Dezso d’Antalffy

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The native form of this personal name is Antalffy-Zsiross Dezső. This article uses the Western name order.
Dezso d'Antalffy
Antalffy-Zsiross Dezső portré.jpg
Background information
Born (1885-07-25)25 July 1885
Nagybecskerek, Hungary
Died 29 April 1945(1945-04-29) (aged 59)
Denville, New Jersey, United States
Occupation(s) Organist, composer
Instruments Organ

Dezso d'Antalffy or Dezső, Antalffy-Zsiross[1](24 July 1885 – 29 April 1945) Hungarian organist, composer. He was one of the most significant performing artists of his time,[2] and an outstanding composer. He composed pieces for orchestra, chamber orchestra, choir, piano and organ, which were published at Schirmer, Ricordi, Leduc, Salabert, Steingräber, Breitkopf and Universal.[3]


Dezso d'Antalffy was born in a musical family in Nagybecskerek in Banat in the Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary, (today's Zrenjanin in Serbia). His mother, a skilful pianist, recognized his musical talent at the age of four. At the age of seven, d'Antalffy's systematic study of playing the piano was taken over by Ferenc Ripka. When he turned ten, it was Herr Ödön who supervised his musical progress.[4] As a secondary school student, he practiced no less than eight hours a day, which gave a firm basis for his future legendary technique.

Studies at the Academy of Music[edit]

D'Antallfy moved to Budapest in 1902, where he attended the faculty of law at the Hungarian Royal University according to his father's wish and at the same time he studied the organ and composing music at the Academy of Music. For four years, he was the student of Hans Koessler, the famous musician who instructed many Hungarian composers, including Kodály, Bartók and Weiner. After signal success he graduated outstandingly in 1906.

He studied composing music at the Academy of Music in Berlin, one of the centres of music of the time, where he had classes with Joseph Joachim, the noted Hungarian violinist and composer. He worked as a conductor in the Cologne Opera House in 1907 and 1908. The next year he continued his studies in Leipzig and Bologna.[4]

Studies abroad[edit]

In Leipzig he studied composition from the organist Max Reger, while his organ teacher was Karl Straube, the virtuous organist of the famous St. Thomas Church. Leipzig was an organ-paradise at that time, whose effects can be heard in all the works by d'Antalffy. The synthesis of Max Reger, combining the tradition of Bach with the modern moves of Liszt and Brahms, is part of his mindset when seasoning his traditional themes and melodies with impressionist, Debussy-like harmonies. D'Antalffy, the composer with a vivid, open mind, seems to have found his musical self at that time. Enrico Bossi, his teacher of interpretation and methodology in Bologna, had similar effects on him. Bossi's works, which amount to a large number of 150 movements altogether, are centred around the organ. While Reger used liturgical genres, such as the chorale and the fugue, Bossi composed hardly anything else but concert pieces. D'Antalffy joined the latter movement. Bossi's impact on d'Antalffy as a teacher became tangible in 1911, when he wrote his Organ Tutor in two volumes, still being the most detailed and versatile course book in Hungarian focusing on both the musical and the technical development of the pupil while containing plenty of exercises and remarks.

Teaching at the Academy of Music[edit]

A great decade in Budapest started with his return to Hungary in 1909. Apart from a few late pieces, it was during this time that he composed the vast majority of his organ pieces. When his teacher retired in 1909, he became an organ teacher at the Academy of Music, first with a contract; however, in 1912 he also gained his tenure. Besides, in 1919 he started to teach composing music, too. In Budapest, his first solo concert was held in January 1911, which was a great success. It was not only visited by the under-secretary, but his fellow musicians as well, who presented a bay wreath to the young virtuoso. According to the wide range of interests, he played music at the concert from the early Baroque period, including pieces by Frescobaldi, to contemporary music, involving his own pieces. Such richness remained typical all through his life.

He married Dalma Arkay in March 1911, and fathered his only daughter, Judith d'Antalffy, in 1912. His daughter died in 2011 at the age of 99 in Budapest.

