What you wanted to know about Hungarian Folk Music, Instruments and Dance but were afraid to ask….

“Amazing Hungarian folk music”

I hope, you have some experiences about us, Hungarians, about our culture, do’nt you? Now I would like to enlighten you in a little part of it, now I will speak about Hungarian Folk Music – and about it’s links.

Indeed, we are a unique and interesting nation. We like to amuse ourselves, eat good foods, drink some spirits, pálinka, or vine, dance, sing, so as you know: our folk art is nice and there are great diversity in it. So we seems to be a happy nation….

Folk music evolves and changes together with the language. A nation’s linguistic phenomena is also present in its music. Hungarian language has a falling/descending intonation in most cases. The first syllable of a word is always stressed, the end being pronounced somewhat lower, without stress.

It is the same with our music. Our songs generally end on the lowest or second lowest note of the tone set. Our so-called “descending songs”, which have a descending melodic line throughout, are very significant. Inspite of it: we have other melodic lines in our folksongs. But the end of a song is always in deep, in a low pitch.

What is folk music? What is folk music in Hungary?

It is a binominal word, it consists of two parts:

What is music: who knows? What we learn at Music Academy? It is something what we hear…. Music is an art form, whose medium is sound, organized in time. Common elements of music are pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture.

We have to speak about classical music (with curch music), popular music (with classical jazz) and folk music (with traditional and tribal music).

What is folk: people in a country, they speak the same language – on the one hand. The object of antropology or ethnography… on the other hand.

What is folk music?

The International Folk music Council (founded in 1947) (present name is International Council of Traditional Music - Kodaly was it’s president since 1961 until his death) attempted at its congress in Sao Paolo (1955) to give a definiton that would meet the needs of its international membership as follows:

Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of transmisson. The factors that shape the tradition are:

continuity that links the present with the past – from one generation to the next

variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group, birth of individual, but generally accepted new forms

selection by the community which determines the form or forms in which the music survives. It is the survival of accepted forms. (Simply: The best form will survive…)

They spread without being written down or recorded.

Béla Bartók 1924:

The term „Peasant music” connotes broadly speaking, all the tunes which endure among the peasant class of any nation, in more or less wide area and for a - more or less long period, and constitute a spontaneous expression of the musical feeling of that class. (The very definiton of peasant music is elastic.)

It should be admitted, that practically every recent European peasant music known today arose under the influence of some kind of „national” or „popular” art music.

Taken in a narrower sense, the term: peasant music connotes the totality of the peasant tunes exemplifying one or several more or less homogenous styles. So that in this narrower sense, peasant music is the outcome of changes written by a natural force whose operation is unconscious, it is impulsively created by a community of people who have had no schooling, it is as much a natural product as are the various forms of animal and vegetable life. For this reason, the individuals of which it consists – the single tunes – are so many examples of high artistic perfection. In their small way, they are as perfect as the grandest masterpieces of musical art - it was told by Béla Bartók.

Kodály’s definition: What people sing.

His saying: “an organ with a hundred voices” there are songs to „pain”, to „happyness”…. and all of human feelings

Szendrei Janka, contemporary ethnomuzikologist: the art of the Hungarian village inhabitants, the peasant’s.

Mark Slobin professor of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, USA tells that we can not add a correct definition to folk music. „We recognize when we hear…”

But if we summerize the definitions: something old, something from the villages, something poor, simple, not a modern one…

About Hungarian folk music

The folklor of a country describes the history of the nation always.

About our history.

If we want to understand the history of our folklore, our culture, we have to speak about our history. The politics extremaly influenced it.

If we speak about Hungarian folk music, we shoud not think only the nowadays Hungarian area. We are surrounded by ourselves, Hungarians live in Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia… beyond our borders.

What is Hungarian language territory? Hungarian diaspora?

Our 20th century history in a nutshell:

1920: The Trianon Treaty reduced Hungary's area by two thirds and the population by one third. Since then, considerable Hungarian minorities lived in the neighbouring countries.

And three important dates at our history:

1956: A revolution against Stalinism. The uprising was defeated by Soviet troops. The prime minister, János Kádár, who acquired power with their assistance, promised democratic socialism; in the meantime, retaliation and executions started.

1990: The Communist party voluntarily gave up its autocracy. A multi-party parliamentary democracy came into being in the country. The Soviet army left Hungary.

2004: we connected/joined to the European Union.

Bartók has divided the Hungarian-speaking areas into four big parts, based on the characteristics of folk music melodies, found there: Transdanubia (Dunántúl), Highlands (Felföld), Great plain (Alföld) and Transylvania (Erdély). To these four, a fifth one, Moldova was later added.

