Szőnyi biography

A Tear in the Curtain:
The Musical Diplomacy of Erzsébet Szőnyi:
Musician, Composer, Teacher of Teachers

by Jerry L. Jaccard

A Tear in the Curtain is an accurate record of the life and work of Professor (Doctor Honoris Causa) Erzsébet Szőnyi, one of Hungary's greatest musical Ambassadors and protagonists of Zoltán Kodály's musical vision. Through numerous hours of interviewing and personal talks, author Dr. Jerry Jaccard, succeeded in a remarkable way to bring to the forefront Professor Szőnyi's inspiring personality.

When reading the book you will meet the now 90 year old grande dame personally, because often she is the one telling about the many challenges of her longstanding career. The book has clearly marked chapters, focusing on a certain time span or on a particular aspect of Erzsébet Szőnyi's work, which makes it easily readable and, at the same time, an excellent reference document.

In the various chapters we discover the all-round and multifaceted musicianship of Professor Szőnyi; we can read how important her childhood and early music training was at one of the most prestigious Hungarian institutes. How, advised by Zoltán Kodály, she went on to study in Paris with, among others, Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen; how, at a very young age she became a Professor at the Liszt Academy (now Liszt University) and was entrusted by Kodály with great responsibilities. The author carefully integrated all this in the political and socio-economical context of Hungary in those years, to illuminate the specific circumstances in which Szőnyi had to live and work and the exceptional way in which she succeeded to remain true to her professional principles. In reading further we get to know Erzsébet Szőnyi as a great composer; as an author whose books, translated into many languages, belong to the most important publications on Zoltán Kodály's vision and are used all over the globe.

And certainly not least, we get to know her as an exceptional human being, teacher of numerous renowned Hungarian musicians and music educators. It says a lot that most of them remain in close contact with their Professor, Erzsi néni (Aunt Elisabeth) as they call her. It is obvious that Dr. Jaccard felt a great responsibility in finding the most suitable structure and concept for his book. Reading it, you will agree that he succeeded well in his objectives and offers us, even those who know Erzsébet Szőnyi personally, an opportunity to learn so much more about one of the greatest and most inspiring personalities of our time.

In her foreword, Dr. Lois Choksy wrote: "if I were to be asked who I considered to be the most important single music educator in the last century, my unhesitating answer would be Erzsébet Szőnyi, my teacher, my mentor, my friend." It could not be worded better.

The book is published by Peter Lang Publications, New York.

Gilbert De Greeve

The book is available on Amazon.