Hungarian Catholic Mission


Hungary continues to maintain its culture through its music. Over the last thousand years, Hungary has produced some of the best musicians in the world. Hungarian music evolved over time. From Gregorian Chants, classical, jazz, contemporary to hip hop; Hungarian music is deeply rooted in their Magyar people.

After the adoption of Christianity and the strengthening of the church, a unique Hungarian version of the Gregorian chant evolved. In the 10th-11th centuries elementary musical education was one of the fundamental tasks of schools. It would be common during this period to find richly ornamented codices containing choral pieces using a special Hungarian method of musical notation. In villages, music for entertainment accompanied by the pipe, drum and chanting were played. Gregorian chants were thereby performed in two voices.

King Matthias maintained a choir and chamber orchestra of European standards, and famous artists of his age visited his court. The Turkish occupation of Hungary, however, shredded this outstanding musical culture, to be replaced by Lutenist Sebestyén Tinódi's unisonous verse chronicles commemorating sieges. Only the princes of Transylvania sponsored musical arts. Bálint Bakfark, who achieved world fame in the 16th century, also came from Transylvania.

After the end of Turkish occupation, church music was reborn in the baroque style of the 18th century. The collection of sheet music of the cathedral of Gyõr includes the works of Mozart and Haydn, who composed music for the bishop. Members of the aristocracy also sponsored music. Duke Pál Eszterházy of Kismarton published Harmonia Caelestis, a collection of church cantatas.

During the mid-1800’s, Hungarian gypsy music was primarily composed to arouse the emotions of the crowds and encourage them to join the army, especially during the independence movement. Hotels and restaurants all around Hungary typically play this music which includes two fiddlers, a bass and a Hungarian instrument called a cimbalom.

The real rejuvenation of Hungarian music is attributable to the "verbunkos", a late 18th century style. The men's dance, originally associated with the recruitment of soldiers, follows traditional Hungarian dance music and western harmonies. The verbunkos and folksy songs, however, earned gypsy band leaders like Márk Rózsavölgyi and János Bihari, international recognition. Several of their motifs were incorporated in the stage music of Béni Egressy. Hungarian motifs are present in the music of the greatest composers, for instance, Beethoven, Mozart, Weber, Brahms or Berlioz.

During the 19th century, informal domestic concerts became fashionable. Throughout Hungary, concerts were organized, that included sheet music publication and the manufacturing of musical instruments. In addition several music schools were formed. The father of opera music in Hungary is Ferenc Erkel who lived in the 19th century and established this genre as part of Hungarian musical heritage. His most notable musical contributions include László Hunyadi who also helped write the Hungarian National Anthym and Bánk Bán whose lyrics are still played at Opera houses in Budapest today. Another famous Hungarian composer was Franz Liszt. Among his best works is the Hungarian Rhapsodies which were a mix of classical and Hungarian gypsy influences. He established the Budapest Music Academy which became a beacon of musical influence in Hungary throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

From the turn of the 20th century to today, operas have made a positive influence on the Hungarian music culture. The best known composers of the genre were Imre Kálmán, Jenõ Huszka and Ferenc Lehár. During this period, the composers Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók were touring Transylvania and the Hungarian countryside to gather ideas for their operatic works. Long after Zoltán’s and Béla’s death, we see the Hungarian music influence on the world countries.

Many of their olds songs called Népdalok, were known for both their melody and lyrical style. Kodály combined late romantic tradition with the treasure-trove of Hungarian folk songs he collected and studied, but it was the "Kodály method" revolutionizing musical education that earned him international fame. Béla Bartók became one of the most outstanding figures in musical history by amalgamating folk songs and modern music and discovering new rhythmic patterns and tonalities. Béla’s most important pieces include: Bluebeard's Castle (opera), The Wooden Prince (ballet), The Miraculous Mandarin (pantomime) and Cantata Profana (choir piece).

Unfortunately from post-World War II, the communist occupation of Hungary hindered free thinking of music in the Hungarian culture. It was during this period that several of the famous Hungarian musicians and composers like György Ligeti, left Hungary for freedom. What remained in Hungary were Kodály's principles of popular music that included amateur orchestras and choirs to include simple folk songs being adapted. Modern trends such as dodecaphony started to appear in the sixties. A number of contemporary performers of classical music have achieved world fame. Some of the names: pianist and conductor Zoltán Kocsis, Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, pianist András Schiff, cellist Miklós Perényi and opera singers éva Marton, László Polgár, Andrea Rost, and József Gregor.

Hungarian jazz set out to conquer the world in the 1990's with the help of bassist Aladár Pege, pianists Károly Binder and Béla Szakcsi Lakatos, trumpet-player Rudolf Tomsits, pianist-composer György Vukán, wind instrument player László Dés, GyörgySzabados and the Benkõ Dixieland Band. The folk music and dance house movement was revived by Márta Sebestyén and the Muzsikás band.

In the 1960's Hungarian rock music conveyed political protest; the first major bands were Illés, Metró and Omega. In the 1970s, the Communists cracked down on rock and roll. Band like Illés were banned from recording and performing. Some members of the other bands formed a super group called Locomotiv GT that quickly became very famous. The remaining members of Omega, meanwhile, succeeded in achieving stardom in Germany, and remained very popular for a time. After the collapse of the Communist government, the Hungarian music followed the style of Western Europe.

Hungarian music will continue to play an important part of the Hungarian culture. Rest assured, there are many more Hungarian musicians waiting in the winds to be recognized by the world.

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