Until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the number of his works was continuously increasing. He started performing abroad, and his expertise in organ building was exploited more and more. At the outbreak of the war, he was recruited, and had to stay in Groβwardein (or Nagyvárad) for two years. In 1916 he started working again, giving charity performances in Budapest, Transylvania and other places in the country. At the height of his career, in 1917, he became the main organist of St. Stephan's Basilica, Budapest, thus he was playing the largest organ in the country, built by Angster[5] in 1905.[4]

On the way to the New World, success in America[edit]

Mr. Roxy and his Organists-Roxy poses with his entire organ staff in front of the 5-manual Kimball console in the Roxy theater. Left to right:Dr. C.A.J. Parmentier, Dezso d'Antalffy, Lew White, Roxy, Emil Velazco and Franck White. Picture was taken at the time of the theater's opening,March 11, 1927.
Dezso d'Antalffy at the "Roxy Theatre" organ in New York

In 1921[6] his life took a radical change. D'Antalffy arrived in New York on January 4[7] 1921, and it took only a few days to go on stage as an accompanist on 21 January. After the success of the concert with Duci Kerékjártó[8] mon of the violin, a twenty-year-old violin genius, they set off on tour, giving concerts for several months.[9] They travelled through the country, "half the continent", as d'Antalffy phrased it in one of his letters. In April[10] one of the greatest publishers, Schirmer,[11] was ready to produce six of his pieces. These came out the following spring. Invited by the famous entrepreneur, Samuel Roxy Rothafel,[12] he became the organist of the two-year-old Capitol Theatre,[13] where he gave his concert next April that made him known as 'Dohnányi of the organ' in the press. The Capitol Theatre,[14] with its 4,000 seats for spectators, was one of the forerunners of movies, or cinema-palaces, where Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer productions were regularly shown.

In September 1922 he became an organ teacher[15] at Eastman School of Music,[16] University of Rochester, New York, and the organist of the Eastman Theatre[17] containing 3,000 seats. The music library of the school, founded in 1905, and the Eastman Music Library, the biggest research library in North America even up to our days, must have provided the musician open to new ideas with great possibilities.

In February 1924, he was requested to become the musical director of a large-scale series of performances. Morris Gest, an American producer, brought The Miracle to America, a play by Kurt Vollmöller, directed by Max Reinhard in 1911 in Germany. The organist, the choirmaster and the conductor of the three-act play was d'Antalffy.[4] On the way home he met his daughter and went back to Budapest, Hungary, where he received a teaching position at the Academy of Music after three and a half years of absence.

Return to Budapest[edit]

d'Antalffy at the IV/74 Durlach organ(1907) at the Budapest Academy of Music

Circumstances at home, however, seemed to be more difficult than expected. The organ of the Academy of Music was under reconstruction and thus temporarily unusable, making teaching as well as giving concerts impossible. The lack of income from the latter source forced d'Antalffy to give concerts in towns in the countryside. Without a proper employment, he was to accept a tour in America in December to perform The Miracle production; next he undertook several lesser jobs as a conductor and organist.

In 1925 d'Antalffy managed to go back to teaching and giving concerts at the Academy of Music in Budapest for a year. Then for the third time, he accepted to take part in The Miracle production and joined the company in a series of 32 performances in Los Angeles in first two months of 1927. Morris Gest, the producer, requested him to compose music for the play Everyman by Hofmannstahl. His stay in America became longer than planned as he was invited to the Union Theological Seminary, New York. This might have been the point when he decided to stay in America for a longer time as his job in Hungary at the Academy of Music expired. The Presbyterian university, founded in 1836, provided education in theology and philosophy; however, it ran a Sacred Music School between 1928 and 1973 as well. d'Antalffy was employed by the institution between 1927 and 1929; he may have had an active role in the founding of the music school. He may have been offered the position in order to establish it. For a year he was teaching freshmen level composition, counterpoint, reading music, transposition and orchestration.

The company of The Miracle offered him work again at the beginning of 1929. This time Morris Gest was looking for a composer and a conductor for a new production, The Freiburg Passion Play. The director of the play was David Belasco, Gest's father-in-law, who staged Madame Butterfly, a short story by John Luther Long. The performance of the play in London in 1900 had such a tremendous effect on Puccini, who did not understand a word in English, that he composed his famous opera around it. Between April and June 1929, The Freiburg Passion Play' was presented in the greatest theatre of the time, the Hippodrome Theatre, containing 5,300 seats.

