Sándor Vándor


Thanks to the choir named after him, Vándor is not entirely unknown. He even merited twelve lines in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. But his work as a composer and educator is largely forgotten. From 1920 on, Vándor (originally Venetianer; Miskolc, July 28, 1901– Sopronbánfalva, January 14, 1945) studied in Berlin and then as Paul Graener’s composition student at the Leipzig Music Academy, from which he graduated. He worked as an opera répétiteur in Italy from 1924 until he returned to Hungary in 1932, after which he worked as an opera conductor and répétiteur and led several workers’ choirs without payment. He conducted the choir that eventually took his name from 1936 until November 1944, when he was taken to Sopronbánfalva by the Hungarian Nazis and died under torture.

As a conductor, Vándor consistently promoted works by Bartók and Kodály, and he published articles about Bartók, Kodály, Mussorgsky and Shostakovich. In addition to Hungarian, he was fluent in German, Russian, English, French, Italian and Spanish. In 1940, during his three-month Ruthenian forced labor period, he learned Ruthenian and collected Ruthenian folksongs. Although as a composer Vándor was best known for his choral works, he was prolific in many genres and was well received by audiences and critics alike. Distinguished artists, such as the pianist György Sándor and the singer Vera Rózsa, performed at concerts of Vándor’s compositions, which include instrumental, chamber, orchestral, vocal/choral and stage works. Only one of Vándor’s compositions was published during his lifetime: The Machine, for piano solo, won the silver medal at an international competition for piano compositions in Eastern Europe in 1934. His second opera was left unfinished at the time of his death.

Many of Vándor’s forty or more compositions were published posthumously, but they are not easy to come by. Many – perhaps all – of his manuscripts survive.

Molnár writes that some of Vándor’s songs are among the treasures of Hungarian Lieder, and Fejes (1967) analyzes the String Quartet, the Sonatina for solo viola, First Sonata for violin and piano, other instrumental and chamber works, several songs, choral works and Vándor’s only completed opera, which was written in the Brecht/Weill mode. Fejes emphasizes what he describes as Vándor’s revolutionary choral chansons, the best of which – “Mondd, mit érlel” (“What will become of him”) – combines Hungarian folksong elements with 20th-century workers’ songs à la Hanns Eisler. Vándor arranged folksongs of many nations; his most substantial Hungarian folksong arrangement was The Ballad of Anna Fehér for solo female voice, mixed choir and piano (1941).