The correspondence between Zoltán Kodály and the Viennese Universal Edition – like that between Bartók and the Viennese publisher, only excerpts of which have been published to date – is an invaluable source of twentieth-century music history. It reveals unknown details about the creation, publication and contemporary critical reception of certain works, throwing light on the “everyday” work of composer and publisher from the rounds of proofs and preparing new impressions to the financial aspects of the artist and distributor. The letters provide information about whether the publisher’s initiatives came across in the development of the composer’s oeuvre. Also, during harsh historic times, they bear witness to the direct or indirect influence of “high politics” on business policies, that testing aspect of the relationship of composer and publisher.

The letters published in this book date from two grim historical periods. The first lasted from 1938 to 1945, that is Austria’s annexation into the German Empire (in German the Anschluss Österreichs, connection or union of Austria)to the end of the Second World War; the second from the post-war years of both Austria’s and Hungary’s temporary occupation to the rise of dictatorship in Hungary, that is 1949 to 1966, the year before Kodály’s death.

The relationship of Kodály and Universal Edition did not, of course, begin in 1938, but rather, two decades earlier, in the final days of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The future renowned Mozart scholar and conductor, Bernhard Paumgartner, managed a centre for music history under the Defence Ministry in Vienna during the First World War. Planning to publish military songs of different nationalities and languages, the centre approached Bartók and Kodály, the two most prominent Hungarian musical folklorists of their time. The over 100 Hungarian military songs they jointly collected and edited would have been published by Universal Edition. However, publication of the complete manuscript was thwarted by the collapse of the Monarchy. (Around 100 years later, Olga Szalay ventured to reconstruct the unpublished and later lost manuscript: Száz magyar katonadal. Bartók Béla és Kodály Zoltán kiadatlan gyűjteménye, 1918 [One Hundred Hungarian Military Songs. The Unpublished Collection of Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály], Budapest, 2010.)

Shortly after the unsuccessful attempt to publish the military songs, Emil Hertzka, the farsighted manager of Universal Edition, discovered Bartók and Kodály in their capacity as composers. During the war years no new works of theirs were brought out by Hungarian publishers, and Hertzka ventured to take over and distribute not only individual works but (practically) all of their works that were still in manuscript and would be written in the future. His decision was motivated by the progressive recognition of the fact that if he were to build a composer an international image, every success of that composer would in turn contribute to the success of Universal. He went on to produce and loan the parts of orchestral works; to promote opera productions he set up a department for stage music; he published catalogues of the works of individual composers and founded some first-rate music journals (Musikblätter des Anbruch, Pult und Taktstock), all of which contributed to building the reputation of Universal Edition’s composers. Two of the best examples include Bartók’s Dance Suite which had barely caused a stir in the international press after its Budapest world première in 1923. However, the Prague Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in 1925 – to which Universal Edition made considerable contributions of preliminary and follow-up propaganda – marked a decisive turn in the history of Bartók’s career. Part of the programme, the Dance Suite was performed on more occasions around the world in the following two years than all of Bartók’s orchestral works combined since the Kossuth Symphony received its first performance in 1904. The performance of Psalmus Hungaricus at the Zurich International Festival in 1926 had a similar effect for Kodály: the press coverage it attracted was unparalleled in the history of the reception of his works up till then. It led to so many performances around the world that research has not yet managed to count the exact number.

From the 1920s onwards, international expert opinion considered Kodály and his works to be in the vanguard of contemporary music. In addition to Psalmus Hungaricus, the Marosszék and Galánta Dances, Summer Evening (rearranged for, and premièred by, Toscanini), and in particular the Háry János Suite toured the world. The publisher also sponsored two of the composer’s large projects in the twenties and thirties. One of them was a Kalevala-inspired art-poetic assemblage of selected gems of Hungarian folk music for the concert stage and opera (the ten booklets of Hungarian Folk Music with piano accompaniment and The Spinning Room, a Singspiel for soloists, choir and orchestra). The other project was the international distribution of choral works for children’s, women’s, mixed and male choirs composed for the Singing Hungary Movement, in particular with English and German texts. This called for some rather complicated administration, since Kodály published a portion of his choral works privately at his own cost, only involving the Viennese publisher in distribution for a commission. Again, Universal proved to be a good partner.