In 1927 the noted film theatre entrepreneur Samuel Roxy Rothafel invited d'Antalffy to join the staff of featured organists at the new Roxy Theatre in New York City. At the time the Roxy was the most prestigious movie palace in the U.S. Not long after, the advent of America's ten-year-long Great Depression, starting with the Black Thursday on 24 October 1929, encouraged d'Antalffy to leave America the next spring to tour in Europe. One of the important stops was Paris. While in Paris he became involved in the film industry, recording the accompanying soundtrack music for the film The Miracle of the Wolves, commissioned by the Gaumont Film Company.

In 1930 d'Antalffy went back to Hungary to give concerts in Budapest and in the countryside. He was one of the first few to play the newly built organ by Angster in the Votive Church in Szeged. It was the second biggest organ in Europe at the time with its five manuals and 136 stops.

In one of the milder phases of the recession, at the end of 1931, he returned to America, and he never left it for Hungary, which was against his will. His former employer, Samuel Roxy Rothafel, gave him work again; he was to compose the oratory for the opening of Radio City Music Hall on 27 December 1932. The gigantic Radio City Music Hall was part of Rockefeller Center, at that time the biggest privately owned enterprise in the modern world, including fourteen skyscraper office buildings in the modern Art Deco Style. The Music Hall was designed to be the largest and the most luxurious theatre in the world. The lyrics and the orchestration of his oratorio, The Voice of Millions,[18] is imbued with the idea of equal rights, his choir consisting of both black and white singers, and the lyrics containing holy texts of four world religions. His piece at the opening ceremony, which was the first worldwide broadcast by Radio City, was a great success. Due to the success, d'Antalffy continued to work for the 6,000 seat theatre as a staff composer and organist[19] for ten years.

Indian opera[edit]

That was not the end of his run of luck, however. He reached the peak of his career, at the same time with Kodály, Bartók and Stravinsky, with setting out to compose an Indian opera, his biggest endeavour. He was toying with the idea of composing an Indian opera back in 1931 in Hungary; however, its manifestation came to life in America. Onteora's Bride, the opera elaborating on an Indian story, was presented at his place of work, the theatre of Radio City Hall in 1934. Its reception is best described by the number of performances for the audience in New York, as the following two weeks it was played four or five times a day, altogether 58 times. Consequently, the significant Indian Association of America even gave the honorary rank of chieftain to him.[20]

In 1936, d'Antalffy orchestrated the Concerto in D Minor by Vivaldi-Bach for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the biggest orchestras of the world. As a result, the orchestra, directed by John Barbirolli, chose the organ virtuoso to be an honorary member in 1938. The piece was shown in 1940, which was his last success as a composer.

Due to severe heart failure d'Antalffy was reduced to hospital in 1942. He did not manage to recover fully, and could not follow his wife back to Budapest. D'Antalffy was continuously considering moving back to his home country, however, the lack of money, the difficulties of travelling, his illness and problems with getting his visa stopped him. It was in a Denville, New Jersey nursing home, far away from his family, where he died at the age of 60 on 29 April 1945.


His Organ Tutor 1911
Valse triste for piano

Organ works[edit]

  • Three Easy Chorale Preludes Op. 22 (Jesus, my Joy; I shall not Leave my Jesus; Ah Holy Jesus)[5]
  • Three Chants op. 10 No. 1-3 (Chant solennel [6], Chant de cygne, Serenade)
  • Choral Fantasy and Fugue on "Herzlich tut mich verlangen"[7]
  • Legende in F [8]
  • Fugues in F and A minor [9]
  • Intermezzo in G minor
  • Minnesang[21] [10]
  • Four Pieces: Madrigal[22] [11], Sportive Fauns[23][12], Drifting Clouds[24] [13], Christmas Chimes[25] [14]
  • Festa Bucolica (Toccata) Rural Merrymaking [15]
  • Madonna[26] – (a piece of stained glass)[16]
  • Sketches on Negro Spirituals [17]
  • Solitude [18]
  • Prayer for the Children [19]
  • Prayer for the Deceased [20]
  • O World, I must leave you [21] (chorale variations)
  • Scène pastorale [22]
  • Mourning Song [23]
  • Evening Song
  • Night Song [24]
  • Island of the Dead[27] [25]
  • Serenade from the Hungarian Suite
  • Improvisations for the "Miracle des Loups"
  • Reveille de Printemps (lost)

