IN MEMORIAM CYNTHIA JOLLY (1922-2016)
THE VOCAL ENGLISH AMBASSADOR OF KODÁLY AND HUNGARIAN MUSIC – A PERSONAL TRIBUTE
I first met Cynthia during the inaugural Hungarian Kodály Seminar in Kecskemét. It was 1970, my first time in Kecskemét (my hometown ever since), when we all (some 150 of us) stayed in the Hotel Aranyhomok. Cynthia was a guest of Mrs Kodály and she came to study. When we met in Leicester next in 2005, where we took part in the Kodály Symposium, there she was, still studying, diligently attending all the BKA courses. She was quite moved that we remembered her from 35 years before, especially my husband, Mihály, who even recalled her recital during the Seminar. She started telling me about her life, especially about her relationship with Kodály and Hungarian musical life. I was so fascinated that I suggested recording our conversations. So in three sittings she told me a lot about her life. When I transcribed and sent her the manuscript, she decided to return it with her corrections and additions in person and came to Hungary the following spring for a two-week visit. My recollections of Cynthia’s life are based mainly on these interviews. Since I was mostly interested in her experiences in Hungary, she only mentioned other phases of her life briefly.
Cynthia studied economics in London and English Literature and Linguistics in Oxford. She had the chance to read music in Cambridge as well when, during the war, the School of Economics moved to Peterhouse. In Oxford she heard a Bartók String Quartet and was so smitten that she bought all six volumes of Mikrokosmos. In Cambridge she joined a university choir which sang Kodály’s Jesus and the Traders. She felt intrigued by the music of these Hungarians. Music and singing had always been part of her life – her father was a parson in Southampton and her mother was also musical – so after the war she returned to London to receive some more practical schooling in singing at Guildhall. In 1947 she was introduced to someone at a reception who had been looking for people who would accept scholarships to Hungary. Although she aimed to continue her vocal studies in Italy, she jumped at the chance and, in December 1947, found herself in a severely cold winter in a ruined Budapest. She settled down in a ’People’s College’, called Sarolta, sharing a room with Patricia, a Scottish student of geography.
Room where they lived
She immediately set out to learn the language but, at the same time, started attending voice, viola and ballet lessons as well as doing theory with composer Sándor Veress. She sat in Kodály’s folk music lectures but did not understand a word. Towards the end of the academic year she gathered courage and went up to Kodály saying she was English and she would like to do something practical. ”I realized that I had to do something to come alive with this folk tradition – I mean I was in a country where I could actually hear what was happening on the ground. So I wrote to him and said please, will you advise me about this. And back came this postcard …”
Postcard from Kodály
The region where she was sent was where the famous Peacock melody and other ancient, mainly fifth-shifting folksongs had been collected in the 1930s. Kodály never collected folksongs there but was very much interested to know how many of the singers were still alive and how their repertoire changed. ”And I went with the two other people who had these exchange scholarships, one was a geography student and the other one, Ron(ald Tempest), was a linguist.” Patricia, the geography student, took sociological notes on the villages but she typed up Cynthia’s observations about folk singers’ voices, intonation, pronunciation, gestures, and all kinds of information that would have been lost if she only had the transcriptions. (She had no phonograph. Kodály told her ”surely you’re musician enough to write them down?”). The three of them took photos and Ron, the linguist, helped with the Hungarian words of the songs. The remaining documents are a photo album, two notebooks with the folksongs (including a few pencilled remarks by Kodály) with Ron writing the words, sometimes even their English translation and Patricia’s typed notes (which I received from her in Budapest in 2014). Later Cynthia translated Kodály’s ”Folk Music of Hungary” with Ronald Tempest and a series of other books on Hungarian music.
Nemespátró feast of Wine, September 1948
a page from Cynthia’s notebook
Cynthia remained in Budapest until April 1949 and became – she believed she owed this to Kodály, too – quite a feature in Budapest musical life. She performed a few songs and folksong arrangements by Bartók at the October 1948 Bartók Festival, gathering praise for her Hungarian pronunciation. Kodály went up to her after the performance with Emma, Madame Kodály, and wished her to ”have as much courage in her life as in her singing”. She was the soloist in the first Hungarian performance of Britten’s Les Illuminations and sang several songs by Kodály, Bartók and Farkas at concerts and radio broadcasts.
