2019 March 28 Pianist Dr. Erno Daniel

Remembering Pianist / Conductor / Musician

Dr. Erno Daniel 1918 - 1977


Rick Seifert


In the summer of 1976 I traveled to Traverse City Michigan to study piano at The National Music Camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Interlochen is exactly as the name implies, a stretch of beautiful land located between two magnificent lakes, (Lake Wahbekaness and Wahbekanetta respectively.)

The day was beautifully hot, and a walk down to the lake was my first stop. As I walked toward the lake I was not quite sure where to go, and I was anxious too to meet my piano teacher whom I had never met, all I knew was his name, by chance I spotted an elderly man wearing a straw hat and something inside me said that must be him. I walked over to him and introduced myself and politely asked if he was Dr. Daniel. A look of total amazement came over him as though I had disturbed someone out of a far away distant dream. He looked at me and said “Yes I am Erno Daniel, and then quickly added, but how could you possibly have known who I was?” Well in truth I had no idea, it was just a strange gut feeling that I had, and I couldn’t quite explain it to him or even to myself. He said "let us go for a walk". On our walk that day he spoke to me of many things and it was as if we had known each other in a former life. We found the lake and later met there with his wife Katinka every afternoon to swim. Those afternoons in the lake were filled with almost more than we ever could cover in the piano lessons, stories of Hungary, famous musicians, a deep inner devotion to God, and a keen love for the United States, which had saved his family from near destruction when the communists had invaded his beloved homeland.

Katinka was an extrovert extraordinaire and wearing her brightly flowered bathing cap would talk about so many things, such as their friendship with Bela Bartok, Zolton Kodaly and Dr. Daniel’s genius as a conductor (I now know that he had studied with the great George Szell among others.) I would eat my meals with the Daniel’s and our friendship grew throughout that summer. I introduced the Daniel’s to American Peanut butter at lunch one day, something they had never before seen or eaten, and it was a total hit.

My piano lessons with Daniel were like visits to a faraway land filled with history and mystery. The music of Bach was foremost on the practice menu and my love of Bach to this day is largely due to having studied it with Dr. Daniel. There was a large work by Rachmaninov “The Humoresque” and many other new and wonderous works.

Daniel was himself the most humble and quiet person I have ever met or known in my life, a deeply spiritual soul filled with the spirit of God, and one who moved slowly with a grace and dignity that can not quite be described in words. To me, Dr. Daniel was indeed an elderly man, he seemed ancient but had a sharp wit and intellect and a glow in his quiet eyes. We corresponded during the next few years of his life, and those special letters I still have carefully preserved in a binder. Little did I know at the time that he was only 57 years old and was suffering from cancer, soon to die at age 59. Decades later I learned that he was a giant in the world of music and piano. Read on.

So who was this Pianist / Conductor / Musician? Well gathering information today on someone who was so humble is a challenge, but here is a little of what I was able to locate and I am grateful to Pianist, Professor Paul Berkowitz of UCSB who helped to provide me with much of the information below.

Erno Daniel, Born in Budapest, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music, there under such masters as Ernst Von Dohnanyi, he graduated with the highest honors. He was only nineteen when he was the recipient of the Franz Liszt prize from the city of Budapest; he received the state teacher’s diploma in 1938 and the state artist’s diploma in 1941, and was appointed full professor at the Royal Academy in 1942, at the age of twenty-four.

(He also, earned a doctorate in law and political science from the Royal University of Budapest.)

In his youth Daniel studied (prior to the Royal Academy) with the famed Istvan Thoman 1862- 1940 called “Istvan the beloved” by his teacher Franz Liszt.)

Daniel’s work with students was illuminated by his experience and by his extensive and outstanding record as a performer. Wendell Nelson stated, “he was a very gentle person, quiet, unassuming, truly a gentleman of the old school and extremely kind.”

During his years in Hungary he regularly appeared as a soloist, in recital and with orchestra, in many European cities, from Berlin and Vienna to Milan and Rome, and from Brussels to Istanbul, and he had performed with such conductors as Mengelber, Fricasy, Ferencsik, and Matacic, he continued to appear as a recitalist and concerto performer after his move the United States in 1949.

