A treasure island of piano music — Spiegel Online
The Grand Piano label continues to uncover gems of the piano repertoire. — Fanfare


  • István Kassai, piano
  • György Lázár, piano

The Széchényi dynasty stood at the heart of Hungary’s political and musical life in the 19th and 20th centuries. Their ideal milieu lay in vibrant, melodious dance-patterned music, of which Imre’s Waltz No. 1 is a perfect example. Ödön’s highly accomplished works reflect his sophisticated wit, whilst in Franciska, Hungary had its first female composer, and in Gisa, the world’s first female film composer.



Széchényi, Félicie
Dorette, Polka française, Op. 4 () * (00:02:52)
Herzblatt (Sweetheart), Polka-Mazur, Op. 1 () * (00:03:46)
Immer lustig (Always Cheerful), Polka française () * (00:02:53)
7 Uhr früh (7 in the Morning), Polka schnell, Op. 3 () * (00:01:43)
Széchényi, Franciska
6 Ländler () * (00:02:39)
Széchényi, Lajos
3 Magyar tántzok (3 Hungarian Dances) () (00:07:00 )
No. 1. — * (00:02:34)
No. 2. — * (00:01:46)
No. 3. — * (00:01:08)
Deutscher mit Coda () * (00:03:35)
10 Ländler und 1 Mazurka () * (00:08:12)
Széchényi, Ödön
Hajósegyleti Polka (Shipowners Association Polka) () * (00:02:30)
Marien-Polka () * (00:01:59)
Viszontlátási örömhangok keringő (Joyful Sounds of Goodbye, Waltz) () * (00:07:44)
Pull-on! galopp () * (00:02:38)
Regatta négyes (Regatta Foursome) () * (00:04:21)
Ez az élet gyöngyélet, Csilli csárdás (This Life is a Pearly Life) () * (00:03:14)
Hableány polka (Mermaid Polka) () * (00:01:56)
Széchényi, Gisa
Abendsonne (Setting Sun), Act III: Vorspiel (arr. R. Gound for piano) () * (00:03:23)
Széchényi, Andor
Ein Marsch mehr! (One More March!) () * (00:02:47)
Gedanken-Walzer (Thinking Waltz) () * (00:06:14)
Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka () * (00:03:10)
Széchényi, Imre
3 Walzer for piano 4 hands: No. 1. — () * (00:06:01)
World Première Recording
Total Time: 01:17:05

The Artist

István Kassai Kassai has won several first prizes in international competitions such as the International Piano Competition for Young Artists in 1972 in Czechoslovakia, the Piano Competition organised by Hungarian Radio in 1979, and the Paris International Debussy Piano Competition in 1982. Moreover, Kassai’s artistic talent was acknowledged by such prestigious awards as the ARTISJUS-Prize in 1976, the Bonnaud-Chevillion-Prize of the Fondation de France in 1986, the Nívó Prize of Hungarian Radio in 1990, the Ferenc Liszt Prize in 2001 and the Leó Weiner Memorial Prize in 2010. He has been a full member of the Hungarian Academy of Art since 2013.
György Lázár Lázár regularly appears with the Yvette Bozsik dance ensemble and the Arts Harmony artists’ society, of which he is artistic director. In 2004 György Lázár was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Republic of Hungary.

The Composer

Andor (András) Széchényi

Andor (András) Széchényi was the son of Ödön Széchényi, from his first marriage, to Baroness Almay. He was born in Pest in 1865 and died in 1907, in Nieder-Ollwitz.

Young Andor appears to have been a hot-tempered young man, having in his youth survived four pistol duels and seven sword duels. Between 1888 and 1890 he travelled to the South Sea Islands, then to Somalia from 1891 to 1893, subsequently making his way via Russia, Persia and India to China. His travel journals were published by the Austrian Geographical Society. Andor also went on test flights with dirigible airships.

He composed dances for the piano, including the Gedanken-Walzer (‘Thinking Waltz’), Ein Marsch mehr! (‘One More March!’) and his Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka, published in 1889 by J. Engelmann, Wien.

Andor was not only an accomplished swordsman and sharpshooter, but a good pianist.

Félicie Széchényi

Félicie Széchényi, née Horváth de Szentgyörgy, wife of Ferenc Széchényi’s grandson Gábor, was born in Pest in 1838 and died in 1920 in Hegyfalu, in Hungary. Her father Antal Horváth was a hussar captain and her mother was Baroness Paula Orczy. In 1873 Félicie gave birth to her daughter Eugénia, 14 years into her marriage.

Félicie Széchényi published her polkas Herzblatt (‘Sweetheart’), 7 Uhr früh (‘7 in the Morning’) and Dorette with the Vienna publishers, Musikaliendruckerei von Jos. Eberle & Co. The Eberle house was established in 1873 and operated under the name Waldheim-Eberle from around 1890. The works must therefore date from between 1873 and 1890. Félicie wrote these pieces in the same year her daughter was born or shortly afterwards, seemingly in the flush of motherhood. Immer lustig (‘Always cheerful’) was published in 1914 by Max F. Aichwalder Musikalienhandlung und Verlag Wien.

