Kölcsey’s poem, written in 1823, is set in the 17th century when Hungary was torn into three parts: the independent Hungarian principality in Transylvania, the Turkish occupied central Hungary and the remaining Austrian royal (Habsburg) areas in the north and the west. The subtitle of the poem is ‘A magyar nép zivataros századaiból’ meaning approximately ‘From the Stormy Centuries of the Hungarian People’.
The anthem was adopted in 1844, while Hungary was still a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The title of the Hungarian anthem is often (incorrectly) given as the first line of the anthem,”Isten, áldd meg a magyart”, but the title of the poem (“Himnusz”) is the official title of the anthem. While the poem has eight verses, it is almost always just the first verse that is performed, yet the entire poem remains the official anthem.
Also widely used in Hungary, but not an official national anthem, is the song “Szózat”, which can be described as the “national song” and is often sung in national celebrations. During the first years of Communist rule, it was debated by the legislators of the time to replace “Himnusz” with “Szózat, as Himnusz is a prayer and Hungary, under Communist rule, was officially atheist, but this was never done. Instead, it was often performed without the words.
Special thanks to: Luke Gilmore for some of this information and Pavel Zinovatny for the sheet music.