Paul von Nyiri: from „hilarious bass“ to „singing diplomat

Paul von Nyiri was born Pál Sándor Nyíri (or more accurately: Nyíri Pál Sándor, since in Hungarian the surname is given first) on 7 September 1903 in Budapest in the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy. He was one of four children of postal and telegraph officer and later postmaster general Vilmos Nyíri (1869-1955) and his wife Melania, née Pachhofer (1880-1961), who came from Mauer in Lower Austria. On this page, the German spelling of his name is predominantly used for Paul von Nyiri, as he himself also preferred to use this version for most of his life.

The original name of the family was „Kandel“. In the Hungarian census of 1828, a Chaim Kandel of Jewish denomination is listed in Székely. In 1837 the whole family was baptised, and Chaim Kandel from then on bore the first name Kristóf. Together with his wife Rozália he had ten children.

His son, János Kandel, had the family name magyarised to Nyíri in 1848, and was elevated to hereditary peerage by Emperor (King) Franz Josef in 1901 for his services, so that the family was now allowed to use the noble predicate „Székelyi“.

The family crest

Janos Nyíri had at least nine children from two marriages. One of his sons, Sándor Nyíri, was a Field Marshal Lieutenant and Hungarian Minister of Defence from 1903 to 1905. From 1910 on, he was a lieutenant-guardsman and commandant of the Hungarian Life Guards. His younger brother, Vilmos Nyíri, was Paul von Nyiri’s father.

At the time of Paul von Nyiri’s birth, the family lived in Budapest’s 11th district at Bercsényi út 9.

Very little is known about his early years. He graduated from the military secondary school in Eisenstadt in Burgenland in 1921. One can assume that in light of his family background, he was certainly destined for a career other than that of a singer. However, his father, Vilmos Nyíri, also had artistic talent, as these drawings prove:

The siblings, drawn by Vilmos Nyíri: Endre (who later became an officer), Pál/Paul, Lilla and Edit.
Paul von Nyiri, drawn by his father

After graduating from high school, he studied for two years at the Technical University in Budapest, but discontinued his studies and began working at the Hungarian General Credit Bank. For unknown reasons, he was dismissed from this position in 1924 and was employed by the Central Financial Institution from 1925.

In December 1924, he was involved as a singer in the Christmas celebration of the Új Iskola, a well-known reform school founded by pedagogue Emma Löllbach (in Hungarian: Domokos Lászlóné), which was held in the Small Hall of the Academy of Music in Budapest. At that time, he received singing lessons from Ludovika Stark, a well-respected Budapest concert singer and singing teacher.

On 1 December 1925, Hungarian Radio broadcast its first radio programme, and from the beginning of January 1926 at the latest, Paul von Nyiri could be heard in radio broadcasts on a regular basis. His parents, however, were anything but enthusiastic about his singing ambitions.

In this radio broadcast in January 1926, Nyiri was accompanied by a young Budapest pianist who later became famous: Tibor Polgar. 8 Órai Ujság, 14 January 1926

Throughout 1926 he appeared regularly on the radio, as here with Tibor Polgar.
On 18 March 1926, together with a young organist, he had a concert recital at the Academy of Music, one of his first public appearances.

Budapesti Hírlap, 19. März 1926

In June 1927, under the headline „Success of Hungarian Talents Abroad“, the newspaper Budapesti Hírlap was pleased to report that the opera in Reichenberg (today’s Liberec in the Czech Republic) had signed the talented 23-year-old Hungarian singer Nyíri Pál, a student of Ludovika Stark, as first bass voice.

