Thomas Rajna

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Thomas Rajna (born 21 December 1928) is a Hungarian-born composer and pianist, domiciled in Cape Town in South Africa since 1970.

Cape Town Capital city of the Western Cape province and legislative capital of South Africa

Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa, colloquially named the Mother City. It is the legislative capital of South Africa and primate city of the Western Cape province. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality.



Rajna was born in Budapest, Hungary. He started to play the piano and compose at an early age and studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music where he won the Liszt Prize in 1947. That year he left Hungary to settle in London and enrolled at the Royal College of Music. He soon appeared at the Proms under such conductors as Carlo Maria Giulini, Colin Davis and John Pritchard, also becoming a frequent broadcaster at the BBC. In 1963 he was appointed as Professor of Piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Budapest Capital city in Hungary

Budapest is the capital and the most populous city of Hungary, and the tenth-largest city in the European Union by population within city limits. The city had an estimated population of 1,752,704 in 2016 distributed over a land area of about 525 square kilometres. Budapest is both a city and county, and forms the centre of the Budapest metropolitan area, which has an area of 7,626 square kilometres and a population of 3,303,786, comprising 33 percent of the population of Hungary.

Hungary Country in Central Europe

Hungary is a country in Central Europe. Spanning 93,030 square kilometres (35,920 sq mi) in the Carpathian Basin, it borders Slovakia to the north, Ukraine to the northeast, Austria to the northwest, Romania to the east, Serbia to the south, Croatia to the southwest, and Slovenia to the west. With about 10 million inhabitants, Hungary is a medium-sized member state of the European Union. The official language is Hungarian, which is the most widely spoken Uralic language in the world. Hungary's capital and its largest city and metropolis is Budapest. Other major urban areas include Debrecen, Szeged, Miskolc, Pécs and Győr.

Franz Liszt Academy of Music concert hall and music conservatory in Budapest, Hungary

The Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music is a concert hall and music conservatory in Budapest, Hungary, founded on November 14, 1875. It is home to the Liszt Collection, which features several valuable books and manuscripts donated by Franz Liszt upon his death, and the AVISO studio, a collaboration between the governments of Hungary and Japan to provide sound recording equipment and training for students. The Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music was founded by Franz Liszt himself. Between 1877-1879 the Academy moved into its present building, a masterpiece of art Neo-Renaissance architecture.

His first commercial recording was the complete piano solo works of Igor Stravinsky. Since then he has recorded music by Alexander Scriabin, Robert Schumann and Olivier Messiaen, the piano part of Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka with the New Philharmonia under Erich Leinsdorf, and Béla Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta with Sir Georg Solti and the London Symphony Orchestra. He has completed a cycle of recordings devoted to the entire piano music of Enrique Granados. Subsequently he undertook to record Franz Liszt's 12 Transcendental Etudes and 12 Etudes, Op. 1. Rajna has often performed his own two piano concertos.

Igor Stravinsky Russian-born composer

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.

Alexander Scriabin Russian pianist and composer

Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin was a Russian composer and pianist. Scriabin, who was influenced early in his life by the works of Frédéric Chopin, composed works that are characterised by a highly tonal idiom. Later in his career, independently of Arnold Schoenberg, Scriabin developed a substantially atonal and much more dissonant musical system, which accorded with his personal brand of mysticism. Scriabin was influenced by synesthesia, and associated colours with the various harmonic tones of his atonal scale, while his colour-coded circle of fifths was also influenced by theosophy. He is considered by some to be the main Russian Symbolist composer.

Robert Schumann German composer

Robert Schumann was a German composer, pianist, and influential music critic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Schumann left the study of law, intending to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. His teacher, Friedrich Wieck, a German pianist, had assured him that he could become the finest pianist in Europe, but a hand injury ended this dream. Schumann then focused his musical energies on composing.