The history of collection of folk songs

It started exactly with the geniuos invention of Thomas Alva Edison, the phonograph.

This device was invented in 1877 for the mechanical recording and reproduction of sound. In its later forms it is also called a gramophone (as a trademark since 1887, as a generic name since c. 1900).

Edison lived in NJ, in West Orange. The Memorial park now is similar to its original situation, like Edison just passed away. The conditions are the same what Edison left. Edison has a great deal of inventions: the electric bulb, the first film studio: Black Mary etc. His nice saying: „I have 1000 inventions, but the phonograph is my baby…”

Jesse Walter Fewkes (1850 – 1930) was an American anthropologist, archaeologist, writer and naturalist. He was the very first who used the phonograph for folk song collection, in Canada and the USA. He tested its use among the Passamaquoddy in Maine, before traveling to the Southwest to make his recordings of the Zuni (1890) and Hopi (1891) indians.

In Europe the very first user was a Hungarian scientist: Béla Vikár. He was ethnograph, litterateur and translater.

Zoltán Kodály’s activity as ethnomusicologist developed parallel to his work as a composer, and fertilized it from 1905 onwards. Later folk music achieved an eminent place in Kodály’s music pedagogical concept as well.

His first folksong collecting tours led him to the Galanta region (North-West Hungary, today in Slovakia) where he spent his childhood, and where he received his first unconscious but deep impressions in folk music. He collected in all 5100 songs in his life.

 Béla Bartók also became interested in folk music collection one year later, in 1906. They shared the tasks; Kodály mostly collected songs at the northern part of the Hungarian language territory, but he also went to Transylvania after 1910. During the work they recognized the importance of comparative research of folk traditions: in connection with the neighbouring peoples’ folk music the recognition of the differences was important. He collected about in all 3000 songs.

The two composer-ethnomusicologists published a little collection of folksong arrangements with piano accompaniment to popularize the peasant songs among musically educated people in 1906. It was the Hungarian Folk Songs.

Bartók realized that Hungarian folk songs have almost always four lines, exeptions force the rule…

Hungarian folk song is always homophonic. The instrumental accompaniment can be poliphonyc, of course.

And some years after the first trips, Bartók realized, that there ara some differences betveen folk songs. He could have seen two important genres.

In our dances the most important question: where is the accent/beat/emphasis?

In a 4/4 metre (common metre),  the position of accent is on the 1. and the 3. quarter/crochet.

Institute for Musicology of Hungarian Academy of Sciences ownes our folk music collection. This time we have a great treasury, the duration of our collection is about 15-16.000 hours. It would take 2 years to listen continuously.

One of the foundations of the research centre was built on the Academy’s commission to Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály to systematize and publish the Hungarian folksongs (1934-1940). Their folk music collections constitute the basis of the gradually expanding stock of tapes and transcriptions whose archiving, enlarging and systematizing have remained the decisive duty. In 1933, the leaders of the Academy contracted Kodály and Bartók to prepare a collection of Hungarian folksongs covering the entire Hungarian-speaking territory. Bartók's job was to prepare the folksong collection for publication, Kodály's was to explore comparative sources of folk music materials in libraries and archives.

Bartók’s System

Bartók has collected about 3000 songs in his life. Kodály about 5100 pieces.

In 1934 Béla Bartók started to work officially at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on the revision of folksong transcriptions and the systematization of the collection. (He finished teaching at Music Academy.) Kodály undertook the search for historical materials and manuscripts in archives and libraries. This fact well demonstrates the difference between their personalities as researchers. In general, Bartók extended his interest geographically towards other nations’ folk music, while Kodály wanted to give a historical perspective to the roots of Hungarian folk music. His fundamental study on Hungarian Folk Music was published in 1937. In this book he presented a wide scope of the topic based on material collected by himself and other co-workers and he placed Hungarian folk music in historical and international contexts.

Bartók revised the material recorded by the phonograph and arranged the collection according to the system he elaborated in his book Hungarian Folk Song in 1924. He had Polish, Rhutenian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian publications copied. "I work 10 hours a day, on folk music material only, but I should work 20 hours to make some progress. I should like so much to finish this work before the global disaster looming large hits! At the current pace, it will take me several more years." He pondered much about the questions of systematization, the arrangement of over ten thousand items within a single system, the need for the system to express the special characteristics of the material and to include tune variants as close together as possible. In early October 1940, on the eve of his emigration, he gave over the collection to Kodály. This numbered collection of 13,500 items closed in 1939 is called the Bartók System. (Bartók, Complete)

The main characters of Bartók system:
A class, old style: descending melody line, pentatonic scale, 5th changing structure A5A5AA

B class, new style: repriz, architectoning, returning structure AA5A5A, ABBA, AABA, only two types of melody lines, wildes compass, more syllables in each lines

C class, mixed class: everything what we can not put to the first two classes…

It is a closed system, the songs are numbered.

