Zoltán Kodály’s life and works shine like the North Star in the firmament of Hungary’s musical giants. He was one of the most outstanding personalities of 20th century Hungarian culture; a composer, ethnomusicologist, music pedagogue and linguist. His internationally acknowledged system of music education is the basis for general music teaching in Hungary, and also plays an important role in the training of professional musicians worldwide. In commemoration of the 135th anniversary of Zoltán Kodály’s birth, and the 50th anniversary of his passing, the Hungarian government announced 2017 as a Kodály-memorial year. The magnetic, historical city of Kőszeg recently held a 3-day music festival to commemorate the iconic Hungarian composer.
It was 80 years ago, when, on the last week-end of May, Zoltán Kodály visited Kőszeg and conducted his great choir composition, which was written to lyrics of Dániel Berzsenyi’s poem A Magyarokhoz (To the Hungarians). The occasion of this visit was the closing ceremony of the Éneklő Ifúsjág program series.
To commemorate Kodály’s visit, the city of Kőszeg, the jewel of western Hungary, announced and organized a Kodály Celebration program series, which was held from the 26th to the 28th of May. “In these days Kodály’s star shined more powerfully” according the Celebration’s Honorary President, the widow of Zoltán Kodály, Miss Sarolta Péczely.
From the left: Lászuló Huber The Mayor of Kőszeg, Sarolta Péczely and her mother
The program series was held in the historical assembly hall and the garden of the Jurisics Castle of Kőszeg. On Friday, they presented a dramatic performance of János Háry by the Kolibri Child- and Youth Theater.
Saturday afternoon, during the Chamber Music Concert, Béla Básthy, Deputy Mayor of Kőszeg, said: “Zoltán Kodály was not only a star, but he was a true apostle of Hungarian music as well”.
During his 1937 visit, Kodály conducted a choir with 700 singers. 80 years later, the Deputy Mayor noted, the first Kodály celebration and concert program has arrived in Kőszeg. During Saturday’s concert, world-famous Hungarian musicians performed, such as Tamás Vásáry pianist, and recipient of the Artist of the Nation Award; Ernő Sebestyén, Liszt Award-winning violinist; the Kodály String Quartet; Lúcia Megyesi Schwartz, the soloist of the Hungarian State Opera House; and the founder and art director of the program-series Zsuzsanna Gráf, a Liszt Awarded conductor and pianist.
The Kodály String Quartet on stage
On Saturday afternoon, in the garden of the historical castle, the Brass and Reed Band of Kőszeg played the “Honvéd Parade March” of Zoltán Kodály.
In the evening, the castle hall was filled with visitors for the celebration’s Gala concert. Amazing choirs peformed in the night’s festivities. These included the the Pécs Chamber Choir, conducted by Aurél Tillai; the Béla Bartók Male Choir, conducted by Tamás Lakner; the Angelica’s Girls’ Choir, conducted by Zsuzsanna Gráf; and the New Liszt Ferenc Chamber Choir, conductedby Norber Nemes László.
At the end of the night, the iconic song A Magyarokhoz (to the Hungarians) was performed by all of the choirs together, conducted by guest of honor Péter Hoppál, Hungary’s State Secretary for Culture.
On Sunday, the celebration and concert-series ended with a mass in the fascinating neo-gothic Church of Jesus’s Heart. During the mass, Kodály’s Missa Brevis was sung by the Pécs Chamber Choir, in a performance that sounded like the singing of angels and cherubs.
“We wanted to make a worthy commemoration to remember to the world famous Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály during this memorial year,” Zsuzsanna Gráf said.
At the end of the Gala concert
During a gathering at the City Hall, Mayor László Huber expressed his hope that this would not be the last Kodály celebration in Kőszeg, and hailed the great work of the local-born Zsuzsanna Gráf.
Thanks to the dedicated work of organizers, the warmhearted reception offered by the host city, and the quality performances by the artists, it was truly more than a simple commemoration. According to a local journalist, a wonder happened in Kőszeg in the last weekend of May: Music showed its ability to unite people of all ages and backgrounds.
photos: Zoltán Kálmán / Kőszeg és Vidéke; Robert Velkey / Hungary Today