Hungary is a small country in Middle Europe near Austria. In the beginning of the 16th century a group of the Hungarian nobles elected a king from the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty for Hungary. Thus, Hungary become a constituent country of the Hapsburg Empire and remained so up to the beginning of the 20th century.
Johann von Háry – in Hungarian “Háry János” – is a central figure of the Hungarian legends. He was a hussar sergeant in the (Austro-Hungarian) queen’s army, a great hero, and an even a greater – but otherwise likeable – liar. After he had returned to his small village in Hungary as a veteran, he frequently attended the local pub and always presented his heroic actions provided someone paid the wine he needed. The more he drunk, the more unbelievable his adventures became. He was the Hungarian counterpart of Baron Munchausen.
Why do the Hungarian like “Johann von Háry” or, in Hungarian, “Háry János”? The reason is that he was “very Hungarian” and always told the queen and her court the “Hungarian truth”. So he was a real patriot – almost as dangerous as the Patriot missils nowadays 🙂 .
It was the famous Hungarian composer, Zoltán Kodály, who created a musical play about the life of Háry. Many of the songs in the play are real Hungarian folk songs arranged by Kodály according to his own style. Some of the songs were written by Kodály himself.
The play starts in the village pub – Háry, as an old man, tells the audience one of his tales. Of course, (about 1800) he alone defeated the whole army of Emperor Napoleon. Marie Louise, Napoleon’s wife, wanted to be his lover. The Austro-Hungarian queen, Marie Therese, asked him to marry her daughter and to share with him her empire. But Háry did not need these – he was unable to live in the queen’s court filled with strange or stupid aristocrats – he wanted to return to his village in Hungary, to marry his fiancée, Örzse (Elizabeth, Lizzy) and live as an ordinary man. This is the essence of the story, the rest is conveyed by the songs. (Nevertheless, more details can be found here).
Would you like to listen to some beautiful music from the play?
– “Intermezzo“. The music contains elements from the Hungarian folk music. The dance also involves special Hungarian steps and figures.
– “Toborzó“. Built also from folklore elements this fiery song serves the recruitment of new hussars from the peasant lads in Hungary. Hey, there is nothing better than soldier’s life/ Come with us and be a soldier if you like it – the lyrics say this.
– “Tiszán innen, Dunán túl“, that is, approximately, “At the Tisza and Duna”. Tisza and Duna are the two largest rivers of Hungary and here these symbolize the Hungarian homeland. The song presents pictures about Hungary, including nature, food, people and love. This is a real folk song.
It may be surprising but the “Háry János” is somewhat similar to Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” as both are based on special folklores. Mussorgsky’s operas also contain folklore elements and there may be even other examples, too.
“Háry János” shows the humorous side of the Austro-Hungarian or rather the Hapsburg-Hungarian relationships. The serious side is that Hungary started and lost two independence wars against Hapsburg-Austria (and the allied Russia) during its history (1703-1711 and 1848-1849). The present relations of the two independent countries are excellent.