„Success of Hungarian Talents Abroad“, 14 June 1927, Budapesti Hírlap

In April 1928 Pesti Hírlap writes: „Once again we can report on the success of a young Hungarian artist abroad.“ The newspaper is full of praise for Nyiri’s performance in the „Marriage of Figaro“ at the Reichenberg Opera and quotes critics‘ comments:

„…avoids all arbitrariness in musical colouring, his declamation is excellent and also polished in form.“

In December 1928 he appeared in the title role in the „Marriage of Figaro“ in Budapest. The newspaper Nemzeti Újsag writes about the performance on 20 December 1928:

„He is of Hungarian descent and lives in Germany…. His appearance, his excellent, clear wording and his good playing style gave him success and recognition.“

Another critic writes:

„…he handles his precious voice very well. Intelligent, musical singer.“

In June 1929 he appeared as Mephisto in Gounod’s „Faust“ at Budapest’s Varosi Színház, of which he was then a member. Another role he sang there was that of Cardinal Brogni in Jacques Fromental Halévy’s opera „The Jewess“.

A month later he took over the title role in the „Barber of Baghdad“ at the Deutsches Theater in Prague as a substitute due to illness.

Photo from the time of the guest performance in Prague, with thanks to Eckhard Jirgens!

A curriculum vitae from the Ministry of Foreign Trade from the time of his later career as a government official states that Nyiri took singing lessons in Paris, Berlin and Rome, and worked as an opera and concert singer in Germany from 1927 to 1938. Presumably around 1929, like so many young artists, he made the decision to go to Berlin.

While in Berlin, he took singing lessons during the day and worked nights cleaning one of the Berlin railway stations to finance his studies (because there was no support from his parents). In Berlin, he met his future wife, dancer Anna Jeanette Weiss, who actually came from Dortmund and worked with Oskar Schlemmer at the Bauhaus and Max Reinhardt in Vienna. Her father was a wealthy businessman and also opposed to her artistic ambitions. The two counted themselves among the artistic Bohéme who rejected everything bourgeois, which went so far that Anna Jeanette initially kept her later marriage a secret from her friends, and a sofa as a wedding gift (the two used the banana boxes customary to students), according to family lore, was rejected as too „bourgeois“!

In 1933, Anna Jeanette Weiss was a member of the travelling ensemble of well-known expressionist director Leopold Jessner, who toured Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain with various plays after the termination of his contract with the theatres of the Staatstheater Berlin because of his Jewish origins. Anna Jeanette Weiss on such tours performed, for instance, in „Nina“ by Bruno Frank.

From the summer of 1932, Nyiri sang the bass voice in the Kardosch Singers and made a significant contribution to the vocal quality of the group with his deep, cultivated bass voice. His comedic and acting talents also received high praise in reviews. The performances of the Kardosch Singers by no means consisted only of „singing“ but, according to all contemporary reports, also included plenty of comedy. For example, the Sächsische Volkszeitung wrote about a concert in December 1934:

In the manner of the Comedian Harmonists, they support their singing, which shows considerable musicality (despite all the nonsense!), with lively facial expressions – above all the hilarious bass singer – and by imitating instruments, so that we sometimes think we hear saxophones and other jazz instruments. Irresistible in their cheerful moods, and doing famously in their vocals, they make the time fly by.“

Unfortunately, we can only hear examples of this, such as the comments interspersed with dry humour in „Wenn der Bobby und die Lisa“ or „In der Nacht, da gib Acht“ or get an idea of it from the few existing photos.

When the Kardosch Singers disbanded in November 1935, Nyiri was already married to Anna Jeanette Weiss: they had exchanged vows in Florence on 30 May 1935. Their address in BERlin was Guentzelstrasse 57. Since his now-wife (known to close relatives as „Aennchen“, otherwise she used her second name Jeanette) was of Jewish origin, the two left Berlin in 1938. Unfortunately, nothing is known about their whereabouts between 1935 and 1938. Unlike Angermann and Coste, Paul von Nyiri does not appear in Berlin address books, radio programmes, concert lists or on records of those years. Nyiri had hoped to find work as a singer in Italy, but did not succeed. The young couple’s despair was apparently so great that they even contemplated suicide because they saw no future for themselves. In the end, however, they fortunately decided to move to Nyiri’s homeland.

There he found employment at the well-known Goldberger textile factory, for which he worked for several years. From 1941 to 1944 he had to do military service in the Hungarian army, details of which are unfortunately not yet known. In 1939 a daughter, Júlia, was born, and in June 1944 a son. Kristóf (or Christoph) was born in the air-raid shelter that Paul von Nyiri had built in the garden of the small house in Rákosliget that the family rented.

