Dec 162018

Today is the birthday (1882) of Zoltán Kodály, Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, pedagogue, linguist, and philosopher.  Kodály was born in Kecskemét and learned to play the violin as a child.

Though from a musical family, Kodály’s initial inclination was towards literary studies. Because his father was a railway official, the Kodály family wandered a lot: from 1884 until 1891 they lived in Galánta (later to be immortalized in the orchestral dances Kodály based on folk music from the area), then moving to Nagyszombat, where Kodály studied violin and piano and sang in the cathedral choir – an early introduction to the importance of choral singing. He explored the scores in the cathedral music library, and taught himself the ‘cello to make up the numbers for his father’s domestic quartet-evenings. He was also already composing: in 1897 the school orchestra played an overture of his, to be followed by a Mass for chorus and orchestra a year later.

His higher education began at the University of Sciences in Budapest in 1900, but the call of music proved too strong and in 1902 he enrolled at the Academy of Music, taking a doctorate in 1906 with a thesis entitled “Strophic Construction in Hungarian Folk Song”. He was now composing prolifically – and he had already begun his fieldtrips, collecting folksongs in the Hungarian countryside At around this time Kodály met fellow composer and compatriot Béla Bartók, whom he took under his wing and introduced to some of the methods involved in folk song collecting. The two became lifelong friends and champions of each other’s music.

Kodály (R) and Bartók

As with Bartók, Kodály’s own music was colored by the joint influence of Hungarian folk song and of Debussy and French impressionism (he spent some months in Paris, where he attended Widor’s lectures). On his return to Budapest in 1907 he was appointed teacher of theory at the Academy of Music, and a year later he began to teach composition. He was to teach there for the rest of his life: upon his retirement as a professor, he was brought back as the Director of the Academy in 1945.

Kodály’s works show originality of form and content, an unusual blend of the western European style of music, including classical, late-romantic, impressionistic and modernist traditions, and, on the other hand, a profound knowledge and respect for the folk music of Hungary (including the ethnically Hungarian parts of modern-day Slovakia and Romania, which were then part of Hungary). Partly because of the Great War and subsequent major geopolitical changes in the region, and partly because of a naturally somewhat diffident temperament in youth, Kodály had no major public success until 1923. This was the year when one of his best-known pieces, Psalmus Hungaricus, was given its first performance at a concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the union of Buda and Pest (Bartók’s Dance Suite premiered on the same occasion.)

Kodály’s first wife was Emma Gruber (née Schlesinger, later Sándor), the dedicatee of Ernő Dohnányi’s Waltz for piano with four hands, Op. 3, and Variations and Fugue on a theme by E.G., Op. 4 (1897). In November 1958, after 48 years of harmonious marriage, Emma died. In December 1959, Kodály married Sarolta Péczely, his 19-year-old student at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music with whom he lived happily until his death in 1967 at the age of 84 in Budapest.

In 1966, Kodály toured the United States and gave a special lecture at Stanford University, where some of his music was performed in his presence.

Throughout his adult life, Kodály was keenly interested in the problems of many types of music education, and he wrote a large amount of material on teaching methods as well as composing plenty of music intended for children’s use. Beginning in 1935, along with his colleague Jenő Ádám, he embarked on a long-term project to reform music teaching in Hungary’s lower and middle schools. His work resulted in the publication of several highly influential books. The Hungarian music education program that developed in the 1940s became the basis for what is called the “Kodály Method”. While Kodály himself did not write down a comprehensive method, he did establish a set of principles to follow in music education, and these principles were widely taken up by schools (mostly in Hungary, but also in many other countries) after World War II.

Pörkölt is a traditional Hungarian pork stew, flavored with paprika, of course – lots of it. Choose the Hungarian paprika you like (see ) making sure that under no circumstances you use generic paprika from the supermarket.  Kodály came from the region of Hungary that is a major producer of pork, and not far from the main paprika-producing region.



5 slices bacon, diced
2 large onions, peeled and diced
¼ cup Hungarian paprika
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp ground black pepper
5 lb boneless pork chops, cubed
1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
⅔ cup beef broth
2 cups sour cream
2 (6 oz) packages wide egg noodles


Place the bacon in a large, deep, dry skillet, and cook over medium-high heat until evenly browned (about 10 minutes). Drain, and reserve the drippings. Add the onions to the bacon and cook together until the onion is translucent. Remove the skillet from heat and stir the paprika, garlic powder, and pepper into the bacon mixture. Transfer the mixture to a large stockpot.

Heat a small amount of the reserved bacon drippings in the skillet again over medium-high heat. Cook the pork in batches in the hot drippings until evenly browned on both sides. When browned stir into the bacon mixture.

Heat the bacon drippings in the skillet. Sauté  the bell pepper in the hot drippings until softened and fragrant. Drain and stir the cooked pepper into the bacon mixture.

Pour the tomatoes with liquid and beef broth into a stockpot and place the pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until the stew begins to thicken, stirring occasionally, about 90 minutes. Stir the sour cream into the stew just before serving.

Meanwhile, cook the egg noodles, drain, and ladle the stew over the drained noodles in a serving bowl to serve.

Aug 182018

Today is the birthday (1911) of Klára (Klari) Dán, usually called Klára Dán von Neumann, but I want to correct that usage straightaway as part of the problem this post is largely about. Yes, she was married to John von Neumann, and, yes, her married name was Klára Dán von Neumann, but she was a major figure in mathematics and computing in her own right, and deserves to be recognized as such. She was married 4 times. Why should we recognize her by her married name when she was married to von Neumann? Why not use her birth name and recognize her as an individual and not as a woman who gained her identity and importance from the man she married (who also happens to be more famous)? I will call her simply Klára Dán or Dán in this post. Unfortunately, biographical material is in short supply, but I will do my best.

Klára Dán was born in Budapest to Károly Dán and Camila Dán (née Stadler), wealthy Hungarian Jews. Her father served in the Austro-Hungarian Army as an officer during the Great war, and the family moved to Vienna after the war to escape Béla Kun’s short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic. When the regime was overthrown in August 1919, the family moved back to Budapest.  At 14, Klára Dán became a national champion in figure skating. She attended Veres Pálné Gimnázium in Budapest and graduated in 1929. She married Ferenc Engel in 1931 and Andor Rapoch in 1936.

