A look through the Wonderful World of HUNGARIAN MUSIC & FOLKLORE

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Welcome to the music and folklore of Hungary!

Exploring folk music, dances and about the Dance House Movement

At the beginning of the 20th century Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly and other ethnomusicologists travelled the Hungarian countryside in the Carpathian Basin to collect and research old folk tunes and melodies with phonograph and Edison machine. Undiluted, authentic folksongs were stored on hundreds of cylinders, ready to be analysed, classified, elements used and synthetised in their compositions. Similarly, motives of folk dances have been collected, and together with the folk songs and music tunes have become the treasured legacy for our present and future.

From 2001 the Hungarian Heritage House is a leading institution to preserve and promote Hungarian folk traditions https://hagyomanyokhaza.hu/en.

The dance house movement started in the 1970s in Budapest. Folk music fans, folk musicians and dancers got together from time to time to celebrate the unmatched treasures of Hungarian folklore. These events were incredibly successful, and soon passers-by started to join the dancers as well. Within only a few years, dance houses started to appear all over the country. The tradition has been going strong ever since, and dance houses are as popular as ever in the second decade of the 21st century.

Folklore treasures of the Carpathian Basin are enriched by Croatian, German, Gipsy, Serbian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Rumanian, Ukrainian and East- European Jewish music, dance and cultural traditions.

Video's are courtesy of Hungarian Heritage House

Györgyfalvi legényes

Hungarian Heritage House

Üzenet Székelyföldrő

Have a look into the selection of videos to feel the vibes of the annual Folk Dance Festival https://idancehungary.hu/tanchaztalalkozo-2022/ and enjoy more watching dance house parties or professional performances.

Classical genres through the centuries- the international language of music

Changes and development in historic and classical music was influenced and lead by the global trends of Europe. Roman predecessor of Budapest, Aquincum- built under Vespasian in 45-50 AC- boosted with a “hydraulis” an ancient organ and in the first centuries of the Christianity the Gregorian became the leading genre. The court of Sigismund of Luxembourg was frequently visited by German troubadours and minnesangers; and in the renaissance court of King Matthias and his music lover wife, Beatrix, Neapolitan princess, the Capella Buda flourished.

From the 18th century, the great family Esterhazy played a central role in the world of music- e.g., supporting the young Mozart, ordering a mass from Beethoven, introducing the Liszt as a child to the public, or inviting Schubert as music teacher. The longest serving protegee of the wealthy and influential family is Joseph Haydn who became the music director of Prince Pal Esterhazy and composed masses, symphonies, chamber music and conducted performances in the sumptuous palaces of Kismarton and Eszterhaza for nearly three decades, until the death of the Prince Miklos Esterhazy.

The genre of the Italian opera has become more and more popular in the 19th century, and the National Opera Orchestra was born under the patronage of Count Istvan Szechenyi. Increasing popularity of the opera is greatly thanked to the romantic composer Ferenc Erkel who choose great moments of the national history for the heroic- tragic sujet. The National Opera House https://opera.hu/ was built from 1875- 1884 based on planes of Miklos Ybl architect, and underwent major refurbishments from 2018 to 2022.

Esterhazy Castle, Eszterhaza- Fertod, Hungary

Erkel Palotas- Castle dance from the opera Laszlo Hunyadi

A heart-warming example of the 19th century’s patriotism is Liszt’s confession, whose nationality is claimed by Austria and France : “ Let me be Hungarian, though I sadly command the language less than I would wish to, from my birth to the grave, in my heart and in my soul let me be and remain Hungarian and help the Hungarian music culture to grow and flourish.” And so he did, composed his masterpieces- Rhapsodies hongroises, Missa solemnis, Ungarische Kronungsmesse- and planning, establishing, and opening the Hungarian Academy of Music https://lisztacademy.hu/ of which he served as president and teacher until his death.

Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody by Jozsef Lendvay

Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No 2. Played by Gergely Boganyi

During the latest period of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the early 20th century the romantic- sentimental feelings and reform efforts to spread Hungarian language and culture contributed to the birth and increasing popularity of “Folk-style” songs, music and dances and the virtuoso Gipsy- bands whose repertoire includes Liszt’s Rhapsodies, Monti’s Csardas or Brahms’ Hungarian dances until these days. The entertaining stage music, the operetta, roots in the folk- style, gipsy music of the 19th century. It has become immensely popular in the Monarchy, thanks to pieces of Johann Strauss, Pongrac Kacsoh, Ferenc Lehar, and Imre Kalman.