Anna Jeanette Nyiri’s father, Josef Weiß, formerly director of the Kiesekamp mill works in Münster, Westphalia, was deported from Berlin to the Lodz ghetto on 1 November 1941 and died either on the transport or in the ghetto.

During the German occupation of Budapest, i.e. after March 1944, Paul von Nyiri was wanted by the Gestapo, presumably because he was one of those Budapest residents who tried to help their Jewish fellow citizens: it is said that he was involved in providing false papers. The family then found shelter for a short time with Endre Nyíri, Paul’s brother, who was an officer in the Hungarian army.

In January 1945, Nyiri was captured as a civilian by the Red Army in the course of the deportations of Hungarian citizens and, like many other Hungarians, was to be deported to the Soviet Union for forced labour. His family did not hear from him for over 4 months, but he managed to escape on the train journey through Romania. His escape was observed by a Russian soldier posted on a wagon, but the soldier, in negligence of his duties, did not shoot at him, as Nyiri later recalled in stories. He made his way back to Budapest on foot. Daughter Júlia recalls how he reappeared one day, emaciated and with a stomach bloated by hunger. Towards the end of the war, the family lived briefly in a small flat at Mogyoródi út 4, as they had had to flee hurriedly from the rented house in Rákosliget. Anna Jeanette Nyiri writes about this time in a letter dated 19 February 1946 to her sister Lore Seelig, who had emigrated to England and with whose family there had been no contact since 1941:

„Where do I begin?

I do not begin. A year ago today we went underground for a long time; what has happened since then and before and during is so gruesome that it should not be told. When I happen to look in the mirror, I am surprised that the features have not fallen out of my face, only down; I still have a complete face, and then I have to shake my head. One day, in January, Durchlaucht disappeared and only came back after 4 1/2 months in a strange way. That was the very hardest time; once I was standing in the snow with the children and the suitcases, within 2 hours I had to get out of the flat, and had no other….

Durchlaucht is a director and partner of a joint-stock company and gives concerts on the side….My wish is to get away from here, and forget an a awful lot of things…“

Anna Jeanette uses „Durchlaucht“ as nickname in that letter when speaking about her husband: a form of address used in the past for members of the nobility. Comparable in English would be the expressions „Mylord“ or „Mylady“.

After his return, Nyiri and some friends had founded a joint-stock company, the Liberté Advertising and Trading Company (Liberté Hirdetővállalat es kereskedelmi RT). The business was located at Andrássy út 27, directly opposite the Opera House:

Andrássy út 27, October 2021

„…is the most elegant shop in B. opposite the opera (books, theatre tickets, advertisements, gramophone, radio etc.), unfortunately we always want to sell it“.
(Anna Jeanette Nyiri to her sister, June 1946)

„I set up a limited company with some friends after my return; it is an advertising office, theatre and concert ticket office, radio and record shop and bookshop.“
(Paul von Nyiri to his sister-in-law, February 1946)

Letterhead of the „Liberté Werbe- und Handelsgesellschaft“ (Liberté advertising and trading company)

Early this year, Nyiri hopes for a possible concert in Vienna in April and the chance to gain a foothold there and expand further. „In this way I will hopefully succeed in getting as far as England“. He also writes: „Our experiences will probably only be able to be recounted orally.“ (Letter to Lore Seelig, February 1946)

In the spring of 1946, hyperinflation reached its peak in Hungary. The Nyiris tell their relatives in England about the impossibility of keeping up with the inflation and of procuring even the most basic provisions. The Seeligs send cigarettes, coffee, cocoa and tea as barter items and sweets and vitamin supplements for the children. The situation is so desperate that Anna Jeanette’s sister and her husband offer to let the Nyiris‘ children come to them. Paul von Nyiri writes in May 1946:

„When I came back a year ago, I started a business venture with some friends, and had inflation not run away from us, it would have secured us a modest but quite carefree existence […]As for me, as I wrote to you, I am again intensively engaged in singing, had a very successful concert in the autumn, am soon to give a recital in Vienna – I am just about to get my passport – and perhaps I shall also succeed in taking part in the Salzburg Festival in the summer. The daily hunt for the millions, i.e., billions already, leaves me little time, of course, to take care of my voice as well, which could be of great harm for the coming season.“

In June, his wife reports to relatives in London that Paul’s business is doing very well, but that the circumstances are so strange that still nothing can be bought.

