Leó Weiner


Born: April 16, 1885 Died: September 13, 1960
Leo Weiner was one of the leading Hungarian music educators of the first half of the twentieth century and a skilled composer who produced a large number of very charming and conservative works.

He had his first music and piano lessons from his brother, but soon after starting, largely taught himself. He entered the Landesakademie (or High School) of Musical art in Budapest in 1901. He studied with János Koessler and while there won numerous prizes. Among them were the Franz Liszt Stipend, the Volkmann Prize, and the Erkel Prize, all for one composition, his Serenade, Op 3. Another, the Haynald Prize, was for some choral pieces.

He had an interest in the well-known varieties of Hungarian folk music (at a time when the slightly older Bartók and Kodály were discovering the virtually unknown ancient true folk music of the country). A composition for two typically Hungarian instruments, the taragato (a folk variant of the clarinet) and the cimbalom (a hammered dulcimer or zither) called Hungarian Fantasy won him yet another award, the Schwunda Prize. All these works and several other of his student compositions were accepted for publication by national and international publishing companies.

He got a job as a repetiteur (i.e., one who coaches solo singers in the overall interpretation of the opera) at the Budapest Comique Opera (Vigopera) upon graduation. He won a special prize given in connection with the coronation of Emperor Franz Joseph, enabling him to visit and take musical studies in Vienna, Munich, Berlin, and Paris.

He returned to the Landesakademie in 1908, now as a theory teacher. He remained a faculty member there for the rest of his life, being appointed Professor of Composition in 1912 and Professor of Chamber Music in 1920. In 1949 he became an emeritus professor, continuing to teach.

He was one of the great chamber music instructors. To him primarily is credited the reputation of Hungarian musicians for their accuracy and depth of interpretation in chamber music, qualities that carry over into their solo and orchestral concert work as well.

As a composer, the Romantics from Beethoven through Mendelssohn most strongly affected his musical approach. Astute commentators have noted that his sense of orchestral color seems to relate to those French composers who were not notably affected by Wagner, especially Bizet. This solid and conservative Romantic approach formed the basis of his style. To it was added, at about the time of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and subsequent full independence of Hungary, a strong interest in Hungarian folk music.

He did not research folk music, but he shared with Bartók and Kodály their interest in Hungarian nationalism and did employ both the traditional gypsy-derived "Hungarian" folk music and some of his colleagues' discoveries, though his harmonic language was not affected by his use of this material. As Hungarian nationalism became twisted into an increasingly Fascist state in the late 1930s, the nationalistic element in Weiner's music declined, reappearing to lesser extend in the 1950s.

Among Weiner's notable compositions are three string quartets, two violin sonatas, five divertimenti for orchestra and a symphonic poem (but no symphonies), and a quantity of other chamber and piano music.

Honors coming to him include a Coolidge Prize in 1922 for his F sharp minor String Quartet, the Kossuth Prize (1950 and 1960), and designation as an "Eminent Artist of the Hungarian People's Republic" in 1953.

Of a generation whose conservative composers became overlooked in music history, his works, which tend to be bright and entertaining, showed signs of revival at the start of the twenty-first century.

There are 18 Leó Weiner recordings available.

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