One writer says “His performances were notable not only for his stamina (not many pianists would undertake to play three concertos in the same concert, as he did on occasion) and for the virtuosity and technique of his playing, but also for his sensitivity and musical insight. These qualities also distinguished his chamber music performances with such artists as Heifetz, the Schonfeld Duo, and the Paganini Quartet.

As a teacher it is said that it was his ability to combine the physical side of pianism with an intellectual grasp of the internal logic of the music that made him an outstanding educator, that and his unfailing patience and kindness, he possessed an unselfish devotion to his students where a young performer could grow and advance without fear or discouragement, but always with the support of thoughtful helpful suggestions.

1940’s life behind the Iron Curtain became increasing difficult. The family agreed to escape from Hungary. He was the first to come to the United States; and later sent for his wife and children.

1949 receives an invitation from Midwestern University in Wichita Falls, Texas and begins teaching, here he introduced the Kodaly method. (a school which to this day is a hub for study of the Kodaly method).

1952 becomes Conductor of the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra. During his tenure Daniel establishes a seven state Young Artist’s competition for pianists in association with the Wichita Falls Symphony.

1953 to 1960 He is professor and Dean of the school of music at Midwestern University, Wichita Falls, Texas. He along with his wife Katinka are responsible for bringing the Kodaly method to the United States at this time.

1959 Daniel was presented with a Scroll of Commendation by the Concert Artist Guild, Inc. of New York City. He was a member of the Chicago Chapter of the International Society for Contemporary Music.

He was an an active member of the American Liszt Society, Pi Kappa Lambda, Music Teacher’s National Association, and was a member of the National Guild of Piano Teachers.

1960 Daniel moves to California and begins teaching at The University of California Santa Barbara. Today there is a plaque dedicated to him in the main concert hall of the Music building recognizing his genius as a pianist and conductor.

1960 -1967 Conductor of the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra. During the concerts he often made guest appearances and managed a dual role, conducting from the keyboard while performing Liszt and Mozart concertos.

1967 Receipt of the Hungarian Liszt Society’s highly esteemed Bronze Plaque, along with a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, and a Hungarian Ministry of Education Fellowship for study in Rome.

1960-1977 professor of piano and lived at taught at University of California Santa Barbara and conductor of the The Santa Barbara Symphony. Daniel’s interest in developing the talent of young artists led to the founding of a Young Artist’s Competition for pianists in California and in seven other States.

1970 -1976 faculty of the The National Music Camp at Interlochen and Vice President of the California Association of Professional Music Teachers.

1960-1973 He lectured and wrote about music, especially Hungarian music; in particular, his extensive biography and bibliography of Zoltan Kodaly for the International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians is a model of its kind. He was active with the American Liszt Society; he served on its board of directors from 1968 to 1973, and was president of the society from 1973 to 1976.

In 1973 he was elected an honorary member of the Franz Liszt Society, Budapest.

After a long struggle with cancer, Dr. Daniel died September 27, 1977

Looking back over the years I still think of Dr. Daniel almost daily, and can still hear his quiet voice speaking to me when I sit at the piano to practice, especially when playing the Bach Two and Three Part Inventions. He is remembered with great fondness, and I am very privileged to have known him and his wife Katinka who was in her own right a remarkable musician, music educator, author and teacher of the Kodaly Method. One afternoon on our walk to lunch there was a magnificent sky prior to a thunderstorm, and I can still here Katinka calling out to us in her thick Hungarian accent "Look Erno! See dat cloud, See dat cloud!" it was as if heaven itself was opening up to greet us, the sun streaming in rays down upon us. They were beautiful and remarkable people.

Printed sources: for this article: Various Obituaries, interview with Dr. Samuel Hsu from 2012, and the article Erno Daniel, Music: Santa Barbara by Peter Racine Fricker Roger Chapman Stefan Krayk Wendell Nelson 

See also: Katinka Daniel and Her Contributions to Kodaly Pedagogy in the United States by Bonnin, Jeri W.