„As a singer he has great success and will hopefully soon appear in Vienna and Salzburg, he is thought to be the best Lieder singer, and the other day at Schumann’s Dichterliebe (Heine) all the women shed tears – It was incomparable – and I have ordered this Dichterliebe as my funeral song.“

Anna Jeanette Nyiri spent the summer of 1946 with the children in Máriabesnyő, about 1 1/2 hours outside Budapest, which was somewhat of an improvement as there was fresh fruit and milk, but her husband could only visit once a week. About her own state of health, she reports that, to her great dismay, her memory had suffered, which made her very feel distressed and helpless. She writes she weighs only 42 kg.

Paul adds:

Letter from Paul von Nyiri, June 1946. Kindly provided by the Nyíri family.

„Dear Lore, dear Walter and sweet little Julianchen, I add a few lines in all haste to thank you above all for the cigarettes, so far 2×90 and one time 240 have arrived. I am enclosing a newspaper clipping, which your neighbour will be able to translate. My business takes up so much of my time that I can unfortunately practise very little, but I will have to relieve myself of some of my obligations in order to be able to devote all my power to singing. Karl writes that you have to work hard, we always speak of you with full admiration, but I hope that Walter will soon be able to practise his real profession again. Farewell and warmest greetings from your Paul.“

Despite the difficult circumstances, Nyiri gave a whole series of concerts in 1946. In June 1946, the newspaper Dolgozók Világlapja reported:

„Well-known Hungarian bass singer Nyíri Pál, who has not been heard from for many years, has returned to the stage, not abroad, but at home. He can be heard on the open-air stage of the Tiergarten.“

The advertised concert is a performance of Puccini’s „La Bohéme“ on 5 July 1946 on the stage of Budapest’s Tiergarten, in which Nyiri took on the role of Colline.

It seems that history repeats itself: as in the 1920s, Paul von Nyiri tries to fulfil his dream of a singing career against external odds and adversity.

Correspondence between the Nyiris in Budapest and the Seeligs in London now continues in English (and is marked by numerous losses of letters, photographs and parcels). In October Anna Jeanette writes:

Paul is alright, he is preparing his big concert/ see enclosure/ yesterday he sang in the radio /Kodály-songs/, it’s a pity, you could not listen to him“ and Paul adds: „I hope you are alright, do write again, it is so terrible to be in this way segregated“

The large concert mentioned was a recital on 25 November 1946 at the Academy of Music in which he performed songs by Beethoven, Mahler, Wolf, Mussorgsky and Debussy, accompanied by Miklós Lukásc, the former and future director of the Budapest Opera House (Lukász, like Nyiri and Kardos, had lived and worked in Germany before the war).

The short concert review in „Haladás“ of the above-mentioned recital praises Nyiri as a „very serious vocal artist“ who sang the songs of Beethoven, Wolf, Debussy and Mussorgsky vividly and with poetic beauty.

5 Dezember 1946, Haladás

The concert plans for abroad fell through and the business in Andrássy út went bankrupt as a consequence of hyperinflation, and Paul von Nyiri probably had no choice than to bow to economic necessity: in the following years he was responsible in various positions for the Hungarian blast furnace coke supply from Poland and Czechoslovakia. From 1948 onwards, he worked at the Ministry of Foreign Trade in the Main Office for International Relations, but this did not keep him from continuing to perform as a singer whenever possible, though now mainly on the radio.

Radio programme for 28 January 1950. István Kardos accompanies Paul von Nyiri. MTVA Archivum

On 28 January 1950, he was accompanied on the piano at a radio performance by István Kardos, who was working for Hungarian radio at the time.

