22 March 2018

Zoltán Kodály’s “Journey of Triumph” in Santa Barbara, California


Dedicated to Zoltán Kodály, on the 50th anniversary of his death and his visit to Santa Barbara, and to Ernő Dániel, on the 40th anniversary of his death


In 1972, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of Zoltán Kodály’s death, Muzsika, a Hungarian magazine dedicated to classical music, invited Kodály disciples, both Hungarian and foreign contemporaries, to send in brief summaries of their recollections of Kodály. About thirty short pieces arrived, which were collectively published in the magazine’s December issue. Ernő Dániel,1 a Hungarian pianist and conductor, and professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, was among the distinguished authors. He was a former student of Kodály, and later a professor at the Budapest Academy of Music. In his American career, Dániel dedicated particular attention to popularising Kodály’s works in the US. Kodály’s North American tour in 1966, which included a two-week stay in Santa Barbara, was realised thanks to Dániel’s invitation and his organisational input. Five years later, Ernő Dániel, the most authentic witness of the event, recalled its story and achievements as follows:


In the summer of 1966, the University of California, Santa Barbara, invited Zoltán Kodály to preside at a music education conference, titled The Role of Music Education: a Conference with Zoltán Kodály. We had the special honour of receiving him and his wife, who spent nearly two weeks in our Santa Barbara home.

Kodály’s last visit to America (he passed away in a few months) was a true journey of triumph. In their lifetime, only few composers have been able to accomplish such a journey in a foreign country. Wherever Kodály went he was celebrated as if he had been the only living composer – just as he was celebrated in Hungary wherever he went – even though there are many famous composers in the United States.

It was perhaps that conference that best reflected Zoltán Kodály’s appeal. Kodály accepted the Santa Barbara invitation in the last minute; it was to take place in summer, that is, during the summer vacation (2 and 3 August). Yet, despite the late invitation, hundreds of well-known music professionals attended. But even more uplifting was the fact that, at the festive concert held on the occasion of the conference, all artists offered to perform for free, including the Roger Wagner Chorale, one of America’s most distinguished choirs. The concert was an immense musical success. When Zoltán Kodály entered the room with his wife, the audience greeted him with a long-lasting standing ovation, celebrating the great master.2


In the last year of Zoltán Kodály’s life, the Canadian–American tour of 1966 was indeed one of the most joyous periods, consisting of a series of eventful, festive celebrations. Kodály summed up the programme and importance of the three- month visit in numerous statements. These reports were published in the third volume of Visszatekintés (Retrospection),3 a collection of his writings edited by Ferenc Bónis.

In 1994, I was doing research in Santa Barbara, California, studying documentary sources – letters, diaries, etc. – in the legacy of 20th-century Hungarian emigrét musicians. My expectations were far exceeded when I found an extensive collection of documents and oral memories about Kodály’s 1966 visit in the home of the late Hungarian pianist and conductor, Ernő Dániel. This essay deals only with this station of his visiting tour, i.e. the events of the Kodály Conference and the Composer’s Evening in Santa Barbara, California.

However, before reviewing the history of the Kodály visit to Santa Barbara, I would like to say a few words about Ernő Dániel, the planner and host of the visit. In Hungary, for half a century, the musical careers of Hungarian-born emigrés were not in the focus of musicology and public knowledge. As a result, Ernő Dániel’s outstanding artistic career is almost unknown even today.

In 1941, Ernő Dániel completed his training as a piano artist at the Budapest Music Academy as Dohnányi’s pupil. His concerts at home and abroad, as well as his music reviews of that time bear witness to his successful career start. In 1942, in acknowledgment of his rising star, Dániel was appointed professor of the Music Academy, a position he was allowed to hold only until 1948. From 1948 to 1949, Dániel performed concerts in Italy as a fellow of the Hungarian Academy of Rome. In 1949, the year of the Communist takeover, the new authorities made new adjustments in Hungary and he was notified that the permission for the American concert tour, previously approved by the Ministry, was withdrawn and he was summoned to return immediately. This event played a crucial role in Dániel’s decision to emigrate in the summer of 1949. He settled in North America, where he continued his musical career in Wichita Falls, Texas, until 1960. He then moved to California, where he died in 1977. As a piano artist, conductor and professor, he was one of several Hungarian-born and -educated flowering talents that inspired American contemporary music.

