Learning by accident

When we arrived we went to our hotel, a well-designed modern building; every room has a picture window view over the river.

Victoria Hotel 3

This photograph of the parliament building was taken through the window of our bedroom.

Parliament from bedroom

To one side of Reception was a bar, to the other a dining room.

Victoria Hotel 2

But behind Reception, to the rear of the building, was something else entirely, an area normally kept locked. Through the doorway we could see beautifully carved woodwork and a flight of stairs.  ‘What is this?’ we asked the receptionist. This, he told us, was a reconstruction of rooms where a famous composer had lived before the Nazis invaded. The house had been destroyed during the defence of Budapest against the Soviets when Germans and Hungarians had tried to hold off Russians and Romanians.

And who was the famous composer? He was Jenő Hubay, which disconcerted me a lot because I hadn’t heard of him. A little research found that he was a fine violin player who had studied with Joseph Joachim, played chamber music with Brahms and had a string of famous pupils himself, including Carl Nielsen’s son-in-law, Emil Telmanyi, for whom Nielsen wrote his violin concerto.


The owners of the hotel have carefully reconstructed some of Hubay’s house, where he used to hold recitals until his death in 1937. They were so popular that his wife started them up again two years later.

Hubay rooms 2Hubay rooms 1

Hubay has a considerable number of compositions to his credit. These include operas and also, as you would expect, compositions for the violin including four concertos. It sometimes happens that when a virtuoso writes concertos for his or her instrument they are strong on technical demands but weak in musical interest. This is not always the case, though, and certainly isn’t with Jenő Hubay. His concertos are excellent and well scored. Here is Ragin playing a movemnt of the third concerto.

And there are a few recordings featuring Hubay himself.

Two more little wrinkles. Hubay married a countess, Róza Cebrian.

Hubay and Cebrian

And then there is the Chaplin connection. Chaplin’s daughter, Antoinette, studied violin with Jenő Hubay in Budapest in the 1920’s and often mentioned Hubay and members of his family in letters home. That said, she did not stand comparison with most of Hubay’s other students.

But I have just begun to explore all this and haven’t even mentioned General Bem, about whom a book could be written and probably has been.

15 thoughts on “Learning by accident

  1. I believe he made the recordings in 1930, so they come out remarkably well – and he doesn’t kill you with vibrato.

  2. An interesting story. I am intrigued by the owners of the hotel going through all the trouble of reconstructing the composer’s house. Are they Hungarians too or related to the late Jeno Hubay. I have to look up the Victorian Hotel, but I guess there must be many hotels with that name.
    I bought a violin many years ago from Aldi but ended giving it away to a young girl. I had trouble even applying the resin to the strings.
    I like the demure look of the girl holding the violin.

    • I have no reason to believe they are related, though they might be. The Hotel Victoria is on the west side of the river, the Buda side, on Bem rakpart, named after the Polish general of that name.

      I didn’t know Aldi sold violins, we live and learn. I hope the young girl is making good use of it.

  3. The music is good. You may get round to it one day when you have more time than you have now.

    By the way, the best resewn for staying in the EU: you get a tour of the Hungarian Parliament free if you hold an EU passport, you have to pay if you don’t.

    • Sorry I am so late in picking this up.
      Apparently he fell foul of some who came later – his ‘Hungarian was more Gypsy than echt Magyar!

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