Chess and Music Part 2: Erkel and Brodsky

Continuing my series on chess-playing musicians, let’s move forward into the mid 19th century or so and meet Ferenc Erkel (November 7 1810 – June 15 1893).

Erkel is perhaps not a household name today but his music is still revered in his native Hungary. He was a composer, conductor and pianist best known as a composer of grand operas based on historical subjects. His 1861 opera Bánk Bán is considered Hungary’s national opera. If you’re interested you can watch it here.

He was also, as you might have guessed, a chess player as well, one of the founders of the Pest Chess Club in 1839, became Vice-President when it was refounded in 1864, and later its President. Between the late 1850s and early 1860s he was considered one of the strongest players in Hungary.

In this game he uses the Evans Gambit to score a well played sacrificial win against his compatriot József Szén.

Chessmetrics analyses Szén’s career in the 1850s, when he was ranked between 4th and 10th in the world, and gives him a top rating of 2546.

The evidence suggests that Erkel was a very strong player, who, if he’d had the time and inclination, could perhaps have scaled Caïssa’s heights.

Moving on another half century or so, we now make the acquaintance of Adolph Davidovich Brodsky (2 April 1851 – January 22 1929). Brodsky was born in Taganrog, on the Sea of Azov, in the far south western corner of Russia, to a Jewish family of musicians. He was a child prodigy violinist whose career took him to Vienna, Moscow, Leipzig and New York. In 1881 he gave the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s marvellous Violin Concerto, played here by the incomparable David Oistrakh, of whom more later. Tchaikovsky also dedicated the work to Brodsky after the original dedicatee, Leopold Auer, refused to play it unless changes were made.

In 1895 Brodsky moved to Manchester, changing the spelling of his first name from Adolf to Adolph. He had been invited by Sir Charles Hallé, also a chess player, to direct his orchestra and teach at the Manchester College of Music. He was to remain there for the rest of his life. While he was there he formed a string quartet, whose viola player had a familiar sounding name: Simon Speelman. (Speelman is a Dutch Jewish surname. It seems that two families, or possibly two branches of the same family, moved to England in the mid 19th century: a family of musicians to Manchester and a family of art and antique dealers, from whom Jonathan Simon Speelman is descended, to London.) In 1890 the quartet’s cellist, Carl Fuchs, invited Edward Elgar to compose a string quartet for them. It would be nearly three decades before Elgar completed his quartet, and, although they had since retired from performing, he still dedicated the work to them.

Brodsky was also, as you might have guessed by now, a strong chess player. Tony Gillam’s highly recommended and meticulously researched book Mannheim 1914 and the Interned Russians includes a section on him from which much of the following information is taken. (Brodsky was in Austria when war was declared and, as a Russian subject, was interned until the following year.)

Brodsky had been a regular and enthusiastic member of the Manhattan Chess Club, playing serious chess there almost every day, and when he moved to Manchester, continued his chess career. He played in eight matches for Lancashire between 1898 and 1904, scoring five wins, one draw and two losses.

This game was played in the 1897 Manchester Chess Club championship. The loser was a strong amateur who would later play in several British Championships.

In 1901 Brodsky played in a small tournament in Berlin where he beat the veteran master Emil Schallopp. Lasker was sufficiently impressed with the game to provide annotations for the Manchester Evening News.

It’s clear from these games that Brodsky was a gifted tactician who, if he’d chosen to dedicate his life to Caïssa rather than Euterpe, might perhaps have reached master standard.

Until next week, enjoy the music as well as the games.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.