Jenő Hubay, the exceptionally gifted violinist celebrated all over Europe, gained reputation as a prolific composer and founder of the famous Hungarian violin school, played a decisive role in the musical life of Hungary, more than fifty years. Though shadowed after the Second World War by the two giants of music - Kodály and Bartók - we can not forget the historical fact that Hubay was the most prominant and representative figure of Hungarian music for decades.
His first master was his father, Károly Huber, who was the concertmaster and chorus master of the National Theatre (the first performance of Lohengrin in Budapest is connected with his name). Simultaniously he taught at the Hungarian National Music School (Conservatory) and later at the Academy of Music. From 1873, Hubay studied in the master school of József Joachim in Berlin. When returning to Hungary in 1876 his national and international performing carrier began. He often performed on Franz Liszts matinées, and two years later with a letter of recommendation from Liszt he went to Paris where he changed his name from Huber to Hubay which sounded more Hungarian. In Paris, he and the pianist Károly Aggházy became favorite and frequent guests of artistic salons and during the following years, he gave many successful concerts in France, England and Belgium.
He was on good terms with the legendary violinist and composer Henry Vieuxtemps - then already aged and ill - who viewed the young Hungarian as the heir of his art. Because of this and the already existing international reputation of Hubay he received one of the most significant violinist status of Europe in 1882 when he was barely 23 years old. He was appointed to head of the violin department at the Conservatory of Bruxelles, where Wieniawsky and Vieuxtemps were his predecessors.
His attacment to his country was proved when in 1886 he gave up his chair in Bruxelles - though it assured him a brilliant future. He returned to Budapest, where he became head of the violin department at the Academy of Music. He was for 15 years the director of the institution as well from 1919 on. His activity greatly contributed to the international fame of the Academy. The Music Academy was regarded as one of the leading violin schools of Europe along with the school of Leopold Auer in St Petersburg and Sefčiks class in Prague and Vienna. Among his most prominent pupils were Jelly Arányi, Endre Gertler, Stefi Geyer, Gyula Keréjártó, István Pártos, Erna Rubinstein, Zoltán Székely, József Szigeti, Emil Telmányi, Ferenc Vecsey, Imre Waldbauer, Ede Zathureczky, etc. Many internationally known quartets emerged from his master-class: WaldbauerKerpely, HauserSon, Léner, Roth and Végh.
He did not cease composition until his death. More than half of his 400 works were written for violin, which he wrote during the last two decades of the last century, while he was performing. The same period gave birth to his more than 100 Hungarian, German and French songs. Concerning these songs he was inspired by contemporary salons - very important to the intellectual life of the period. During the second part of his life, his interest turned towards the more monumental, symphonic and theatrical genres. He was convinced that his aims as a composer should be in the creation of reperesentative and universal pieces (Dante and Petőfi symphonies, the cantata Ara Pacis, The Fiddler of Cremona, The Rake of the Village, Anna Karenina, The Mask, and other operas). While Hubay was considered as one of the best chamber musicians of his time, he himself never composed chamber music except for Sonate Romantique (D-major Op. 22.). Probably he was influenced partly by his youth.
His activity contributed immensely to the development of Hungarian music. The reasons he was neglected may be traced in different things. He threatened the new social system since he was know for his anti-Bolshevist views. He married a countess and became possessor of several estates, castles and a brick-factory. In 1907 he became noble and Franz Joseph conferred him the title of nobility Szalatnay. His way of living was also aristocratic. His palace near the Danube was very splendid and illustrious. His musical taste was basically conservative. Hubay's world was rooted to the romanticisme of last century. He lived in the illusion of the "time of peace". He strove to gain respect for the "great classical" composers and to preserve the values of the past, and did not support modern tendencies. Though generally he was open-minded to innovations and taught his students likewise, for him the compositions of Richard Strauss was the most modern and still tolerable music. In the last decade of his life he became friends with the German master. Several of his students later became interpreters of Bartók.
If one looks at the social position and musical conception of Hubay it is not surprising to find that he had conflicts with young composers in Kodály and Bartók's circles. It seemed that their opposition was mainly theoretic which was partly elaborated by posterity's bias. Also, many contemporary organizations wanted to assimilate him and use him to their advantage. Few are aware, that while many Hungarian musicians were harassed by the Horthy regime retorsions because of their role played during the ephemerous Hungarian Communist Republic in 1919 he did everything he could to save and rehabilitate them, even if it was against to his personal interests.
Hubay's performing and pedagogical work was always regarded very positively. He established one of the lading violin schools of Europe in Budapest the influence of which could be felt much further than the borders of the continent. His contemporaries frequently said that Hubay united the positive characteristics of varying influences and styles in his work: Hungarian temper, German thoroughness and French ease made an organic unity in his art.