A Night to Remember: Documentary Premier of Two Friends in Tallahassee

People gathered from all over the Jackson area on the evening of Mar. 18, to view the premiere of Two Friends in Tallahassee: The Story of Ernst von Dohnányi and Edward Kilenyi, a documentary produced by MC’s Music Department Chair Angela Willoughby and edited by Communications Professor Ryan Capell.

The documentary recounted the story of the close friendship that developed between Hungarian composer and pianist Ernst von Dohnányi and his student Edward Kilenyi.

The two men first met when Dohnányi traveled to the United States and heard Kilenyi, then a child, play the piano, noting that he had talent but needed a better teacher. Soon after this meeting, Kilenyi and his mother moved to Budapest, Hungary, so Kilenyi could study with Dohnányi at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music.

Dohnányi was a delightful and cheerful teacher, described by Kilenyi as having “no animosity at all” and a good sense of humor.  A strong friendship and mutual respect and interest in one another developed over these years spent together in Budapest.

Soon after Kilenyi graduated from the academy and began his career as a touring solo pianist, the Nazis began to invade Europe and life started to change for both Kilenyi and Dohnányi. While Kilenyi moved back to the United States, helping support the war effort through music and eventually joining the army, Dohnányi moved his family to Vienna to escape the Nazi take-over and eventually found refuge in the small German town of Neunkirchen.

Dohnányi and Kilenyi lost touch during the war, and it took a three-month long search for Kilenyi to find Dohnányi in Neunkirchen. When Kilenyi walked into the house in Neunkirchen, he found Dohnányi playing a Beethoven sonata. Dohnányi looked at Kilenyi with pride, saying, “Imagine having such a distinguished pupil to be a captain in the US army.”

At last reunited, the two men continued to maintain a faithful friendship. Kilenyi helped Dohnányi acquire a professorship at Florida State University. Although Kilenyi moved back to New York City to record, they kept in close touch. In 1953, Kilenyi also received a professorship at Florida State University, moving with his whole family as well as his parents to Tallahassee.

Dohnányi and Kilenyi, once teacher and pupil, now taught and played piano together as comrades. Kilenyi greatly admired Dohnányi, and Dohnányi is known to have loved and known Kilenyi better than his own sons.

Angela Willoughby, the producer of the documentary, began to research the lives and music of Dohnányi and Kilenyi almost six years ago. When a student at MC herself, she often wondered why her professor Dr. Taylor taught with certain methods. This curiosity sparked her interest and decision to learn about his teacher, who happened to be Kilenyi.

After years of research and numerous trips to Europe, she had countless stories, pictures, and documents about Dohnányi and Kilenyi. When asked in the Q&A session following the documentary, Willoughby stated despite the importance of their music, it was the story of their friendship that she kept coming back to and ultimately felt compelled to tell through her documentary.

Sophomore music education major Ashlynn Grissom remarked afterwards how much she appreciated that the documentary was “about their student-teacher relationship and the friendship that they formed, not just about Dohnányi and his compositions.”

While Willoughby provided all the information, pictures, and videos, Ryan Capell aided in the creation of the film, putting the pictures and video clips in a logical order, adding in the audio and background music, and helping present the story clearly.

Working together as a team, Willoughby stated she could not have done this without Capell’s help. After some final editing and tweaking, Willoughby and Capell hope to enter the documentary in a film festival by the end of the year.

The film intrigued the viewer as it alternated between pictures of Dohnányi and Kilenyi, their personal letters and documents, and video interviews with family members and other people who knew them, as well as a radio clips from an interview with Kilenyi himself.

Christa Morgan, a junior music education major, commented that the film was “very well organized and easy to understand.” The use of personal interviews made the film and its information relevant and relatable to the viewer.

The German version of the documentary will premiere in Neunkirchen in the next few months and will be soon followed by a concert of Dohnányi’s music given by a group of MC students and faculty who will be traveling to Germany in May.

– Maleesa Brenchley, Contributing Writer

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