Switch to mobile view

About the program

The first Beethovenfest was held in Bonn in 1845, 18 years after the composer’s death, to commemorate what would have been his 75th birthday. The homage paid to Beethoven’s memory by the city of his birth attracted the presence of kings, scholars, aristocrats and, of course, musicians. Performers included Franz Liszt and Ludwig Spohr. The next such event was in 1870 for Beethoven’s centenary. Subsequently, the Beethovenfest was held at irregular intervals until 1999, since when it has become an annual part of the great European festivals.

The opening piece of the Festival Orchestra’s concert, the First Hungarian Rhapsody, is indirectly related to both Beethoven and Bonn. In 1839 Liszt performed charity concerts in Vienna on behalf of a Beethoven memorial planned for Bonn, but he was unable to raise sufficient funds. In the end he used the money collected to help those who had suffered from the Pest floods of 1838. For the 1839 concerts, Liszt composed his first piano pieces that were influenced by Hungarian, gypsy and verbunkos musical styles. Fifteen of these – and later four more – became known and popularised under the title ‘Hungarian Rhapsodies’. Liszt later arranged six of these works for orchestras.

Probably Ernő Dohnányi’s most performed work is Variations on a Nursery Tune. Glenn Gould called the pianist-composer’s composition for piano and orchestra an “anti-piano concerto”. For the theme, Dohnányi chose the French nursery song ‘Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman’, familiar from Mozart’s variations and known in English as ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’.

Brahms began composing his Symphony No. 4 in the summer of 1884 and finished it in 1885. “Here are a few interludes that usually are collectively called a symphony … I can only think about how happy I would be to be able to start rehearsing at your hall. I also hope the symphony will find an audience. I fear, namely, that it tastes too much of the climate here … cherries here don’t become sweet, you wouldn’t eat them!” Brahms told his friend and conductor of the premiere, Hans von Bülow. The success of the premiere in October 1885 belied the composer’s worries.


Franz Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1
Ernő Dohnányi: Variations on a Nursery tune
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor


Iván Fischer


Oszkár Ökrös, cimbalom
Dénes Várjon, piano