Her dances are lively, melodious and atmospheric pieces.

Franciska Széchényi

Franciska (Fanny) Széchényi-Batthyány, eldest daughter of Ferenc Széchényi, was born in Vienna in 1783 and died in Pinkafő (now Pinkafeld in Austria) in 1861. She married Count Miklós Batthyány. Ferenc’s much-loved daughter was a musician, a poet and a painter. During the Vienna Congress of 1814–15 Franciska made an impression with her outstanding piano-playing. Her own compositions were regularly performed at the church chapel in Pinkafeld, where she played the organ and conducted the choir. Franciska was a central intellectual figure in the Romantic circle of the priest Klemens Maria Hofbauer (1751–1820), canonised in 1909 by Pope Pius X. Franciska put the ideals of the Hofbrauer circle into practice in her own everyday life: in 1851 she moved the Merciful Sisters of St Vincent de Paul from Graz to Pinkafeld and founded a convent with a girl’s school, an infirmary, an orphanage and a nursery.

In order to finance her charitable work, she cultivated her estates with a view to maximising their profit. She arranged for the irrigation of her country estates, introduced fish ponds, bred sheep and cows, had a variety of fruit trees planted, set up a paper factory and a distillery, as well as buying spinning and threshing machines.

As a widow she entered the very convent she had founded in 1854 as a novice, taking the vow in 1860 and devoting herself to caring for the elderly and sick.

Franciska Széchényi composed works for piano, songs, duets and religious works (liturgical songs, numerous four-part choral works, a German Mass and a Latin Mass), which have all survived in manuscript form. Two of her spiritual songs have been published, appearing in the work Orgeltöne (‘Organ Sounds’) assembled by Ladaslaus Pyrker.

Gisa Széchényi

Gisa Széchényi, née Haas von Teichen, wife of Ferenc Széchényi’s great-grandson, the naval officer Gyula, was born in Vienna in 1890, dying there in 1945. Baroness Gisella was the daughter of the industrial magnate Baron Philipp Haas von Teichen. Gisa Haas von Teichen was a beautiful woman with a gift for music, and an excellent pianist. It is said that a number of her admirers once hauled a piano to the top of a mountain for her to play.

Gisa wrote the music for her father’s melodrama Abendsonne (‘Setting Sun’), which received its first, highly successful performance on 6 April 1911 at the Vienna City Theatre in the presence of Archduchesses Maria Theresa and Maria Josepha, Princess Mathilde von Sachsen, Archduke Franz Salvator and numerous other members of the high nobility.

A film of Abendsonne was also made in 1917—a silent film, shown with piano accompaniment. The music was a great success and it was reported in the Viennese press on the occasion of the 1917 première ‘Countess Széchényi-Haas contributed the delightful, heartfelt music.’

Imre Széchényi

Count Imre Szechenyi of Sarvar-Felsővidek was born in Vienna in 1825. His father, Lajos Szechenyi, was chief court chamberlain for the Archduchess Sophie, mother of the future Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. Because of his father’s position, Imre grew up with Franz Joseph and his brother, later Maximilian I of Mexico. He was educated by private tutors, spoke five languages, played the piano and composed music.

At the age of 20 Szechenyi entered the diplomatic service, stationed first in Rome. In 1848 he was in Stockholm, and from 1850 to 1851 in Frankfurt, where he became friends with the future chancellor Otto von Bismarck. In 1852 he was in Brussels and Paris, and from mid-1854 in St Petersburg, where he formed a lifelong friendship with Johann Strauss II. In 1860 he became ambassador to Naples, and in 1878 Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Berlin.

Szechenyi represented Austria-Hungary in Berlin during precarious times. He acted in the name of the Emperor Franz Joseph, signing the Dreikaiservertrag (‘League of the Three Emperors’—a treaty between Austria-Hungary, Russia and Germany) in 1881; the Berlin treaty or Congo Conference regarding colonisation in Africa in 1885; and the monarchy’s recognition of the Mediterranean Agreements in 1887. For his service Emperor Franz Joseph awarded him the Golden Fleece, and Emperor Wilhelm II conferred on him the highest Prussian order, the Black Eagle.

Szechenyi’s musical career ran parallel to his diplomatic service. As early as 1845, his Lullaby, with a Hungarian text, and an Italian song, Il ritrovo in mare (‘Meeting at Sea’) appeared in print. In the 1850s he published 34 dances (polkas, mazurkas, galops, czardas and waltzes) as well as marches, for fortepiano, and scored the 18 polkas and mazurkas for large orchestra recorded here.

Szechenyi’s dances were popular and in demand. A resort ensemble in Bad Kreuznach, where Imre’s brother Denes spent seven weeks in 1856, played Imre’s polkas and serenaded Denes, thinking he was the composer. The conductor was disappointed when he found out his mistake.