Klara had previously met John von Neumann (also a Hungarian Jew)  during one of his return trips to Budapest from the U.S. prior to the outbreak of World War II. When von Neumann’s first marriage ended in a divorce, Klára Dán divorced Rapoch, married von Neumann in 1938 and emigrated to the United States. She became head of the Statistical Computing Group at Princeton University in 1943, and moved to Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1946 to program the MANIAC I machine designed by von Neumann and Julian Bigelow.

The MANIAC I (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer, or, Mathematical Analyzer, Numerator, Integrator, and Computer) was built under the direction of Nicholas Metropolis at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. It was based on the von Neumann architecture developed by John von Neumann. You can see (below) that the architecture is close to modern digital computers with input and output devices, a central processing unit (CPU) and a memory storage device. It did, however have a bottleneck in that input and processing could not be done simultaneously.

It was said that Metropolis (perhaps on the advice of von Neumann), chose the acronym to make fun of silly computer acronyms in the hope they would stop, but it stuck. Early digital computers were hard wired to perform their operations, much like a modern hand-held calculator, although a lot more complicated. To reprogram them took days or weeks to change the wiring and debug the programming. Even booting up was a major operation, so they were always left running. The von Neumann architecture allowed for reprogramming which was where Klára Dán came in. As with all computers of its era, MANIAC I was a one-of-a-kind machine that could not exchange programs with other computers (even other IAS machines). Programmers had to generate unique code for the specific architecture. Klára Dán was the principal programmer of MANIAC I. The first task assigned to MANIAC was to perform more exact and extensive calculations of the thermonuclear process. The MANIAC ran successfully in March 1952 and was shut down on July 15, 1958. It was succeeded by MANIAC II in 1957.

Klára Dán was also involved in the design of new controls for ENIAC (originally used to calculate artillery trajectories) and was one of its primary programmers. Even on the 50th anniversary of ENIAC in 1995, the role of women as programmers went largely unrecognized. All of the first 6 programmers of ENIAC were women: Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman. Klára Dán was involved in later modifications. She had a major role in reprogramming ENIAC to make weather predictions. Historians believed for decades that women posing by ENIAC were “refrigerator ladies,” that is, models who made the computer more attractive, but were not involved in its operation. They were not eye candy, they were the key programmers.

After his death in 1957, Klára Dán wrote the preface to John von Neumann’s posthumously published Silliman Lectures, later edited and published by Yale University Press as The Computer and the Brain. She married physicist Carl Eckart in 1958 and moved with him to La Jolla, California. She died in 1963 when she drove from her home in La Jolla to the beach and walked into the surf and drowned. The San Diego coroner’s office listed her death as a suicide.

Maybe some historian or Ph.D. candidate is assiduously researching Klára Dán’s life for a book or dissertation. I don’t know. Her story is largely untold. I don’t have any trouble asserting that John von Neumann was the love of her life, and I expect he valued her for her mathematical abilities, along with other qualities. Why, though, was she married 4 times (the first 2 in quick succession), and why did she remarry soon after von Neumann’s death? Furthermore, why did she commit suicide? If she suffered from clinical depression or was bipolar, her devotion to complex work and suicide would be explicable. But there is so little to go on. She was not necessarily a private person. It is known that she was gregarious in Budapest when her parents entertained, and she and von Neumann held celebrated parties at their house in Princeton. Of course, being overtly gregarious is no sign of anything concerning inner turmoil. If there is more research on her life, I’d like to know about it. Meanwhile spread the word about the undervalued work of women in the early days of computing.

A Hungarian recipe is called for today, and if you think about paprika when you think about Hungarian cuisine, you are not far wrong: You have a hard job finding a Hungarian meat recipe without some paprika in it, and most of them are swimming in it. First task in cooking any Hungarian dish is to find proper Hungarian paprika, not the red powder that passes for paprika in many supermarkets. Then you have to decide on the grade and spiciness. Csípős Csemege, Pikáns (Pungent Exquisite Delicate) is my favorite, but it is hard to find outside of Hungary. You can probably find a hot or mild Szeged paprika if you hunt. You can find good Hungarian paprika online.

Here is Hungarian Pacal Pörkölt to feed my tripe fetish. It is a great favorite of mine. You can skin the tomatoes easily by scalding them briefly in boiling water. To skin the peppers, sear them over a gas burner briefly. Lard is the traditional fat for frying, but you can use olive oil if you wish.

Pacal Pörkölt


2 lb parboiled tripe, cut in thick strips, ½ inch wide, 2 inches long
5 oz smoked bacon, diced
5 oz diced onion
5 oz tomatoes skinned and diced
5 oz Hungarian peppers skinned and sliced in stripsM
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp Hungarian paprika
1 tsp marjoram
2 bay leaves


Mix the peppers, garlic, cumin and paprika with the tomatoes in a bowl.

Heat a small amount of lard in a deep skillet over medium-high heat and fry the bacon until it is lightly brown. Scoop out the bacon bits with a slotted spoon. The bacon can be set aside or a little cook’s treat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the tomato mix, ¼ cup of water and the bay leaves. Cover and simmer slowly for about 15 minutes.

Stir in the tripe, marjoram, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and ½ cup of water. Cover and simmer until the tripe is tender. Cooking tripe to the right consistency takes experience. It must be al dente – not chewy, not mushy.

Serve hot with csipetke or galuska (Hungarian noodles) on the side. Sour cream can also be served as a side.

Sep 292017

Today is the birthday (1899) of László József Bíró (or Ladislao José Biro – born  László József Schweiger) an Argentine inventor, born in Hungary, who patented the first commercially successful modern ballpoint pen. The native form of his personal name was Bíró László József; it is common in many European countries (and even more so in Asia), to put the family name first.

