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Háry János

Háry János is an opera written by Kodály in 1926. An opera is a play in which almost everything is sung. Kodály based the opera on a folk tale. Kodály also created a Suite from some of the music in the opera. A suite is a collection of pieces that are played together. The Háry János Suite includes a cimbalom, which is a traditional Hungarian instrument. The Cimbalom is still played in Hungary today.

The Story of Háry János

Háry János was an old man who made up stories about exciting things he had done when he was younger. In Hungary when you introduce yourself you say your family name first so the hero’s first name is János  which is a very common Hungarian name, Most of the stories were not true or exaggerated

Prologue - The Tale Begins

At the very beginning of this piece is a big “musical sneeze” which tells the listener that things probably didn’t happen the way they will be told. If you listen carefully you can hear the orchestra saying HaaaaaaaChooooo!

In a Hungarian village everyone gather at the tavern, to listen to the tales of the

old soldier Háry János.

Musical Sneeze - Kodály
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First Adventure - On the Frontier 

At a border crossing point there is frost and ice on the Austrian side and the sun shining on the Hungarian side. János and his fiancé Örzse meet Mária the daughter of the Austrian Emperor at the border crossing where she is not being allowed to cross. János pushes the border gate along the ground, so that she can get through. The princess immediately rewards him with an offer to come to Vienna and become a general.

János Moving the Gate - Kodály
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Second Adventure - The Viennese Musical Clock

When Janos and Orze arrive in Vienna they see the famous Viennese Musical Clock. This is the most famous movement of the Suite and it's in rondo form - which means the main melody or theme repeats, coming back after every section. Rondo Form is ABACADA. If you listen carefully, you'll be able to hear it. Click here for a detailed listening map from Classics For Kids or follow the simple map below.

Coda (Ending)
The Viennese Musical Clock - Rondo Form

Kodály takes a break from the action to play a Hungarian song. Kodály uses a Hungarian instrument called the cimbalom. It is a reminder for the audience and for János that he is from Hungary, not Austria.

Third Adventure - A Battlefield at Milan

Háry János makes the ridiculous claim that he single-handedly wins the battle against Napoleon and his army. The music starts with a march and the brass play fanfares. Around 26 seconds in the first video, the trombones play some sliding sounds, as if to laugh and say there is no way that this ever happened.  If you want to hear this more clearly you can watch the second video which is only trombone

The princess is falling in love with János and Örzse is going to have to go back to Hungary alone.


An intermezzo is a movement that is in between the action. Like “Song”, the intermezzo uses the hammered dulcimer to remind János of his roots. The Intermezzo is also a chance for the singers to rest and for dancers to perform in the opera 

Fourth Adventure – Vienna Again

The preparations for the wedding of Janos and the princess are underway. Örzse arrives to say goodbye to Janos but decides that he would rather marry a plain Hungarian girl than an Austrian Princess. So he and Örzse leave Austria and return to Hungary.

The scene switches back to the inn as János concludes by saying that the condition of freeing Napoleon was that a gold watch he had sent to the head of the village - who then says that he never got it. János says that the only person who can prove his story true is Örzse, but unfortunately she is now dead.

Even More about Háry János

If you want to learn even more about Háry János, you can listen to the shows on the bottom of this page on Classics for Kids.

Here are two fun videos of kids moving to the the Viennese Musical Clock.

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