Cynthia returned to Hungary whenever she could. Living in Italy and Vienna (studying voice, teaching English, translating from Italian and Hungarian and writing for music journals) she acted as an ambassador of Hungarian music. In November 1956 she took an active role in organising a concert to benefit refugees in London (Britain Stands by Hungary) where she sang Hungarian songs. When in 1960 Kodály was given his honorary doctorate in Oxford, Cynthia sang his songs at a recital with her favourite accompanist, the Hungarian-born Tamás Rajna. In Oxford she had a long conversation with Kodály about her career and Kodály’s life.
She returned to Hungary again for some three months in 1965 on a scholarship given by Ursula Vaughan Williams. During that visit she gave several recitals which were attended by Kodály and Sarolta, his second wife. It was then that she made the acquaintance of the circle of teachers who formed a ’madrigal group’ in Kodály’s home – Katalin Forrai, Mária Katanics, Melinda Kistétényi, Helga Szabó and Klára Kokas were the names she recollected. She sang the soprano solo in Fancy in Ilona Andor’s girls’ choir; Kodály insisted on having ’the native singer’. It was probably also during this visit that she accompanied Ilona Borsai on a folksong collecting tour (some beautiful slides witness the event) and became acquainted with Gypsy folk music through Rudolf Víg, the expert on Gypsy music.
She also visited very memorable lessons in schools where Ilona Andor and Helga Szabó were teaching.
She was in Vienna when Kodály died and came over for his funeral.
And when we met again in 2005 she felt everything had come back to her; she felt young again from the memories of her youth and wanted to return to Hungary. She came in April 2006 and stayed with us for two weeks while I was preparing for a trip with my pupils. Cynthia was not only untiring in attending my classes and our rehearsals for the trip, but she helped out with voice training, even individual voice lessons, came with us to a concert in another town, and also wrote letters to her old Oxford contacts to ease our way in. We also managed to discuss her additional notes to the interview. We took her to Budapest to visit the graves of Kodály, Bárdos and Melinda Kistétényi.
Cynthia at Kodály’s grave
When in May we went to England, she followed us, driving from Southampton, for four days. Although she lost her way to the Menuhin School, she started afresh and joined us in Cambridge (she said she would never have had the opportunity to attend an Evensong rehearsal at King’s without us), she showed us around Oxford (since there was a ceremony in the Sheldonian, where Kodály also received his honorary doctorate, and we could not go inside, she sent me a watercolour of the place by post later), and listened to our singing in Worcester Cathedral.
Cynthia in the courtyard of Merton College, Oxford, with the Hungarian group
During the 2006 visit, seeing the Archives of the Kodály Institute, she reinforced the decision to leave her Hungarian material to the Kodály Institute. In the autumn of 2010, commissioned by the Institute, my husband and I spent a week trying to survey and catalogue the hopelessly disorganised material in Cynthia’s house. As it soon turned out, Cynthia was not yet ready to part with her past and we had to make lists and scan as much as we could during the week. A lot of the material went unseen and unlisted but it is hoped that the British Kodály Society will receive it and it will not be wasted.
Cynthia’s house with her and Mihály Ittzés
The material she left for the Kodály Institute will soon find its way into the archive of the Kodály Institute (with the approval of the family and thanks to Cynthia’s faithful friend, Peter Humphreys) together with the interview I made with her. Cynthia was considered by Kodály to be the diplomat and ambassador of Hungarian music. Her English friends, on the other hand, encouraged her to spread English music abroad. She helped directors and opera singers, composers and performers in her long career, retiring to her native Southampton in the 1970s. There she still sang, led choirs and taught singing privately almost to the end. She said everybody could sing; they only had to be opened up and to learn how to sing naturally. Her singing career ended early when she had to move in with her elderly aunt. But her singing personality, her exuberance, vitality, humour, and openness remained with her almost to the end. She died on April 1 and will be buried on April 21 in Southampton, in St. Mary’s, her father’s former church.
Cynthia’s 1963 Wigmore Hall recital
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Cynthia died on 1st April 2016, after a short illness. Her funeral took place on 21st April 2016, at St Mary’s Church, Southampton, and the service was conducted by the Rev Julian Davies. This church was one that Cynthia had been deeply involved in all her life: her father had been Rector there from the twenties, before the family had moved to Kidderminster.
During the War, St Mary’s had taken direct hits in one of the firebomb attacks on November 30th 1940. However the city had been so badly bombed that night that the fire brigade were only able to respond to the emergency telephone call by “putting it on the list”. So the Jolly family all mucked in – they repeatedly went into the burning building , carrying out as many of the treasures as they were able, before the burning roof finally collapsed. The heat of the flames was so great, that the bells began to ring of their own accord, which must have been an eerie experience. The church stood in ruins for until rebuilding from 1954 and re-consecration in 1956, and it is now an oasis of peace and quiet in the rebuilt, busy city. You can visit the website here.