Bíró was born to a Hungarian Jewish family in Budapest. After leaving school, he began work as a journalist in Hungary. It was while working as a journalist that he noticed that the ink used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge-free. He tried using the same ink in a fountain pen but found that it would not flow into the tip, because it was too viscous.

He presented the first production of the ballpoint pen at the Budapest International Fair in 1931. Working with his brother György, a chemist, he developed a new tip consisting of a ball that was free to turn in a socket, and as it turned it would pick up ink from a cartridge and then roll to deposit it on the paper. Bíró patented the invention in Paris in 1938.

During World War II, Bíró was forced to flee the Nazis. In 1943 the brothers moved to Argentina. On 10 June they filed another patent, issued in the US as 2,390,636 Writing Instrument, and formed Biro Pens of Argentina (in Argentina the ballpoint pen is known as birome). This new design was licensed for production in the United Kingdom for supply to Royal Air Force aircrew, who found they worked much better than fountain pens at high altitude.

In 1945 Marcel Bich bought the patent from Bíró for the pen, which soon became the main product of his Bic company, which has sold more than 100 billion ballpoint pens worldwide. In November of that same year, promoter Milton Reynolds introduced a gravity-fed pen to the U.S. market. The Reynolds Pen was a sensation for a few years, until its reputation for leaking, and competition from established pen manufacturers overtook it. Bíró’s patent was based on capillary action, which caused ink to be drawn out of the pen as it was deposited on the paper. Because the Reynolds workaround depended on gravity, it did not infringe but required thinner ink and a larger barrel.

Bíró died in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1985. Argentina’s Inventors’ Day is celebrated on Bíró’s birthday, that is, today. On 29 September 2016, the 117th anniversary of his birth, Google commemorated Bíró with a Google Doodle for “his relentless, forward-thinking spirit.”

A ballpoint pen is widely referred to as a “biro” in many countries, including the UK, Ireland, Australia and Italy. Biro is a registered trademark, but in some countries it has become genericized – like Kleenex and Hoover. Biros were the spawn of Satan according to my teachers in Australia and England. I’m not entirely sure why this was the case in England, but in Australia it was because we were taught cursive copperplate which requires thin lines for up-strokes and thicker ones for down-strokes. I had cursive writing lessons for 5 years in primary school using a dip pen and inkwell. I was not even allowed to use a fountain pen. Why there was so much emphasis on correct penmanship is beyond me. Needless to say, I was useless at it and my handwriting nowadays is a scrawl that is more or less illegible to anyone other than myself. And . . . I use a biro.

Although Bíró was nominally Argentino, and he is celebrated there as a (sort of) national hero, he was Hungarian, and did his most productive work in Europe.  So, a great Hungarian recipe is in order. But . . . as a sop to Argentina I’ve chosen a pancake (crepe) recipe because they are immensely popular in Buenos Aires. This one can be made to look like biro writing by using a squeeze bottle to add the chocolate sauce.

Gundel Palacsinta


For the crepe batter (10-12 pieces):

2 eggs
240 gm/2 cups flour
300 ml milk
100 ml club soda water
1 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
40 gm sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil

For the filling:

40 gm raisins
200 ml cream
4 tbsp dark rum
100 gm sugar
250 gm walnuts
grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp powdered cinnamon

For the chocolate sauce:

100 gm dark chocolate
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
30 gm butter
250 ml milk
80 gm sugar
30 gm cocoa powder
3 tbsp dark rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
butter (for frying)


For the pancakes:

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the milk slowly, whisking vigorously to avoid lumps, until they are well combined and smooth. Add the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, club soda, and vanilla plus a pinch of salt and continue to beat until well combined. When the batter is finished, mix in the vegetable oil.

Refrigerate the batter for at least two hours before frying.

For the filling:

Soak the raisins in lukewarm water.

Grind half of the walnuts, and chop the other half reasonably fine.

Bring the cream and sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high head, then add the ground and finely chopped walnuts, rum, cinnamon, orange zest and raisins while stirring continuously. Over low heat cook for 2-3 minutes. If it’s too thick, you may add more cream. Turn off the heat and let the filling cool.

Fry the crepes in a crepe pan. I use butter to grease the pan initially, but after one or two it is no longer necessary. Get the crepe pan well heated, add the butter, swirl it around, and then add about a ladle of batter. Swirl it around until it covers the base of the pan, let the top dry, then flip and cook the other side. There is no need to cook them to a golden brown because you are going to cook them again.

When all the crepes are ready, spread them with the filling. Some people roll them up, others fold them in quarters (as in the photo). They are easier to re-fry if quartered.

Set aside.

For the chocolate sauce:

Melt the dark chocolate combined with the milk in a double boiler, or in a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Remove from the heat and quickly combine the chocolate mixture with the egg yolks using a heavy whisk. Add the sugar, cocoa powder, butter and rum, and stir until well combined. Put back over simmering water and warm the sauce for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, but keep warm.

Melt 60 grams of butter in a non-stick pan and fry all the filled crepes, in small batches, on both sides until they are golden brown.

Place one or two crepes on a heated plate and pour a little hot chocolate sauce on the top.

Mar 152016


The Hungarian revolution against the Habsburg monarchy and the Austrian empire began on this date in 1848.The date is now a major national holiday in Hungary. The Hungarian Revolution of 1848 was one of the many European Revolutions of 1848, and closely linked to other revolutions of the time against Habsburg rulers. The revolution in the kingdom of Hungary grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire which was ruled by the Habsburg dynasty.

The kingdom of Hungary had always maintained a separate parliament, the Diet of Hungary, even after the Austrian Empire was created in 1804. The administration and government of the kingdom of Hungary (until 1848) remained largely untouched by the government structure of the overarching Austrian Empire. Hungary’s central government structures remained well separated from the imperial government. The country was governed by the Council of Lieutenancy of Hungary (the Gubernium), located first in Pressburg and later in Pest (now a constituent part of Budapest), and by the Hungarian Royal Court Chancellery in Vienna.