Faithful to his vocation, Dániel spread the Hungarian musical culture in America: he introduced Liszt, Dohnányi, Bartók and the works of contemporary Hungarian composers, and put special emphasis on performing Kodály’s compositions in his chosen country. His name as a conductor is associated with introducing the Psalmus Hungaricus and the Symphony in California,4 as well as keeping a continuous repertoire of Kodály’s piano works performed by himself and his disciples.

Consistent with his deep spiritual relationship with Kodály and witnessing an unforgettable episode of his career, Dániel preserved a rich documentation of Zoltán Kodály and his wife’s two-week visit to Santa Barbara in August 1966.

At the time of my study trip to Santa Barbara in summer 1994. As I have mentioned, Ernő Dániel had already passed away 10 years after Kodály’s visit. However, devotedly guided by his wife, the music teacher Katinka Scipiades Dániel,5 I was able to study the Kodály documents of the Dániel legacy extensively. The unique documentation of the Dániel Collection in Santa Barbara revealed to me that the Kodály visit, and also the Kodály idea the latter still present in the Californian media and practised in music pedagogy in the 1990s – represent a spiritual tradition of extraordinary value. Thus, on the occasion of the current Kodály anniversary, the spotlight is well justified.

My positive impressions of Kodály’s visit in California have been confirmed by reflections of others as well. For example, Kodály’s participation at the ISME conference at Interlochen inspired the Soviet composer Kabalevsky, another guest of the conference, to express his appreciation of Kodály in the highest terms: “… with his inexhaustible energy and unswerving conviction, [Kodály] inspired many participants, for years to come, to carry on the important mission he and his colleagues devoted their entire life to.”6

Obvious reasons of space allow me to present only a brief selection of the biographical sources and an outline of the reception history here, based on the Santa Barbara Collection. However, for the sake of my readers, I include the link of a relevant 30-minute television interview with Kodály in the reference section of this article, which was recorded before the Music Education Conference in Santa Barbara. It is an invaluable document that pays tribute to Kodály’s views on the significance of music education, which he presented in a casual manner in English.7




Concerning the preparations, I first quote Kodály’s words from one of his accounts after returning home: “We were abroad for three months”, he begins, meaning the period from the departure on 4 July 1966 to the return on 29 September.8 About the purpose and principal events of his journey, he says: “Several universities invited me to speak about our teaching methods which, due to our foreign guests [i.e. students in Hungary – the editors], are increasingly known. […] More and more people showed interest, so first I was invited to Toronto, Canada, and then to another five universities in the United States, which gave me the opportunity to talk about our methods.”9

One of the five US universities was the Santa Barbara Campus of the University of California. Kodály and his wife arrived in the United States right after their visit to Canada. First they went to San Francisco and Berkeley, then to Santa Barbara on the last day of July, accepting an invitation of the university’s Chancellor to lecture at the conference held in his honour.

Oral and written documents of the Kodály visit to Santa Barbara include Mrs Dániel’s spoken memories, which shed light even on the smallest details; they can be considered the most authentic source of this historical event. In 1994, nearly 30 years after the Kodály visit, Katinka Dániel was the only person in whose memory and family documents the unforgettable experience lived on. An article in English – Kodály in America – from 1991 was convincing evidence of her memory’s reliability. Although the article, published on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Kodály visit in 1966, was signed by Alan Strong, its source was Mrs Dániel’s handwritten recollection.10

As for the circumstances of the Santa Barbara invitation and the significance of the events, we quote Mrs Dániel’s memories: “We were informed by word of mouth that, in 1966, upon an invitation, Kodály was preparing to travel to the ISME conference in Interlochen, Michigan, in the United States. Hearing this, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to invite Kodály to Santa Barbara as well for a conference on music education. For some time, Kodály couldn’t answer my husband Ernő Dániel’s invitation because, at the time, he hadn’t seen the detailed programme of his planned trip yet.”