Piano works[edit]

  • Bagatellen [26]
  • Polonaise characteristique [27]
  • Tarantella
  • Am Meer: Drei Stimmungsbilder für Pianoforte
  • Carneval-Szenen: 4 Humoreske Rhapsodie
  • Reading (Rococo,Marche Grotesque, Valse Sentimentale)
  • Drei lyrische Stücke
  • Valse triste
  • Valse intime
  • Valse (scéne de ballett)
  • Trois Pièces
  • Weinachtslied
  • Serenade from the Hungarian Suite for Piano
  • Biedermeier (Alt-Wien)
  • Rococo
  • Works for piano(Morning-shower for the fingers, Pour une dame hongroise, Deux gamins au soir)
  • Fairy Dance
  • Ballade
  • Serenade
  • Mors equitus (preludes sentiments)
  • Prelude (Sír a kis galambom...)
  • D.A. to E.B. - Andante appassionato (E. Bossinak ajánlva)
  • Hungarian Ouverture (for four hands)
  • Hungarian Suite (for four hands)[28]

Chamber music[edit]

  • Hungarian Fantasia (for tarogato and piano or cimbalom)
  • Czimbalom (for Tarogato ensemble)
  • Hungarian Lamentation and Rural Dances(for clarinet, trumpet, violin, cimbalom / piano)
  • Piano Quintett (for strings and piano)
  • Serenade from the Hungarian Suite (for String Quartett)
  • A tough nut to crack (symphonic poem for two violins, viola and violoncello)
  • Dixie variations (for twelve pianos)

Chamber music for violin and piano[edit]

  • Romance
  • Love song
  • Melancholic lullaby
  • Mosquitos Concert Caprice [29]
  • Duo, Fantasie Stück
  • Pastorale (for violin and organ/piano)[30]
  • Caprice chinoise
  • Caprice No.2.
  • Mirror-canon (for two violins)

Voice and piano[edit]

  • Songs After Poems by Petőfi
  • Songs After Poems by Ady
  • Five Hungarian Songs
  • Two Hungarian Sketches (Snowflakes, The Little Bride)
  • The Prayer of Szekler
  • The Songs by Liliencron and Carmen Sylva
  • Songs After Poems by Rilke
  • Get off raven (from Wild roses by Kriza)
  • Come to me for dinner (from Wild roses by Kriza)
  • Child prodigy (After Poem by Gyula Juhász)
  • On the waters of the Danube (Slavic ballad After Poem by János Arany)
  • Szekely folk ballads (Angoli Borbala)
  • Burmese love song (Arthur Guiterman)


  • Lily of the Valley (Madrigal for 8 part mixed choir with solos for soprano and tenor)
  • Hungarian Rhapsody (for 8 part mixed choir)
  • Mass in E major
  • Sanctus in A flat major (for 6 part mixed choir)
  • Agnus Dei (for 6 part mixed choir)
  • Two Hungarian Songs for Christian worship (for 4 part mixed choir with organ/piano accompaniment)


Orchestra and choir[edit]

  • Voice of Millions (A Christmas Oratorio "for the opening of Rockefeller Radio City Music Hall New York City)
  • Variations for 12 Klaviere und Orchester
  • Christmas cantata
  • Easter Oratorio (for mixed choir and orchestra)
  • American Festival Prologue (for organ and orchestra)
  • Ballad about Simon Judith (for alto voice and orchestra)
  • Two Hungarian Folk Songs (for tenor voice and orchestra)
  • Hungarian Suite
  • Lyric Suite (for little orchestra)
  • Hungarian Overture (to Bánk bán by Katona Jozsef)
  • Divertimento
  • Suite in B minor
  • Lyric Cantata after a "Orange Blossoms" - Poem by Farkas Jeno (for little orchestra, tenor voice and Women's Choir
  • Cantata after a Poem by Walt Whitman (for little orchestra, soprano and baritone)
  • Serenade from the Hungarian Suite (for orchestra)
  • Storm (for Military bands)
  • From depths of wae (Chorale after Bach for mixed choir and orchestra)
  • O sacred head (Chorale after Bach for orchestra)
  • Nativity (A Christmas Vision) for solo voices, mixed choir, organ and orchestra)[31]
  • Dedication after a Poem by Martha Wilchinski (for solo voice and orchestra)
  • Introduction and Lamentation (for Choir and orchestra)
  • "Go down death…" Melodrama (for solo voice and orchestra after negro melodies)