By the 1820s the Diet of Hungary had not convened since 1811. The frequent diets held in the early years were occupied with war subsidies and little else. After 1811 they ceased to be summoned. In the latter years of Francis I, Metternich’s iron policy of “stability” was paramount in Hungary, and the forces of reactionary absolutism were completely dominant. But beneath the surface, a strong popular current was beginning to run in a contrary direction. Hungarian society, affected by western Liberalism, but without any direct help from abroad, was gearing up for emancipation. Writers, poets, artists, noble and plebeian, layman and cleric, without any previous connexion, were working towards that ideal of political liberty which was to unite all the Magyars (ethnic majority). Mihály Vörösmarty, Ferenc Kölcsey, Ferencz Kazinczy, and many others were, consciously or unconsciously, as the representatives of the renascent national literature, accomplishing a political mission with the pen, where their ancestors had used the sword. The pen was a supremely effective weapon.

In 1825, Emperor Francis II convened the Diet in response to growing concerns amongst the Hungarian nobility about taxes and the diminishing economy, after the Napoleonic wars. This – and the reaction to the reforms of Joseph II – started what is known as the Reform Period (reformkor). But the Nobles still retained their privileges of paying no taxes and not giving the vote to the masses. Hungarian politician Count István Széchenyi recognized the need to bring the country in line with the more developed West European countries, such as Britain – where political reform and industrialism were beginning to crank up.

There had begun in Hungary a movement which, according to István Széchenyi, “startled the nation out of its sickly drowsiness”. In 1823, when the reactionary powers were considering joint action to suppress revolution in Spain, the government, without consulting the diet, imposed a war-tax and called out the recruits. The county assemblies instantly protested against this illegal act, and Francis I was obliged, at the diet of 1823, to repudiate the action of his ministers. But the estates felt that the maintenance of their liberties demanded more substantial guarantees than the largely obsolete ancient laws still in force. Széchenyi, who had lived abroad and studied Western institutions, was the recognized leader of all those who wished to create a new Hungary out of the old. For years he and his friends educated public opinion by issuing innumerable pamphlets in which the new Liberalism was eloquently expounded. In particular Széchenyi insisted that the people must not look exclusively to the government, or even to the diet, for the necessary reforms. Society itself must take the initiative by breaking down the barriers of class exclusiveness and reviving a healthy public spirit. The effect of this teaching was manifest at the diet of 1832, when the Liberals in the Lower Chamber had a large majority, prominent among whom were Ferenc Deák and Ödön Beothy. In the Upper House, however, the magnates united with the government to form a conservative party obstinately opposed to any project of reform, which frustrated all the efforts of the Liberals.



The alarm of the government at the power and popularity of the Liberal party induced it, soon after the accession of the new king, the emperor Ferdinand I (1835–1848), to attempt to crush the reform movement by arresting and imprisoning the most active agitators among them, Louis Kossuth and Miklos Wesselenyi. But the nation was no longer to be cowed. The diet of 1839 refused to proceed to business until the political prisoners had been released, and, while in the Lower Chamber the reforming majority was larger than ever, a Liberal party was now also formed in the Upper House under the leadership of Count Louis Batthyány and Baron Joseph Eotvos. From 1000 to 1844, Latin was the official language of administration, legislation and schooling in Hungary. Two progressive measures of the highest importance were passed by this diet, one making Magyar the official language of Hungary, the other freeing the peasants’ holdings from all feudal obligations.

The results of the diet of 1839 did not satisfy the advanced Liberals, while the opposition of the government and of the Upper House still further fueled the general discontent. The chief exponent of this temper was Pesti Hirlap, Hungary’s first political newspaper, founded in 1841 by Kossuth, whose articles, advocating armed reprisals if necessary, inflamed the extremists but alienated Széchenyi, who openly attacked Kossuth’s opinions. The polemic on both sides was violent,and on the assembling of the diet of 1843 Kossuth was more popular than ever, while the influence of Széchenyi had declined. The tone of this diet was passionate, and the government was fiercely attacked for interfering with the elections. Fresh triumphs were won by the Liberals. Magyar was now declared to be the language of the schools and the law-courts as well as of the legislature; mixed marriages were legalized; and official positions were thrown open to non-nobles.


The interval between the diet of 1843 and that of 1847 saw a complete disintegration and transformation of the various political parties. Széchenyi openly joined the government, while the moderate Liberals separated from the extremists and formed a new party, the Centralists. Immediately before the elections, however, Deák succeeded in reuniting all the Liberals on the common platform of “The Ten Points”.

  1. Responsible ministries,
  2. Freedom of the Press
  3. Popular representation (by parliamentary elections),
  4. The reincorporation of Transylvania,
  5. Right of public meeting, (Freedom of assembly and freedom of association)
  6. Absolute religious liberty, the abolition of the (Catholic) State Religion,
  7. Universal equality before the law,
  8. Universal and equal taxation, (abolition of the tax exemption of the aristocracy)
  9. The abolition of the Aviticum, an obsolete and anomalous land-tenure,
  10. The abolition of serfdom and bond service, with state financed compensation to the landlords.

The ensuing parliamentary elections resulted in a complete victory of the Progressives. All efforts to bring about an understanding between the government and the opposition were fruitless. Kossuth demanded not merely the redress of actual grievances, but a liberal reform which would make such grievances impossible in the future. In the highest circles a dissolution of the diet now seemed to be the sole remedy. But, before it could be carried out, news of the February revolution in Paris reached Pressburg on the 1st of March, and on the 3rd of March Kossuth’s motion for the appointment of an independent, responsible ministry was accepted by the Lower House. The moderates, alarmed not so much by the motion itself as by its tone, again tried to intervene. But on the 13th of March the Vienna revolution broke out, and the Emperor, yielding to pressure or panic, appointed Count Louis Batthyány premier of the first Hungarian responsible ministry, which included Kossuth, Széchenyi and Deák.


