Dezső Antalffy-Zsiross

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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
Occupations Organist, composer
Instruments Organ

Dezso d’Antalffy [1](Nagybecskerek, 24 July 1885 – Denville, 29 April 1945) Hungarian organist, composer. He was one of the most significant performing artists of his time,

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

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.


Dezso d’Antalffy was born in a musical family in Nagybecskerek in Bačka and Baranja (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. 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, a seventy-five year old violinist and composer of Hungarian origin. 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.

Studies Abroad[edit]

In Leipzig he studied composing music 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 coral, 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 the time when 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 concert on his own 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 got married to Dalma Arkay in March, 1911, and fathered his only daughter, Judith d’Antalffy in 1912. His daughter passed away 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 hugest organ in the country, built by Angster in 1905.

On the Way to the New World, Success in America[edit]

Dezső Antalffy-Zsiross organist

In 1921 his life took a radical change. He must have reached everything an organist can achieve in Hungary, so the second part of his life focused on conquering the world. D’Antalffy arrived in New York on 4th January, 1921, and it took only a few days to go on stage as an accompanist on 21st January. After the success of the concert with Duci Kerékjártó[2]mon of the violin, a twenty-year old violin genius, they set off on tour, giving concerts for several months. They travelled through the country, ‘half the continent’, as d’Antalffy phrased it in one of his letters. In April, one of the greatest publishers, Schirmer[1], was ready to produce six of his pieces. These came out the following spring. Invited by the famous entrepreneur, Samuel Roxy Rothafel, he became the organist of the two-year old Capitol Theatre, where he gave his concert next April that made him known as ‘Dohnányi of the organ’ in the press. The Capitol Theatre[3] with its 4,000 seats for speactators 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 at Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, New York, and the organist of the Eastman Theatre[2] 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. 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]

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. Since d’Antalffy was employed by the institution between 1927 and 1929, he must have played an active role in the foundation of the music school and he might as well have been offered the position in order to establish it. For a year he was teaching composition, counterpoint, reading music, transposition and orchestration for the freshmen. 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. However, the recession starting in August 1929 and the four-year long Great Depression starting with the Black Thursday on 24 October made d’Antalffy leave America the next spring to tour in Europe. One of the important stops was Paris, where he got involved in modern film industry, putting down the accompanying music of ‘The Miracle of the Wolves’, commissioned by Gaumont Film Company, dominating the motion picture industry with its giant competitor at the time. 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 Hall on 27th December 1932. The gigantic building of Radio City Hall (erected between 1930 and 1939) was part of Rockefeller Center, the biggest privately-owned enterprise in the modern word including fourteen skyscraper office buildings in the most modern Art Deco Style. The Hall was designed to be the largest and the most luxurious theatre in the world. The lyrics and the orchestration of his oratory, ‘The Voice of Millions’, 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 was working for the theatre with 6,000 seats for spectators as a composer and organist 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.[1]

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 meant 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 Denver nursing home, far away from his family, where he passed away 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)[3]
  • Three Chants op. 10 No. 1-3 (Chant solennel[4], Chant de cygne, Serenade)
  • Choral Fantasy and Fugue on ”Herzlich tut mich verlangen”[5]
  • Legende in F[6]
  • Fugues in F and A minor[7]
  • Intermezzo in G minor
  • Minnesang[8]
  • Four Pieces: Madrigal[9], Sportive Fauns[10],Drifting Clouds[11], Christmas Chimes[12]
  • Festa Bucolica (Toccata) Rural Merrymaking[13]
  • Madonna – (a piece of stained glass)[14]
  • Sketches on Negro Spirituals[15]
  • Solitude[16]
  • Prayer for the Children[17]
  • Prayer for the Deceased[18]
  • O World, I must leave you[19] (chorale variations)
  • Scène pastorale[20]
  • Mourning Song[21]
  • Evening Song
  • Night Song[22]
  • Island of the Dead[23]
  • Serenade from the Hungarian Suite
  • Improvisations for the „Miracle des Loups”
  • Reveille de Printemps (lost)

Piano works[edit]

  • Bagatellen[24]
  • Polonaise caracteristique[25]
  • 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)[26]

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[27]
  • Duo, Fantasie Stück
  • Pastorale (for violin and organ/piano)[28]
  • Caprice chinoise
  • Caprice No.2.
  • Mirror-canon (for two violins)

