A dream shared by Liszt and Erkel – 145 years of the Academy of Music

Hungarian version of the article: A Zeneakadémia 145 éve – Liszt és Erkel álma valósult meg Pesten

Written by: Dorottya Andrássy

November 19, 2020 at 2:00 PM

The Hungarian National Academy of Music opened with much ceremony 145 years ago on 14 November 1875. The institution was temporarily housed on the present-day Március 15. Square, Hal Square at the time. It moved into the four-storey palace on Andrássy Avenue in 1879. Its current main building on Liszt Ferenc Square was opened in 1907. Franz Liszt and Ferenc Erkel are the reason that the highest level of music training began in Hungary.

The institutionalisation of musical training in Hungary had an adventurous history. Traditionally, private tutors were employed by bourgeois families to provide training. The first music school opened in Buda in 1727. The grammar schools in Sárospatak and Debrecen also provided some music education. The Pest Music School opened in 1829. Liszt gave concerts to collect funds for the creation of the Pest-Budai Hangászegyleti Zenede ('Pest-Buda society of musicians music hall') in 1834 and the Magyar Nemzeti Conservatorium ('Hungarian national conservatoire') in 1840.

The increasing demand for high-quality establishment-backed musical education is obvious throughout the 19th century. The first bill to establish an Academy of Music was rejected by the national assembly on 8 October 1871 and only passed two years later on 8  February 1873. Franz Liszt and Ferenc Erkel began planning the institution with immense fervour. They hoped to begin teaching with a staff of 25, but a huge economic crisis swept through Europe and destabilised the financial background of the entire country.

It took another two years for the National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music to be established in 1875, under the chairmanship of Franz Liszt. On 21 March, Liszt was appointed President of the Academy, on 2 September Ferenc Erkel was named Director and a teacher. Róbert Volkmann also became a teacher, Kornél Ábrányi was named a teacher and secretary, while Sándor Nikolits became an assistant teacher (similar to an assistant lecturer, rather than teaching assistant).

Franz Liszt was unable to attend the grand opening ceremony on 14 November 1875 but sent a letter of congratulations to Ferenc Erkel. Ágost Trefort, Minister for Education and several dignitaries and aristocrats attended the ceremony, where Erkel gave an opening speech which was followed by a concert, and the national anthem was sung.

Hal Square in 1900 (today, Március 15. Square) (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 82466)

Thus, the Academy of Music eventually began operation with 5 teachers and 38 students on 15 November in a 16 room house on Hal Square (present-day Március 15. Square). The Ministry of Education leased the property for the Academy, and also provided Franz Liszt housing on the first floor. Teaching took place here for four years. In the autumn of 1879, the institution moved to its new home on Andrássy Avenue with 88 students.

The new building was not only more suited to teaching because of its size, but was also more representative, in the cultural centre of the capital not far from museums and the College of Fine Arts.  Franz Liszt was also housed on the first floor, and his flat can be visited to the present-day. Erkel lived on the second floor.

The Academy of Music  operated  on Andrássy Avenue  from 1879 (Source: Vasárnapi Ujság, 12 May 1907)

More space allowed for an increased number of students, new classes and new courses, which also led to the growth fo the faculty. New organ, violin, viola, singing and choral singing courses were started alongside the composing and piano department. Students would often perform the works written by composer students at end-of-year concerts. When Franz Liszt died in 1886 and Erkel retired in 1887 the first era of the Academy of Music came to an end. Nevertheless, the school continued to grow.

BY the beginning of the 1900s the institution had outgrown the building on Andrássy Avenue, and a new, more modern location was needed. The new building was the first to be built specifically for the Academy of Music, and thus, meet all the requirements of the school itself. Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl designed the new main building.

The palace on Liszt Ferenc Square was opened in 1907, photographed by Mór Erdélyi in 1907 (Photo: FSZEK Budapest Collection)

The building on Liszt Ferenc Square was inaugurated on 12 May 1907, in connection with a five-day celebratory series of concerts. The Academy took Franz Liszt's name and is known to the present day as the Liszt Ferenc University of Music.

The Academy of Music in 1940 (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 24145)

In the last 145 years, the Academy of Music has trained immense talents such as Antal Doráti, Tamás Vásáry, Dezső Ránki and Zoltán Kocsis. Its educational mission combines Hungarian traditions with the music of the future, and it is rightly considered the citadel of musical education in Hungary.

Cover photo: The Academy of Music on Liszt Ferenc Square (Photo: Wikipedia)

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