Szechenyi’s friend Johann Strauss II, with whom he had spent his carefree bachelor years, generously placed Szechenyi’s works on his concert programmes, and dedicated two of his own compositions to him—Op. 215, Gedankenflug-Waltz (‘Flying Thoughts Waltz’) and Op. 182, Széchényi March. Strauss later recalled that Szechenyi had helped him flee Russia after his last St Petersburg love affair. The two friends met for the last time in May of 1886 in Berlin, where Szechenyi had arranged a concert of his own works.

In the spring of 1864 in Rome, Szechenyi met Franz Liszt and formed an immediate friendship with him. In 1872 and 1874 Liszt was a guest at the Szechenyi estate in Horpacs (Hungary). Liszt adapted a Szechenyi work, Introduction and Hungarian March, dedicated it to him and premiered it in 1873.

The Viennese court took note of the fact that Szechenyi was an outstanding pianist. When the Austrian Queen Elisabeth visited Budapest on 3 April 1869, she invited Szechenyi to dinner and afterwards enjoyed his virtuoso piano performance. Szechenyi often arranged concerts of his own compositions for invited guests.

Szechenyi’s publishers were Musee Musical in St Petersburg, Schott in Mainz, Kugler in Pest, Mechetti and Lewy in Vienna, Carl Paez in Berlin, and Breitkopf & Hartel in Leipzig. Many of his works were not published, and exist only as autographs (handwritten documents) or copies. A whole group of compositions are still unaccounted for. Szechenyi died in Budapest in 1898.

Lajos Széchényi

Lajos (Ludwig) Széchényi, eldest son of Ferenc Széchényi, studied law. He took part in the nobles’ rebellion against Napoleon, took charge of a group of 187 soldiers and fought at the battle of Győr in 1809, where he was wounded. From 1824 to 1845 Lajos Széchényi was chief court chamberlain for the Archduchess Sophie, mother of the later Emperors Franz Joseph and Maximilian. Lajos was an assiduous follower of his brother István’s pioneering activities in the name of Hungary, and supported him through his writing.

Lajos was a talented actor, wrote German poetry, composed music and was a good pianist and singer. There are reports of two of his concerts given before an imperial audience, in which he performed his own compositions for piano. The Archduchess Marie Louise, who would later become Napoleon’s wife, wrote in 1810, ‘Yesterday we heard some very fine waltzes, compositions by Louis Széchényi.’

In 1817 Schubert set two of his poems to music (Die abgeblühte Linde (‘The Faded Linden Tree’) and Der Flug der Zeit (‘The Flight of Time’)) and went on to dedicate the famous song Der Tod und das Mädchen (‘Death and the Maiden’) to Lajos. It is thought that Lajos may have been a pupil of Haydn. In 1825 Benedict Randhartinger (1802–1893), who later became a court singer and deputy Kapellmeister, became Lajos Széchényi’s private secretary on Schubert’s recommendation. Randhartinger dedicated his Grand Trio, Op. 10 to Lajos.

Befitting his social standing, Lajos ran an impressive salon in Vienna. It was here that he presented a young Franz Liszt in 1835, laying the foundations for friendly relations between the Széchényi family and Liszt that would be continued by Lajos’s brother István and son Imre.

Lajos wrote music for piano, songs, chamber music and orchestral works. His compositional oeuvre, such as we are aware of it, can be dated largely to the period of his first marriage (1801–22), to Countess Aloyzia von Clam-Gallas.

Ödön Széchényi

Ödön (Edmond) Széchényi, younger son of István Széchényi and Countess Crescentia von Seilern-Aspang, was born in Bratislava in 1839 and died in Constantinople in 1922.

Ödön was notable for a variety of unusual activities during his life: in 1862 he rowed along the Danube from Passau to Pest, in the company of only his dog. He established the fire brigade in Hungary, and together with composer Ferenc Erkel founded a chess club in 1864 in Pest. In 1867 Ödön travelled exclusively by waterways from Pest to the Exposition Universelle in Paris in his Danube steamship Hableány (‘The Mermaid’), which he had specially designed for the purpose. This journey attracted a great deal of interest, and indeed Hableány went on to win the gold medal at the exhibition in Paris. In 1874 he moved to Constantinople with the aim of setting up a fire brigade at the court of Sultan Abdul Aziz, an aim which he achieved with alacrity. This fire brigade, organised along strict military lines, was subject to the ministry of war, with Count Széchényi Pascha at the head of the battalion. In 1896–97, Ödön Széchényi was closely linked to Theodor Hirzl, who was hoping for the support of the Sublime Porte to found a Zionist state. Hirzl asked Ödön to arrange a meeting for him with the Sultan, which ultimately did not come to fruition.

There are a number of piano works and one song known to have been composed by Ödön Széchényi. The works for fire brigade orchestra have been lost.