Table Music

János Térey
Play in verse (Magveto), 2008, 193 pages

„A whole sky up there not worth wasting breath on.
A whole sky-nation not worth wasting breath on,
And down below – romantic Budapest.”

In one of his most succesful pieces to date, Térey sets out to revive yet another forgotten genre of Hungarian literature: the „bourgeois play” or „comedy of society” which features the upper class living in wealth and tranquility, removed from the everyday problems of the lower classes, and looking down on them with cold uninterest. And the geography of the Hungarian capital is perfectly apt to this distinction, since the opposition of the wealthy and aristocratic Buda hills on one side of the Danube, and the ever-changing plains of the Pest side where all industry, commerce and the proletariat resides, has been a well-known characteristic of Budapest over the centuries. So it is more than natural that the play of Térey is set in Buda, in a posh gourmet resturant-café called White Box, where a small coterie of the rich and beautiful gather regularly for exquisite meals, fine vine, witty conversations and intricate games of seduction, gossip and deception.

The owner of the place is Győző, the archetype of the „successful man”: shallow, narcissistic and always the center of attention, who never considers anybody’s interest but his own. His friend Kálmán, a traumatologist, is in the middle of a private-life crisis: he is left by his wife, the lawyer Alma after he had an affair with the mediocre opera-diva Delfin when she had a car accident and finished her night on Kálmán’s operating table. Meanwhile Győző hires Alma to be his lawyer, in the hope that it will help him seduce his best firned’s ex-wife, but when Alma finds out that Győző’s papers are in perfect order and everything is impeccable about his business, she realises how boring he is as a personality, and declines his offer. But Győző’s project doesn’t go unnoticed by Mariann, his wife, popping in to the White Box unexpected. Krisztián, the gay interior designer who made the White Box an award-winning place, is suffering from his unrequited love for Kálmán, and the loss of attention from Győző – but it is for him that Delfin confides that she is pregnant, and doesn’t know wether the father is Kálmán or Győző, since she had affairs with both men recently. The opera critic Henrik is not loved by any of them, and he even fails to get his order from the young waiters Roland and Zsuzsi.

All characters speak in a highly elevated, poetical language that at the same time draws from contemporary slang as well as from the usual mannerisms of the „bourgeois-bohémien” class, creating a chamber music of alternating voices, duos, trios and grand ensembles. And the backdrop for this well-tempered flow of conversations in Buda is the constant unrest and rubble of Pest down below: the notorious anti-government riots of 2006 in the streets, and the memory of the catastrophic thunderstorm a few months before on the 20th of August, which ruined the national holiday celebrations and fireworks, causing deaths in the fleeing crowd and driving Delfin into her life-changing car accident.

Térey is one of the few Hungarian authors who are willing and able to talk about the Hungarian realities of the present day: to tackle it’s most urging problems, and to investigate characters that appeared in the last few decades of our newly-founded capitalism and disfunctional democracy. The play Table Music is regarded as one of the most important pieces of the revival of Hungarian playwriting in the recent years, and has been awarded Best Play of the Year by the Theatre Critics’ Guild in 2008, when it was also awarded the prestigious Aegon Prize too.

Video on the threatre production at Radnóti Theatre, Budapest



• Excerpt from Table Music in English
• Complete text of Table Music in German



„János Térey is one of our most important contemporary poets. And now, we have to count him as such among our playwrights too. […] It was not without reason that everyone thought it would be the form of a big novel which would be most appropriate to give an aesthetic interpretation of our decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Well, this time, instead of a big novel, we happen to have a stage play. A big one.”
Tamás Halmai, Kritika Online

„That Térey’s bourgeois play Table Music is good / is of high standards / exceptional etc. is already written everywhere. […] Yes, the city is full of Győzős, Delfins and Almas, and it is this recognition that makes the play so easy to access, while their elevated language distills them into literary heroes who happen to live among us, who happen to live our own lives, here in the Budapest of the years 2000. That’s why I regard the work of Térey really outstanding: he »brought down« the dramatic poem, the lyrical diction to the level of common undertanding in a way that it still remains high-brow literature.”
Könyves Blog

In this work, Térey used as his base the genre of the conversational play, the bourgeois parlour drama (intrigue, gossip and adultery, all served in the most refined, elegant – i.e., the most vicious – fashion possible). The added twist is that the heroes of the play speak throughout in the rhythmical verse of the choruses in ancient Greek tragedies. With this unique switch in wavelength, their diction gains a permanently elevated quality and seems to hover high over the level of the ordinary spoken tongue. (A similar instance is T. S. Eliot’s bitter-sharp verse drama The Coctail Party, set in a similar milieu.) This refined, stylised register gives the speeches a distanced and yet familiar timbre and functions simultaneously as a magnifying glass, making the reader re-think what we actually mean by realism. (Or, to refer to the deftly played Puccini motif which makes its appearance on many excellently timed occasions throughout the play, what is there to expect from abstract verismo?)”
János Szegő, Magyar Narancs (Read the whole review in English at HLO.HU)


János Térey was born in Debrecen in 1970, and graduated in Hungarian Literature and Linguistics from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest in 1996. In 1997–98 he worked as editor for Cosmopolitan, ever since he has been a freelance writer. He has twelve volumes to date, most of them poetry, with one volume of fiction and, lately, several verse novels and dramatic poems. Térey is arguably the most prolific and dynamic creative artist in Hungarian literature today. His energy and drive have repeatedly proved able to bring up to date and breathe new life into poetic genres that were forgotten and believed dead. More on the author

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