He settled with his family in Cape Town, South Africa in 1970 to take up an appointment at the Faculty of Music of the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he became Associate Professor of Piano in 1989. In January 1981 he was awarded a University Fellowship by UCT and the same year received an Artes Award from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) for his series of radio programmes on Franz Liszt, entitled "A Lisztian Metamorphosis". He completed his Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1984. The following year he received a doctorate in music from UCT in recognition of his body of compositions.

University of Cape Town university in Cape Town, South Africa

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a public research university located in Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. UCT was founded in 1829 as the South African College making it the oldest higher education institute in South Africa. It is jointly the oldest university in South Africa and the oldest extant university in Sub-Saharan Africa alongside Stellenbosch University which received full university status on the same day in 1918.

South African Broadcasting Corporation company

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is the public broadcaster in South Africa, and provides 19 radio stations (AM/FM) as well as five television broadcasts to the general public.

During a 1990 visit to England he recorded the Schumann Piano Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and gave a recital of works by Ernő Dohnányi and himself. During the same year Rajna played the solo piano part in the first, and so far the only South African performance of Messiaen's monumental Turangalîla-Symphonie with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra. His 1990 Harp Concerto had its European première in Copenhagen at the Fifth World Harp Congress in July 1993. This work and his Second Piano Concerto (with Rajna as soloist) was recorded by the National Symphony Orchestra of the SABC and released on CD in 1993. At the end of that year he retired from his post at the UCT College of Music.

The Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 was completed in the year 1845 and is the only piano concerto written by the German Romantic composer Robert Schumann. The work was premiered in Dresden on December 4, 1845.

The Turangalîla-Symphonie is a large-scale piece of orchestral music by Olivier Messiaen (1908–92). It was written from 1946 to 1948 on a commission by Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The premiere was in Boston on 2 December 1949, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. The commission did not specify the duration, orchestral requirements or style of the piece, leaving the decisions to the composer. Koussevitzky was billed to conduct the premiere, but fell ill, and the task fell to the young Bernstein. Bernstein has been described as "the ideal conductor for it, and it made Messiaen's name more widely known". Yvonne Loriod, who later became Messiaen's second wife, was the piano soloist, and Ginette Martenot played the ondes Martenot for the first and several subsequent performances. From 1953, Yvonne's sister Jeanne Loriod was the ondes Martenot player in many performances and recordings.

Copenhagen Capital of Denmark

Copenhagen is the capital and most populous city of Denmark. As of July 2018, the city has a population of 777,218. It forms the core of the wider urban area of Copenhagen and the Copenhagen metropolitan area. Copenhagen is situated on the eastern coast of the island of Zealand; another small portion of the city is located on Amager, and is separated from Malmö, Sweden, by the strait of Øresund. The Øresund Bridge connects the two cities by rail and road.

His very first commercial recording, Stravinsky's complete solo piano works, which Rajna recorded in 1963, and which had been unavailable for 30 years, re-entered international circulation after the Dutch label, Emergo Classics, released their digitally remastered version in their Saga Classics series in 1993. In 1994 he completed Video Games for Orchestra and his opera Amarantha. The former Foundation for the Creative Arts commissioned these works as well as the Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra (1995), premièred by Robert Pickup, the NSO and Richard Cock in 1996. In the same year Rajna was a recipient of the UCT Book Award for his Harp Concerto. This annual award is given in recognition of outstanding contribution to any branch of learning and it was the first time that a musical composition was thus honoured. In 1997 Rajna received the Molteno Award for lifetime achievement from the Cape Tercentenary Foundation.

The Cape Tercentenary Foundation

The Cape Tercentenary Foundation was set up in 1950 by brothers Edward and Harry Molteno, pioneers of the Cape fruit industry. The influential exporters were great appreciators of music and the arts, and were deeply concerned about the natural environment. They therefore wanted to establish "a fund for the cultural development of Cape Town" as well as for environmental causes.