Kodály’s System

After Bartók’s emigration (1940) Kodály continued the work at the Academy of Sciences. He found co-workers to prepare the Complete Edition of Hungarian Folk Music (Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae), and the first volume, Children’s Games, was already published in 1951. The Preface was written for this as well as for further volumes until 1967 by Zoltán Kodály. The Folk Music Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences was officially founded in 1953. From 1951, in the frame of the Department of Musicology at the Academy of Music would-be ethnomusicologists were trained under the leadership of Kodály. The name of this institute now is: The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Research Centre for the Humanities, Institute for Musicology

Some years later a good musical classification system had to be worked out. A useful example was found in the melody ordering of the Finnish ethnomusicologist, Ilmari Krohn.

What Kodály had undertaken – the elaboration of 19th century printed and manuscript sources – was still unfinished when Bartók left. Therefore, the Bartók System could not include those tunes. For this task Kodály had gone through the music collections of Széchényi Library, the Music Academy, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian State Opera. He had studied over six hundred sources. Kodály later arranged the songs, copied from these sources in his own system. Kodály classified/cathegorised the folk song material by the line ending notes (cadenses). Cadences: three numbers, denoting the difference between the final note of each line and the final note of the last line (key-note). There is no need to indicate the cadence of the last line since it is always 1. EG.: 7 (5) b3

Unlike the Bartók System, the Kodály System was not a closed entity, hence all new collections were arranged in it till 1958. Then the System contained some 28 thousand items.

Járdányi’s System

The fundamental job is the publication of the Hungarian folk music collection arranged by musical principles as the basic source (CMPH: Collection of Hungarian Folk Music). It was established and edited by Bartók and kodály.

Between 1951 and 1966 five volumes of tunes related to calendar customs and the major events in human life were completed. From volume VI, strophic songs have been presented under the title Folksong Types. The musical principles of arrangement were worked out by Pál Járdányi, the methodology of edition and its practical solutions were elaborated by Imre Olsvai as presented in volumes VI and VII. Now we have 10 books, the last one was issued in 1997.

The Hungarian Academy started to public a new series. The name of it was CMPH = Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae — Collection of Hungarian folk music - A Magyar Népzene Tára (established by Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály). (Bartók died in 1945!!)

They started it with songs for an event, or occassion.

I. Gyermekjátékok [Children’s Games]. 1951

II. Jeles napok [Calendar Days – Popular/peasant customes]. 1953.

IIIA/B Lakodalom [Wedding]. 1955/1956.

IV. Párosítók [Coupling Songs]. 1959.

V. Siratók — Laments. 1966.

In 1958 a group of music scholars headed by Pál Járdányi joined forces to work out new principles for the systematization of the by then immense strophic folksong stock to be used as guidelines for the volumes of folksong-types within Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae. In English:

Collection/library of Hungarian Folk Music

(Earlier, Járdányi carried out the musical arrangement of the tunes of children's games and the match-making songs, and his contribution was the musical order of the laments as well.) Járdányi classified the stylistic traits principally on the basis of the melodic contour of strophic folksongs and the cross-references of the height of each line. His new system is based on the two principal layers of Hungarian folk music, represented by old- and new-style tunes. The former is characterized primarily by the first tune-section beginning higher than the closing one; tunes of the new style, on the other hand, have identical first and last sections. (The tunes where the first melodic section is lower than the last are not typical of Hungarian folk music, but are borrowed from art music, or imported from foreign areas.)

The basical segment of Járdányi’s system is the type. The types of folk songs.

The first version of the Járdányi System was completed in 1960 and used in the two volumes of Magyar Népdaltípusok [Types of Hungarian folksongs]. It was elaborated on the basis of some 60,000 tunes. In the following years the number of tunes rose considerably, which prompted Járdányi to develop his system further. He presented the modified system of nearly 100,000 tunes at the Pozsony [Bratislava] conference of the Study Group of Analysis and Systematization of IFMC in September 1965. Járdányi passed away in 1966, 50 years ago, when he was only 46… This year we are organizing a conference for the memory of this great scientist, composer, violin artist.