It was only when we came home from Monterey in the summer where Ernő Dániel had taught at the Conducting Course organised by the American Symphony Orchestra League – that we found Kodály’s telegram with the affirmative response. At this point, only one week was left to organise the Santa Barbara conference, scheduled for 2 and 3 August. During this one week, a post- conference concert had to be set up as well. It was to be held at the Campbell Hall of Santa Barbara University which seated nearly 900 people. After the official events, Kodály and his wife Sárika spent two weeks in our home.”11

We learn from Ernő Dániel’s recollection that the organisers packed the two-day conference and the official Kodály concert at the university into just two days, 2 and 3 August, because the Kodály visit “was to take place in summer, that is, during the vacation period”.12 However, the management of the university also scheduled an exceptional interview for 1 August, prior to the conference, on the first day after the Kodály couple had arrived. In 1994, Katinka Dániel said the following about this impromptu decision: “Ernő Dániel, head of the Music Department at the university, got the chance to interview Kodály on the day before the conference. The Chancellor of the University, Mr Vernon I. Cheadle, who represented the university management, also supported the plan and, in addition, suggested that a television recording be made.13 We were aware that this recording could be the last chance to preserve Kodály’s extemporaneous freely spoken English language lecture on the basic questions of music education in English. While preparing the interview questions, we also focused on the fact that Dániel would have to give such leads to Kodály, who was not known to be a ‘talkative man’, that would prompt him to answer readily.”14

Thanks to Ernő Dániel, who was well acquainted with both Hungarian and American music education, Kodály made a statement on 1 August 1966 in Santa Barbara that raised new aspects and fundamental questions. To my knowledge, the Santa Barbara TV interview is the only audio film recording from Kodály’s last years which preserved his declared convictions and his personal view of music education. (Today, the film recording is available in two versions: the original English one and one also with Hungarian subtitles.)15

A multi-page, sophisticated booklet featuring Hungarian motifs was designed for the two-day conference programme: on the front page, there was Kodály’s photo and autograph, and the inside pages contained information about the conference presentations.

According to the programme printout, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on each conference day, there were lectures that were followed by discussions. On the morning of the first day, Dr William C. Hartshorn, Superintendent Supervisor in Charge of Music Education for Los Angeles Public City Schools, delivered a talk, and in the afternoon, Kodály presented his freely spoken off-hand lecture. It is unfortunate that no audio recordings were made of those readings, thus there is no record of Kodály’s lecture. But we learned from Mrs Dániel that Kodály, who brought many audio recordings from Budapest to illustrate his lecture, donated them to Mrs Dániel when he left; he was aware that, in America, Mrs Dániel was an enthusiastic and effective propagator of his music principles and pedagogical method practice. It is also Katinka Dániel who remembers a Kodály statement that he reportedly made in his lecture: “I never made a Method.”16

As mentioned above, the agenda of the second day of the conference was the same as that the first day: in the morning, Dr George H. Kyme, Professional Supervisor of the Teaching of Music at Berkeley University of California, held a lecture titled “Developing Musicality in the Schools”, and in the afternoon, Mrs Mary Helen Richards, Music Consultant at Portola Valley School District – a music teacher who, among others, had also studied in Hungary – gave a talk titled “The Kodály Method”.




Kodály’s Composer’s Evening was arranged as a culmination of the first day of the conference. The programme and the selection of contributing performers were limited by the extremely short time left, around one week, for preparation. In the first part of the Campbell Hall concert, chamber music works by Kodály were performed, and in the second part Missa Brevis, its premiere in California.