  • Accompanying music in one act for piano (to Lotharingia by Emod Tamas)
  • 'Everyman' by Hofmannstahl
  • Accompanying music to The Patriot by Alfred Neumann (G. Miller's performance in New York)
  • The Freiburg Passion Players (directed by D. Belasco, New York)
  • Le Miracle des Loups (Soundtrack to the French historical film, Paris)



  1. ^ It is useful to understand that names in Hungarian are usually seen beginning with the surname, as Antalffy-Zsiross Dezső. To Germans,it was Desider von Antalffy and in France, Désiré d'Antalffy;thus in America, he was known as Dezso d'Antalffy, as can be seen in the autograph on the cover of "Madrigal".
  2. ^

    This year's round of organ concerts was today enriched by the recital of Prof. D. D'Antalffy. This artist again confirmed his long recognised virtuosity by his performance of works by Bach, Schumann and others, in a well-rounded program, whose technical and interpretative excellence once more brought him the tumultous plaudits of a crowded house.

    —Journal, March 20, 1920

    Prof. D'Antalffy, of the Royal Academy, today gave his third organ recital this season. The great artistry, technical finesse, and virtuosity of this young performer compelled the vigorous applause of his audience.
    —Pester Lloyd, March, 1919

    Before a packed hall, D'Antalffy gave his first organ concert of the season. The merit of his performance has long been recognized. He again proved his technical command and the sureness of his musical perception, expressed through the medium of romantic, neo-impressionistic style.
    —Journal, November, 1918

    At today's Philharmonic concert, the Hall of the Academy was so inadequate that the concert must be repeated on Sunday. It is easy to understand the large size of the audience who desired to attend when two such popular artists as Josef Lhevinne and D. D'Antalffy were the joint recitalists. Mr. D'Antalffy opened the program with consummate artistry giving admirable interpretation of Handel's Organ Concerto in A major.