These increasingly ambitious plans for growth were arrested and even halted by power politics, when the Anschluss took place in March 1938 and subsequently, the Second World War broke out in September 1939. In 1938 the Republic of Austria had ceased to exist as a state and from that time onwards the laws of Hitler’s Germany entered into force. Universal Edition ceased to be a joint-stock company and came under the Reich’s control. Its Jewish staff were dismissed. The descent of even its “clients” came under close scrutiny. Both Bartók and Kodály were called on to prove their Aryan ancestry. “Naturally neither Kodály nor I filled this questionnaire”, Bartók wrote to Annie Müller-Widmann, his Swiss confidante. “In our view, prying in this manner is contrary to the law and the rules.” A new publisher appeared on their horizon, namely the London-based Boosey & Hawkes, as well as a new perspective for distributing their works. From that time onwards the two Hungarian composers refused to send any more works for publication to Universal Edition. In fact Bartók would only set foot on Austrian soil, now part of the Third Reich, when travelling through the country. For two last times, Kodály travelled to Semmering and Mariazell in 1938 to meet Hugo Winter, the old director about to be discharged, and to consult with Alfred Schlee, a musical expert who had just been appointed to the board of directors. After that he would not enter Austrian territory until after the Second World War, in 1946.

His relationship with the now German-run Universal Edition became chilly, and he confined his letters to the exchange of essential information only. He had a deep mistrust of the imperial commissars appointed by the new regime, who in turn, failed to strike the right note with him. Kodály was appalled by the fact that the new Universal Edition lost without a trace the impressions of Bicinia Hungarica he had sent in January 1938 (that is, prior to the Anschluss) for the German–English edition. He used the incident to loosen their relationship. He also vetoed the publication of an “upgraded” version of The Spinning Room that included the stage directions of the director of the Braunschweig première, where the new “co-author” would have been paid from Kodály’s royalties. He could not break with Universal entirely, because he was bound by previous contracts which he could not unilaterally declare null and void. He nevertheless made every effort to prevent his new orchestral works – Concerto and the Peacock Variations – which Universal wished to “jump on” on various pretexts – from being published in Vienna. He owed that to the reputation of his new publisher, Boosey & Hawkes – as well as to his own convictions. He could not allow that these works of his – which spoke of Hungarian intellectual independence and voicing concern about the survival of the Hungarian nation – should be published under the label of a National Socialist company, incriminating him as a collaborator. Kodály managed the delicate situation by keeping the rights to the above works for himself and publishing the two scores privately, at his own costs.

His relationship with Universal Edition noticeably thawed when Schlee, an expert musician, took over the correspondence with Kodály from the political commissars. Schlee’s situation cannot have been easy either. On the one hand, he had to continually justify the raison d’être of a music publisher on the periphery of the Third Reich, and on the other hand, he had to protect his contributors from the expansion and integration efforts of imperial cultural policy. Schlee’s letters in the war years reflect well this ambiguity. Occasionally he would besiege Kodály for concessions, aware that there was a boundary which Kodály, a man of character, would never cross for the sake of anyone. At the same time, Schlee managed to raise sufficient foreign currency for a concert tour in the autumn of 1942 in neutral Switzerland. Schlee believed the honorarium would be enough to cover the Kodálys’ two-and-a-half to three-month stay in Switzerland. Schlee never questioned the purpose of their prolonged stay (the concerts would have been over in a few weeks). Who knows how the Kodálys’ fate would have changed if they had accepted the Swiss contract? The trip took nine months to organise, only to be cancelled over night shortly before it was due to begin. The letters of the Anschluss years inform us of two other promising projects. One of them was a planned stage performance of Háry János at the 1939 New York “World’s Fair”, which was being energetically prepared by Hans Heinsheimer, a former Universal Edition employee who had managed to emigrate to the United States in time. The run-up to, and outbreak of, the Second World War prevented this from happening. The other project was being assembled by Schlee: he wanted to bring Kodály together with Léonide Massine, dancer and choreographer of the Ballet Russe of Monte Carlo, hoping they would produce a ballet together. The two did eventually meet and decided to write a ballet on János vitéz (John the Valiant). A typed French-language libretto has survived, with Kodály’s autograph compositional notes. Massine even sent him a contract; however, war broke out in the meantime and Massine moved to America, so nothing came of this project either. It is beyond imagination how the composer’s career would have taken shape if the Singspiel Háry had been staged at the New York World’s Fair, and if Kodály’s and Massine’s work had been written, and subsequently performed by the Ballet Russe. These events shed curious light on the development of the relationship of Kodály and Universal Edition – or rather Kodály and Schlee – in 1938 and the ensuing war years.