Cynthia remained involved with the church all her life and visited it many times. She was instrumental in organising the repair of the windows and the organ after the fire, and was currently engaged in raising funds for the new Titanic window, which will be added around the Seamen’s chapel. This contains a Mayflower window, as the Church had in 1620 to watched the newly chartered ship wait in Southampton water for the less seaworthy Speedwell arrive from Leiden in Holland, on its historic voyage to Plymouth, New England. The church also contains flags from all the major shipping lines based in Southampton. (The Mayflower)
Cynthia studied in Oxford and read English Language and Literature. She also took an active part in the musical life of the city, singing as a soloist and a choral singer and playing her viola. It was here that she first came across the music of Bartók, then an exotic and modern figure. On hearing Bartók’s String Quartet No.2, she said: “I remember being fascinated by it. And I thought, this is real music, and I’d heard so much that was not real music in contemporary music.”
She also later studied singing at Guildhall and also at London School of Economics where she read Social Administration. I had a period when I was able to do Cambridge music when the London School of Economics as well as the whole Labour Party incarnate was evacuated to Peterhouse in Cambridge, so I had the benefit of both. But there, as I was in "C.U.M.S.”, the Cambridge University Music Society.”
It was while she was at University in 1946, that she went to a cocktail party where she chatted to someone who knew of the cultural development and reconciliation travel scholarships, which the fledgling UNESCO (then consisting of Britain, America and Russia) were promoting in order to improve relationships between European countries immediately, and possible to help in reconstruction.
„And then I happened from Oxford to have a friend who invited me to a cocktail party and suddenly she said 'I want to introduce you to a man who has got scholarships to Hungary and he doesn’t know who to give them to. Because he is finding it very difficult and people are not anxious to go. Would you like to go?' I said I should jump at it. 'What do you want to do?' What I want, I would like to study the music of Bartók and Kodály.”
It was a difficult period: immediately post-war, and rebuilding taking place under Russian communist leadership. Cynthia often told the story that “ … I arrived in Budapest at the end of 1947 in deep snow and was put into Sarolta Népi Kollégium (these were hostels for young people from peasant backgrounds who the communist wanted to educate as a new “professional” class) on the Buda side and remembers crossing Margaret bridge which was being rebuilt. The one bridge that still (partly) survived was being rebuilt by chains of female peasants in full costumes – millions of skirts and boots…. It was bombed during the siege (of Budapest). But I crossed it after the siege when they were restoring it. That’s what I remember, these peasants in full costume and passing buckets of water and buckets of cement ……they were actually rebuilding the bridge….. lifting heavy girders. And the little tram went along on its two little lines and they were either side, on the line. It made a great impression.”
In Budapest, Cynthia met many composers and famous figures of the Hungarian intelligentsia. She studied at the Liszt Academy: learning Hungarian language as she went along. (Initially all she could say was “I’m hungry”). She studied ballet with a displaced Russian ballerina, singing, viola, and Hungarian folk music (a compulsory subject). Eventually she asked her teacher, Kodály , for help because she did not understand the language or context of what she was studying. He helped her to organise a field trip to the East of the country . Three scholarship British students went back to an area where Kodály and Bartók had originally arranged a collection of folksongs some forty years before. During the 2nd International Bartók Festival in 1948 Cynthia , as a foreigner, sang Hungarian music. Hungarian is notoriously difficult and most closely aligned to Finnish and then Sanskrit.
„Kodály and Emma néni came walking up after the recital was finished and this was when the pianist Lajos Kentner was playing there too, … they both of them came up, very warm and happy about it and they said, and Kodály said, ’Have as much courage in your singing as you have in your life’, and you know it was wonderful.”
This led to concert and radio engagements, including the first Hungarian performance of Britten’s Les Illuminations. She also remembered musical evenings, such as performing the Bartók Ady songs for Kodály in his flat. “And he sat back almost with tears in his eyes because he said Szép [Nice] afterwards. He was very touched by it”.
From Hungary, Cynthia went on to study singing in Italy, where they have a great lyric tradition. She always avoided the chance to develop her coloratura skills. ( I believe that this was her love of Hungarian music). To support herself she worked as a journalist for a number of well-known musical publications in Britain and America, such as Opera. She became a friend of such greats as Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas, and developed a highly successful career as a recitalist. She was known as La Jolly – a tenuous pun on her beauty. She was in Rome in 1956, when the Hungarian Uprising took place and “In Rome in 56 I wept over the radio and came over helpless and sent a telegram to Kodály quoting one of the Hungarian folksongs: Isten maradjon veletek.”
