East and West

Address by Zoltán Kodály 

 (It was given at the IFMC (International Folk Music Council) conference in Jerusalem, in August 1963. Kodály, who was President of the IFMC from 1961.)

When I was asked to give an introductory address at the opening session, the first question that came to my mind was: How to define East and West? A geographical definition is inadequate in relation to music. Tokyo, for instance, has six orchestras, all playing European music, while New York has only one.

In respect of moral view-points we could consider as Western all those people who accept the Bible as their moral basis. As the Bible springs from the soil on which we are now standing, we can say we are in the centre of the West. The whole of Western civilisation is founded upon the Bible, but in spite of the many million copies which are read in 300 languages all over the world, and the fact that its principles are, more or less, followed, there are also valuable moral principles in Eastern philosophy.

It is reasonable to ask if we can distinguish East from West according to their musical systems, but of these there are many more than two, and certain nations use two or more systems together. Thus in Hungary the pentatonic system, preserved in a wealth of songs of great antiquity, is still alive and melted down into a symbiosis with other systems — in art-music even with the most modern of techniques.

In most phenomena of life we notice a mixture of elements derived from different people or races. When I saw Epstein’s collection of Negro sculptures in London in 1960, I recognised the source of his later works, and they also reminded me of Picasso. Social dances all over the civilised world are more or less of Negro origin. Jazz elements intrude into even the higher forms of music.

When we come to folk song we may incidentally observe that the Journal of the International Folk Music Council is truly international in scope and that the purpose of the IFMC is to study the folk music of every people. The study of folklore in the field of music is gradually changing into ethnomusicology, a subject which deals almost exclusively with exotic kinds of music — especially in those countries where the indigenous folklore, if existing at all, offers relatively little material for observation.

It was a Frenchman, Montaigne, who first emphasised that true poetry remains poetry even if made by cannibals. That was the beginning of a growing interest for the exotic, which found expression with Goethe in his “West-Östlicher Divan”, “Chinesische Tageszeiten” and his general idea of a Weltliteratur.

More or less casual attempts to use exotic motives in their music had been made by Mozart, Weber, Purcell (“Chinese music”, “Fairy Queen”) and Marcello (“Jewish music”), etc., but it was the French who went furthest in this direction, e.g. Saint-Saëns, etc.

The exotic music heard at the Paris Exposition of 1900 fascinated, among others, Debussy who was also enchanted by Spanish, and Russian music. Nevertheless, in spite of alien influences, Debussy, nourished by native music of an earlier time such as that of Couperin and Rameau, maintained a distinctively French originality. When we in Hungary discovered the oldest layer of our traditional

songs, which we then tried to incorporate into higher forms of art, was it an influence from the East? It was not an influence imported from afar but one which had remained alive with the people for 1500 years. This element went back to the first migration of our ancestors from their original home, and was related to Chinese music. In Hungarian music, then, we find how East and West are living together.

As to the situation of music and its public in the far East, we can read interesting reports in the Journal of the IFMC from the Conference of 1962. Although European music is spreading quickly, at the expense of native music, the chief hindrance to its understanding seems to be the general lack of harmonic and polyphonic feeling, for all Oriental music is strictly monophonic. As European polyphony is hardly a thousand years old, it does not easily come to terms with

the different kinds of native melody. Many oriental composers, however, are trying to suit their melodies with satisfactory harmonies, and to develop a polyphony agreeable to their own monophonic practice. For instance, the Japanese have produced many interesting examples of such “symbiosis”. To go further in this direction would greatly facilitate mutual understanding.

Mr. Daniélou2 emphasises that exclusively occidental “grand art” is in fact unknown in Europe:

“L’héritage culturel de l’humanité est devenu un héritage commun et la préservation des monuments de l’architecture égyptienne ou des chefs d’oeuvre de la musique japonaise ou indonésienne nous interessent autant que les Japonais, les Egyptiens ou les Indonesiens. Si cet intéret ne se manifeste pas d’une maniere positive sur le plan international, il apparaît dans les pays concernés que ces monuments sont sans importance et ils sont alors voués, a plus ou moins bref delai, a la destruction.”

(The cultural heritage of the humanity bacame our common heritage, and preservation of the monuments of Egyptian architect is intresting to us just like the main works of Japonese, Egyptian or Indonasian music as they are intresting to the Japonese, Egyptian or Indonasian peoples. If this interest is not manifested internationally in a positive way, it could have the appearence in those countries that these monuments has no importance, and, it could cause their slower or faster destruction.)

On the other hand there is a danger lest people should lose their own individuality. The Hungarian peasant hears on his radio a lot of foreign music including much that is exotic; he reads in his newspaper of political events, and the troubles of people of whom he has never heard before; he learns the names of their leaders and their enemies. In brief, he lives the life of the whole globe. It is, perhaps, a rather dizzy life. Is it not time to bear in mind Yehudi Menuhin’s warning, sent to the Congress of Rome:

“Unless the modern man can develop simultaneously a strong and healthy relationship with his own family, his own people, his own 2Daniélou, Alain (1907-1994): French ethnomusicologist. Between 1963-75 he was the director of the International Institute for Comparative Musicology. He was an expert of the music of India

and other Asian traditions. (Ed.) background, his own language, music, dance, and cultivate the abstractions and idioms of his own age, he will never be a balanced human being but will remain for ever dazed and confused, a prey to passion and prejudice, in the face of the jungle-onslaught of modern life.”

National pride, government schools, national radio and TV must foster to their maximum capacity the arts and crafts, the lore and wisdom of an inherited past. These must constitute the recognisable character of the people.

„For I have no doubt but that beyond this explosive phase of mankind’s evolution there lies a more harmonious one when each human voice will have something special and important to say, when express its owner’s personality, his feelings and thoughts.

For that day and on trust we must preserve and restore every value and every art which brings dignity, nobility and serenity to the human being.”

Reprinted from The Journal of the International Folk Music Council,

Vol. XVI., 1964.

(IKS Bulletin, Vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 52-54, 1997)


See also from the past:

Between East and West ( In: IVÁN BALASSA–GYULA ORTUTAY: HUNGARIAN ETHNOGRAPHY AND FOLKLORE. IV. The Past and Future of Hungarian Folk Culture)