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American Composers and Blind Musicians from A to Z: U-V (Part 2 – Ungár, Imré)

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Today we take a step outside of the United States to profile a blind Hungarian pianist named Imré Ungár. Ungár was born in Budapest in 1909, and his blindness is thought to have been caused by a brain tumor in childhood (according to his former student Tamás Németh). At the age of five, Ungár began piano lessons at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. He continued his studies under István Thomán (who also taught Hungarian students Béla Bartók, Ernö Dohnányi and Georges Cziffra). After graduating from the Academy, Ungár embarked on his performing career. One of the first competitions he participated in was the second Chopin competition in 1932.

The International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition (known colloquially as the Chopin Competition) brings together pianists from across the world in order to judge their interpretation and performance of one composer’s works— Frédéric Chopin. This competition began in 1927, and has been held every 5 years, except for in the case of extenuating circumstances (World War II in 1942, and COVID-19 in 2020).

Frédérick Chopin, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right
Frédérick Chopin, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right. Photographic print, 1907.

That year, another budding pianist named Alexander Uninsky took part in the Chopin Competition. Both Ungár and Uninsky impressed the jurors. In fact, the final scores for both pianists were the same. The rules for that year’s competition stipulated that any ties were to be broken by a coin flip! With the result of the coin flip in, Uninsky was announced the winner, and Ungár the runner-up.

The New York Times ran a brief announcement in the March 25, 1932 edition, extolling the performance of the two pianists:

“The 23-year-old blind Hungarian pianist, Inre [sic] Ungar, and the Russian emigrant of Paris, Alexander Uninzky, 24, were winners of the two first prizes of $561 and $336 respectively at the second international Chopin competition organized, by the Warsaw Chopin Academy of Music[…]The blind Hungarian pianist, a son of a poor shopkeeper, won the hearts of Warsaw by his sympathetic and flawless playing…the other first-prize winner, Uninzky, is an accomplished pianist. He received a prize also from the Polish Radio Company for his performance of the Mazurkas.”

After that fateful event, Imré Ungár performed widely with European orchestras and worked with conductors such as Otto Klemperer, Karl Schuricht, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Willem Mengelberg, Jan Krenz, Witold Rowicki and others. After World War II, Ungár returned to Budapest, after living in the Netherlands during the war. He began teaching at the Franz Liszt Academy, where he started his career.

Here is a selected bibliography of pieces by or about Frédéric Chopin in the NLS Music Collection. Unless otherwise noted, all listed pieces are by Frédéric Chopin, and all braille is in bar over bar format. If you are interested in checking out materials in the wider Library of Congress collection, here are two digitized manuscripts of Chopin pieces held at the Library of Congress: Impromtu No. 3 in G-flat major, op. 51 and Prelude in A-flat major, B. 86.

Braille Materials

Fifteen Waltzes (BRM36437)
Mazurkas, section by section (BRM28066)

Volume 1: Mazurkas, op. 6, op. 7, op. 17, op. 24
Volume 2: Mazurkas, op. 30, op. 33, op. 41, op. 50
Volume 3: Mazurkas, op. 56, op. 59, op 63
Volume 4: Mazurka élégante, Mazurkas, op. 67, op. 68

Nocturnes: Urtext edited from the autographs, manuscript copies and original editions and with fingering by Jan Ekier (BRM35975)

Volume 1. Trois Nocturnes opus 9 : I. B flat minor, II. E flat major, III. B major
Volume 2. Trois Nocturnes opus 15 : I. F major, II. F sharp major, III. G minor
Volume 3. Deux Nocturnes opus 27 : I. C sharp minor, II. D flat major
Volume 4. Deux Nocturnes opus 32 : I. B major, II. A flat major
Volume 5. Deux Nocturnes opus 37 : I. G minor, II. G major
Volume 6. Deux Nocturnes opus 48 : I. C minor, II. F sharp minor
Volume 7. Deux Nocturnes opus 55 : I. F minor, II. E flat major
Volume 8. Deux Nocturnes opus 62 : I. B major, II. E major
Volume 9. Commentary on performance of the Nocturnes by the editors of this edition

Scherzi: Urtext edited from the autographs, manuscript copies, and original editions and with fingering added by Jan Ekier (BRM38627)

Volume 1: Preface; Remarks on Interpretation; Critical notes
Volume 2: Scherzo, op. 20; Scherzo, op. 31
Volume 3: Scherzo, op. 39; Scherzo, op. 54

Polonaise, Op. 40, no. 2 (BRM28773)
Polonaise, Op. 53, “Heroic” (BRM22746)
Sonatas Nos. 1-2, op. 35 & 58 (BRM36828)

Volume 1: Op 35
Volume 2: Op. 58
Volume 3: Commentary

Twenty-Four Preludes, op. 28 (BRM00138)

Audio Materials

Brown, Bill: Piano by Ear

Prelude in F Major, Op. 28 no. 23 (DBM03965)
Waltz No. 19 in A minor (DBM03973)
Nocturne No. 8, op. 27 no. 2 (DBM03734)
Nocturne No. 20, Op. posth. (DBM03958)

Life and works: Frédéric Chopin (DBM03626)
Machlis, Joseph. Frédéric Chopin: a biography in words and music (DBM00678)
The narrated life history of Frédéric Chopin (DBM03395)
The world’s 50 greatest composers: Frédéric Chopin (DBM01635)

Large Print Materials

Chopin’s preludes for the piano, op. 28 (LPM00090)
Waltzes, B. 150 (LPM00559), op. 34, no. 1 (LPM00558), op. 64, no. 2 (LPM00557), B. 44 (LPM00556), op. 69, no. 1 (LPM00555), op. 42 (LPM00554)

If you’d like to order hard copies of this material for loan, would like to download the materials from BARD and need some guidance, or if you would like to explore more materials of the NLS Music Collection and learn about our service, please email us at [email protected], or give us a phone call at 1-800-424-8567, extension 2. We are happy to help and look forward to hearing from you!

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