7 years later the MTA started to issue the real folk songs after the system of Járdányi Pál. It is a type system. (Collection of Hungarian Folk Music)

VI. Népdaltípusok 1. — Types of Folksongs 1. 1973.

VII. Népdaltípusok 2. — Types of Folksongs 2. Járdányi Pál rendszerében szerkesztette — in the system of Pál Járdányi ed. by Imre Olsvai. 1987.

VIIIA/B. Népdaltípusok 3. — Types of Folksongs 3. 1992.

IX. Népdaltípusok 4. — Types of Folksongs 4. 1995.

X. Népdaltípusok 5. — Types of Folksongs 5. 1997.

Since this time they have not issued any books.

Stylistic order (Szendrei—Dobszay)

In 1975-78 Janka Szendrei and László Dobszay worked out a new system. (Catalogue) The so-called stylistic order abandons systematization by strictly musical principles and arrives “at a classification that heeds many different factors and the relationship between them (particularly if one adds an analysis that extends to the origin, the functional and textual components, and the comparative melodic material)… The blocks of styles are the following:

I. Old layer

1. descending tunes with a quintal-shift structure or other pentatonic melodies, or those derivable from pentatony. Related to this are: l.b. group of descending “shepherd’s songs”, and as an appendix, 1.c. descending, minor, pseudo-folk composed songs. –

2. major, descending tunes with a compass of an octave. –

3. psalmodic and –

4. “lament” style tunes. –

5. The “Rákóczi melodic sphere”, with 16th to 18th century Phrygian melodies as an appendix to it. –

6. bagpipe tunes, swineherd’s dance style, related to this: 6.b. tunes with a “minor quintal-shift structure” and 6.c. tunes descending from the octave, with an AA first half. –

7. tunes with narrow compass (pentachord and hexachord), old style. –

8. tunes with narrow range/compass, new style, and 8.b. plagal types in a similar style. –

9. wide-compass, ascending tunes.

II. 10. the “new-style” of Hungarian folksong.”

Dobszay and Szendrei put the C class of Bartók to the old layer more or less…

There are three important components of folk songs: melody, rhythm and text. In the first two you can find some elements which can be measured (such as tone set, podia, etc). The text determines the performing style….

 Melodic Characteristics:

Range: marking the highest and lowest notes of the song (between which the melody moves)

Tonality: I indicate the tonality using solfa syllables (for pentatonic scales, for example) or if it is diatonic, then with the proper terminology (Dorian, Phrygian, etc.). If the tone set goes at least a third below the key-note of the tonality, then that is a plagal melody, which I will indicate. Where you see no such mark, the tonality is obviously authentic.

Cadences: three numbers, denoting the difference between the final note of each line and the final note of the last line (key-note). There is no need to indicate the cadence of the last line since it is always 1.

Form: we mark the lines by letters. Similarities between lines are marked by numbers in the upper index. A letter v (Av) in the lower index of the letter given for a line means that that line is a variant of the original line. A letter k ( Ak) points out that the similarity only occurs in the cadence, at the end of the line.

Style: it refers to large groups into which songs can be categorized. Usually we differentiate between two large groups: old style Hungarian folk songs (in which there are more stylistic layers) and new style Hungarian folk songs.

Rhythmic Characteristics:

Syllables: I give the number of syllables found in single lines. If there is only one number, it means that the numbers of syllables are the same in every line. But if only one line differs from the rest, I give the number of syllables of each line.

Podia: the number of bars in a line. Isopodic: there are the same number of bars in every line. Below that I refer to the rhythm, whether the song is iso- or heterorhythmic (the rhythm of the lines is the same, or different).

We Hungarians have lot of special instruments.

After the systematization of Sachs and Hornbostel:


Doromb – jews harp


Hosszi furugla - long flute


Köcsögduda - pottery drum


Violin, hammered dulcimer, hurdy gurdy

Hungarian folk dances:

legényes kalotaszegi

According to György Martin, a prominent folklore expert (1931-1980), Hungarian dances have great diversity, too.

Improvisation is often mentioned as being characteristic of Hungarian dance. "The peasant dance is not one which is set absolutely according to rule; the dancer constructs his steps according to his mood and ingenuity." It is very important.

The most important stylistic feature of the dance within the Carpathians is the unusually large amount of personal improvisation. Observers have never failed to notice the individual nature of the Hungarian dance during the previous two centuries. This dancing is individual to such an extent that it is often difficult for scholars to establish the communal laws regulating individual creativity and improvising. Folk dance research has shown that this individuality is not merely poetic licence, but genuine features.