The chamber work series included Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 14, and the String Quartet No. 2, and were played by emigré Hungarian performers from California: the former by Gábor Rejtő and his wife, the latter by the Roth Quartet; they each kept these Kodály works permanently in their repertoire. However, Duo for Violin and Cello, and the complete set of Seven Pieces for Piano, op. 11, were interpreted by new performers: Duo by Alice and Eleanor Schoenfeld, Piano Pieces by Dániel’s pupil, László Lak. According to Pál Héthalmi’s report on the concert review, Kodály was so pleased with László Lak’s performance of Piano Pieces, that “in the break he congratulated him for the beautiful performance”.17

The Roger Wagners Chorale – a choir named after their leading conductor, and renowned all over the US for their international excellence performed Missa Brevis. The reportage published about the concert appraised the entire team of concert performers as “Top Southland Artists”. According to another report in Hungarian, dated 12 August, the performance of Missa Brevis was “one of the most outstanding manifestations of respect for Kodály […] in such a profound, human and yet elevated form that [it] represented the best performance of the choir. […] When Kodály’s quasi-mythical figure appeared on the podium, the concert audience applauded in a standing ovation and honoured the Hungarian composer with utmost respect […].”18

The day after the concert, on 3 August, the last day of the conference, the official events of the visit were brought to an end, yet personal meetings continued on the following days. Katinka Dániel, the hostess, kept warm memories about the Kodály couple’s days of rest in Santa Barbara. For instance, she brought up an episode of the intimate time spent in the company of the Kodály couple, when in the mornings, together with Sárika Kodály, they sang bicinia on the ground-floor room of their house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. She also drew my attention to a second Kodály interview in Santa Barbara, made in their home. It was conducted by the emigré Hungarian pianist Judit Neszlényi, who was visiting from Los Angeles on 4 August.19




I conclude my overview of the events and documents of the Kodály visit to Santa Barbara with some summarising remarks.20

Firstly, I must emphasise that Kodály’s former disciples at the Hungarian Academy of Music who were then living in California, had an exceptional spiritual and artistic experience by meeting their master again, after several decades of interruption. Besides Ernő Dániel, I must mention another participant of the Santa Barbara visit among the disciples who were moved by the encounter with Kodály: the composer Jenő Zádor, who had come to the conference from San Francisco. On the fifth anniversary of Kodály’s death, in a personal recollection he commented as follows:21 “In summer 1966, when he appeared with his young wife at the university in Santa Barbara, California, the audience gave him a standing ovation. And then something extraordinary happened: as soon as he caught sight of me, he hurried up to me leaving everyone behind, and asked the following, fantastic question: ‘Zádor, who was the fifth man?’ First, I froze with surprise, and I began feverishly to search in my memory: Adam, – Eve, – Cain, – Abel, … but heavens, who was the fifth? Kodály soon brought me back from the biblical perspective when, to my relief, he added: ‘Zádor, I’ve been racking my brains for more than 20 years; who was the fifth colleague that attended that certain meeting...’ I immediately realised that he could have only meant the meeting of the Austrian Authors’ Association that Jenő Huszka convened in 1938 at his home to discuss what to do after the Anschluss… Also present besides Kodály were Bartók, Dohnányi, myself, and of course the host, Jenő Huszka. When I mentioned Huszka’s name, Kodály happily took a deep breath of relief: ‘Thank God, now this is cleared up at last.’”22 This anecdote about the Santa Barbara encounter vividly illustrates the amazing experience of reviving human relationships that had been interrupted for 20 years.

It cannot be emphasised enough that not only the disciples, already of mature age, were “moved” by the presence of Kodály, whom Kabalevsky referred to as the “soul” of the Interlochen conference.22 Kodály himself had a similar experience when meeting with Hungarian Americans. For instance, he said after his lecture at Berkeley on 27 July 1966: “For me too it has been a great joy to hear so many good Hungarian words here. I see that what I profess is not a utopia; that Hungarians living abroad form an integral whole with those in the homeland.”23

