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New Year Reception for the Diplomatic Corps

Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for accepting our invitation again to celebrate the New Year together.

If you open tonight’s program brochure, you will find a photo on page four. It belongs to a determined looking young Hungarian man, Zoltán Kodály.

It is the face of a young composer, who similarly to his friend Béla Bartók, literally put on his traveller’s cloak on the dawn of the 20th century and set out to travel villages collecting Hungarian folk music. He took with him his music sheets and Edison’s wonderful invention, the phonograph. While he noted down music with scientific precision and persuaded old peasants to sing for him, in reality he was getting a glimpse into the soul of Hungarians.

Because, as he said: „Hungarian folk songs are a reflection of the entire Hungarian soul, they are the same in age as Hungarian language (...). In these songs we recognize ourselves, from these songs others have the opportunity to recognize us.”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

During those years, when the world sunk into complacency was drifting towards war, Kodály firmly believed that knowledge of your folk traditions does not only make you stronger, but also more open and accommodating. Because if you can recognize yourself in the traditions of your people, you will also be curious about the values of others.

Kodály and Bartók: both believed in a world, where national characteristics all get on well together and the absence of any one of them would only make us all poorer. They believed in a world, where everybody considers their own decisions to be important but also appreciates other people’s decisions. Where everybody respects the truth of others, while also insisting on their own truth. Where anything unique is an asset, while every interaction is natural. Kodály and Bartók were aware of the self-esteem that could be gained from handing down ancient knowledge. For them the continuity of melodies and traditions spanning centuries was just as natural as peaceful changing together.

Their collection work during the tempest of hate of World War I did not only have cultural but also political experiences. „Peace prevails among the peasants – hatred of aliens is only incited by those in higher social circles” – wrote Béla Bartók.


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