The Hungarian revolution started in the Pilvax coffee palace at Pest, which was a favorite meeting point of the young extra-parliamentary radical liberal intellectuals in the 1840s. On the morning of March 15, 1848, revolutionaries marched around the city of Pest, reading Sándor Petőfi’s Nemzeti dal (National Song) and the 12 points (expansion of the 10 points) to the crowd (which swelled to thousands). Declaring an end to all forms of censorship, they visited the printing presses of Landerer and Heckenast and printed Petőfi’s poem together with the demands. A mass demonstration was held in front of the newly built National Museum, after which the group left for the Buda Chancellery (the Office of the Governor-General) on the other bank of the Danube. The bloodless mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda forced the Imperial governor to accept the people’s demands. Thus the war for independence began.


I suggest the dish fatányéros to celebrate. It is a classic Hungarian festive dish originally from Transylvania. When I was last in Budapest with friends, two of them ordered fatányéros at a restaurant for lunch. It looked innocent enough – “Transylvanian meat platter for 2.” When it came we all fell on the floor laughing. It was gigantic – enough meat for 6, at least. The selection of meats for a fatányéros can vary tremendously according to tastes, wallet, and season. Best simple translation is “mixed grill.” It should be served on a wooden platter, and is most festive and communal if the meats are whole with a large ornamented knife stuck in the biggest piece.

A good platter will include grilled veal, beefsteak, and pork cutlets, with a goose liver and some bacon. It is normal to add fried potatoes, thickly sliced, to the platter, and either a mixed salad on the side or a garnish of lettuce and tomatoes.

Mar 252015


Today is the birthday (1881) of Béla Viktor János Bartók, Hungarian composer and pianist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century; and he and Liszt are regarded as Hungary’s greatest composers. Through his collection and analytical study of folk music, he was one of the founders of comparative musicology, which later evolved into ethnomusicology.

Béla Bartók was born in the small Banatian town of Nagyszentmiklós in the old Kingdom of Hungary, (since 1920, Sânnicolau Mare in Romania). Bartók’s family reflected some of the ethno-cultural diversities of the country. His father, Béla Sr., considered himself thoroughly Hungarian, because on his father’s side the Bartók family was a Hungarian lower noble family, originating from Borsod county, though his mother, Paula (born Paula Voit), spoke German as a mother tongue, but was ethnically of “mixed Hungarian” ancestry of Danube Swabian origin. Among her closest forefathers there were families with such names as Polereczky (Magyarized Polish or Slovak) and Fegyveres (Magyar).

Béla displayed notable musical talent very early in life: according to his mother, he could distinguish between different dance rhythms that she played on the piano before he learned to speak in complete sentences. By the age of four he was able to play 40 pieces on the piano and his mother began formally teaching him the next year.

Béla was a small and sickly child and suffered from severe eczema until the age of 5. In 1888, when he was seven, his father (the director of an agricultural school) died suddenly. Béla’s mother then took him and his sister, Erzsébet, to live in Nagyszőlős (today Vinogradiv in Ukraine) and then to Pozsony (today Bratislava in Slovakia). In Pozsony, Béla gave his first public recital at age 11 to a warm critical reception. Among the pieces he played was his own first composition, written two years previously: a short piece called “The Course of the Danube.” Shortly thereafter László Erkel accepted him as a pupil.

From 1899 to 1903, Bartók studied piano under István Thomán, a former student of Franz Liszt, and composition under János Koessler at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. There he met Zoltán Kodály, who influenced him greatly and became his lifelong friend and colleague. In 1903, Bartók wrote his first major orchestral work, Kossuth, a symphonic poem which honored Lajos Kossuth, hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

The music of Richard Strauss, whom he met in 1902 at the Budapest premiere of Also sprach Zarathustra, strongly influenced his early work. When visiting a holiday resort in the summer of 1904, Bartók overheard a young nanny, Lidi Dósa from Kibéd in Transylvania, sing folk songs to the children in her care. This sparked his lifelong dedication to folk music.

From 1907, he also began to be influenced by the French composer Claude Debussy, whose compositions Kodály had brought back from Paris. Bartók’s large-scale orchestral works were still in the style of Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss, but he wrote a number of small piano pieces which showed his growing interest in folk music. The first piece to show clear signs of this new interest is the String Quartet No. 1 in A minor (1908), which contains folk-like elements.

In 1907, Bartók began teaching as a piano professor at the Royal Academy. This position freed him from touring Europe as a pianist and enabled him to work in Hungary. Among his notable students were Fritz Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, György Sándor, Ernő Balogh, and Lili Kraus. After Bartók moved to the United States, he taught Jack Beeson and Violet Archer.


In 1908, he and Kodály traveled into the countryside to collect and research old Magyar folk melodies. Their growing interest in folk music coincided with a contemporary social interest in traditional national culture. They made some surprising discoveries. Magyar folk music had previously been categorized as Gypsy music. The classic example is Franz Liszt’s famous Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano, which he based on popular art songs performed by Romani bands of the time. In contrast, Bartók and Kodály discovered that the old Magyar folk melodies were based on pentatonic scales, similar to those in Asian folk traditions, such as those of Central Asia, Anatolia and Siberia.


Bartók and Kodály quickly set about incorporating elements of such Magyar peasant music into their compositions. They both frequently quoted folk song melodies verbatim and wrote pieces derived entirely from authentic songs. An example is his two volumes entitled For Children for solo piano, containing 80 folk tunes to which he wrote accompaniment. Bartók’s style in his art music compositions was a synthesis of folk music, classicism, and modernism. His melodic and harmonic sense was profoundly influenced by the folk music of Hungary, Romania, and other nations. He was especially fond of the asymmetrical dance rhythms and powerful harmonies found in Bulgarian music. Most of his early compositions offer a blend of nationalist and late Romantic elements.

Bartók was often criticized for quoting folk songs in his compositions instead of writing his own melodies, to which he responded that Shakespeare used existing stories as the bases of his plays and no one accused him of lack of originality. Besides he was trying to infuse a genuinely Hungarian ethos in his compositions. Furthermore, the scales and rhythms of the folk melodies lent themselves to Bartók’s experimental composition style . I can’t really analyze his compositions without getting too technical, but I’ll give a few hints.