Voice and piano[edit]

  • Songs After Poems by Petofi
  • 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 Juhasz)
  • On the waters of the Danube (Slavic ballad After Poem by Janos 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)[29]
  • 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)



  • Magyar életrajzi lexikon I. (A–K). Főszerk. Kenyeres Ágnes. Budapest: Akadémiai. 1967. 41. p.
  • Révai Új Lexikona. I. köt. Főszerk. Kollega Tarsoly István. Szekszárd, 1996. Babits K. 519–520. l. ISBN 9639015180
  • - Antalffy - Zsiross : Apróságok
  • Válogatott Orgonaművek, Editio Musica Budapest (Koloss István összeállítása)
  • Selected Organ Works[30]
  • Antalffy - Zsiross Dezső - Művészetek Palotája
  • Curriculum vitae of Dezso d'Antalffy
  • Judith d'Antalffy's biography about her father
  • Letters,Diary,Photo Album,Notes of Dezso d'Antalffy
  • Rochester History - A History of the Eastman Theatre by Vincent Lenti
  • Almanac ofThe Eastman School of Music évkönyv
  • Angster József: Angster, die Geschichte der Pécser Orgelfabrik und der Familie, Pécsi Könyvek 1993
  • Képes Családi Lapok 1905. június 11.
  • Pesti Napló, "Az Újság" 1907. március
  • Magyarország, 1907. május 16.
  • Zeneközlöny, 1908. március 2.
  • Budapesti Hírlap, 1908. március 5.
  • Magyar Nemzet, "Magyarország", Pesti Napló, Zenelap 1909. január 18.
  • "A Hét" Budapest, 1910. február 6.
  • "Világ", "Egyetértés", Pesti Napló 1911. január 9.
  • "Érdekes Újság" 1914, Húsvéti szám
  • "Magyarország", "Az Újság" 1916. február 20.
  • Újvidéki Hírlap, 1917. január 16.
  • "Budapest",Pesti Hírlap, Pesti Napló, Az Újság 1917. március 27.
  • Arad és Vidéke, Aradi Közlöny 1917. június 5.
  • Magyarország,"Az Újság",Pesti Hírlap, 1917. november 17.
  • Pesti Hírlap, Pesti Napló,Az Újság 1918. február 15.
  • Pesti Hírlap, Pesti Napló,Az Újság, "Világ", "Alkotmány","Magyarország" 1918. december 19.
  • Budapesti Hírlap, Pesti Napló 1919. március 18.
  • Pesti Hírlap, "Világ" 1919. április 7.
  • "Az Újság","Magyarország", "Világ", "Szózat","Új Nemzedék", "Nemzeti Újság" 1919. október 16.
  • "Új Nemzedék", "Világ", Az Újság 1919. november 25.
  • "Világ", "Szózat","Az Újság",Budapesti Hírlap 1919. december 16.
  • "Világ", "Szózat","Új Nemzedék",Budapesti Hírlap 1920. február 16.
  • "Világ", "Szózat","Új Nemzedék",Az Újság 1920. március 22.
  • Színházi Újság, 1921. szeptember 15.
  • Amerikai Magyar Népszava 1921. január 14.
  • The Cleveland News 21.2.1921.
  • Cleveland Topics 26.2.1921.
  • Cleveland- "Szabadság" 1921. február 23.
  • Detroit Journal 15.4.1921.
  • The Detroit News 16.4.1921.
  • Színházi Újság 1921. szeptember 15.
  • Amerikai Népszava 1921. szeptember 20.
  • "The Pittsburgh Dispach" 20.9.1921.
  • The Pittsburgh Gazette Times 21.9.1921.
  • Cleveland- "Szabadság" 1921. szeptember
  • The south bend tribune 9.1.1922.
  • "Songstown" 16.1.1922.
  • Amerikai Magyar Népszava 1922. április 13.
  • Amerikai Magyar Népszava 1922. április 21.
  • "Előre" 1922. április 23.
  • The Brooklyn Standard Union: Sunday,April 1922
  • The Morning Telegraph, Sunday, 30.4.1922.
  • Amerikai Magyar Népszava 1922. május 1.
  • The Sun 1.5.1922.
  • 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

External links[edit]

  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. ^ "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
  3. ^ Capitol Grand Orchestra[31] - Erno Rapee[32], Conductor