There was enormous British sympathy for the brave Hungarians. One major fund raising event was a Royal Albert Hall concert on 28 Nov. 56. “Britain Stands by Hungary”. On the programme Cynthia is accompanied by William Glock, singing four unnamed Hungarian songs, for which she had to learn patriotic Freedom songs, rather than the folksongs, with which she was more familiar.
Between 1949 and 1963
There were several BBC solo broadcasts and other recital work. Cynthia told us that “I included a lot of pieces in my very successful mixed recital at the Wigmore Hall in 1963 when the Times critic wrote that she went around various national groups during the interval and asked about my handling of many languages and the answer always came back: ’Oh, she sings like a native’! [I included Mussorgskí’s Children’s Songs in Russian as well as Kodály in Hungarian.]”
She continued to work mainly, with an extended period in Vienna, in Italy: as solo recitalist, teacher of English, correspondent to various musical journals and papers, and talent spotter. After all it was Cynthia who discovered Franco Zeffirelli! She wrote about this wonderful young theatre designer and producer, who was working on Opera at the tiny Teatro in Siena. She was instrumental in re-introducing the work of Paisiello to the singer’s repertoire. She reintroduced Maria Stuarda by Donizetti to opera goers: she played Queen Elizabeth to Joan Sutherland’s Maria Stuart in the London performances.
In 1960, Kodály received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Oxford, and Cynthia sang some of his compositions at the accompanying recital. She continued to make musical visits to Hungary in 1963 and in 1965. Ursula Vaughan Williams organised grant from VW fund for trip to Hungary for folk song collection in 1963 and it was on this trip that one of her most famous adventures took place. The area that she went to collect songs was close to Yugoslav border, and Tito was particularly active at that time. Cynthia and her party were approached by Ministry of the I Interior personnel in forbidding black limousines, and nearly arrested and deported. Once she had been almost expelled from the country – the Ministry considered anybody from the West a potential spy – and she was questioned at Andrassy út 60 (the headquarters of the political police Stasi). Kodály was able to exert his influence to allow her to stay and continue her work. She also went to Hungary again for Kodály ’s funeral in 1967.
By 1972, Cynthia decided to return to Southampton to live. She was winding her recital career down and developing her teaching. She had a flourishing Singing Practice in Southampton, and also worked at local schools and colleges, such as Itchen College and Southampton University, where she is fondly remembered. She did continue to sing however. In 1977 there was a Queen’s Silver Jubilee Concert at Romsey Abbey, where Cynthia was principal soloist, and gave one of the first performances of Malcolm Williamson’s Jubilee Anthem, a commission from the said Master of the Queen’s Musicke, and therefore really new music.
From c1980 onward, Cynthia was a keen supporter of the British Kodály Society, and then The British Kodály Academy. She had known Cecilia Vajda since the 1940s and provided a contrasting and frequently clearer view of what Kodály philosophies should mean in practice. (You can read more about Cecilia here). Cynthia’s musical ear was most discriminating, and she was prepared to criticise performers for their lack of accuracy in intonation. She was the only person I knew, who was qualified to criticise the Hungarian singing style and occasionally did.
I was very fond of Cynthia, and lived close enough to be able to spend lots of time with her, and go on exciting trips to the sea or the country. We enjoyed our teas and ices together. She was a great story teller – sometimes I wondered whether she let her enthusiasm for a good story allow her to embellish things just a little. She was always coy about her personal life, and led me to believe that there were several very close friendships with famous men. She was hugely talented, immensely enthusiastic, and had a vitality which attracts. I am sure as a young lady, she definitely had “IT”, which led to her adoring following. Just how close she was to Kodály will now never be known. However in my opinion, she never received the recognition in Britain, which she deserved. Indeed she frequently told me that Kodály himself asked her “why she was a prophet without honour in her own country”.
In 2005 / 7 the British Kodály Academy organised a series of interviews at the BKA Summer Schools and it is from my memories of these, and subsequent transcripts that I have been sent, that I prepared this text. It consists of the structure of the Eulogy of Cynthia’s musical life, which I was privileged to give at her funeral on behalf of BKS, as a past Chair and friend, which I then fleshed out for the reader from these additional documents. I am most grateful to all those other friends of Cynthia, who shared their memories so generously: Mary Place, Barbara Jenkinson, Kata Ittzés , Jonathan Palmer and the obituary in the Daily Telegraph of 12th April 2016.