{7.} I.
The Specific Conditions of Hungarian Musical Development

It was at the end of the ninth century that the Hungarian people came to settle down on the territory of the Hungary of today. The country of origin of the Hungarian people is supposed by historians and linguists to have been in the regions of the Ural mountains, and it is maintained that the Magyar people originated from the intermingling of Finno-Ugrian and East Turkish elements in the period between the fifth and the eighth centuries in Eastern Europe.

Hungarian musicology, almost from the very beginning, but especially in the course of the twentieth century, was much interested in the problem of whether or not traces of the Eastern origin of the Hungarian people could be found in Hungarian folk music. When the Magyars appeared on the scene of European history they had a tribal constitution. From this time various popular traditions were preserved for a long time while the language was being united and class differentiations took place.

The picture of the musical “country of origin” is of course far from clear. It seems that the Turkish-Mongolian on the one hand, and the Finno-Ugrian traditions on the other, are preserved in the most ancient Hungarian folk music (pentatonic and pentachord styles), but these elements, for the time being, cannot be attached to certain, definite national or linguistic groups. The five-tone scale, and a certain principle of construction consisting in repeating a given phrase a fifth lower, and, in addition, some melodic, rhythmical and ornamental peculiarities, clearly show on the map of Eurasia the movements of Turkish peoples from the East to the West at the time of the migration of the peoples in the fourth century. This is the specific, the Central Asian pentatonic stlye, {8.} always and everwhere following all great ancient cultures. There are melodies, the variations of which are traceable with equal authenticity to villages of Transdanubia, Northern Hungary and Transylvania, of the Cheremis (Mari) along the Volga and of the Chuvash peoples, the West-Asian Kalmyks and the Mongols of Inner Asia, and even among some peoples of China. A dirge, that is sung by the Hungarian people almost in the same form as by the Siberian Ostyaks and Voguls (Chantis and Manyshis), the common types of Nogai Tatarian, Anatolian Turkish and Bashkirian melodies, are evidence that Asian memories slumber in the depths of Hungarian folk music and that this folk music is the last Western link in the chain of ancient Eastern cultural relations. The old Magyars, at the time of the original settlement, had already reached the phase of disintegration of the ancient tribal constitution they were characterized by a roughly homogeneous popular culture, brought along from the times of primitive community. This culture, just as the melodic world that had preserved it, remained for a long time apart from the forms of European life. One of the most valuable treasures left to us from this very period – ancient Hungarian folk music – is indeed the basic and vital element in the course of the whole development of Hungarian music, constituting at the same time a constantly developing and formative tradition. Every experiment, made from Hungarian antedecents and on Hungarian soil, to create a conscious musical culture (music written by composers, as different from folk music), had instinctively or consciously striven to develop widely and universally the musical world of the folk song. Folk poetry and folk music were deeply imbedded in the collective Hungarian people’s culture, and this unity did not cease to be effective even when it was given from and expression by individual creative artists, performers and poets.

In the developing class society the continuity of this tradition was not always smooth. The upper classes had more contact with Western culture, learned more from it, and in their lives had assigned an ever growing part to European forms, loosening continually what survived of their connections with the people, that was at the same time the memory of their life of old. The majority of the people, however, living in a more oppressed and isolated condition, {9.} preserved, and even developed (in the new folk song) the ancient Hungarian melodic world. They absorbed and transformed according to this tradition everything that was undertaken around them in the way of “composed music” or literary experiments. This is how the Magyars of the villages, the peasant class, have preserved up to today the most important musical treasures of ancient Hungarian culture. To disentagle and to free Hungarian folk music from these forced class restrictions, to return it to the community, to the people representing the nation: such has been the epoch-making mission of the twentieth-century masters of Hungarian music.

The history of Hungarian “composed music” mirrors, as mentioned above, two always recurring processes. The one, the attempt to fight with and to be reconciled to Western forms; and the other to free itself from the music-making of the people and thus to create an individualistic art, even though with certain ties to the people’s music. This double tendency may be recognized also in the musical history of other nations, but the importance of “composed music” tradition was never as accentuated in Hungary as it was in the West. There court and minstrel poetry could hand down its tradition to bourgeois musical culture, to the musicians of the towns, to the church musicians, guilds and chapters – whereas folk poetry could bequeath its riches in the course of natural development to the representatives of the rising musical culture. “Schools”, groups, circles and trends were soon formed there with different tendencies, around a cathedral or a princely court, around a master, an academy or urban institution. A new music of national character developed out of liturgical music (descant, motet), and the popular secular song found more qualified adapters. Mutually elaborated and achieved results, forms, and technical novelties were taken over by one group after another. Art in the West soon became the “business of the public” – the problem, honour and pride of towns, schools, cathedrals and residences. Although there was a specific urban culture beginning to be formed in Hungary in the Middle Ages, this development came to a stop because of the Turkish occupation, declining feudalism and the semi-colonial state of the country – and in consequence of the increasingly oppressive and close connection of Hungary {10.} since the sixteenth century with the Habsburg monarchy. Thus urban culture, with a few exceptions (Transylvania, Transdanubia), assumed a foreign character. The border towns copied the musical life of German centres, the residences of Hungarian aristocracy imported their musicians from abroad, and the Hungarian country towns did not bother at all with the problems of music. They regarded the clumsy, unrefined music-making of peasants, appearing at times within their walls, with complete indifference, and rather hindered than assisted or maintained it. This state of affairs which lasted until the nineteenth century succeeded in breaking through the age-old dividing walls and in engulfing the towns of German cultural aspirations in the stream of the new, rising and swelling Hungarian musical life. This was a typical expression of the so-called reform period (1825–1840), a movement for bourgeois liberty and national independence.

As long as there was no bourgeois culture strong enough for the development of an uninterrupted, intensive musical cultural tradition, people’s culture had to undertake the part of uniting and preserving: it stood visibly and invisibly behind every great artistic effort. It vitalized the music of Tinódi in the sixteenth, and the songs of the “Kuruc” insurrectionists againts Habsburg oppression in the eighteenth centuries, the choir movement in the colleges, and the developing “verbunkos” (recruiting dances), and was strong enough in the nineteenth century to inspire our national romanticism, and finally in the twentieth century, to renew and recreate our entire musical culture in all its richness, as demonastrated by our great masters.