Collections of the Folk Music Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and the national Ethnographic Museum of the State Folk Ensemble cover almost 10,000 dance variations from 700 Hungarian villages. (we have 2800 villages and about 300 cities in Hungary)

Genres of Hungarian Folk dances

Csárdás: The Csárdás is undoubtedly the most popular and important dance in the Hungarian repertoire. It is a par dance, performed by a man and a women. They touch each other, and they rotate about a point. And there are some special figures… Two steps to right, two for left….

New style dances developed in the 18th and 19th centuries is the Hungarian name for the national dances, with Hungarian embroidered costumes and energetic music.

Ugrós (Jumping dances): Old style dances dating back to the Middle Ages.

Solo or couple dances accompanied by old style music, shepherd and other solo man's dances from Transylvania, and marching dances along with remnants of medieval weapon dances belong in this group. This dance has a couple of dance variation. tititá sometimes danced with a stick

Karikázó: a circle dance performed by women only accompanied by singing of folksongs. They are circling together about a point.

Verbunkos: a solo man's dance evolved from the recruiting performances of the Austro-Hungarian army.

The Legényes: is a men's solo dance done by the ethnic Hungarian people living in the Kalotaszeg region of Transylvania. Although usually danced by young men, it can be also danced by older men. The dance is performed freestyle usually by one dancer at a time in front of the band. Women participate in the dance by standing in lines to the side and sing/shout verses while the men dance. Each lad does a number of points (dance phrases) typically 4 to 8 without repetition. Each point consists of 8 metres in 4/4 time signature. The first part is usually the same for everyone (there are only a few variations).

http://www.academia.edu/5676740/The_Hungarian_Dance_House_Movement_and_Revival_of_Transylvanian_String_Band_Music  about the Dance House Method!

On November 12, 2011, ―The Táncház method as a Hungarian model for the transmission of intangible cultural heritage was inscribed in United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)‘s list of ―programmes, projects and activities for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage considered to best reflect the principles and objectives of the convention. So it is part of the best practisies.

What is Táncház? Dance House?

Táncház "dance house") is a "casual" Hungarian folk dance event (as opposed to stage performances). It is an aspect of the Hungarian roots revival of traditional culture which began in the early 1970s, exactly on 6th of May, 1972, in Bp., at a book store, not too far from this place, at this street – at Andrássy street, and remains an active part of the national culture across the country, especially in cities like Budapest. Táncház draws on traditions from across the regions of the Kingdom of Hungary (most notably Transylvania), especially music and dance. The term is derived from a Transylvanian tradition of holding dances at individual's homes.

The táncház traditions were recreated as authentically as possible, a process aided by fairly detailed research on Hungarian culture. The movement is composed of numerous informal groups. Since the 1970s, non-ethnic Hungarians living in Hungary have had their folk traditions treated the same as their Hungarian neighbors. In addition, ethnic Hungarians outside of Hungary, such as those in Transylvania, Slovakia, and in Moldavia, are also celebrated by the táncház movement. Sic/Szék in Romania has three streets: Felszeg, Csipkeszeg and Forrószeg, and each street had their own "táncház". Two of the dance houses have been restored or rebuilt: the dance house of Csipkeszeg is now a museum and in the rebuilt dance house of Forrószeg you can admire the dance house pictures of Korniss Péter, a photographer from Budapest. Every month there is a Hungarian dance house in Sic/Szék organized by the Csipkeszeg Foundation.

There are lots of programs with H dance house all over the world from the USA to Japan, organized by Hungarian dancers and musicians.

The Hungarian folk song is not alive now.

What can we do with it?

Movements: Dance house, Singing circles – women choirs in the villages, with citera. We use it in our education. And there are lot of world music arrangements.

Originally folk songs were not created so that one person could communicate artistic experience to someone else through them. The purpose of their performance was either to express emotions or to serve a practical purpose, for instance people danced to it or listened to it for pleasure. Obviously, nowadays the performance of folk song does not serve this original purpose, since its creative medium, the peasantry or country folk are missing: things are changing. Folk song lives only through us in artificial conditions: in folk song circles, dance hall bands and in the performances of folk musicians who visit schools. It is here that, according to the instructions of Kodály, children become acquainted with and understand musical structures through these performances. The forms, melodies and musical phenomena that had been refined through the centuries touch sensitive people and arouse emotions from them. What has been good enough for others for such a long time must be the best for us also! It is impossible not to like Hungarian folk songs!