In order to give an idea of the historical background of our subject, we have to point out the political, economic and intellectual distance between Hungary, a Soviet-dominated Eastern European country, and the United States at the time of the Kodály visit in 1966, two decades after the Second World War. For newer generations, the contrast which was beyond imagination can only be interpreted in its historical context, by thorough historical reconstructions. Even though his ties with Britain had remained alive, the sense of distance resulting from the international situation of the sixties and the infinite amount of information flow that the Kodály couple encountered overseas in the summer of 1966 were primary factors affecting the visit. The wide-ranging, free-flowing exchange of ideas, in which Kodály took an active part during the meetings spanning over several months, was highly appreciated in his declaration after returning home. His accounts of his journey also bear witness to the fact that Kodály’s American experiences led to a further development of his philosophical and pedagogical system. A separate study would be necessary to assess how Kodály, inspired by the American experience, modified his views on the pedagogy of musical education. Unfortunately, his death a few months later put an end to a possible evolvement of his ideas.

Kodály’s experience in the United States as may be understood from his communiqués – far exceeded the actual subject of his visit, the complex question of music education. In his statements he focused especially on the integration of 20th-century Hungarian émigrés in America and on the preservation of their mother tongue. But he also examined the relationship of newer generations of Hungarian émigrés to their former homeland in a broader sense. In his interview given to the Hungarian Radio in the autumn of 1966, titled Amerikai tapasztalatok (Experiences in America),24 he talked about these topics with greater hope and optimism than ever before.

His ideas were rooted in the folk song genre, but his findings focused increasingly on issues that affected the nation as a whole. “Hungarians living abroad should be somehow brought together, by some common interest. Not just apropos of music but apropos of Hungary in general. Whenever I had the opportunity, I told them not to see themselves as emigrants, but as expatriates, people placed abroad. Like in a part of Hungary placed abroad which remains an integral part of the country, just as if they were living at home. There is hope that they will not forget the language completely. After the second generation, which tried to forget the language to learn English as fast as possible, the third generation seems to begin to be more interested in the country and the language. And this should be cultivated.”25

The above-mentioned interpretation of emigration, as opposed to his previous, more critical attitude – he even sat out the Nazi occupation – reflects Kodály’s more comprehensive26 emotional and intellectual view of uniting Hungarians beyond the borders. Re-interpreting the situation of emigré Hungarians, the new Kodály terminology, which re-interpreted the situation of emigré Hungarians and regarded them as an integral part of the nation, was the intellectual result of his two visits to America in 1965 and 1966, lasting in total three months. Kodály’s visionary idea of Hungarian national unity – by defining émigrés as the “expatriates” in times when it was impossible to crush the Iron Curtain – probably seemed like a utopian view; in practical life, contacts were forbidden for decades between those who had remained in the homeland and those who had left. Nevertheless, with his outlook on the future unity of the motherland and the outplaced, Kodály was ahead of his time, foreseeing the system change in Europe by a whole generation, and the programme of the national unification by half a century.

Translation by Erzsébet von Kontz



1 Ernő Dániel (Budapest, 1918 – Santa Barbara, 1977), a pianist, conductor, and music teacher of Hungarian origin. From 1960 to 1977 he was appointed professor and conductor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

2 Dániel, Ernő: Untitled declaration in the memoir series published under the title Hódolat és tisztelet (Kodály emlékek) (Honour and Respect [Kodály Memories]), in: Muzsika, 1972/12, No. 13.

3 Kodály, Zoltán: Visszatekintés 3. Hátrahagyott írások, beszédek, nyilatkozatok (Retrospection 3. Unpublished Writings, Speeches, Statements). Ferenc Bónis, ed., Budapest, Argumentum, 2007.

4 Premiere of Psalmus Hungaricus: Santa Barbara, 31 January, and 1 February 1961; Premiere of the Symphony: Los Angeles, 21 March 1963.

5 Mrs Katinka Scipiades Dániel (Budapest, 1913 – Santa Barbara, California, 2010) music teacher, taught at the Budapest Music School Organisation of District 5 until 1960. After Ernő Dániel’s emigration in 1949, as a wife staying at home with her family, a difficult class destiny awaited her: for 12 years, she and her two children did not get a passport and also, as was commonly known, she was not able to correspond with her dissident” husband. Due to an exceptional procedure, in 1960, by personal intervention of the Swedish politician Dag Hammarskjöld (1905–1961), the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, she received a passport and thus the family reunited. In California, Mrs Dániel was a “professional music education ambassador” of the Kodály method, and her activity was very much acknowledged.

