*23 I 1909 Budapeszt, †1972 Budapeszt
Imré Ungár – 2nd Prize winner, 2nd International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (1932). Imré Ungár lost his sight at the age of three. However, his astounding musical taste allowed his parents to teach him piano playing despite his disability. Ungár’s first teacher was Professor Rosenfeld, followed by Liszt’s famous pupil, István Thoman, at the Music Academy in Budapest. At the age of 16, Ungár won the Competition for Young Talents. As a result of his success he began playing concerts throughout Hungary and neighbouring countries, becoming – as he was described in print – “[the] new star of the Hungarian piano school”.
In 1932, he took part in the 2nd Chopin Competition in Warsaw, where as a result of a draw (since he had the same number of points as Uninsky) he took the 2nd Prize. Professor Stanisław Niewiadomski thus described Ungár’s playing:
“We have found the perfect laureate: Imré Ungár. Not because every sensitive heart is deeply moved by [his] personal fate, but because [his] inner concentration, a consequence of his blindness, created in his playing a resonance of tragedy, stirring the listener with almost every musical phrase. Thus he did not come out victorious on his own, but rather moved by the strength of the human spirit, freed of all worldly conventions. And the material aspect of his wondrous playing simply became an embodiment of this force [...]. It is fortunate that such an extraordinary artistic soul was discovered and shown to the world.”
Shortly after the Chopin competition, Ungár gave several performances in Warsaw: in April he played on Chopin’s piano at the National Museum, in May he reappeared as a soloist in a symphony concert. In following years and after the war Ungár was a frequent guest to Poland.
Ungár’s repertoire was vast, ranging from Bach to modernity. With great success he performed a series of works by Bartók, Kodály and Liszt (including works from the latter’s late period), Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven, Haydn and Chopin. Despite his blindness he often played piano concertos by Chopin, Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms with such conductors as Otto Klemperer, Karl Schuricht, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Willem Mengelberg, Jan Krenz, Witold Rowicki and others.
During the early years of World War II Ungár lived in the Netherlands, and in 1943 he returned to Budapest. After the war, he resumed his concert career but also took up teaching at the Music Academy in Budapest, opening his own piano class and quickly achieving fame as a piano teacher. His students included Polish pianist Tadeusz Żmudziński, awarded at the 1949 Chopin Competition.
Ungár’s performing art, particularly in the 1960s, was notable for its powerful expression; his tempos were somewhat slower than accepted standards, he often used rubato and heavily used both piano pedals, making use of the beautiful, saturated sound of the instrument.
Ungár was hugely famous and regarded as an authority in his homeland.