From the website of the LA Phil:
“…In 1907, Kodály was off to Paris and to the discovery of a wholly new and different musical world than the one in which he had become immersed. The sophisticated Impressionism of Debussy provided the Magyar-saturated composer with precisely the stimulation he needed. The influence on Kodály of the French composer’s aural imagery was vastly important (as it was on Bartók when the missionary returned to Budapest with some of Debussy’s scores). It is indeed the assimilation of various traditions that we find arresting in Kodály’s music. The suite which the composer derived from his 1926 comic opera, Háry János, illustrates the ease with which he was able to paint in Impressionistic orchestral colors the comedic tale of a Don Quixote, Hungarian style.
Háry’s exploits are wondrously fantastic. (From arts.ucdavis.edu: The orchestral sneeze at the beginning indicates, by Hungarian tradition, that one is to take the ridiculous tale that follows with a grain of salt.) The Empress Marie Louise, wife of Napoleon, falls in love with Háry and takes him to Vienna. Napoleon’s minister, himself in love with Marie Louise, declares war on Austria. Háry single-handedly defeats the armies of Napoleon; Marie Louise remains his love slave. However, realizing that he can find happiness only with his village sweetheart, Orzse, who has come to Vienna to be with him, Háry dismisses the Empress.
Kodály evaluates the incorrigible dreamer this way: “Háry’s stories are not true, but that is unimportant. They are expressions of the beauty of his fantasy which builds for himself and for others an artistic and absorbing world of the imagination. We all dream of impossible deeds of glory and grandeur, only we lack the naive courage of Háry and dare not reveal them. A deeper significance is given to the story by regarding Háry as symbolic of the Hungarian nation, whose strivings and ambitions can be fulfilled only in dreams.” How sad that Kodály did not live to see his country gain its freedom after so many years of subjugation.”