Hungarian Folk Music Research



In 1949, an editorial board was set up under Kodály's guidance for the publication of CMPH, (Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae = Collection of Hungarian Folk Songs) later (August 1953) converted into the Folk Music Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The Research Group was independent until 1974, under the leadership of Zoltán Kodály (1953-1967), Benjamin Rajeczky (1967-1969) and Lajos Vargyas (1969-1974). In 1974, the independence of the Group was abolished – for declared scientific reasons, which merely concealed the political reason of branding Kodály's outlook as nationalistic – , and it was merged with the Institute for Musicology of Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Its directors have been József Ujfalussy (1974-1979), Zoltán Falvy (1979-1998), Tibor Tallián (1998-), now Pál Richter.


Scientific work is going on in two sections. The main concerns of the Department of Folk Music (8 associates, including 1 pensioner and 1 administrator) include the critical edition of the folk music stock and the analysis of the collections, apart from individual research work. The Folk Music Archive (6 associates) founded in 1999 deals with transferring the collections on the computer and digitizing the sound material.

The fundamental job is the publication of the Hungarian folk music stock arranged by musical principles as the basic source (CMPH). 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.


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 System

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)

Kodály System

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 the folk song material by the line ending notes. Unlike the Bartók System, the Kodály System was not a closed entity, hence all new collections were arranged in it until 1958. Then the System contained some 28 thousand items.

Bartók and Kodály made their transcriptions in several copies, exchanging them and both forming their collections as they deemed it best.

  Járdányi System

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 CMPH. (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 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.


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: 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 compass, new style, and 8.b. plagal types in a similar style. – 9. wide-compass, ascending tunes. 10. the “new-style” Hungarian folksong.”


    The oldest sound recordings are over a hundred years old. It is, therefore, time to convert the technically outdated recordings (phonograph, X-ray plate, Webster’s magnetic wire) to up-to-date technology. In the same way, the deteriorating magnetic tape recordings must also be conserved. During 1995-97 the change was made from cutting 33 rpm records to CDs to store the magnetic tape recordings. The funds for all this had and have to be raised on a regular competitive basis, since the state subsidies have shrunk.

    In the first period, from the late 19th century collection of Béla Vikár to the 1950s, the sound recordings were preserved at the Ethnographic Museum (some 4500 cylinders with about 200-250 hours of music). The records and metal plates of the Pátria series launched in 1936 are also kept in the Museum. From the 1950s the Folk Music Research Group gradually assumed the role of maintaining a central collection. Until the appearance of portable magnetic tape recorders in 1955, the sound recordings were made by Webster's wire recorder. (Some 150 hours of recording on 255 wire reels.) After collecting, the recorded material was all transferred on single LPs, called the AP record (=Academic Pyral). Only the copy was available to researchers for transcription, no one, not even the collector had access to the original. From the sixties, folk music recordings stored in other institutions were also brought into the Archive: the total phonograph collection of the Ethnographic Museum was copied onto tape, similarly to the authentic recordings possessed by the Radio, recordings by Hungarian folk music researchers abroad, individual collections, etc.

    In 1970, the audio material amounted to some 1700, in 1975 2900, in 1980 3700 magnetic tape reels. The inventory of 1998 registered 6100 tape reels, 275 Webster wire reels, 120 DAT cassettes and 150 video cassettes, which add up to some 10,000 hours of music preserved in climatized storerooms.

    In the 1980s an epochal change took place in technology. Traditional LPs were pushed into the background and begun to be replaced by CDs. AP records stopped being made (we have a total of 9140 APs) and since 1996, the recordings all have been transferred to CDs. Two CD standards exist: audio CD and the wave format used in computer technology. We have chosen the latter.



The central typology (the main corpus of the collection of transcriptions) includes variants of 4600 tune types, excluding the new style tune types. The computer database contains about 90 000 units, i.e. transcribed tunes. The researchers of the Institute participate in the work of systematization by musical types, sorting out the variants and creating new types, subtypes when needed. In recent years revision and rearrangement of the approximately 2500 types of new-style folksongs (about 60 000 units) have been carried out and almost completed.

    Each thematic collection is under the charge of a researcher: the stock of children’s games, that of vocal and instrumental folk customs, the collections of national minorities, and the Finno-Ugrian collection.


