70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

Ödön Pártos: viola player, pedagogue and composer – in the spirit of Kodály

By Frankpeti - 2018-03-11

Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

Ödön Pártos was born in an assimilated Jewish family in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in Budapest. He was considered an infant prodigy by his teachers when he was only 7-8 years old. Jenő Hubay had provided a special master for the young talent: Jenő Ormándy, who later became the chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, a prominent personality in the world of music. Recommended by Hubay, Pártos began his studies at the Budapest Academy of Music. Antal Doráti and Matthias Seiber were among his classmates. He played the violin and the viola, and studied with Leó Weiner; he was one of the favorite pupils of Zoltán Kodály (composition) and was awarded a diploma at the age of 18.

At the end of his studies in Lucerne, 1927

After completing his studies, he was appointed first violinist of the Luzern orchestra. He had spent a year there; in the following season he became a first violinist at the Budapest Concert Orchestra. In 1927 he moved to Germany, where he played in several orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. In Berlin he had met Kurt Weill, who introduced him to the film world; Pártos also composed film music.

In 1933, following the Nazi takeover and the anti-Jewish laws, Pártos became the first violinist of the Jewish Kulturbund (cultural organization) in Berlin. He returned to Hungary the following year.


In 1936, Bronisław Huberman recruited Jewish musicians from their homeland to the Eretz orchestra he had founded; he also invited Pártos, but because of the contract Pártos had previously signed with the Soviet Union, his joining the orchestra was delayed. Under his contract, he taught violin and composition in Baku at the Music Academy there.


In 1937 he left the Soviet Union because he was unwilling to join the Communist Party during the “Moscow Trials” and returned to Budapest where he again played first violin in the concert orchestra.

Ödön Pártos and his viola in the Eretz orchestra, in 1941

At that time, he was invited by Bronisław Huberman to a meeting in Firenze where he was offered the solo viola post of Orchestra Palestine (Palestinian Symphony Orchestra, as of 1948 Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra). Despite the tempting offers from South America (Peru), Pártos chose Eretz Israel and its pioneer efforts and made aliyah in 1938. In a country that was becoming gradually populated, while in a nearly uninterrupted state of war, he felt he had to be involved in creating a music culture.

As a solo viola player of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and as a member of the Israeli String Quartet, he played until 1956 and also played several concerts in Israel and abroad as a soloist.

Ödön Pártos and Alice Fenyves, members of the Israeli String Quartet with Yehudi Menuhin, 1955

Eden Partos as they called him in Israel lived in Tel-Aviv, teaching at the conservatory and at the Music Academy. In 1951, he was appointed Director of the Academy of Music, and in 1961 he was awarded a professorship. In 1954, his symphonic fantasy Ein Gev - inspired by his time in kibbutz - was awarded the Israel Prize. He was the first composer to receive this award. His Quartet won a Coolidge Prize.


He was looking for local colors


Pártos has brought the European musical tradition to Eretz-Israel and practiced Bartók and Kodály’s approach in teaching and composing. Like his great teacher, Zoltán Kodály, Pártos also favored listening to and recording authentic local music. He considered folk music as the source of his composition. It was important for him to popularize both Arabic and Jewish folk music. His style can be characterized as speaking western music language with modal sound systems, modern musical ideas and oriental influences. These influences are well recognized in his works. During the time he spent in Baku, he was keenly interested in Middle Eastern music.

During work, 1957

He became acquainted with the music of Eastern Jews and the Jewish music of Yemen. He worked on Yemen melodies for Bracha Zefira's singer (Ariel Zilber's mother) and worked with Ovadia Tuvia composer who brought the local colors close to him, which he then incorporated into his works. During his Israeli integration, Pártos deepened his exploration of the ancient tradition. Yizkor, which he had composed for viola and string orchestra, he later transcribed for violin, viola and cello accompanied by piano accompaniment. The piece is based on the religious melodies of Eastern European Jews and commemorates the Holocaust.

In the first row from right to left: Reuven Rubin, Karel Salmon, Paul Ben-Haim, Ödön Pártos, conductor Michael Taube, pianist Moshe Lustig.

Pártos was enthusiastic about the music activity of the Kibbutz movement; he played music at Ein Gev kibbutz festival, and taught at Ein Hashofet kibbutz. He was one of the founding composers who sought contact between their European country of origin and the "here and now" musical culture of the Middle East. Pártos joined the Israeli film industry when composing music for David Perlov's films.


One of his world-renowned students, Rivka Golani, a viola player - like many others – had claimed that he was the most influential musician in her life.  She said:


“He did not deal with technical issues. Each of his pupils first studied chamber music. As a pedagogue, he was neither easy nor simple. During his lessons, he was busy with himself as a musician, in the company of the student. His teaching sessions were not arranged according to measurable time units. Occasionally his wife, Dina, had to remind him that the lesson was completed. He was a man with strong skills and knowledge, and when a student came to him, he knew he had to be prepared, he had to know the material perfectly, or else he would be in big trouble!”


“In those years when he was still active as a musician, Pártos sometimes literally threw a chair at his colleagues’ heads as the leader of the group. He was a temperamental, whimsical man, but at the same time he was able to approach the same musical phrase in different musical expressions. In his style, of course, he adhered to the contents of the musical sentence, but he did not actually play the same sentence twice with the same expression. From a pedagogical point of view, this was not easy, but in hindsight, I can say that as a student my experience was the richer by it.”

“As a pedagogue he was almost considered unreachable,” Golani continues, “but I, who had spent seven full years with him, often went to his class, played, and came out crying. Pártos always treated musicians from Hungary differently; for example he and Ottó Erdős (musician and string-instrument maker, later Golani's husband) became friends immediately, upon their first meeting.”

A memorial plaque placed on the wall of the house where Pártos grew up, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Budapest, 6th district, Aradi Street 22.

Pártos was a stunning, broad-minded man and an excellent musician from the circle of Hungarian Jewish musicians - his colleagues with whom he played together in the first years - such as Lóránd and Alice Fenyves, violinist siblings, Ilona Vincze, pianist, László Krausz, cellist and Ilona Fehér, violin teacher. While the latter could “create” such violin stars as Zukerman, or Mintz, among Pártos's students, it is difficult to find such “stars”; but as a leader and teacher of the Academy, he has raised generations of great and important musicians, performers, singers, composers, active theorists who are today Israel's most renowned music performers and practitioners.

The "Eden Partosh" Street in Be'er Sheva - photo: google earth


עדן פרטוש: חייו ויצירתו, תל אביב: עם עובד, 1984

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