After the 1873 unification of former cities Pest, Buda and Óbuda and with the establishment of Budapest as the capital, the new city went through a rapid development and became Hungary's cultural centre. A most prominent part of this development was the establishment of cultural institutes operating on a national level and their concentration in the capital: Budapest was home to most associations, editorial offices, publishing companies, schools, cultural centres, and many prominent personalities of the time lived here. The most significant institutes were two universities in the capital: the old Science University and the University of Technology and Economics, the latter established in 1871. Also, many other new higher education institutes were established at that time.
The need for musical high culture was growing day by day: from 1853 the Philharmonic Society, with the Orchestra of the National Theatre as its basis, started operations under the direction of Ferenc Erkel, the concerts of which were held from 1865 in Vigadó Concert Hall, after some temporary difficulties concerning organization. When Franz Liszt held public concerts in Budapest, the number of which increased with time, he also held them there.
Although secondary music education had been offered since 1840 in the National Music School of Pest, there was no higher education institution of music in Hungary at the time. Naturally, a need arose for the establishment of such institution in the years of the rise of the bourgeoisie in the capital. In 1869, Henrik Gobbi, renowned pianist and composer, described the backward conditions in the field of music in Zenészeti Lapok, a weekly music magazine edited by Kornél Ábrányi: (...) Since the constitutional rebirth there has not been a segment of the intellectual and material public life of the Hungarian state that has not been supported financially to a greater or lesser extent, except for the musical public scene (...) The first step ought to be the establishment of a genuine state-supported national conservatory with the necessary premises, where the most excellent performances can be held. Moreover, the annual salary of the professors of the institute cannot be less than of those teaching at other public schools.
In 1869, Antal Csengery, member of the parliament propounded the establishment of a College of Drama and Music, which was supported by Kornél Ábrányi in his articles in Zenészeti Lapok. This was the time when Franz Liszt started spending more and more time in the Hungarian capital. In 1871 he even rented a flat in Pest and sent for numerous books, pictures and instruments from Weimar and Rome to be brought there. His presence was a refreshing element in the musical scene of the city, as he regularly held concerts, and famous artists like Delibes, Saint-Saëns, Sarasate and Wagner visited the capital on his request. Many recognised the importance of his presence in the city, and during a debate on 8 December 1873 one of the representatives in the Parliament mentioned him as one of the reasons for establishing an academy of music.
Ágoston Trefort, Minister of Public Education "was a great advocate of the arts and recognized the importance of the establishment of a National Academy of Music decreed by the Hungarian Parliament". He summoned a fairly big committee the decisions of which Liszt welcomed, as he expressed in a letter on 7 May 1873 sent from Weimar.
Due to financial problems, however, the implementation was postponed again and again. In July 1874 the second interpellation in the Parliament was successful in moving forward the process.
In the autumn of 1873 Liszt moved into a new flat on the riverside of the Danube, in Hal Square. The 16-room building was rented by the Ministry for the purposes of being the home of the Academy of Music, and at Trefort's request a flat was furnished for Liszt on the first floor.
Liszt had definite ideas about the institute and he realized that he could find nor the professional staff nor the adequate amount of financial means for the realization. He put an emphasis on general artistic features and proposed the teaching of subjects that would have an inspiring effect on the musical scene of the whole country. Aware of the small budget, Erkel, then prospective principal, proposed the establishment of fewer departments, which in turn could be of international level in quality. In his view, the main duty of the Academy of Music was to advance Hungarian national music.
In the end, things did not turn out as Liszt had imagined and planned: (...) The financial resources are not sufficient and there is a shortage of necessary staff. Bülow is moving to America, Witt is seriously ill; despite all my efforts I cannot undertake a task that exceeds my capabilities. Therefore I request and propose anew that the project be wisely postponed. (Letter to Antal Augusz from Bayreuth.)
This request of Liszt was not met as Trefort wanted to open the institute as soon as possible after settling the budget debate, and on 21 May 1875 Liszt was appointed President and on 2 September Ferenc Erkel was appointed Principal of the Academy. On the very day, in another decree the minister issued an order that the Academy of Music be partially opened on 1 October and made provision for the gradual completion of the institute. The appointed teaching staff were: Róbert Volkmann – professor, Kornél Ábrányi – extraordinary professor, who did secretarial work as well, and Sándor Nikolits – assistant professor. Due to the lack of necessary instruments, books and scores the opening was postponed to 3 November.
