The Tátrai String Quartet

Tátrai vonósnégyes (Fotó: Zeneakadémia képgyűjteménye)
Tátrai vonósnégyes
Fotó: Zeneakadémia
Vilmos Tátrai (October 7, 1912. Kispest – February 2, 1999. Budapest) was a descendant of a Saxon-family from Northern Hungary; his parents lived at the mostly German-speaking Breznóbánya. The traditional European-cultural atmosphere (amateur orchestra, home music-making) of the Northern-Hungarian mining towns - having rich and deeply rooted past (from the time of King Zsigmond) - determined his relation to music in his childhood. The artistic personality of Vilmos Tátrai and his character as a performer rooted in chamber music-making. Each member of the family played on an instrument, although they were not professional musicians. Of course, there was not a sharp distinction between amateur and professional in the 1910s and 1920s. As a natural consequence of these Vilmos Tátrai had been playing the violin from the age of 6 and appeared at the concert stage at a very early age, which – interestingly - has never attracted him as a soloist. Besides his studies (Academy of Music, 1925-1931; Nemzeti Zenede, 1931-1934) he tried all types of music making at that time from the military orchestra (between 1932 and 1936, under the guidance of Richárd Fricsay) to movie, and saloon orchestras. Meanwhile he acquired the tricks of violin playing from significant masters (Imre Waldbauer, Dezső Rados, Jenő Hubay). He was a first violinist of the Budapest Concert Orchestra from 1938 to 1940, the Radio Orchestra in Buenos Aires in 1936-1937, he led an orchestra in Ankara in 1940, then he continued his career in Budapest as a principal violinist of different orchestras (1940-1944: Székesfővárosi Zenekar [Orchestra of the Capital], 1945-1946: Radio Orchestra, 1946-1978: Capital and later State Concert Orchestra).
The true-born first violinist established the Tátrai quartet in 1946. Outstanding musicians followed each other during the almost fifty years of the existence of the quartet (second violin: Albert Rényi, later Mihály Szűcs, then István Várkonyi; viola: József Iványi then György Konrád; cello: Vera Dénes, later Ede Banda). The Tátrai quartet became one of the most significant ensembles of the second half of the 20th century at an international level; its repertoire encompassed the entire Classical and Romantic quartet literature. There was hardly any Hungarian composer at that time who did not compose a work for the world-famous quartet. The rehabilitation of Ernő Dohnányi in Hungarian musical life – although it was not supported by the official culture-ideology, but quasi tolerated by it - is tied to the name of the Tátrai Quartet (the Tátrai Quartet programmed first a Dohnányi work in Hungary after World War II, in 1954). The international criticism considers its interpretation of Haydn and Bartók string quartets among the most significant to this day. The Tátrai Quartet was probably the last among the great ensembles which preserved the atmosphere and intimacy of home music-making while being a concert-string quartet, the milieu which had created the cult of quartet playing.
Another ‘intellectual child' of Vilmos Tátrai was the Hungarian Chamber Orchestra, which he founded in 1957, and which presented the symphonies and concertos of the 18th century – a part of which existed only in manuscripts - for the concert audience, well before the nowadays trendy historic musical movement. Vilmos Tátrai had been teaching at the violin division of the Academy of Music from 1971 to his death. Besides the knowledge of styles and performance delicacies he also presented his students with the culture he transmitted by his personality as a history he lived through in the broadest sense.
B. A.


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