Personalities | Ferenc Erkel | High Romantic | Opera
Ferenc Erkel, known as the ‘father’ of Hungarian national opera, was principally a pianist and conductor. In 1838, he became chief conductor of the National Theatre in Pest, and in 1853 founded the Budapest Philharmonic. He was also active as a composer, and his first opera, Bátori Mária (1840), was successfully staged in Pest, followed by Hunyadi László in 1844. In his efforts to establish a distinctively Hungarian opera, Erkel employed the inflections of Hungarian speech in his recitatives and also incorporated national dances into his works. These were, most notably, the vigorously rhythmic csárdás and the verbunko, which was used by recruiting sergeants to persuade young Hungarians to enlist in the army. Erkel was not immune, however, to foreign influences and included both Viennese and Italian elements in his operas. He also gave the English ballad opera a new, Hungarian guise. In 1861, he produced his greatest success, Bánk bán, making its content much more typically Hungarian and underlining this by using the cimbalom, the Hungarian box zither. This was the first opera in which this instrument was used and the work achieved considerable success. Erkel’s later operas never reached this peak, although his Brankovics György (1874) was considered to be his masterpiece in his lifetime.
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