The admission requirements at the National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music were published in the 17 October issue of Zenészeti Lapok. As the entrance examinations took longer than expected, the date of the opening ceremony was moved to 14 November 1875. Liszt greeted Erkel in a letter but he himself was not present at the ceremony. The uncertainty that had been lasting for years forced him to stay in Italy and devote himself to composing music. Liszt appreciated Erkel's composing activity, but he also knew that he was less familiar with the newest trends in piano music, therefore Liszt himself had to bear the responsibility of teaching the highest level of piano playing.
The Academy of Music started operations with 5 professors and 38 students on 15 November at 4 Hal Square, on Floor 2. Liszt arrived in Pest on 15 February 1876 and started teaching on 2 March.
The institute operated in the building in Hal Square for four years (the house was demolished during the construction of the Elizabeth Bridge), and in the Autumn of 1879 it moved to its new building on Sugár (now Andrássy) Avenue. The Presidential Residence for Liszt was on the 1
st floor, the saloon of which directly opened to the concert hall. The Principal's Residence for Ferenc Erkel was on the 2 nd floor; the classrooms were on the same floor and on the 3 rd floor. Under these new circumstances it became possible to increase the number of students and majors. This necessarily meant that new professors needed to be appointed (Gyula Erkel, Henrik Gobbi).
In 1880 the Minister of Religion and Public Education summoned a temporary board of directors with the intent to propose ideas for extension, for furthering the sphere of activities, for creating final Statues, and for the establishment of new departments. On the recommendation of the board of directors, five new subjects were included in the curriculum of the 1882/1883 academic year: Organ music, Solo singing, Choir singing, Hungarian language and Prosody, Italian language. New professors were invited to teach these new subjects; among them were Adél Passy-Cornet and Rikhárd Pauli (vocal studies) and Hans Koessler (organ, choir singing). In the same academic year dr. János Peregriny replaced Kornél Ábrányi as secretary. Ábrányi returned to editing the journal Zenészeti Közlöny, but continued to teach at the Academy of Music.
Robert Volkmann died at the beginning of the 1883/84 academic year. After his death Koessler took over teaching music composition. Koessler retired in 1908, and between 1920 and 1925 he taught for five more years at the Academy of Music, during which time he taught music composition in the artists' course. It would not be an exaggeration to say that every Hungarian composer and renowned organists at the beginning of the 20
th century was his student. Famous Hungarian novelist Géza Csáth wrote: (...) no music educator has ever educated that many excellent students (...) The following are some of the composers: Béla Bartók, Ernő Dohnányi, Ernő Huszka, Viktor Jacobi, Zoltán Kodály, Rezső Kókai, Szendy Árpád, Szirmai Albert, Leó Weiner. And the organists: Dezső Antalffy Zsíross, János Hammerschlag, István Járay-Janetschek, Aladár Zalánfy.
Violin classes were first held in the 1884/85 academic year. The first professor of violin was Károly Huber. The same year two more significant milestones were achieved: the Liszt Scholarship was awarded for the first time and the first official register of the library and the music collection was compiled and published in the school's yearbook by János Peregriny.
Károly Huber died in December 1885 and the next academic year his son took over his department, who had resigned his post as a professor at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels for the Academy of Music in Budapest. At the end of the same academic year the minister ordered the establishment of the violoncello department. David Popper, who was one of the greatest cellists of the time, was successfully persuaded to teach at the Academy.
On 1 August 1886 the news of Franz Liszt's death on 31 July arrived in Budapest in a telegraph sent by Ödön Mihalovich. At the funeral, Ödön Mihalovich represented the Ministry, and Vice President János Végh represented the Academy of Music. Liszt's presence as a professor marks a most significant era for our institute - wrote Géza Moravcsik, future secretary of the Academy of Music, in his historical overview. - His spirit created a foundation for modern piano playing techniques and performing arts. Two of our nation's finest pianists, who also became distinguished professors of the Academy, had been his students: Árpád Szendy and István Thomán educated the new generation of piano virtuosi in his spirit.
Ágnes Gádor – Gábor Szirányi