Becoming a European conservatory

The 1886/87 academic year brought significant changes in the history of the institute, which had nearly a hundred students at the time. Due to his advanced age, Erkel resigned his position as principal, and Ödön Mihalovich, who had been principal of the Drama Institute, was appointed principal of the new "National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music and Drama", which came into being with the unification of the Drama School and the Academy of Music. At that time, 14 professors taught and 109 students studied at the Academy of Music.

Ödön Mihalovich was principal of the institute from 1887 to 1919, for 32 years - longer than anybody else in its history. Before his appointment as principal, Mihalovich had already been an influential figure at the institute, from 1880 as a member of the Board of Directors headed by archbishop Lajos Haynald. During the years of his strict leadership he appointed around 70 professors, many students of whom later also became professors at the Academy, and even now, about half of the teaching staff are "descendants" of those professors (to name a few: Jenő Kerpely, Gyula Mambriny, Antal Molnár, József Bloch, Imre Keéri-Szántó, Arnold Székely, József Sík, Béla Szabados, Zsigmond Szautner, Dezső Antalffy-Zsíros, Román Moshammer, Károly Gianicelli). Mihalovich not only employed the teaching staff, he also managed to get them a civil servant status and salary, age-bonus and the right to a pension.

When he took over as principal, the curriculum of the Academy of Music only included the teaching of piano, organ, violin and cello playing, vocal studies and composition. Mihalovich had a clear vision with regard to what direction should be taken and what should be improved at the Institute. Accordingly, in the 1890/91 academic year, double bass studies were added to string studies, and from the 1894/95 academic year horn and oboe, from the 1895/96 academic year flue and clarinet, in the following year bassoon, and in the 1897/98 academic year trombone and trumpet studies could be pursued.

Besides expanding the Academy's curriculum, Mihalovich also created a systematic teacher training programme, and in connection with this he organized practice school classes, which shows that he had a deep-laid scheme for institutional development.

In the spring of 1911, three prominent members of the teaching staff, Jenő Hubay, David Popper and Árpád Szendy, who had already been successful in launching promising artistic careers, submitted a plan for an artists' course and a conservatoire The proposal's reception was favourable and the artists' course was launched in the 1912/13 academic year. By the first decades of the 20th century the framework of the structure of the teaching programme was finalized, which went through minor adjustments in the following decades.

In the 1910s the Academy achieved great results in the field of vocal and opera studies. As early as in the 1908/09 academic year, an orchestra and vocal studies department was established, which allowed for a new and higher level of vocal training and the advancing of lied singing. The real breakthrough, however, was that the Academy of Music attained the same rank as Ödön Farkas's rightfully famous Singing School in Cluj, and prominent singers like Anna Medek, Olga Haselbeck, Mária Basilides, Ella Némethy, Erzsi Sándor and Mária Budanovits were educated at the Academy. Naturally, this also meant that the Opera in Budapest, which had acquired its European reputation through the employment of foreign guest musicians, was now able to recruit fine Hungarian musicians.

So far, we have discussed what Mihalovich gave to the students of the Academy of Music. But he provided plenty of support for his professors as well – beside a secure livelihood and the right to a pension. Mihalovich believed that it was important that professors actively participate in the artistic scene at the Academy of Music, and that they form a strong personal and artistic bond with the institute. The following is written in the 1900/1901 yearbook: We are glad to announce that this academic year the teaching staff decided to arrange musical gatherings, for the time being only for themselves, prompted by the principal of the institute. On the occasion of these gatherings they will discuss important and current questions concerning the art of music, as well as perform and discuss intriguing and lesser-known earlier and contemporary works.

Between 1901 and 1907, they held 18 assemblies. Several of the new works of the professors of the Academy were first performed at these gatherings. In 1907, these meetings were replaced by a new form of playing music: A noteworthy event of this year is that a new orchestra was formed at the Academy. The professors who play orchestral instruments formed the Academy Orchestra and named it the Society of Professors at the National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music. The members of the society numbering approx. 80 were the professors playing orchestral instruments, the best of the institute's alumni, and if necessary the best current students.

During its four years of existence the Academy Orchestra gave 16 concerts, among them several premières, and first performances in Hungary or Budapest, with solo artists like József Szigeti, Béla Bartók, Rezső Kemény, Dávid Popper, Árpád Szendy and others.

Meanwhile, the Academy outgrew its site at Andrássy Avenue. The new, currently used building opened on 12 May 1907, and the broad strip of Gyár Street in front of the Academy of Music was named Liszt Ferenc Square. Music magazine Zeneközlöny published an article about the opening ceremony in its 3 June 1907 issue: (...) Their new home, which is a magnificent palace, is finally ready and the inauguration ceremonies have been held. The opening ceremony was on 12 May at noon. A distinguished audience assembled in the well-lit concert hall. Members of the government and the “crème de la crème " of our political and art scene were all present. After the performance of the Royal-anthem by Mihalovich, culture minister Count Albert Apponyi delivered a speech (...) The most-splendid gala concerts were held in the inaugurated palace for four days (...)

The new building made it possible to accept more students, and more professors needed to be appointed. That was when Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók, and from the next academic year Leó Weiner, became professors at the Academy.

Bartók had been a student of piano under István Thomán and a student of composition under Hans Koessler. Thomán represented the Liszt legacy in his teaching methods. Bartók finished his studies at the Academy of Music in 1903, and only four years later he was appointed professor: he took over the position of his retired professor. Beside composing music, the position provided him the opportunity to pursue folk music research as well, which was more important for him than teaching. Weiner was an extraordinary professor of musicology for four years. In the 1912/13 academic year he was commissioned to teach Composition as a Major, but the success of Kodály's music composing school prompted him to discontinue teaching that subject. He probably realised that his conservative views were not attractive enough to young musicians, and he started teaching classical harmony only.

In the 1916/17 academic year Ernő Dohnányi started teaching at the Academy of Music. He had returned to Budapest from Berlin in 1914, on the outbreak of the First World War. He took over the Piano Department from the retiring Kálmán Chorán. Dohnányi, who had gathered experience abroad and had a sovereign mind, however, could not hide his conflicting views on what an art school should be like. Although there had already been an artists' course, it seems that that was not sufficient in his liberal artistic and teaching view. He studied the situation for a year, and in 1917 he stepped forward with a curricular and structural reform of great dimensions. This decision of Dohnányi's, although he did not have personal reasons, inevitably implied criticism of and opposition to Mihalovich's work so far, which aimed at the consolidation of structure, the strictness of discipline in curriculum as well as teaching, and the best possible execution of the "everyday" functions of the institute. As Dohnányi's reform plan proposed the waiving of examinations and grading, the more conservative professors turned against him and, despite the support of the very best like Bartók, the plan was dismissed, mainly because of Mihalovich's opposition.


Ágnes Gádor – Gábor Szirányi