For most of her professional career Janka Szendrei has been associated with the internationally acclaimed choral group Schola Hungarica. Along with László Dobszay, who co-directs the ensemble with her, she has led Schola Hungarica in countless concerts and on numerous recordings. Szendrei is also a musicologist and leading authority on both folk music, particularly from Hungary, and plainchant. Relative to the latter genre, she has done extensive research in codicology and paleography, and written two highly regarded works on the subjects, Notated Sources in Medieval Hungary (1981) and Medieval Notation Systems in Hungary (1984). She has also written numerous other works and scholarly papers on folk music, plainchant, Roman Catholic hymnology, and various other musical and religious subjects. Szendrei has been active as a teacher, serving on the faculty of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest since the early '70s. She is also on the staff of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences' Institute for Musicology. Not surprisingly, Szendrei's repertory includes much chant, hymns, and folk music, the bulk from anonymous sources of course, but with a significant portion from J.S. Bach, Palestrina, Dufay, Bartók, and others. Her recordings are available from Hungaroton, Harmonia Mundi, Naxos, and Budapest Music Center.
Janka Szendrei was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1938. She studied choral conducting and musicology at the Franz Liszt Academy and developed an early interest in folk and sacred music. In 1970 she co-founded, along with László Dobszay and Benjamin Rajeczky, the Schola Hungarica, a Budapest-based choral ensemble consisting of male, female, and child singers. Joining the faculty of the Franz Liszt Academy in the early '70s, she initially began teaching folk music studies, and then later on paleography. In 1991 she joined the church music department at the Liszt Academy as an instructor in Gregorian chant. She was made professor in Gregorian chant in 1997 and in 2000 was appointed chair of the church music department, a post she still holds.
Szendrei's career as a choral conductor similarly evolved as the Schola Hungarica drew greater notice. By the 1980s Szendrei, Dobszay, and the Schola Hungarica were internationally recognized, not least because their acclaimed six-volume recording series, Gregorian chants from Hungary, issued on black disc from 1979-1981 on Hungaroton Records (a seventh volume was issued on CD in 1999). Among Szendrei's more important chant recordings with the Schola Hungarica is the 2010 CD Ambrosian Chants for Epiphany, on the BMC label.