From a radio programme, 1953

In 1952 Nyiri was transferred to the Artists‘ Ensemble of the Hungarian People’s Army (Magyar Néphadsereg Művészegyüttese), established in 1948/49, to which he belonged as a solo singer until 1956, appearing in numereous performances (to illustrate the troupe’s productivity: the ensemble gave 1000 performances in the first 1500 days of its existence, including many abroad).

At a performance of „Rigoletto“ with the People’s Army Artist Ensemble, 1955.

„Rigoletto“ was the first opera production of the Honvéd Ensemble and was performed in many different cities. The musical director was János Kerekes, who before the war had been a member of the Meistersextett, the „Aryan“ successor group to the Comedian Harmonists, from June to November 1935. However, Kerekes was Jewish, which probably explains why his engagement was only brief! From 1952, he had the artistic direction of the Army Ensemble’s troupe of soloists.

Paul von Nyiri was also involved in the ensemble’s legendary trip to China, which began on 7 September 1956: 217 participants travelled for a fortnight on a chartered train through the Soviet Union to China, where they gave 104 performances in two and a half months and then again needed two weeks for the return journey, arriving back in Budapest at Christmas 1956.

The ensemble’s male chorus consisted of 72 singers, plus several opera singers as soloists (including Paul von Nyiri), a symphony orchestra and a 24-member dance troupe with its own orchestra. The delegation also included political representatives, sinology students as translators, stagehands, an otolaryngologist, journalists, a graphic designer, a ballet mistress and, a stage actor. Filmmakers Miklós Jancsó and Félix Bodrossy were supposed to accompany and document the trip. Shortly before the departure, on 6 September 1956, the male choir of the ensemble gave a concert on the steps of the National Museum, where they performed, among other songs, a composition by Zoltán Kodály dedicated to the choir: a musical setting of the well-known and, for Hungary extremely significant poem „Nemzeti dal“ by Sándor Petőfi, which the poet and revolutionary Petőfi is said to have read out for the first time on those very steps on 15 March 1848. Here is a short video clip of the performance: You get to see Lajos Vass, the conductor of the choir, and Zoltan Kodály.

(The Honved Ensemble’s trip to China is documented in two essays by József Böröcz – his father was involved as artistic director and choreographer of the dance ensemble – which are well worth reading: Performing socialist Hungary in China: ‚modern, Magyar, European‘ and „Kivégeztek bennünket. A Honvéd Együttes ötvenhatos forradalma Kínában“. Böröcz interviewed surviving participants of the journey for this purpose).

Scene from the film by Jancsó and Bodrossy

During the China trip, the artists learned about the Hungarian Uprising in October 1956 and the violent clashes in Budapest that ended with the suppression of the uprising. Political opinions within the troupe varied (with a „Revolutionary Committee“ quickly forming under the leadership of Lajos Vass, as reported by József Böröcz), but all of them naturally shared concern for friends and loved ones and feelings of uncertainty due to the poor information situation. The Chinese hosts offered the ensemble to cancel the trip and go home, but the artists decided to continue the tour. While the ensemble was travelling through China, the uprising in Budapest came to an end, and on 12 November, eight days after the Red Army invaded Hungary, the artistic troupe arrived back in Beijing. Inconveniently, a Soviet circus was accommodated in the same hotel as the Hungarian ensemble, a situation the hotel tried to alleviate by ensuring that both groups were not in the dining area at the same time. In addition, a letter in Hungarian was distributed to all ensemble members „on behalf of all hotel staff“, expressing understanding for their situation. The hotel staff had the delicate task of keeping the Hungarian and Soviet artists away from each other during the one week they had to spend under the same roof in this charged situation. Furthermore, the hotel staff asks the artists from Hungary to „relax“.