Rajna's Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra (1996), commissioned by the then Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, was premièred in Durban in 1998. Lyon and Healy Harps of Chicago commissioned his Suite for Violin and Harp for presentation at the Seventh World Harp Congress in Prague in July 1999. Anna Verkholantseva, winner of the 1997 Moscow international Harp Competition, who premiered this work in Prague, has since then made a CD of it and has given performances of the "Suite" with her violinist partner, Alexander Trostiansky, in Moscow, London, New York, Chicago and San Francisco. The opera Amarantha was premiered in November 2000 by Cape Town Opera in conjunction with the UCT Opera School.

In 2001 Rajna created his own CD label, Amarantha Records. His catalogue includes his performance of Goyescas by Granados, music by fellow Hungarian Dohnanyi, Messiaen's complete "Vingt regards", Bartok's 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos, concertos by Schumann and Barber, Brahms'2nd Piano Concerto, music by Sriabin and a selection of Rajna's representative compositions. The same year Rajna wrote Tarantulla for violin and piano in response to a commission for the 2002 Pretoria contest by the University of South Africa (Unisa) International String Competition. The Cape Town premiere of Video Games by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David de Villiers took place in August 2002 to public and critical acclaim. International violin virtuoso Mikhail Ovrutsky, who was the winner of the 2002 Pretoria string competition and who had performed Rajna's Tarantulla on that occasion, came to Cape Town to perform Rajna's Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra in May 2004. Rajna's Harp Concerto had its Swiss premiere in Basel in September 2004.

Rajna's recordings of the complete piano works of Granados, made in London for CRD in 1976, were reissued in 2004 on six CDs in a box set and distributed worldwide by Brilliant Classics. Between 2002 and 2004 Rajna completed another opera, Valley Song, based on the play by Athol Fugard. The premiere took place at the Spier Summer Arts Festival, Stellenbosch, in March 2005 and in 2007 the opera was revived at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival in Oudtshoorn, where it gained prizes in two categories: best musical show and most promising newcomer (Golda Schultz, soprano, the opera's leading lady).

In 2006 he completed The Creation-A Negro Sermon for chorus and orchestra, written for the First Cape Town International Summer Music Festival in 2006. Rajna's Piano Preludes are part of the syllabus for the Teachers' Licentiate of Unisa. In response to a commission by Unisa to write a set piece for the new Grade 7 Piano Examination Album he completed his Oriental Feast in August 2006. His Violin Concerto (2007) premiered in October 2010 at the University of Stellenbosch.

In the course of celebrating Rajna's 80th birthday the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra performed extracts from Valley Song in a concert during the Third Cape Town International Summer Music Festival in November 2008. Rajna himself was the soloist in his 2nd Piano Concerto. Rajna prepared and reissued on his label a series of his landmark recordings of earlier vintage, now digitally remastered and available on CD for the first time. So far he has released Brahms's B flat major and Schumann's A minor piano concertos, Liszt's Transcendental Studies coupled with their earliest version, the 12 Etudes, Op. 1, and Messiaen's Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus . In the pipeline are piano concertos by Bartók, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Barber, Bach harpsichord concertos and music by Scriabin and Dohnanyi.





Orchestral works


  • Piano Concerto No. 1, 1960–1962
  • Piano Concerto No. 2, 1983–1984
  • Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, 1990
  • Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra, 1995
  • Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, 1996
  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, 2007


Two players

  • Music for clarinet and piano, 1947, Alphonse Leduc, Paris 1970
  • Music for cello and piano, 1950
  • Music for violin and piano, 1956–57, Accent Music, J'burg 1990
  • Suite for violin and harp, 1997–98, Lyon & Healy, Chicago 1998
  • Tarantulla for Violin and Piano, Amarantha Music 2001

Four players

  • String Quartet, 1948


  • Serenade for ten wind instruments, percussion, cimbalom (or marimba) and piano/celesta



Poems used by kind permission of Curtis Brown Ltd., London, on behalf of the Estate of W.H.Auden, the copyright holders.


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