In order to understand the importance of Hubay, and to describe the traditions of the Liszt Academy's Strings Department, it is necessary to talk about the age of Hubay, the environment, and the violin schools of Europe.
The first famous violin schools were already established at the beginning of the 19th century. The French school evolved from the Paris Conservatoire. Masters such as Rode and Kreutzer, Bériot from Brussels, and later Vieuxtemps and Ysaye were leading the Franco-Belgian violin schools where the main tools and methods of the new style and technique of violin playing gradually developed. The emphasis was laid on the tone – the beautiful tone emanating from Italian master instruments – but the technique of violin playing also changed dramatically due to the etudes written by professors, which are part of the curriculum even now.
It was the music of Gipsy violinists which lent a special flavour to the Hungarian style. Bihari, Lavotta, Csomák, and Rózsavölgyi were born virtuosos playing with abandon and strong expressivity. This blend of Gipsy and Hungarian music influenced western music as well. Many musicians of Hungarian origin made careers in Europe embracing Western culture while preserving their original style.
The first Hungarian educator who established an individual school was József Böhm. He worked in Vienna, where he combined the local classical and the French tradition. His three excellent – Hungarian – students were Joseph (József) Joachim, Ede Reményi and Lipót Auer. Joachim became widely renowned for the revivals of Bach's sonatas and partitas, and his mastery in the classical and romantic violin repertoire. In Berlin, he was the professor of Hubay who always talked about his master with the highest reverence and gratitude. After Hubay had completed his studies, he returned to Hungary. Here he became friendly with Franz Liszt who advised him to travel to France.
Soon after he arrived in Paris, Hubay got to know Henri Vieuxtemps, who saw in the young Hungarian the continuation of his own artistry. Vieuxtemps suggested Hubay as Professor of Violin at the Brussels Conservatoire, a post which he himself and more recently Wieniawski had held. On 8 February 1882 the Belgian King appointed Hubay to one of Europe's most important musical posts.
Hubay spent four and a half years there, returning in the summer of 1886 to Hungary at the request of the minister of education to take up the post as head of the violin school in the Budapest Academy of Music. He settled in Budapest, and exchanged his life as a travelling virtuoso for that of composer and leading personality in the musical life of Hungary. From 1919 to 1934 he was the Director of the Liszt Academy.
Here he created one of the world's leading violin schools. After the turn of the century, the first exceptional talents to emerge were Stefi Geyer, Ferenc Vecsey and József Szigeti, to be followed by Emil Telmányi, Eddy Brown, Jelly Arányi, Jenő Ormándy, János Koncz, István Pártos, Erna Rubinstein, Zoltán Székely, Ede Zathureczky, Endre Gertler and Wanda Luzzato. Similarly, a long line of string quartets, such as the Waldbauer-Kerpely, the Hauser-Son, the Léner, the Roth and the Végh, emerged from Hubay's department.
After Hubay's death, Ede Zathureczky took over his position. Zathureczky, and later Tivadar Országh and Dénes Kovács continued to nurture the tradition of the Hubay school.
What are the main characteristics and the legacy of the Hubay school? The most important item of his pedagogy was to teach his pupils how to think independently. From the memoirs of his disciples we know that instead of forming their personalities, he provided his students with the possibility of developing their art and personality independently and freely.
Hubay's technique was something to be reckoned with; bow and fingers have to fly. Hubay laid special emphasis on the bow technique, which is the most difficult part of violin playing. Sound producing depends primarily on the bow technique, the vibrato and the left hand have only secondary importance. The right hand and the right arm have to be flexible, loose, always able and ready for any movement.
Disciples of Hubay were widely acclaimed by the ease and perfection of their bow technique. This is how the wide, healthy, intensive – even in pianissimo – sound made the artists coming from the Hubay school recognisable.