No sooner had the Second World War ended than, in April 1945, Alfred Schlee and Ernst Hartmann took up where they had left off at the publishers which was back to operating as a joint-stock company. This was no easy matter in Allied-occupied Austria. They had to re-establish contact with composers who had gone silent, or were silenced, during the Nazi era; they had to organise the sale of their stocks on hand in a market in turmoil; and had to find both the printing capacity and the paper for reprints. A considerable part of Europe’s opera houses meanwhile had been destroyed during the war, which hit opera composers as well as publishers who made their money from royalties and music loan services. The export of music, cross-border bank transfers and the collection of foreign debt were hugely encumbered by red tape. Taking up business again with Budapest was further hindered by the greatest inflation in Hungary’s history. It was advisable to instantly spend salaries paid in the morning, because by the afternoon they were worth a fraction of the “morning rate”. For years, Hungarian musicians had no access to Bartók and Kodály scores, not to mention those of contemporary foreign composers. Due to irksome foreign currency measures Kodály failed to receive his income from Universal and other foreign royalty collection societies (or did so after long delays and in small instalments). His American royalties were then seized by the Office of Alien Property, while his Hungarian savings “melted” in the inflation. The invitation from the mayor of Pécs and from the Péczely family in Dombóvár where they stayed as guests between September 1945 and January 1946 helped Kodály and his wife pull through the most difficult times.

His relationship with Universal Edition wound down in the last years of the war and the first post-war years. While the collection of Budapest documents – which remained all but intact and constitutes today’s Kodály Archives – holds 69 letters from the Viennese publisher dating from 1938, the year of the Anschluss, the number of letters dwindled to 18 in 1942, six in 1943 and nought in 1944. A single letter dates from 1945, five from 1946, six from 1947, three from 1948 and five from 1949, currently held in the Kodály Archives. From 1950 onwards the number of letters written by Universal and kept by Kodály increased. The Viennese publisher wrote six letters to the composer in 1950, 13 in 1956, 18 in 1961 and 33 in 1962. Naturally, it would be impossible to fully reconstruct Kodály’s relationship with the publisher that had diminished in the war years. The London-based Boosey & Hawkes had by then become his main publisher. However, with its limited remit but monopoly of the domestic market the Hungarian state-owned company Zeneműkiadó, too, sought to play a part in disseminating Kodály’s ideas and distributing his works, chiefly by means of bringing out first editions and reprints of his choral works and writings on musical education, and the licensed publication of foreign editions in Hungary.

Although the correspondence between the Budapest composer and the Viennese publisher never reached its 1930s intensity, it nevertheless provides much hitherto unknown information regarding Kodály’s biography. The relationship between the composer and the new Universal Edition, headed by Alfred Schlee, Ernst Hartmann and Alfred Kalmus, became more personal. In an effort to preserve his intellectual independence, Kodály was extremely meticulous about complying with Hungarian foreign exchange and other restrictive measures that afflicted him. When he bought the first car of his own and when he presented his second wife a new Bösendorfer piano as a gift or when he wanted to buy a ticket for a sleeping- car on his long trips abroad, he always accepted Universal’s willingly offered help. Naturally he paid for everything from his own royalties, but always obtained a permit from the Hungarian National Bank to use amounts of his own money to cover his expenses. Even in sending his manuscripts abroad he complied with state measures limiting his freedom of action. The only way he could officially send the score of his orchestration of Bartók’s op. 15 Five Songs and the manuscript of Variations composed for Schlee’s 60th birthday to the addressee in Vienna was via Kultúra, the export and import monopoly company. This was a complicated and often lengthy process. However, this way he prevented exposure to harassment from the authorities that were watching his every move like a hawk.

Even after the war, Schlee made every effort to acquire for Universal Edition the rights to any new works by Kodály. A newspaper article or a private conversation would suffice for him to declare the publisher’s claim to any new (or yet unfinished) larger-scale work by Kodály, such as the Hymn of Zrínyi, the Te Deum of Sándor Sík or the Symphony – six years before the last one was even written! He failed on that count; however, Universal Edition’s two other initiatives were successful. In the sixties it obtained the publication rights to Bartók’s op. 15 FiveSongsfrom the trustee of the estate of Béla Bartók, the lawyer Victor Bátor, and the New York Bartók Estate he had founded. It was director Hartmann’s idea that Kodály should transcribe for orchestra the piano accompaniment of these songs. Kodály obliged and produced the orchestral score for the op. 15 FiveSongs, for which he refused to accept an honorarium or even his share of the profits for every performance. He regarded it as a friendly service beyond the grave. He would have liked to give the solo part to a young Hungarian singer, Éva Andor, at the Dutch world première. However, having accepted Kodály’s gift earlier, the publisher was unable to comply with this request.

Hartmann’s other idea – composing some sort of a “musical dedication” for Schlee’s 60th birthday in 1961 – was also accomplished. Drawing on the fact that Schlee’s full name consists of 12 letters and each letter corresponds to the name of an absolute or relative note in the scale of solmisation, Kodály wrote a brilliantly sounding (non-dodecaphonic) Reihe composition with inversion, augmentation and diminution, titled Variationen über Alfred Schlee im Altwiener Stil. He proved he could do it if wanted to. This work has until now remained in manuscript form; it is being published for the first time, on the basis of the composer’s autograph, as an appendix to this volume.