6 Kabalevsky, Dmitry Borisovich (St Petersburg, 1904 – Moscow, 1987) was a Soviet composer. His statement was published in Hungarian, in a publication mentioned in note 2: Hódolat és tisztelet (Kodály emlékek) (Honour and Respect [Kodály memories]), in: Muzsika, 1972/12, No. 9.

7 Interview by Ernő Dániel with Zoltán Kodály. The text was also published in English and Hungarian. In English: Kodály, Zoltán: The Responsibilities and Opportunities of the Musician-Education. In: Johnston, Richard, ed.: Zoltán Kodály in North America. Kodály and Education III, Willowdale, Ontario, 1986, pp. 67–74. In Hungarian: Kodály Zoltán: “A nevelők Santa Barbara-i konferenciája előtt”. Nyilatkozat. In: Kodály Zoltán: Visszatekintés 3. Hátrahagyott írások, beszédek, nyilatkozatok. (Unpublished Writings, Speeches, Statements). Ferenc Bónis, ed., Budapest, Argumentum, 2007, pp. 197–201. The TV recording was made and released by the Department of Educational Television at the University of California, Santa Barbara, available at the following link: (https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=uH9iDYZGCfA.)

8 Quote from the Kabalevsky statements, see note 6.

9 Eősze, László: “Kodály Zoltán életének krónikája” (The Chronicle of Zoltán Kodály’s Life). In: Nagy muzsikusok életének krónikája, Napról napra (The Chronicle of the Life of Great Musicians, Day by Day), Budapest, Zeneműkiadó, 1977, p. 283.

10 Kodály, Zoltán: “A zeneoktatás társadalmi jelentőségéről”. Nyilatkozat Neszlényi Juditnak (The Social Significance of Music Education. Declaration to Judit Neszlényi). In: Kodály, Zoltán: Visszatekintés 3. Hátrahagyott írások, beszédek, nyilatkozatok (Retrospection 3. Unpublished Writings, Speeches, Statements), Ferenc Bónis, ed., Budapest, Argumentum, 1977, p. 197.

11 Strong, Alan: Kodály in America, 1966. Kodály Envoy, Summer 1991. Vol. XVIII, No 1.

12 Detail of Katinka Scipiades Dániel’s oral statement, based on Melinda Berlász’s on-site manuscript note.

13 See note 1.

14 See note 12.

15 See note 12.

16 See note 7.

17 See note 12.

18 Quote from Dr H. P. K / [Dr Károly Páth Héthalmi]: “Búcsú Kodály Zoltántól”. (Farewell to Zoltán Kodály). In: Californiai Magyarság, 12 August 1966.

19 See note 18.

20 See note 10.

21 Zádor, Jenő: Untitled declaration in the memoir series published in Hódolat és tisztelet (Kodály emlékek), in: Muzsika, 1972/12, No. 14.

22 See note 6.

23 Kodály, Zoltán: “Előadás és vita a Corvin Magyar Clubban” (Presentation and Discussion at the Corvin Hungarian Club), in: Kodály, Zoltán: Visszatekintés 3, p.191.

24 Kodály, Zoltán: Amerikai tapasztalatok (Experiences in America), in: Kodály, Zoltán: Visszatekintés 3, p. 216. (See bibliographic data in note 11).

25 See note 24.

26 Kodály, Zoltán: “Kodály Zoltán üzenete” (A Message from Zoltán Kodály), in: Szabadság, March 1963 (further details cannot be specified). A periodical in Hungarian, published in Los Angeles. The shaping of the intellectual and emotional content of Kodály’s views on emigration can be traced back in the chronological process of his declarations in the 1960s: from the first “message” in 1963 to the definitive formulation of the national unity as cited above.

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