George ( György
|George ( György
|Country of Origin
|Ipolyság (Sahy, Slovakia), Hungary (Austro-Hungarian Empire)
|Date of Birth
|Year of Arrival in Australia
Story of Dr. George Berczeller medical doctor, piano tuner, music composer, pianist-entertainer of operetta, jazz and light medley genre.
Son of a local hotelier family, George (György or Juraj) Berczeller was born on 4 February 1914 in the town of Ipolyság at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was of Hungarian-Jewish background, spoke Hungarian at home but was already a multilingual at high school, fluent in Hungarian, Slovakian and German. With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following WWI, his home town, with an overwhelming majority ethnic Hungarian population, became part of the new and independent country of Czechoslovakia. As a consequence his native town’s name changed to Sahy and his family became Czechoslovak citizens. Destiny would decree that southern Czechoslovakia including his hometown would be part of Hungary between 1938-45 as a result of the First Vienna Arbitration & Award, 2 Nov.1938, decreeing the partition of Czechoslovakia.
George’s love for music and playing piano was intense since childhood. By the time he graduated from high school, he was already an outstanding pianist who performed in public occasionally and, at times, cleverly improvised for fun when the music allowed for it. By age 18 he also had mastered conversational English adding to his range of abilities. However, he decided to pursue a medical career and went to Prague and enrolled at the German University’s Medical Faculty. He had to quit his studies in 1936 due to new discrimination laws against Jewish descents. To complete his fairly advanced medical studies, George went to Budapest barely 65 km from his home town, across the oft changed Hungarian border. Early in 1938, the year he was to graduate, similar discriminatory laws against Jews were introduced in Hungary to appease the threatening Nazi Germans and, in exchange, recover Hungarian ethnic majority populated lands lost to Czechoslovakia after WWI. Discontinuing his studies at a stage very close to graduation from medical school in Budapest, George had to be resilient once more to fall back on piano playing, embracing and nurturing passionately his gift which brought him popularity, recognition and security throughout his long life. He learned the skilled craft of piano tuning from masters, and never had to worry over this bugbear, bedeviling pianists. This professional skill put him to practical and financial advantage in life, especially when on tour in countryside.
In 1938, he started his musical career as professional pianist in Štúrovo / Párkány in a local hotel’s cafe and went on to gradually build up his repertoire and reputation. In 1940 he was engaged by the Budapest Dance Revue to play in their orchestra in which he played until 1943. George performed at noon at the radio and in the evenings at the inner city’s Palais de Dance, a plush venue hosting mainly ballroom dancing. He would occasionally break his routine to give concerts either at the Academy of Music in Budapest or go on tour in the country. When Germany invaded Hungary in 1943, he first had to hide but owing to his medical experience, managed to obtain work at a Budapest hospital through the good offices of the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, the legendary saviour of 4500 Jews. His family, except his sister, perished in Nazi gas chambers. He survived the horrors of war and in 1945 moved to Vienna to later propose to Elizabeth, his heart’s desire, whilst playing a piano serenade to her. They shared 49 years together in marital bliss.
In 1946 George returned to his home town which by then had become once more, part of Czechoslovakia. His dormant ambition was rekindled and he finally completed his twice left off studies and graduated as medical doctor in Kosice at the end of that year. He soon realized that under the Communist system there was a far better living to be had as a sought after dance orchestra pianist who also enjoyed recording for the State’s record company and performed at the national radio, than a medical doctor employee in a State hospital. So he successfully launched himself in Bratislava’s night life, pairing off with singers as accompanist to them or teaming up with dance orchestra musicians. By 1956 George had cut 46 original phonograph/radiogram records together with a variety of singers and musicians. Jazz music became trendy in post-war Europe and George soon revelled in its dynamic sound to become an accomplished jazz pianist playing in night life cabarets with his dance band. From 1958 on, for ten years he was the resident pianist at the Tatra Revue Theatre in Bratislava, the capital.
SEE PART 2