Neither his appearance nor his personality gives away
the age of Lajos Bárdos, who is now celebrating his 70th birthday.
"Each year I dig out my birth certificate and realize that again
the document has become a year older. But what concern is that of mine?
Excuse my little joke!"
With his unique and charming sense of humor, not only does he entertain,
teach, and heal, but he also helps others get through the most devastating
situations of life.
I recall the bloody Christmas of 1944. The Bárdos family provided
shelter in their Margit Boulevard apartment to refugees persecuted by
the Nazis. Bárdos not only provided these refugees with the security
of a home, but he also gave them consolation, round-the-clock encouragement,
On this insane Christmas of 1944, to distract the refugees, who were horrified
by the constant bombings, Bárdos sat at his piano and loudly played
gospel music until a series of explosions outside chased us down to the
shelter in the basement. Today that raucous jazz and the frightening explosions
intertwine in our memory like an absurd drama. Along with his unforgettable
and wonderful wife, Irenke, having "only" ten children at the
time, Bárdos several times risked his own and his family's life
while guarding, supporting, and saving the persecuted that he sheltered.
But let's get back to the present. Books, manuscripts, sheet music, and
letters are piled high on his desk. Work has always been a fundamental
part of his life, and today Bárdos works more than ever.
Bárdos is proofreading Thirty Essays, his new book that sums up
a small portion of his studies and experiences. It will be published in
the near future.
"This book is a collection of my older as well as newer studies on
musical theory and instrumental music. It has seven main topics: rhythm,
melody, study of harmony, form, prosody, choir, and 'miscellaneous'."
It might have been this book that made him decide on early retirement,
because neither the dean and the other professors nor the students at
the Music Academy wanted him to leave.
"I have been teaching at the Academy for forty-one years. Now I would
like to do some work at my desk. I never had time to do that before,"
Despite his retirement, he still does not have enough time to do everything
he wants to do since he constantly receives invitations from all over
the country. People ask for new musical compositions, studies, proofreading,
and support. Due to his weakened health he does not teach or conduct on
a regular basis, but still he travels regularly around the country.
"I am glad to travel around Hungary because it makes me happy to
talk with the people and to see the emerging ideas and the interests that
enrich our musical life."
From early in his career Bárdos was most intrigued by choral music.
Why this attraction?
"When we were young musicians, Zoltán Kodály commented
that only a few of the elite had the privilege of having an education
in instrumental music, and these were not enough to establish a flourishing
musical culture in the whole country. On the other hand, "everybody
has a voice," Kodály said. And at that time there were hundreds
of thousands of chorus members at schools and in adult choirs who were
still singing that fake "paper-flower kind" of music. We were
motivated to bring this enthusiastic crowd to the level of classical music."
As a result, the movement of The Singing Youth (Éneklõ Ifjúság)
was created under the musical direction of Bárdos and with the
assistance of Jenõ Ádám, György Kerényi,
and Gyula Kertész.
"In the beginning of the 30's the famous music publishers were not
willing to print any music written by our generation for the schools or
choruses. Therefore the four of us started to run our own music publishing
house. In a couple of years we collected so many pieces of music - ranging
from the older to the most modern composers such as Kodály and
Bartók - that we decided to organize concerts in Budapest and in
the rural areas as well.
A concert was considered part of The Singing Youth only if more than one
school choir participated and the audience sang along. Kodály gave
The Singing Youth movement a gift - the beautiful canon that he composed
from a Berzsenyi ode, "Magyarokhoz." Bárdos Lajos finished
his Music Academy studies with Kodály in 1925. He spoke of his
work with Kodály as an experience that greatly influenced his life.
"First of all, Kodály gave us a wide range of detail from
Palestrina to modern music. This was a revolutionary change compared to
the boring pattern of the traditional teaching style."
Bárdos smiles: "One day, we were studying the minor waltzes
by Schubert. Kodály, on his way out, turned back and said: 'Now
I want you to write a number of these waltzes yourselves - or at least
try to write several.' And he disappeared."