Bartók’s musical vocabulary, as demonstrated in his string quartets particularly, departs from traditional use of major and minor keys, focusing more on the well tempered chromatic scale and attempting to use each note equally. The well tempered chromatic scale has 12 equally spaced semitones which can all be used in a composition, or a subset of them can form a scale such as whole-tone, pentatonic, diatonic etc. His use of these subset scales allowed him to incorporate a wide range of folk music in an expanded harmonic system. Indeed, his original studies and settings of many examples gleaned from his extensive explorations of the Hungarian countryside and Eastern and Central Europe, undoubtedly served as a major influence upon his expanded musical vocabulary.

Bartók held a long fascination with mathematics and how it pertained to music. He experimented with incorporating the golden section and the Fibonacci sequence into his writing. These fascinations aren’t obviously present in his Fourth String Quartet, which I want to focus on, he did incorporate symmetrical structures: Movements I and V are similar, as are Movements II and IV; Movement III is at center, greatly contrasting with the other movements. This is sometimes called an “arch” structure.

Movements I and V share similar motifs (some of it is based on cell z); the second theme in the first movement is prominent in the fifth. Movements II and IV share similar ideas as well, but the ideas present within these two movements can be considered variations on themes presented earlier, expanding and building on ideas presented in the first and fifth movements. Movement III differs from the other four movements in that it is textured and quiet.

Here is a decent recording.

In 1909 at the age of 28, Bartók married Márta Ziegler (1893–1967), aged 16. Their son, Béla III, was born on August 22, 1910. After nearly 15 years together, Bartók divorced Márta in June 1923.Two months after his divorce, he married Ditta Pásztory (1903–1982), a piano student, ten days after proposing to her. She was aged 19, he 42. Their son, Péter, was born in 1924.

In 1911, Bartók wrote what was to be his only opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, dedicated to Márta. He entered it for a prize by the Hungarian Fine Arts Commission, but they rejected his work as not fit for the stage. In 1917 Bartók revised the score for the 1918 première, and rewrote the ending. Following the 1919 revolution, he was pressured by the new Soviet government to remove the name of the librettist Béla Balázs from the opera, as he was blacklisted and had left the country for Vienna. Bluebeard’s Castle received only one revival, in 1936, before Bartók emigrated. For the remainder of his life, although he was passionately devoted to Hungary, its people and its culture, he never felt much loyalty to the government or its official establishments.


After his disappointment over the Fine Arts Commission competition, Bartók wrote little for two or three years, preferring to concentrate on collecting and arranging folk music. He collected first in the Carpathian Basin (then the Kingdom of Hungary), where he notated Hungarian, Slovakian, Romanian, and Bulgarian folk music. He also collected in Moldavia, Wallachia, and (in 1913) Algeria. The outbreak of World War I forced him to stop the expeditions; and he returned to composing, writing the ballet The Wooden Prince (1914–16) and the String Quartet No. 2 in (1915–17), both influenced by Debussy.

Bartók wrote another ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin influenced by Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, as well as Richard Strauss. He next wrote his two violin sonatas (written in 1921 and 1922 respectively), which are harmonically and structurally some of his most complex pieces. The Miraculous Mandarin, a modern story of prostitution, robbery, and murder, was started in 1918, but not performed until 1926 because of its sexual content.

In 1927–28, Bartók wrote his Third and Fourth String Quartets, after which his compositions demonstrated his mature style. Notable examples of this period are Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and Divertimento for String Orchestra BB 118 (1939). The Fifth String Quartet was composed in 1934, and the Sixth String Quartet (his last) in 1939.

In 1936 he traveled to Turkey to collect and study folk music. He worked in collaboration with Turkish composer Ahmet Adnan Saygun mostly around Adana.

In 1940, as the European political situation worsened after the outbreak of World War II, Bartók was increasingly tempted to flee Hungary. He was strongly opposed to the Nazis and Hungary’s siding with Germany. After the Nazis came to power in the early 1930s, Bartók refused to give concerts in Germany and broke away from his publisher there. His anti-fascist political views caused him a great deal of trouble with the establishment in Hungary. Having first sent his manuscripts out of the country, Bartók reluctantly emigrated to the U.S. with his wife Ditta in October that year. They settled in New York City. After joining them in 1942, their son, Péter Bartók, enlisted in the United States Navy where he served in the Pacific during the remainder of the war and later settled in Florida where he became a recording and sound engineer. His oldest son, Béla Bartók, III, remained in Hungary where he survived the war and later worked as a railroad official until his retirement in the early 1980s.

Although he became an American citizen in 1945, shortly before his death, Bartók never became fully at home in the USA. He initially found it difficult to compose. Although well known in America as a pianist, ethnomusicologist and teacher, he was not well known as a composer. There was little American interest in his music during his final years. He and his wife Ditta gave some concerts, although demand for them was low. Bartók, who had made some recordings in Hungary, also recorded for Columbia Records after he came to the US; many of these recordings (some with Bartók’s own spoken introductions) were later issued on LP and CD.


Supported by a research fellowship from Columbia University, for several years, Bartók and Ditta worked on a large collection of Serbian and Croatian folk songs in Columbia’s libraries. Bartók’s economic difficulties during his first years in America were mitigated by publication royalties, teaching and performance tours. While his finances were always precarious, he did not live and die in poverty as was the common legend. He had enough friends and supporters to ensure that there was sufficient money and work available for him to live on. Bartók was a proud man and did not easily accept charity. Despite being short on cash at times, he often refused money that his friends offered him out of their own pockets. Although he was not a member of the ASCAP, the society paid for any medical care he needed during his last two years. Bartók reluctantly accepted this.


The first symptoms of his health problems began late in 1940, when his right shoulder began to show signs of stiffening. In 1942, symptoms increased and he started having bouts of fever, but no underlying disease was diagnosed, in spite of medical examinations. Finally, in April 1944, leukemia was diagnosed, but by this time, little could be done.