However, there was no sign of any „relaxation“: between 13 and 27 November, the ensemble gave 20 performances in the Chinese capital. Presumably on 27 November, Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai visited the weary ensemble behind the stage after the end of the performance and gave a long speech (the statements of the artists interviewed by Böröcz vary between 45 minutes and four hours, where the „four hours“ might rather represent the perceived length! ), at the end of which an exhausted and, like the rest of the troupe, emotional Lajos Vass proposed to respond with a song, and the ensemble sang the musical adaptation of a famous poem by Endre Ady, „Fölszállott a páva“, heard here on an LP release by the choir from 1957.

In the morning of the same day, the Chinese president, Liu Shao-ch’i, had already met with the leaders of the ensemble.

On their way back through the Soviet Union, the troupe was supposed to give a concert in Moscow to demonstrate that Hungarian-Soviet relations were intact, but the artists refused and were only able to depart for their journey back home home after several days.

As a consequence, the Artists‘ ensemble was disbanded in January 1957, allegedly for economic reasons.

In the course of 1957 it was re-established, albeit on a much smaller scale, presumably thanks in part to Zoltan Kodály’s intercession. Paul von Nyiri was again one of the solo singers, but his career now took a new direction and his time with the Honvéd Ensemble was over for the time to come.

Mérleg Kereskedelmi, 1 September 1957

In 1957 he was appointed head of the Hungarian foreign trade mission in Karachi. The fact that he spoke six languages besides Hungarian (German, English, French, Italian, Spanish and Russian) predestined him for diplomatic service.

Appointment as head of the foreign trade office in Karatchi, 17 August 1957. Source: Hungaricana, Hungarian National Archives.

On this occasion, the newspaper Mérleg Kereskedelmi interviewed him, and when asked about his professional past, he replied „with a smile“ that he had two professions, both with an „international dimension“: he had been a singer for 30 years, the last 5 as a solo singer in the army’s artistic ensemble, and had worked in foreign trade since 1948.

The Nyiri family spent the next few years in Asia, first in Karachi, then in Djakarta.

Paul von Nyiri in the centre of the picture

The clippings are from a 1958 issue of The Diplomat magazine and were kindly provided by Joseph Seelig.

Diplomatic reception in Karachi 1958, Anna Jeanette Nyiri in the light-coloured dress
Business card from the time in Djakarta
Paul von Nyiri in the 1960s
With John Steinbeck in Budapest, Hajdú Bihari Napló, 4 December 1963

In the early 1960s, Nyiri was back in Budapest and became head of the department of the Institute for Cultural Relations of the Hungarian government (KKI) there in 1963. In this function, he organised, among other things, the visits of Western artists to Hungary, such as John Steinbeck.

The Nyiris at that time lived in this house in the Rákosliget district.
The nameplate was applied by Paul von Nyiri.

Amazingly, in addition to his work as a government official, he frequently performed at concerts and recitals, for example returning as a soloist with the Hungarian Army Ensemble, which earned him the nickname „the singing diplomat“. Even during his time in Asia, he gave private recitals. His grandson Pál Nyíri remembers reading once in a newspaper article about his grandfather, the „long-haired Hungarian charge-d’affaires“!

After his retirement in 1963 or 64, he was free to devote himself more to singing activities and was regularly involved in summer performances at the Szombathely Festival, where he appeared as Sarastro in the first three years of the Festival. Here are some newspaper reports from the summer of 1965:

At rehearsals, still „in his civilian clothes“: Zalai Hírlap, 20 August 1965
Vas Népe, 15 August 1965
Fejér Megyei Hírlap, 3 August 1965

„Mozart’s Magic Flute“ in Szombathely
For the third time, Mozart’s wonderful opera The Magic Flute will be performed in the Izeum in Szombathely. An outstanding cultural event of this city: timeless melodies resound between the columns of the reconstructed temple of the Egyptian goddess in the interpretation of the artists of the State Opera directed by Klára Huszár.
The work will be shown on 14 and 15 August from 8 pm. The demand grows year by year and lovers of cultural delicacies come not only from different parts of the country, but also from neighbouring Austria and other countries…. The Szombathely Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by András Kórodi
(First Conductor of the Budapest State Opera), and the Erkel Choir and Ballet School will also perform. Rehearsals have already started and some main rehearsals will take place a few days before the performance to ensure a smooth run.
The main roles in the Mozart opera will be sung by Pál Nyíri, Alfonz Bartha, Karola Ágai, Margit László, Kornélia Lorenz, Nóra Svéd, Tibor Nádas, Vali Koltay, László Külkey, Ilona Hankiss and Zsuzsa Barlay.“
(Fejér Megyei Hírlap, 3 August 1965)

A private tape recording, probably from the 1970s. Recordings from Hungarian radio unfortunately cannot be presented here for legal reasons.