"He also demanded that we constantly do research. With his amazing
almost wordless teaching style, he never advised us on how to correct
our musical pieces. We had to find the best solutions on our own. This
revolutionary method of teaching provided us with a strong background
on which we have relied on in our careers - it made us very independent.
We were filled with the urge to revolutionize our musical culture."
Bárdos already had started to teach at the Music Academy in 1928.
How many different subjects did he teach throughout his long career? It
is well known that he had to create most of his subjects. There were no
precedents, no tradition.
"Musical education in the 1920's was like teaching physics without
including the latest achievements and discoveries. The study of harmony,
for example, would barely mention the basics of Beethoven's music. I realized
the necessity of working out a new system for the study of harmony consisting
of five main parts instead only one: Classical, Renaissance, the period
of the Romantics of the last century, then around the turn of the century
the era of the surprising innovations that started with Debussy, and at
last the harmony of the modern music.
"I finished working out this new system of teaching harmony by 1951,
the same year the Department of Music Theory was established at the Music
Academy. There we had an opportunity to examine and study the various
periods of the history of music. Also unprecedented in the past, relying
on my own experiences, I built up the method of choir directing, conducting,
and also the systematic study of the lyrics of Hungarian folksongs.
"In a similar way, I worked out systems to teach choral conductors,
to analyze Hungarian folk songs, and to teach prosody. Prosody had been
included in the Academy's curriculum since 1949, thanks to József
Újfalussy and András Szõllõsy, who supported
it from the government offices."
What made you create the theory of teaching prosody?
"Language correlates with vocal music. So teaching prosody can also
be thought of as teaching poetry. I was amazed by the prosodic mistakes
that occurred in music when the natural accent of a word is misplaced
by the accent that the rhythm of the music dictates."
How about folk songs that contain numerous mistakes of prosody?
"Folk songs should not be put on a pedestal. Not all of them can
be used as a source for composed music, of course. I am sure that great
composers such as Schubert, Wagner, and Debussy did not 'chew on' their
lyrics word by word, making sure that every single accent of the words
correlates with the accent of the music. These musicians' sense of prosody
subconsciously - or rather consciously - functioned perfectly. But our
young composers and conductors will benefit from this subject."
Throughout the years of teaching, as a result of independent research
and pedagogic work, Bárdos created many new words and idioms. These
he collected in a lexicon-like chapter in his new book - his thirtieth.
Sometimes he got so busy with teaching that he had no time left to compose.
Didn't he feel as though he had wasted his time?
"No, I never felt time was wasted by teaching at the Music Academy
or working with the choruses of the villages. I think I made an impact.
The most important result of successful teaching is not so much in the
concrete information given as in the seeds planted in the enthusiastic
Anyone who was lucky enough to have been Bárdos' student would
never forget the magnetism of his fascinating lectures. His colleagues
asked him frequently how he managed to make the students like even the
most boring subjects, such as the theory of music.
"Initially I did not know how to answer this question. I believe
in the love of work and the curiosity and enthusiasm of today's young
people, even though others often disparage them. I later found a rule
that could almost be a law of physics: namely, the law of the three S's.
This is how it goes: when a School professor likes the Students and the
Subject then "inductive electricity" is created and the student
cannot help learning to like the subject. This is the pedagogic suggestion
I give to my colleagues."
What role do you think music plays in people's lives?
"Many say that you can live without music. It is true, you can live
without music, 'but why bother?' asks a fifteenth-century Tibetan Philosopher."
And one can detect a mischievous smile on Bárdos' face since the
Tibetan Philosopher is himself. We all know well his constant jokes and
plays on words. He would rather hide behind quotations and give the credit
to "strangers" than to himself.
Of his eleven children, only one became a professional musician: Daróci
Bárdos Tamás, the talented and well known conductor and
Bárdos occasionally sends a report to his friends about his constantly
enlarging family. His twenty-seventh grandchild was just born." I
have eleven children, four sons-in-law, three daughters-in-law, twenty-seven
grandchildren. That makes forty-five heads and ninety legs."
