The Corner

Great Hungarian Hoosiers

John and Melissa O’Sullivan told me I would want to meet János Horváth. They were right. I met him when he came to New York on U.N.-related business. You will want to meet him too. Today, on our homepage, we start a series (here).

I begin the first installment with a biographical sketch, and I will be even briefer here: Born in 1921 (Hungary). Fights the Nazis and is imprisoned by them. Is sentenced to death. Hours before the appointed execution, escapes. After the war, is elected to parliament — is the youngest member, at 24. Is imprisoned by the Communists. In 1956, is a leader in the revolution. Comes to America. Is a distinguished professor of economics. Returns to Hungary in 1998, and is now the oldest member of parliament (92).

For many years, he lived in Indiana, where he taught at Butler University (Indianapolis). Twice, he was the Republican nominee for Congress. He lost, both times, to the longtime incumbent, Andy Jacobs — who died about a week ago.

A reader tells me how well liked Jacobs was (and Horváth told me the same thing). One of his big causes in Congress was to make “America the Beautiful” the national anthem, in place of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He thought “The Star-Spangled Banner” was too militaristic.

I love “America the Beautiful” as a song, but I am strongly against it as the national anthem. One reason: It celebrates the physical beauty of the United States. Big deal — plenty of lands are beautiful, including North Korea, I bet.

Speaking of music, I mention in today’s installment that Horváth was friends with a couple of standout musicians: János Starker and Bálint Vázsonyi. They were both Hungarian refugees, like Horváth, and they both taught at Indiana University. Couple of quick stories for you.

In the ’90s, Starker went to South Carolina to play the Elgar Concerto with an orchestra. (I should note that Starker was a cellist, one of the greatest of all time.) Two friends of mine were in the orchestra (husband and wife). During rehearsals, Starker was told that he could not smoke in his dressing room. The whole building was “smoke-free.” He came out and addressed the orchestra. He said something like, “I lived under the Nazis and I lived under the Communists. I am grateful to be here in America. But I can’t abide the petty tyranny into which this country is falling. Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you a good concert. But I’m leaving.” With that, he indeed left.

The orchestra sat for a while in stunned silence. Then a lone clarinetist started to play “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

Bálint Vázsonyi was a pianist, and a superb one. He was also a classical liberal and Republican, like Horváth. Like Horváth, he ran for office: mayor of Bloomington. Like Horváth, unfortunately, he lost. Vázsonyi was a guest at a National Review editorial dinner one night. After dinner, Bill (Buckley) asked him to play something. He demurred, but, with a little coaxing, played Schumann’s Arabeske in C.

Are you still hungry for music and politics (if you ever were)? I have a post at The New Criterion, commenting on some aspects of an evening at the Metropolitan Opera. That post is here. I am usually against the mixture of music and politics, but sometimes it is natural . . .