The unusual Hungarian National Anthem, known as the Himnusz, provides an interesting insight into Hungarian culture. Here we look at the background to the words and music, and the story of this most Hungarian of compositions.
The words were written in 1823 by a famous poet, literary critic and politician of the time, Ferenc Kölcsey. A statue is dedicated to him in Debrecen. The 8 verses of the text he wrote catalogue the country's troubled history, which are beautiful, though they can sound rather rather plaintive, for example:
„Atoning sorrow hath weighed down, Sins of past and future days."
„‘Neath the fort, a ruin now, Joy and pleasure erst were found"
„Pity, God, the Magyar, then, Long by waves of danger tossed"
It was matched a little later, to music written by Erkel Ferenc, one of the most prolific composers in Hungary, the father of Hungarian grand opera (he wrote 9 from 1840-1885 and died with the tenth half-finished.) As well as being famous for the music of the National Anthem, Erkel was also the first Musical Director of the Hungarian State Opera House upon its opening in 1884 and his statue can still be seen there, to one side of the main entrance.
Listen the Hungarian National Anthem:
This first verse is the part that most Hungarian know, as it is played at official ceremonies and sung at the Olympics, mostly after any type of water sport (swimming, canoeing, kayaking, water polo are all sports that Hungarians are terribly proud of, and rightly so, as the national team routinely sweeps the field of medals.) It is quite difficult to sing, as the middle of each verse is terribly high, as you can hear in the video above, but everyone loves to give it a go.