We don't find personalities like Bárdos very often anywhere in
"Musical miracle!", said one Belgian newspaper about the work
of Bárdos Lajos when he visited Belgium. How does he create this
human and vocal magic that captures singers and listeners as well? He
led four choruses throughout his career: the Cecilia Chorus, the Palestrina
Chorus, the Budapest Chorus, and a choir in the Castle Hill in Budapest.
Let's listen to one of the chorus members, Sári Vargyas who, during
thirty years, didn't miss one of Bárdos' rehearsals or concerts.
"The repeatedly mentioned 'ideal unity' of singing - the entire chorus
would sound like one person - was already created during the rehearsals,"
says Sári. "Often we asked one another: how is it possible
that we arrive at the rehearsals exhausted after a long day's work, but
we leave freshened?
"When we were facing Bárdos from the chorus, we saw his expressions
reflecting all the pain or joy of the music. We always knew what his feelings
were and how to translate those to the audience. Bárdos' expression
was not the conscious strategy of a conductor. It was his true inner empathetic
experience. There was definitely some kind of 'electricity' between him,
the listeners, and us.
"We were very tuned into him. Sometimes he would improvise just to
keep us 'alive,' and to avoid the routine singing that leads to dullness.
And we could immediately follow the changes in tempo, accent, or dynamics.
"He often cracked jokes rather then engage in a long explanation.
He did not like to 'bla-bla-bla,' as he called using too much verbiage.
He would sneak the knowledge into our heads without our noticing it.
"The first step in empathetic singing is to understand the lyrics,
regardless of the language in which it was written. Bárdos also
emphasized clear enunciation, even in the most difficult pieces such as
the Pictures of Matra (Mátrai képek) or the Jesus and the
Peddlers (Jézus és a Kufárok), though understandable
articulation in these compositions was nearly impossible.
"In the beginning of the rehearsal we would sing the whole piece
without stopping. Then we would work on the details. The entire choir
stayed in the same hall during practice so different parts of the chorus
could hear one another. Learning the music would always start at the very
end with the finale. It was his belief that the most difficult and energy
consuming part of a piece is always the end. He wanted us to be fresh
and energetic while rehearsing the finale. This method always succeeded.
"We never sang the same song over and over again so that rehearsal
would become monotonous. Bárdos was very aware of the dangers of
over-practicing the music, which would have killed the passion and made
our performance flat.
"Bárdos always demonstrated what he wanted to achieve. His
singing voice was expressive and full of nuances. We tried to imitate
Bárdos, but not always with success. Once, during the first instrumental
rehearsal of Missa Solemnis, the F-sharp resonance of the first violin
wasn't exactly the way he wanted it to sound, so he asked for the violin
and demonstrated. The orchestra applauded with great appreciation.
"The uniform tonality of our singing was achieved for the most part
by 'section' singing. Alto and soprano, male and female voices became
as one, under the influence of folk songs and Gregorian Chant sung in
unison. The only warm-up practice we ever had was the choir singing in
unison. Bárdos felt that this was the only way for the chorus to
"We were never accompanied by the piano during rehearsals unless
preparing for an oratorio. Bárdos' theory was that singers could
be trained to stay in tune and to reach a natural clearness of their voices
only if they were unaccompanied by instruments. The most difficult task
in a capella singing is to keep the pitch constant. Frequently choirs
'slide down' when reaching the finale; that is, they finish the song a
half or a whole note lower than they should. Bárdos listed twelve
reasons why this happens, e.g. tiredness, sitting position, boredom, stuffy
"Sometimes choirs finish at a higher note than what was written.
Bárdos' explanation was that great excitement causes the physical
tightening of the vocal cords. This phenomenon mainly occurred during
monumental, energetic compositions.
"Unfortunately Bárdos Lajos leads our choirs only three or
four times a year now. When we know he is to conduct, we notify all the
members. About a hundred to hundred and twenty of us gather together.
Even though we are reunited under Bárdos' direction only three
or four times a year, when he conducts everyone returns with the same
enthusiasm, and we begin singing where we left off at the last meeting."