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Obituary: Andrs Fodor

Of all literary genres poetry is closest to music, yet there are comparatively few poets whose work is much influenced by contemporary music. The Hungarian poet and critic Andrs Fodor was one.

Fodor was born a railwayman's son in southern Hungary and went to school in the town of Kaposvr, continuing his studies in Budapest, where his talent was rewarded with a place in Eotvos College, Hungary's most elitist and prestigious institute of higher education. It was during the years spent here that he began to publish poetry and first made his name with a long poem entitled "Bartk". He maintained a deep interest all his career in Hungary's greatest modern composer, witness his collection of essays and poems Vallomsok Bartkrl ("Confessions on Bartok", 1978).

It was also in the Eotvos College that the young Fodor met a British student researching Bartk, the music critic Colin Mason. They became lifelong friends, Fodor twice visiting Mason in London (in 1957 and in 1970). During his second visit the art historian and philosopher Lajos Fulep suddenly died. Fodor, a close friend and faithful disciple, was shattered by the news and the circumstances in which he was given this information gained significance after Mason's own unexpected death in February 1971.

It led Fodor to compose a cycle of poems entitled Kettos rekviem ("Double Requiem", 1973) in which he bemoaned the loss of the two persons who had been most influential and memorable in his life. Much later he also published a diary, Ezer este Fulep Lajossal ("A Thousand Nights with Lajos Fulep", 1986), in which he documented the Hungarian polymath's great influence on Hungarian intellectuals during the Kdr regime.

As for Fodor's musical interests, these eventually resulted in a monograph on Igor Stravinsky, another towering figure of modern music, in 1976.

As a poet Fodor learned equally from Gyula Illyes and Attila Jzsef (on the latter he wrote two popular monographs, one in 1971 and one in 1980). Fodor' s poetry is often traditional in form and not particularly striking in its message, but is aesthetically pleasant and satisfying. His collection Jzan reggel ("A Sober Morning", 1958), published soon after the 1956 uprising, was attacked by Marxist critics for its "apolitical humanism" and engagement in a quest of harmony. This is a poetry closely connected with the poet's family life and personal experiences; often his poems read like verse travelogues.

Sometimes, though, he can give a luminous account of a particular aesthetic experience (e.g. "San Miniato al Monte" or "A Woman Dancer in Madras"). His best poems are odes to the joy of existence or elegies about the transience of human life which is mitigated by friendship and love. His poems were collected several times, most recently in 1989 under the title Punkosdi hirnok ("Messenger of Pentecost").

Fodor studied Hungarian and Russian literature at university and also held a degree in Librarianship. From 1959 he worked in the Documentation Centre of the Hungarian National Library. He translated many foreign authors into Hungarian: Pushkin's Ruslan and Ludmilla, a selection from the work of the Polish poet Tadeusz Rzewicz, Longfellow's poem Hiawatha, and selections from the poems of such English poets as Philip Larkin and Derek Mahon. His selected poetic translations were published in 1967 and 1980.

With the documentary diary on Lajos Fulep the middle-aged Fodor suddenly revealed his talent as secret chronicler of the past. He followed it up with diaries from 1947 to 1950 devoted to the productive years, and the closure by the Communists of the Eotvos College (A Kollegium, "The College", 1991). Keeping a diary was apparently a lifelong occupation of Fodor's, for he continued with A hetvenes evek ("The Seventies"), the first two volumes of which covering 1970 to 1974 were published in 1995, with a further volume in 1996.

In these colourful diaries Fodor gives a panoramic picture of Hungarian literary life under political pressure, often drawing ironic portraits of unsuspecting contemporaries and describes his journeys abroad, e.g. to England, Poland and Romania.

In the 1950s Fodor was on the editorial staff of the periodical Csillag and from 1983 was chief contributor to the monthly Krtars. From 1981 to 1986 he was Deputy President of the Hungarian Writers Association. His many awards include the Attila Jzsef Prize (1956, 1973, 1980), the Pushkin Prize (1987) and the Kossuth Prize (1992).

George Gomori

Andrs Fodor, poet, critic, translator, diarist: born Kaposvr, Hungary 27 February 1929; married Sarolta Mtis (two sons); died Budapest 27 June 1997.