He also continued to give recitals, for example on 14 May 1964, together with guitarist László Szendrey-Karper and the well-known pianist Emmi Varasdy. In 1966 he took part as soloist in a concert tour of Mongolia with Emmy Varasdy and the following year of the Soviet Union. Until the 1970s he appeared on Hungarian radio, so that his voice continued to be heard there for more than 50 years.

His nephew Joseph Seelig, who met him in the 1960s, said of his uncle in 2021: „He was fluent in a lot of languages, and my mother told me that he could make good jokes in many of them. He was an elegant, serious man, and very kind. I could sometimes hear him singing lieder and playing the piano in his study.“

Nyiri’s piano in his former study, September 2021.
… and his sheet music
Nyiri’s collection of Kardosch records. Again, apologies for the partly blurred photos. When you suddenly find yourself standing in front of a Kardosch Singer’s collection of records and memorabilia in their former living room, it’s a pretty overwhelming moment.

In the 1960s, Anna Jeanette Nyiri was given back her German citizenship as part of her compensation proceedings, and from then on the couple regularly spent time in West Germany and Berlin. In 1968 they had a flat at Bundesallee 31 in Berlin, just a few steps from their previous home in Guentzelstrasse 57. One cannot help but wonder with what kind of feelings Paul von Nyiri returned to the city over 30 years after his successes with the Kardosch Singers and how he perceived it. From 1972 to 1976, the Nyiris lived for a time in Buchen in the Odenwald region with artist Alexandra Röhl, whom Anna Jeanette Nyiri knew from her Bauhaus days. Paul von Nyiri now also was a German citizen. After Alexandra Röhl’s death in January 1976, the Nyiri’s German adress changed back to Berlin.

Paul von Nyiri’s West German passport
…and his driving licence
Souvenir of a Skat night in Berlin

After a long period of hospitalisation, Paul von Nyiri died one day after his 78th birthday in Budapest of pneumonia, a late consequence of a tuberculosis infection in the 1940s. His wife died in 1991.

Half a year before his death, dedicated to his wife.
The couple’s grave at Új Köztemető (New Cemetery) in Budapest, September 2021.
Új Köztemető at Kozma ut. 8-10.

Their son, Kristóf Nyíri, is a philosopher, daughter Júlia Nyíri a physicist. Her husband was Russian physicist Vladimir Gribov (1930-1997) in whose honour the European Physical Society has awarded the Gribov Medal to young physicists every two years since 2001.

Two of Nyiri’s grandnephews, Paul and Johannes Marsovszky, continue the musical tradition as conductors. The anthropologist and author Pál Nyíri is his grandson.

About the spelling of the name: Paul von Nyiri himself, even in his time as a diplomat, used business cards with the German version of his name printed on them: Paul Alexander Nyiri (without the „von“, of course). Therefore I have decided to use the German version here as well, especially since he later became a German citizen and used his German name in the German-speaking world.

At the top left of this card by Anna Jeanette Nyiri from 1940, the monogram „P v N“


My deepest thanks go to Paul von Nyiri’s daughter, Júlia Nyíri, and to her son, Pál Nyíri, whom I had the privilege of meeting in Budapest. Both of them were an invaluable help to me in working on this biography. I am especially grateful for the generous access to letters, documents and personal recollections they graciously allowed me, and for the photographs I am permitted to use.

I also thank Joseph Seelig, London, for his kind assistance, and the Coste family for the photographs from the Kardosch Singer era.

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