Ferenc Erkel

Hungarian composer, conductor and pianist (1810 Gyula – 1893 Budapest)

Ferenc Erkel was a Hungarian composer, best known for composing the music of the national anthem of Hungary. He is considered as the father of Hungarian opera.

Son of a musician, Ferenc Erkel studied music with composer Henrik Klein, in Pozsony, then he moved to Pest. He began performing as a Piano Soloist and Accompanist and conducted an orchestra for the first time in 1835. Later, he gave a series of concerts at the German Theatre of Pest and at the Hungarian Theatre of Pest (now known as National Theatre).

After reviving with no success the first Hungarian opera, Béla futása by József Ruzitska (1822), Erkel decided to contribute to the development of Hungarian opera by writing his own operas, in order to compete with Italian and German compositions of this genre. To that end, he worked with librettist Beni Egressy. In 1844, he won the competition organised to arrange a poem by Ferenc Kölcsey in music, which was then adopted as Hungary’s national anthem “Himnusz”. Besides a dozen operas, he also composed pieces for piano and chorus.

During the 1850s, Erkel put together what would then become the Philharmonic Society, which would go one performing operas by Erkel, often not so well received, but also by other composers (Berlioz, Wagner, Schumann…). In 1875, he played a significant role in the foundation of the Academy of Music in Budapest, where he served as director and piano teacher. His last significant work, Ünnepi nyitány, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the National Theatre in Budapest.

5 key dates in the life of Erkel

• 1844: Laureate of the competition organised to arrange Hungary's national anthem, based on a poem by Ferenc Kölcsey (1828)

• 1853: Founder and head of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra 

• 1875: Appointed director of the Academy of Music in Budapest

• 1884: Appointed musical director of the Hungarian State Opera House

• 1903: The “Himnusz” composed by Erkel officially became Hungary’s national anthem

5 key works by Erkel

• 1844: Himnusz, Hungary’s national anthem

• 1844: Hunyadi Laszlo, opera in three acts

• 1861: Bank ban, opera in three acts

• 1880: Nevtelen hosok (“Nameless heroes”), four acts

• 1885: Istvan kiraly (“King Stephen”), four acts