English translation by Peter Zollman
While writing Obscure Composers 2 (there are 3 in all), John Sarkett came across an obscure piece of music by the obscure Hungarian composer Leo Weiner: Csongor és Tünde Suite. Weiner considered it to be his greatest work.
So, too, was the underlying literary work by 19th century Hungarian Mihály Vörösmarty, i.e., the author’s greatest work. Some scholars consider this remarkable symbolist work to be avant-garde, 150 years ahead of its time when created in 1830. It is equal parts myth, fairy tale, dramatic play and verse. Some see in it existentialism, some see nihilism. Whatever the case, the work is intellectually challenging and something altogether unique.
The author Vörösmarty was consciously and conscientiously taking the first steps to create a truly national and thoroughly Hungarian literature, vis-à-vis the classical and Germanic influences that had held sway in Hungary until that day. While eminently Hungarian, the plot of Csongor is a the universal story: Csongor searches for happiness and fulfillment, and so may be regarded as Everyman. On his journey he encounters exponents of wealth, power and knowledge, i.e., the Merchant, Prince and Scientist, who each assure him they know the way to success and self-realization. Csongor is impressed with each in turn, but when he meets them again down the road, he learns none of their prized assets were, in the end, efficacious. All had come to loss, grief, devastation. Csongor would learn only love would suffice. And even that would be a question mark for the author. (See this scholarly discussion.) In one early version of the work, Vörösmarty does not even allow for that outcome, thus foreshadowing the stark existentialism of Sartre. But eventually Vörösmarty did allow for the redeeming power of love to make his creation more palatable to his audience. Suffice to say, this is a brief summation of a complex and deep presentation.
While one may find Vörösmarty’s Csongor és Tünde in the original Hungarian without much trouble from various sources, including online, no English translation was so easily found. During his search, several knowledgeable sources assured him the work had, in fact, never been translated into English. Fortunately, this turned out to be untrue. After many dead-ends, and misdirections, Sarkett finally found his way to the work of Peter Zollman (1931-2013), who had translated the work in 1996. This is the only known English translation. A very few hard-to-get copies — actually just eight, in fact — were sprinkled far and wide across libraries in North America. Sarkett was able to borrow one, and then gain permission to reprint his work from his family members (the late Peter Zollman’s daughter, Catharine, is an Oxford-educated physician).
Now this remarkable work of Vörösmarty, and the translation by Zollman, is much more easily available to the wider English-speaking world through Magyar Marketing.