As his body slowly failed, Bartók found more creative energy, and he produced a final set of masterpieces, partly thanks to the violinist Joseph Szigeti and the conductor Fritz Reiner (Reiner had been Bartók’s friend and champion since his days as Bartók’s student at the Royal Academy). Bartók’s last work might well have been the String Quartet No. 6 but for Serge Koussevitzky’s commission for the Concerto for Orchestra. Koussevitsky’s Boston Symphony Orchestra premièred the work in December 1944 to highly positive reviews. The Concerto for Orchestra quickly became Bartók’s most popular work, although he did not live to see its full impact. In 1944, he was also commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin to write a Sonata for Solo Violin. In 1945, Bartók composed his Piano Concerto No. 3, a graceful and almost neo-classical work, as a surprise 42nd birthday present for Ditta, but he died just over a month before her birthday, with the scoring not quite finished. He had sketched his Viola Concerto, but had barely started the scoring at his death.

Béla Bartók died at age 64 in a hospital in New York City from complications of leukemia (specifically, of secondary polycythemia) on September 26, 1945. His funeral was attended by only ten people. Among them were his wife Ditta, their son Péter, and his pianist friend György Sándor (Anon. 2006).

Bartók’s body was initially interred in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. During the final year of communist Hungary in the late 1980s, the Hungarian government, along with his two sons, Béla III and Péter, requested that his remains be exhumed and transferred back to Budapest for burial, where Hungary arranged a state funeral for him on July 7, 1988. He was reinterred at Budapest’s Farkasréti Cemetery, next to the remains of Ditta, who died in 1982, the year after his centenary (Chalmers 1995, 214).

The Third Piano Concerto was nearly finished at his death. For his Viola Concerto, Bartók had completed only the viola part and sketches of the orchestral part. Both works were later completed by his pupil, Tibor Serly. György Sándor was the soloist in the first performance of the Third Piano Concerto on February 8, 1946. Ditta Pásztory-Bartók later played and recorded it. The Viola Concerto was revised and polished in the 1990s by Bartók’s son, Peter; this version may be closer to what Bartók intended.

Hungarian cooking is heavily dependent on paprika. My (rather lengthy) discourse on the various types of paprika and their use in dishes can be found here:

Fisherman’s soup or halászlé is a hot, spicy paprika-based river fish soup, originating as a dish of Hungarian cuisine – a bright red spicy soup prepared with generous amounts of hot paprika and carp or mixed river fish, characteristic of the cuisines of the Pannonian Plain, particularly prepared in the Danube and Tisza river regions. With its generous use of hot paprika, halászlé is arguably one of the hottest (spicy hot) dishes native to the European continent.


The dish is a famous soup, eaten by tourists and locals. An important ingredient in Fisherman’s Soup is the court bouillon, which adds significant flavor. To prepare the soup base, fish trimmings are used: fresh carp heads, bones, skin and fins. These are boiled in water, salt and vegetables (red onions, green peppers and tomatoes) for two hours. When ready, the court bouillon is strained. Hot ground paprika and two finger-thick carp fillets, the roe and coral are added to the boiling soup ten minutes before serving.

Of course there are numerous variations:

Fisherman’s Soup a la Szeged. Four different kinds of fish are used. The usual ratio is 1.5 pound (800 g) carp, 1 pound (500 g) catfish, 0.5 pound (350 g) sturgeon and 0.5 pound (350 g) pike or perch.

Hell’s Pub style Fisherman’s Soup or Drinker’s Fisherman Soup. Ground bay leaf powder, sour cream and a small amount of lemon juice are mixed into the hot soup which is garnished with lemon rings.

Fisherman’s Soup à la Paks. Homemade thin soup pasta called csipetke is added.

Fisherman’s Soup à la Baja. According to traditional recipes 6.5 pound (3 kg) fish is added and approximately 75% is carp. It’s served with homemade soup pasta called gyufatészta.

Traditionally, the soup is prepared in small kettles on open fire on the river banks by fishermen. Fisherman’s soup in kettle is prepared with fresh fish on the place. When prepared in kettles, first, chopped onion is fried in the kettle with some oil until it is caramelized. Then, ground paprika is added and the kettle is filled with water. When the water comes to a boil, other spices (such as black pepper, white wine, tomato juice) are added, and finally the fish, chopped into large pieces. Entire fish, including heads and tails, are often added to the soup. The soup is usually prepared with mixed fish, the most common species are common carp, catfish, perch and pike. Depending on the amount of added hot paprika the soup is mildly to very hot. The Hungarian soup is famous for being very hot and spicy.

The soup is poured directly from the kettle into the plates and eaten with bread (the spicier the soup, the more bread is required).

Many people, especially fishermen, regard the preparation of fish soup as somewhat secretive. Although the recipe is basically simple, the “right” ratio of spices, onion, fish (its quality and variety) and water, as well as timing, affect the soup taste significantly. Many dedicated fishermen regarded their recipes as secret. Competitions in preparing the soup are popular and are usually held at fairs or picnics along river coast. Visitors are offered a taste the soup for money or for free.

The soup is best accompanied by dry white wine (such as Riesling), which may be diluted with soda water. The combination of wine and soda water (a wine spritzer) is called fröccs in Hungarian or špricer in Serbian and Croatian from the German word spritz, which imitates the sound made by soda water as it fizzes out of the dispenser.

Aug 202013


Today is a major national holiday in Hungary celebrating King Saint Stephen I (Szent István). This was his saint’s day until 1687, but is now celebrated as the founding date of the nation of Hungary. Stephen was the last Grand Prince of the Hungarians between 997 and 1000 or 1001, and the first King of Hungary from 1000 or 1001 until his death in 1038. I could go on at length about Stephen’s exploits and accomplishments, but I’ll be brief because I want to talk about paprika and gulyás (goulash).

Stephen claimed the title of Grand Prince on the death of his father Géza in 997, and had a number of supporters.  But his claim was based on the Christian principle of primogeniture (inheritance by the eldest son), and the bulk of Hungary was not Christian at the time.  Traditional Hungarian law prescribed that the senior member of the Árpád dynasty should inherit the title.  At the time this was Koppány, duke of Somogy (Stephen’s father’s brother). Koppány married Stephen’s mother (as would have been customary) and claimed his brother’s title.  The war that ensued was both a power struggle and an ideological one.  Stephen favored Christianizing Hungary and making it a Western Christian state; Koppány supported traditional Magyar (ethnic Hungarian) values which were non-Christian, with Hungary divided between ethnically distinct chiefdoms – the old versus the new.  In a nutshell: Stephen won.

