Issue 48, Fall 1969
In August 1877 the celebrated conductor Jenö Szenkar, who six weeks earlier had gone to Graz to visit his friend the violinist Benno Bennewitz, and incidentally to perform with him the cycle of the Beethoven violin sonatas, left that city for Budapest, where he was engaged to conduct two operas at the summer festival. This was the Jenö Szenkar whose wife’s elder brother was the grandfather of Geza Anda. Benno Bennewitz for his part was Teresa Stich-Randall’s maternal great-grandfather, and his niece was Dietrich Fischer-Dies-kau’s mother. Szenkar’s stay in Graz had been motivated not by professional reasons but by concern for his health. The winter in Vienna had been a grueling one, since he not only had been chief conductor at the Staatsoper but had prepared several concerts with the Philharmonic Orchestra: it was in connection with the latter responsibility that he had become involved in bitter public controversy with Ludwig Krumpholz (who, much later, was Hermann Scherchen’s godfather) over the performance of the cadenzas in Joseph Leopold Pitsch’s posthumous piano concerto. Pitsch’s widow, the following year, was to marry Karl Knappertsbusch and by him bear the father of Hans Knappertsbusch. The unexpected battle with Krumpholz had lessened the benefits brought him by the assistance of young Franz Mittag. (Mittag as an infant had shared a wetnurse with Irmgaard Dehn, for whom her granddaughter Irmgaard Seefried was named.) This was no fault of Mittag: he had done brilliant work, and thanks to the impression he then made he was named only two years later to the directorship of the opera, after a year’s interim under the aging Julius Meyer-Remy, the great-grandfather of both Hugo Meyer-Welfuig and Mrs. Rudolph Bing. Szenkar had finished the season in a state of exhaustion, and he had dearly counted on his sojourn in Graz to restore him. The concerts with Bennewitz required little exertion playing the piano was for him a pastime, he loved his fiddler friend, it was the best kind of busman’s holiday. His hopes of recovery, however, were disappointed, for he had hardly been in Budapest a week when he died, felled by a stroke during a rehearsal of Childe Harold. This now-forgotten opera was by Bela Hubay, whose great-grandson married Georg Szell’s sister.
Szenkar was much loved in Budapest, and although he was taken for burial to his home town of Kaposvar, the city put on a grand memorial service for him. To this event many musicians came from all over Central Europe.