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Háry János Suite (arr Bainum)

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Zoltán Kodály

Zoltán Kodály (arr. Glenn Bainum; ed. Martin and Thompson)

General Info

Year: 1926 / 1999
Duration: c. 23:00
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Symphony
Publisher: Universal Edition
Cost: Score and Parts - Rental


1. Prelude; The Fairy Tale Begins
2. The Viennese Musical Clock
3. Song
4. The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon
5. Intermezzo
6. Entrance of the Emperor and His Court


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II (I doubling C Piccolo)
Oboe I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Cornet I-II-III
B-flat Trumpet I-II
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
String Bass
Percussion I-VI, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Bells
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Glockenspiels (2), small and large
  • Marimba
  • Snare Drum
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Tambourine
  • Triangle
  • Tubular Bells
  • Xylophone


  • Percussion II, mvt. I: The first notes are played on snare drum.

Program Notes

Háry János is a Hungarian folk opera in four acts composed by Kodály to a Hungarian libretto by Béla Paulini (1881–1945) and Zsolt Harsányi (1887–1943), based on the comic epic Az obsitos (“The Veteran”) by János Garay (1812–1853). The opera describes four adventures of the old soldier Háry János, who sings fantastic tales of his conquests in war and love — including his single-handed defeat of Napoleon and winning the heart of the Empress Marie Louise. In the score, Kodály wrote, “… the stories released by [János’] imagination are an inextricable mixture of realism and naiveté, of comic humor and pathos . . . though superficially he appears to be merely a braggart, essentially he is a natural visionary and poet. That his stories are not true is irrelevant, for they are the fruit of a lively imagination, seeking to create, for himself and others, a beautiful dream world.” The music of the Suite is extracted from the opera.

- Program Note from University of Texas Wind Ensemble concert program, 6 March 2020

From the music of the opera, Kodály extracted the orchestral Háry János Suite, a popular piece in the classical repertoire. This notably includes the cimbalom, a traditional Hungarian variant of the hammer dulcimer. The world première of the suite was at the Gran Teatro del Liceo Barcelona, on 24 March 1927, by the Pau Casals Orchester conducted by Antal Fleischer.

Both the opera and the suite begin with an orchestral 'musical sneeze', best explained in Kodály's own words: "According to Hungarian superstition, if a statement is followed by a sneeze of one of the hearers, it is regarded as confirmation of its truth. The Suite begins with a sneeze of this kind! One of Háry's group of faithful listeners … sneezes at the wildest assertions of the old tale-spinner."

People may assume that the title Háry János refers to a man named Harry. In Hungarian, names are always presented in the order 'surname', 'first name' (as in Bartók Béla and Liszt Ferenc). Therefore, the title refers to a man called János (a common first name in Hungary, equivalent to the English John), whose surname is Háry. The name was never 'anglicized' (i.e. with the names put in the more usual order) outside Hungary.

- Program Note from Wikipedia

Zoltán Kodály published two works under the title Háry János. The first, a Singspiel, received its premiere on 16 October 1926 at the Royal Hungarian Opera House in Budapest, with Nándor Rékai conducting; the second, a six-movement orchestral suite drawn from the Singspiel, was first performed on 24 March 1927 by the Pau Casals Orchestra in Barcelona, under the baton of Antal Fleischer. The orchestral suite made it to America in the same year. Willem Mengelberg conducted its first New York performances at Carnegie Hall on 15 and 16 December.

Contemporaries recall that the idea of composing a symphonic suite from the music of the stage work came from Béla Bartók who, following the failure of The Miraculous Mandarin at its 1926 world premiere in Cologne, had sought to ensure his work lived on in the form of a concert piece. While his Singspiel was an immense success on the Hungarian stage, heeding his friend’s advice Kodály went on to create what would become the most successful orchestral work of his oeuvre.

Immediately after their respective premieres, Háry János the stage work and Háry János the concert suite went different ways. The Hungarian audiences did not fail to grasp the message of the stage work ‘beyond the music’, that is the four ‘adventures’ framed by a prelude and a postlude, conjuring up the dream of freedom of an oppressed nation and its suffering people. This socio-historical type of theme had first appeared on the Hungarian operatic stage in the works of Ferenc Erkel; its spirit living on in Kodály’s Singspiel, compellingly reinterpreted by means of fairy tales, irony and folk song. Seeking to escape the dreary and harsh everyday world, Háry, the poor peasant boy, envisions himself being hailed as the hero of great historic victories and finds retribution and consolation in a series of colourful dreams. This message was loud and clear to the Hungarian audiences -- who had themselves undergone tragedies of historic scale -- and it undoubtedly contributed to the extraordinary Hungarian success of the Singspiel which lasts to this day. However, it was less obvious to foreign audiences less versed in the vicissitudes of Hungarian history which raised an obstacle to the spread of the work outside of Hungary.

It should be pointed out that comprehension of the orchestral suite is not conditional on knowledge of Hungarian history. The six movements present a plethora of lyrical and dramatic characters, a wonderful Hungarian dance, a playful battle scene, a comical funeral march, as well as a colourful and vivacious finale. The suite does not follow the dramatic plot of the stage work; it is an independent musical form in the spirit of diversity and wealth of character. The orchestral work spread like wildfire around the world. Over a period of three whole years (1928–1930) following the first performances it was performed on 150 occasions in some 80 cities from Aachen to Zurich. It was conducted by the greatest maestros, including Ernest Ansermet and Arturo Toscanini, Fritz Reiner and Leopold Stokowski. Kodály himself conducted it for the first time at Queens Hall in London on 30 August 1928.

The protagonist Háry János -- also known as Johannes Háry in the imperial army -- was a real historical figure who served in the armed forces of Emperor Francis I, albeit not as a hussar and even less so as a general. He was a foot soldier at the time of the Napoleonic wars. A war veteran released from the army, Háry returned to his home village in the Transdanubian county of Tolna in southwest Hungary where he lived a decent life as a potter. In the evenings at the village tavern he would regale his drinking mates -- including, among others, the paunchy judge and the incredulous student -- with his fantastic tall tales. Based on these, the poet János Garay (1812–1853) wrote the comic epic poem Az obsitos (The Veteran) which subsequently Zsolt Harsányi (1887–1943) and Béla Paulini (1881–1945) turned into a Singspiel libretto. Kodály set this to music in 1925–1926. The hero of the Singspiel -- and of the epic poem -- enjoyed such popularity that the word ‘Háryade’ has become synonymous with a tall heroic tale in the Hungarian language.

Kodály, however, did not consider his hero to be a liar, and did not identify him with Baron Münchhausen. He believed, ‘He [Háry] is the incarnation of the Hungarian story-telling imagination. He does not lie; he creates a tale; he is a poet. What he relates has never happened, but he has lived it through, and so it is truer than truth.’

- Program Note from publisher


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State Ratings

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  • Kodály, Z.; Bainum, C.; Martin, V. Háry János suite (1999). Universal-Edition: Vienna.
  • Perusal score