Day of Hungarian Culture

On 22 January 1823, Hungarian poet Ferenc Kölcsey finished penning the words to the Himnusz - the Hungarian national anthem - in the village of Szatmárcseke. In memory of this event, we celebrate the Day of Hungarian Culture each year on this date.

Kölcsey’s poem bore the subtitle "A magyar nép zivataros századaiból" ("From the stormy centuries of the Hungarian nation"); and it is often argued that this subtitle – by emphasising past rather than contemporary national troubles – was added expressly to enable the poem to pass the censorship of the time. Its official musical setting was composed by the romantic composer Ferenc Erkel in 1844, although other less-known musical versions exist. It was de facto used as national anthem from 1844 and in the early 1900s, various members of the Hungarian Parliament proposed making the status of Himnusz as the national anthem of Hungary within Austria-Hungary official, but their efforts never got enough traction for such a law to be passed. Later, in the 1950s, the Communist leader Mátyás Rákosi made plans to have the anthem replaced by one more suited to the Communist ideology, but the poet and composer he had in mind for the task (Gyula Illyés and Zoltán Kodály) both refused. It wasn't until 1989 that Erkel's musical adaptation of the Himnusz finally gained official recognition as Hungary's national anthem.

Listen to the Himnusz in the recording below, the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir perform the national anthem, conducted by the legendary Zoltán Kocsis.

To Celebrate this year’s Day of Hungarian Culture amid lockdown we look back on the Bartók flashmob we organised last September with the Bartók Cultural Society in London. The aim of the event is to put the spotlight on “how pure folk music has survived in modern society”.
From Hungary to Algeria – the composer Béla Bartók collected more than 10,000 folk songs at the beginning of the 20th century. With the systematic recording and notation of Algerian, Turkish, Romanian or Hungarian folk songs Bartók not only established musicology, the science of folk music, but he helped to survive one of human races greatest heritage. The core of folk songs is older than any written memory and through the pentatonic scale they connect humanity. The American Native Indians, the Szeklers of Transylvania or the Mongolian traditional singers are all using the same ‘musical DNA’ to entertain, mourn or celebrate.

Hungarian Cultural Centres and communities across the globe joined the celebration and commemoration of the great Hungarian composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist. Attila Király from the Bartók Cultural Society (Following Bartok Project) composed a short documentary about the celebrations, including the ones organized by the Hungarian Cultural Centres in Brussels, Berlin, Sfântu Gheorghe, Istanbul, Bucharest, Beijing, and Stuttgart.