    —Magyarország, March 27, 1917 Letters,Diary,Photo Album,Notes of Dezso d'Antalffy
  3. ^ Judith d'Antalffy's biography about her father
  4. ^ a b c d Curriculum vitae of Dezso d'Antalffy
  5. ^ He served as chief organist and choirmaster of the St. Stephen's Cathedral, playing their IV/64 Angster organ (1905).
  6. ^ Amerikai Népszava 1921. szeptember 20;Cleveland- "Szabadság" 1921. szeptember;The south bend tribune;"Songstown" 16.1.1922;"The Pittsburgh Dispach" 20.9.1921;The Pittsburgh Gazette Times 21.9.1921;Cleveland- "Szabadság" 1921. szeptember;"Songstown" 16.1.1922;Amerikai Magyar Népszava 1922. április 13;Amerikai Magyar Népszava 1922. május 1;Amerikai Magyar Újság 1922. május 2;"Előre" 1922. április 23;The Brooklyn Standard Union: Sunday,April 1922;The Morning Telegraph, Sunday, 30.4.1922;The Sun 1.5.1922;Musical Courier 4.5.1922;Musical America 6.5.1922;Bridgeport 7.6.1922;Cleveland- "Szabadság", Bridgeport 1922. június 10;The Lorain Evening Journal, 14.6.1922;Cleveland- "Szabadság", 15.6.1922
  7. ^ Four Famous Artist,In Concert and Entertainment,Milwaukee,Wis.Auditorium,Plankinton Hall,Tuesday,Jan'y 3. 8:15 p.m. Klara Kury Operett Primadonna-Budapest,Duci de Kerekjarto violin virtuoso,Dezso d'Antalffy organist-pianist,Gaspar Szanto tenor-Budapest Opera
  8. ^ "If Paganini and Sarasate could be rolled into one, the combination would probably be such a demon of the violin as Duci de Kerekjarto" - N. Y. Mail,January 3. 1921
  9. ^ Cleveland Topics,26,februar,1921;Detroit Journal 15.4.1921;The Detroit News 16.4.1921
  10. ^ Aeolian Hall 34 West 43rd St.New York City,Saturday Aft,April 29th,at 3 o'clock,American Debut, joint recital Dezso d'Antalffy composer,organ virtuoso,Maria Samson lyric soprano,assisted by Louis Rozsa bariton,Metropolitan Opera House
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ S. L. "Roxy" Rothafel hired d'Antalffy in 1927 as one of three organists (with Lew White and Casimir A. J. Parmentier) for the opening of the Roxy Theatre in New York. The Roxy had a V/34 Kimball with two other consoles, Op. 6889, and in the lobby, a III/14 Kimball, Op. 6888 (1927).
  13. ^ He also worked as organist at the Capitol Theatre, New York City, playing a IV/45 Estey, Op. 1710 (1919)
  14. ^ Capitol Grand Orchestra[2] - Erno Rapee[3], Conductor
  15. ^ d'Antalffy was invited by Georg Eastman to teach organ specifically "motion picture accompaniment" at the Eastman Music School in Rochester; he taught during 1922 and 1923. John Hammond (who recorded under the name of John Hassell) was hired during the same time for the same purpose. They both performed in nightly programs providing organ accompaniment at the Eastman Theatre playing the IV/135 Austin, Op.1010 (1923).
  16. ^ Almanac of The Eastman School of Music
  17. ^ [4]
  18. ^ Dezso d'Antalffy's modern oratorio,Voices of Millions,had kind of world premiere composers dream about. Its first performance took place in Radio City Music Hall with a 100-piece orchestra and a choir of 300 voices presenting it over a world-wide radio hook-up. Mr. d'Antalffy has gone on composing for Music Hall productions ever since and as a member of their staff, pinch hits for Dick Leibert several times a week on the "world's largest" organ installed there.
  19. ^ In 1932, d'Antalffy became staff composer and organist for the Radio City Music Hall playing the IV/58 Wurlitzer, Op.2179 (1932). From 1932 to 1939, he was full time and from 1939 to 1942, part time.
  20. ^ Cleveland- "Szabadság", New Yorki levél 1935. március 1
  21. ^ dedicated to Mr. Eugen Boross
  22. ^ To Mr. Melchiorre Mauro-Cottone
  23. ^ after Böcklin's painting. This piece was dedicated to his friend, Marcel Dupré.
  24. ^ This relaxing piece was dedicated to d'Antalffy's friend, Pietro Yon, who had become a US citizen in the previous year.
  25. ^ This piece was dedicated to the Wanamaker organist for Philadelphia and New York, Alexander Russell.
  26. ^ dedicated to Lady Duveen
  27. ^ after Böcklin's painting


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  • Musical Courier 4.5.1922.
  • Musical America 6.5.1922.
  • Amerikai Magyar Újság 1922. május 2.
  • Bridgeport 7.6.1922.
  • Cleveland- "Szabadság", Bridgeport 1922. június 10.
  • The Lorain Evening Journal, 14.6.1922.
  • Cleveland- "Szabadság", 15.6.1922
  • Cleveland- "Szabadság",1.3.1935
  • The Lorain Evening Journal, 16.6.1922.
  • Cleveland- "Szabadság", 1922. június 19.
  • Amerikai Magyar Népszava, 1922 augusztus
  • Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 6.1.1923.
  • Amerikai Magyar Népszava, 1925. június 14.
  • Musical Courier 24.11.1934.
  • Cleveland- "Szabadság", New Yorki levél 1935. március 1.
  • Promgram MagazineAeolian Hall, New York
  • Zeneközlöny 1908 - Antalffy Magyar Suite
  • Nemzeti Zenede 1910. januári műsorfüzet
  • Új Ember 1985. október 20.
  • ArticlesThe New York Times
  • Promgram Magazine Radio City Music Hall
  • Own researches of Denes Kapitany
  • A short biography of d'Antalffy by Denes Kapitany and Michael Johnston, 2011
  • Gabor Kocsis: notes to Denes Kapitany's recording (Clouds and Chimes - The Wonderer of two Worlds - Dezso d'Antalffy's Organ Works)2012/ORG

External links[edit]