    This activity has been going on along several lines for about a decade. The critical source edition (CMPH) aimed at completeness is being continued, the publication of the stylistic order with illustrations of each type (Catalogue) has been begun, as has the release of the Bartók System (Bartók, Complete). The Anthology of Hungarian Folk Music, a series of records and cassettes, presents a scientifically verified selection of original recordings divided into folk music dialects (so far, 4x5 records and 2 sets of cassettes). The multimedia CD entitled Old Hungarian Folksong Types contains “the melodic stock from times prior to the emergence of new-style folksongs." (Not vailable in retail trade.)



     CMPH = Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae — A Magyar Népzene Tára (established by Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály), Budapest.

I. Gyermekjátékok [Children’s Games]. Ed. by György Kerényi. Akadémiai Kiadó, 1951., 21957.

II. Jeles napok [Calendar Days]. Ed. by György Kerényi. Akadémiai Kiadó, 1953.

IIIA/B Lakodalom [Wedding]. Ed. by Lajos Kiss. Akadémiai Kiadó, 1955/1956.

IV. Párosítók [Coupling Songs]. Ed. by György Kerényi. Akadémiai Kiadó, 1959.

V. Siratók — Laments. Eds. Lajos Kiss, Benjamin Rajeczky. Akadémiai Kiadó, 1966.

VI. Népdaltípusok 1. — Types of Folksongs 1. Eds. Pál Járdányi, Imre Olsvai. Akadémiai Kiadó, 1973.

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

VIIIA/B. Népdaltípusok 3. — Types of Folksongs 3. Ed. by Lajos Vargyas. Akadémiai Kiadó — Balassi Kiadó, 1992.

IX. Népdaltípusok 4. — Types of Folksongs 4. Ed. by Mária Domokos. Chief Collaborator Imre Olsvai. Balassi Kiadó, 1995.

X. Népdaltípusok 5. — Types of Folksongs 5. Ed. by Katalin Paksa. Chief Collaborator Imre Olsvai. Balassi Kiadó, 1997.

The record player, phonograph or gramophone was the most common device for playing recorded sound from the late 1870s until the late 1980s.

Thomas Alva Edison conceived the principle of recording and reproducing sound between May and July 1877 as a byproduct of his efforts to "play back" recorded telegraph messages and to automate speech sounds for transmission by telephone. He announced his invention of the first phonograph, a device for recording and replaying sound, on November 21, 1877 (early reports appear in Scientific American and several newspapers in the beginning of November, and an even earlier announcement of Edison working on a 'talking-machine' can be found in the Chicago Daily Tribune on May 9), and he demonstrated the device for the first time on November 29 (it was patented on February 19, 1878 as US Patent 200,521). "In December, 1877, a young man came into the office of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, and placed before the editors a small, simple machine about which very few preliminary remarks were offered. The visitor without any ceremony whatever turned the crank, and to the astonishment of all present the machine said : " Good morning. How do you do? How do you like the phonograph?" The machine thus spoke for itself, and made known the fact that it was the phonograph..."

Edison's early phonographs recorded onto a tinfoil sheet phonograph cylinder using an up-down ("hill-and-dale") motion of the stylus. The tinfoil sheet was wrapped around a grooved cylinder, and the sound was recorded as indentations into the foil. Edison's early patents show that he also considered the idea that sound could be recorded as a spiral onto a disc, but Edison concentrated his efforts on cylinders, since the groove on the outside of a rotating cylinder provides a constant velocity to the stylus in the groove, which Edison considered more "scientifically correct". Edison's patent specified that the audio recording be embossed, and it was not until 1886 that vertically modulated engraved recordings using wax coated cylinders was patented by Chichester Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter. They named their version the Graphophone. Emile Berliner patented his Gramophone in 1887. The Gramophone involved a system of recording using a lateral (back and forth) movement of the stylus as it traced a spiral onto a zinc disc coated with a compound of beeswax in a solution of benzine. The zinc disc was immersed in a bath of chromic acid; this etched the groove into the disc where the stylus had removed the coating, after which the recording could be played.

     "From my experiments on the telephone I knew of how to work a pawl connected to the diaphragm; and this engaging a ratchet-wheel served to give continuous rotation to a pulley. This pulley was connected by a cord to a little paper toy representing a man sawing wood. Hence, if one shouted: ' Mary had a little lamb,' etc., the paper man would start sawing wood. I reached the conclusion that if I could record the movements of the diaphragm properly, I could cause such records to reproduce the original movements imparted to the diaphragm by the voice, and thus succeed in recording and reproducing the human voice.


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