Remembering Ilona Bartalus

19 April 2021

“We should love music with love, but more importantly the ones we teach”

I believe that there is hardly anyone among my contemporaries who would not remember, with sparkling eye, the TV series “Come boys and girls, let us sing” lead by “aunt oom cha cha,” the “niece of Schubert,” the wonderful Ilona Bartalus. She essentially became the music teacher of a whole generation. And why is that? Simply because she believed with passion, that “music is the soul of life that fills our grey and dry days with life”.
Ilona Bartalus was one of those internationally renowned Hungarian music educators, who, through the course of several decades, with never ceasing passion fed young people, musicians and university students at the threshold of starting a professional career with the “desire for beautiful music.”  She did it with unbounded dedication, with excellence both from the point of musicality and creativity. 
She became interested in teaching music already during her childhood years. She was first inspired  by her piano and solfege teacher, István Farkas in Köröstarcsa, then by György Gulyás at the Békés-Tarhos Singing School and at the Secondary School of Music in Debrecen. During those “unforgettable years” at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest, where she arrived with “butterflies in her stomach,” she studied with Erzsébet Szőnyi, Jenő Ádám, Zoltán Vásárhelyi, Lajos Bárdos, Erzsébet Hegyi and Dénes Bartha. 
She began her teaching career at the Lorántffy Zsuzsanna Singing Primary School in Budapest. She regarded the time spent in that school as the years of “soaring, holding on and proving it.” Later she taught solfege at the Béla Bartók Secondary School of Music in Budapest. From 1967 on, almost continuously, she taught as a guest professor in Canada and many other countries.
Every single moment of Ilona Bartalus’ teaching was about her students. She considered herself as the “gardener of the heart,” and following in Kodály’s footsteps, no matter where she went, no matter where she taught, she always stood for the cause of musical art knowing that through it “we can all become better people.”
It is a wonderful gift of life that I was able to chat with her about her career and plans several times. I was also able to watch live (and admire of course) her sublime lessons when she was teaching at the Kodály Seminar in Kecskemét at my invitation. I shall never forget either her inner or outer beauty.
(Source of quotes: Ilona Bartalus, in: Anikó Fehér: Music on the Podium, conversations with 25 Hungarian music teachers, Budapest: Liszt Ferenc Music Academy, 2011)


Let me add to my obituary the English translation of her daughter's heartfelt words:


“Our mother, Ilona Bartalus, passed away peacefully and gracefully on 10th April after battling a long-term illness. She was an internationally renowned music pedagogue and conductor, multi-award-winner, distinguished television editor, director and host. A cultic figure of the Hungarian music life. A unique personality and artist, a beautiful and an amazingly brave woman. She shone upon the lives of her children, grandchildren and friends with overflowing love and humour. She followed our dear father, bassoonist Gábor Janota  just after 5 days of his death. She was married to him for 57 years. They set off on a trip around the world, as our Mother loved to imagine… They, for sure, will stop to take some rest in Canada and in Balatonakarattya. They can be together again in love and serenity, humming beautiful tunes together. As to us, we think of them with peace and endless gratitude.”


Dr. László Norbert Nemes 
Director, Kodály Institute of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music

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