Stephen had himself crowned as the king of Hungary either on 25 December 1000 or January 1 1001. The sources indicate only that he was crowned on the first day of the new millennium, which could be interpreted as either date.  He then spent the remainder of his reign consolidating his power by bringing the local chieftains into line with the new order, and spreading Christianity and Western principles of governance.  He also aligned himself with Western leaders, notably his brother-in-law, Henry II, king of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor (who rose to power in much the same way as Stephen).

To celebrate this day I want to focus on what is now the quintessentially Hungarian spice, paprika, and the national dish, gulyás.  For many cooks in the world today paprika is a single spice, a red, slightly sweet powder made from ground red bell peppers.  But paprika is one of the most richly diverse of all the spices in the cook’s arsenal.  It can be red or brown, piquant or mild, smoky or not.  It’s all a matter of how it is prepared.  Paprika is made by grinding the dried fruits of Capsicum annuum which range from the mild bell pepper to the fiery chile pepper.  Differences in kinds of paprika are determined by the soil and climate in which the peppers are grown, the mix of powders from peppers of different heat and flavor, and whether or not the peppers are smoked as part of the preparation. Smoking is more common in Spain than elsewhere.


The plants are indigenous to Mesoamerica, but were quickly adopted by Europeans, first in Iberia, but soon spreading.  Capsicum plants were first grown in the region of Hungary by Turks in the early 16th century. The main areas of production now are Kalocsa and Szeged in the south. The paprika produced there is more robust than is found elsewhere, and comes in 8 named grades:

Special quality (Különleges) the mildest, very sweet with a deep bright red color.
Delicate (csípόsmentes csemege) – color from light to dark red, a mild paprika with a rich flavor.
Exquisite Delicate (Csemegepaprika) – similar to Delicate, but more pungent.
Pungent Exquisite Delicate (Csípős Csemege, Pikáns) – an even more pungent version of Delicate.
Rose (Rózsa) – pale red in color with strong aroma and mild pungency.
Noble Sweet (Édesnemes) – the most commonly exported paprika; bright red and slightly pungent.
Half-Sweet (Félédes) – A blend of mild and pungent paprikas; medium pungency.
Strong (Erόs) – light brown in color, the spiciest paprika.


You can find a few of these in Western Europe and the U.S., but most are available only in Hungary.   Typically outside of Hungary, Hungarian paprika is classified as either sweet or hot. In fact, even in Hungary nowadays the old grading system is disappearing in favor of sweet versus hot. Whatever the case, Hungarian paprika should be used for Hungarian dishes, otherwise you are missing something vital.


The national dish of Hungary is gulyás, known as goulash in the English-speaking world. Of course, like all great national dishes, gulyás, comes in as many varieties as there are regions, seasons, and cooks. Gulyás can be either a soup or thick stew, the principal ingredients of which are meat, root vegetables, and paprika. Additions and variations are infinite. Any and all meats, even combinations, are acceptable, although beef is most common. Typical cuts include the shank, shin, or shoulder; as a result, gulyás derives its thickness from tough, well-exercised muscles rich in collagen, which is converted to gelatin during the cooking process.


The meat is cut into chunks, seasoned with salt, and then browned with sliced onion in a pot with oil or lard. Paprika is then added (in tablespoons), along with water or stock, and the gulyás is left to simmer until the meat is very tender. After several hours, some combination of garlic, whole or ground caraway seed, soup vegetables such as carrot, parsnip, bell pepper, celery and a small tomato may be added (note that tomato or tomato paste are definitely optional). Other herbs and spices could also be added, especially chile pepper, bay leaf, and thyme. Diced potatoes are often added, since they provide starch as they cook, which makes the gulyás thicker and smoother. A small amount of white wine or wine vinegar may also be added near the end of cooking to round the taste. Gulyás is often served with small egg noodles called csipetke (spaetzle in German), either cooked in with the gulyás towards the end, or served as a plain bed like pasta. They are produced by making an egg pasta dough and then pinching small pieces off in little shallow bowl shapes.


Some of the regional varieties of gulyás are:

Gulyás (Plain Style). As above.  Root vegetables, no csipetke.
Gulyás à la Székely. Reduce the amount of potatoes and add sauerkraut and sour cream.
Hamisgulyás (Mock Gulyás). Substitute beef bones for the meat and add more vegetables.
Csángó Gulyás. Add sauerkraut and rice instead of csipetke and potatoes.
Betyár Gulyás. Use smoked beef or smoked pork for the meat.
Likócsi (Pork Gulyás). Use pork and thin vermicelli in the gulyás instead of potato and soup pasta. Flavor with lemon juice.
Birkagulyás (Mutton Gulyás). Made with mutton. Add red wine for flavor.


You will also find gulyásleves throughout Hungary – a soup version of gulyás. The method is much the same except there is much more broth and it is not reduced or thickened.


All experienced cooks will be able to take what I have described here and run with it.  But for those of you who need a little more guidance here is a recipe for classic, plain gulyás.



4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 ½ lbs (750 gm) beef chuck, cut into ½ in (4 cm) cubes
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup Hungarian paprika (sweet or hot)
2 tsp dried marjoram
2 tsp caraway seeds
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, cut into ½ in (4 cm) cubes
2 medium parsnips, cut into ½ in (4 cm) cubes
1 ½ lbs (750 gm) new potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ in (4 cm) cubes
1 tomato, seeds removed and coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
5 cups (1 lt) beef stock


Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent.

Increase the heat to high. Add the beef and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until the meat is browned on all sides.  Stir in the paprika, marjoram, caraway, and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer, and cook covered until the beef is very tender, 2 hours or more.

Add the potatoes, carrots, parsnips and simmer, uncovered until the vegetables are tender. I like mine a little more on the al dente side, but it’s more typical to cook them longer. Make sure the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Add the tomato and bell pepper and cook another 5 minutes on medium-high heat.

Serves 6 to 8.