that his creativity reached full blossoming which was then interrupted unfortunately by his untimely death.

The first work to be heard on the recording is the four-movement Serenade for String Orchestra in D Minor Op.36 which was probably written before 1875. The Moderato ma non troppo first movement has lied-form with return. Variants of the first (minor) theme displaying various characters are present in each movement of the work. The augmented second interval and the following dotted rhythm lend the movement Hungarian character. The second (major) espressivo theme reappears on essential points of the second and fourth movements as well, always with identical meaning. The second movement in Allegretto vivace in trio form with a dance-like main section and Hungarian middle section in minor. The Adagio cantabile third movement shows again lied-form with return. It is in this movement that the greatest number of romantic elements of the Serenade can be found. The Allegretto vivace Finale is a monothematic rondo with fugue in the place of the second episode. In the Coda the espressivo theme of the first movement returns in the glory of the fifth pedal point of the bass and the first violins. The movement and the work end in virtuosic passages woven from the diminution of a section of the rondo theme.

The most remarkable feature of the work is the extremely concentrated form and motivic construction. Though the score, moreover, the piano arrangement for four hands of the work were printed by Durdilly of Paris, the present recording and the next one are based on the autograph manuscript.

The Symphony in D Minor Op.45 was composed in the 1880s and represents Beliczay’s first attempt at composing for large orchestra. The first movement is Allegro, large-scale, dramatic sonata form. The Allegro molto second movement is a Scherzo of profound gaiety in trio form. Its scoring is, in agreement with the lighter message, less compact. After the return without repetition the composer suggests two options of the Coda ad libitum. According to one, the conclusion should follow the one-time repetition of the Trio material, like in Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The performers have chosen the other, more effective solution. The third movement is an intimate Adagio cantabile, a sonata rondo. The fourth movement is Allegro con brio, again in sonata form, a Finale of whirling, moreover fast-train-verve.

The Symphony was premiered by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Karlsbad (now Karlovy Vary, the Czech Republic) on 20 July 1888 and was given an enthusiastic reception by the audience and the press alike. Several performances followed and the year after Alois Janatschek published his biography of Beliczay, his work of appreciation there. At the premiere of Budapest given on 18 November 1891 the Orchestra of the Philharmonic Society was playing under the baton of Sándor Erkel with great success.

In the history of the Hungarian music Julius Beliczay and Ödön Mihalovich represents the continuity between Mihály Mosonyi, Robert Volkmann and Ernö Dohnányi. I believe that these works will win the approval of the fans of music internationally, just as they did at the time of their composition.

 

István Kassai

 

(CD notes)