The above examples should suffice to illustrate the wealth of information that the previously unknown correspondence between composer and publisher, spanning close to three decades, affords scholars and music-lovers. However, mention should be made of the sources and methods of this publication.

Kodály’s letters written in other languages than Hungarian were compiled and edited by Dezső Legány and his son, Dénes Legány in keeping with the state of research at the time (Zoltán Kodály, Letters in English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Budapest, Argumentum – Kodály Archives, 2002). This volume contains Kodály’s letters to the Viennese publisher written between 1918 and 1937, in the German original. At the time this volume was being edited, its source was the Wiener Stadtbibliothek, as custodian of Universal Edition’s archive deposit. These archives did not contain their correspondence from 1938 onwards, which were kept in Universal Edition’s own archives. The editor of this volume discovered these letters there in 2008. Consequently, this new volume does not overlap with the Legánys’ work; all of the letters are being published for the first time.

The principles of editing in this volume differ from the Legánys’ practice on several counts. We also preferred the publication of the original-language letters, but – since Hungarian readers are expected to show greatest interest in this book – a full Hungarian translation is provided for all of the letters of the two correspondents. In our translation we sought to accurately render the meaning rather than the individual words.

Another fundamental difference is that this volume provides a framework for the exchange of letters. That is, it contains not only Kodály’s letters, but also those of Universal Edition, making the position of both parties on the topic in question perfectly clear.

The third difference is that we did not explain Kodály’s abbreviations in the original German texts. These are common abbreviations; German-language speakers will understand them without editorial comments. The square brackets or notes indicate accidentally omitted letters or contain corrections of errors of wording.

The fourth difference is that the explanatory notes for the individual letters are not wasted on explaining public knowledge – like, for example, the fact that William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright – but rather, they focus on less known persons and events referred to in the letters.

This volume contains 418 letters (66 from Kodály, 352 from Universal Edition). The distribution, however, is uneven in that Kodály’s letters sent to Vienna during the period between 1945 and 1959 have vanished from the publisher’s archives. Will they ever turn up somewhere? Who knows. Which is why Kodály’s letters are published in a separate chapter, in chronological order (KZ-1, etc.) and the publisher’s communications, also in chronological order, in another separate chapter (UE-1, etc.) Correlations between individual letters in the two chapters are indicated in notes. The HN abbreviation in the notes refers to Mrs Kodály’s Háztartási Napló [Household Diary].


The editor would like to express his deep appreciation for the help received in the preparation of this volume from all contributors. I am especially grateful to Sarolta Péczely Kodály who, in her capacity as Kodály’s legal successor, granted permission to publish her late husband’s letters to her, provided access to Universal Edition’s documents held in the Kodály Archives she manages, and contributed to the publication of this book as co-publisher. My special thanks go to Astrid Koblanck who, as both correspondent and addressee, contributed to the publication of these letters on behalf of Universal Edition.

We are also extremely grateful to Teréz Kapronyi in Budapest and Angelika Glatz in Vienna, who helped search and photocopy the documents.

Let us also commemorate the masters and their pupils before and alongside us, contributing to the foundation of relatively recent Kodály research. Apart from the seminal works of Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, I should like to mention Antal Molnár, Aladár Tóth and Bence Szabolcsi, as well as members of the generation that followed, András Szőllősy, Dezső Legány and his young-deceased son Dénes, László Eösze, Lajos Vargyas, Ernő Lendvai, János Breuer and Mihály Ittzés. They will have left their mark on all related, new, objectivity-driven works.

“Profound knowledge of the material should come first, everything else can then be built upon it”, Kodály warns the reader in his 1951 study Mihálovits Lukács Három magyar nótája [Three Hungarian Songs by Lukács Mihálovits]. “Aestheticising or being clever prior to acquiring knowledge, or ignoring knowledge, as many times before, is building castles in the air. A great deal of work awaits researchers. But without meticulously performing that work, anything said on this subject is mere prattle.” On the other hand, it is also true that the deeper we penetrate into that “very deep well of the past”, the greater reservoirs we might come across, complex networks of new and unknown contexts. This collection of documents was also produced in the hope that these subterranean waters, these under- and over-ground sources of energy will sooner or later be discovered, contributing to the mapping of the life and works of Kodály.

Translation by Miklós Bodóczky

Most recent

Newsletter signup

Like it ? Share it !

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pocket
Share on email