Kalman Imre: Csardas Princess by Hungarian Operett Theatre

Music history determines the places of Bela Bartok within the three great composers of the early 20th century granting him the credit of the most internationally recognized Hungarian musician. As he described his original approach to composing in his Harvard talks: "meticulous studies of the methods of historic and contemporary western music and amalgamating the incomparable beauty and excellence of the newly discovered peasant music".

Bluebeard's Castle opera by Bela Bartok

Bartok: Allegro Barbaro played by Zoltan Kocsis

Kodaly, Dohnanyi, Ligeti, Czifra, Kurtag, Solti… it would be difficult to provide a comprehensive list of the musicians of the 20th century in the hall of fame.

The tradition continues, and fans of classical music are spoilt in Budapest with concerts at the Opera https://opera.hu/, Erkel Theatre, National Academy of Music https://lisztacademy.hu/, MUPA https://www.mupa.hu/en, Vigado, House of Hungarian Music https://magyarzenehaza.com/en. (Follow the links and explore some of these magnificent historic buildings or examples of hypermodern architecture on virtual tours.) If you could visit just one of the buzzing festivals, with a great selection of classical and contemporary music, let it be the Budapest Spring Festival. https://budapestitavaszifesztival.hu/en/

Kodaly: King Laszlo’s men and Egyetem begyetem by Cantemus Choir

Kodaly: King Laszlo’s men and Egyetem begyetem by Cantemus Choir

A Centruy Of Jazz

"Ladies and Gentlemen! Do you know the latest ragtime hits by the gipsy band of Gyula Csorba?"- advertised the evening program the bar of the Hotel Grand Duke Joseph in 1920. The 1920’s Hungary listened to a mixture of improvisation dance music and jazz whilst small orchestras started to call themselves "jazz bands" influenced by the "black music of New Orleans". Very few would know that the first conservatoire was established by Matyas Seiber, a student of Zoltan Kodaly, as a faculty of the Frankfurt Conservatoire in Germany, which was closed shortly after Hitler came to power.

In the 30’s the jazz band of Jeno Orlay (a.k.a. Chappy) has been famous in all over Europe, and many talented and well-trained musicians made their living in the Hungarian showbiz industry. They were not strictly specialized in jazz but were familiar with and greatly inspired by the genre. Bigbands and small orchestras played in Budapest and in the large cities of the country.

The 2nd World War and the German occupation silenced music and jazz but as soon as the war ended, jazz life was reborn with swing and many popular trends. A popular star of this era, Sandor "Rat" Horvath, was a great guitar virtuoso in a style resembling that of Reinhard Django’s.

When the communist came into power, jazz was prohibited and according to the formal view by the culture politicians of the party, jazz represented "the rubbish from the international damp yard of the world". This was a difficult time for the musicians, most of them trying to make their living on occasional gigs in cafés and bars. Gyorgy Cziffra (Sir George Cziffra), one of the most famous pianists of the 20th century, played in a bar those days.

Janos Gonda, Gyula Kovacs, Sandor Dobsa, Gabor Radics and many others secretly recorded jazz in hidden studios of Budapest and these records were smuggled to the USA via the Embassy. The legendary radio presenter of the Voice of America commented bitterly on 23rd of November 1956 when introducing an hour mix of Hungarian jazz: "The weapons are thundering in Budapest, and we cannot be sure who of these young musicians is still alive at the moment."


The 56’s Revolution proved to be a watershed in the communist culture politics. Ideologists discovered “proletarian” roots of the genre which moved jazz from banned to tolerated category.

Over the 60’s Dave Brueback, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, and Ella Fitzgerald presented in Budapest with huge success. So has become jazz the Trojan horse of the western culture in Hungary.

Jazz life started to boom in the 70’swith modern, progressive trends, jazz rock, free jazz- influenced by Bartok’s traditions- and many other schools were born and appeared on stages of university clubs or festivals. A very incomplete list of legendary jazz musicians of the past half century includes Aladar Pege, Gyorgy Vukan, Sandor Benko, (Benkó Dixieland Band), Rudolf Tomsits, Gusztav Csik, Dezso "Window" Lakatos, Gyorgy Szabados, and Mihaly Dresch.

Pege Solo

Pege and his band

Autumn leaves by BDB

Young jazz talents of these days are living in the era where spatial and temporal boundaries between styles, trends, and clubs no longer exist, and jazz is thoroughly international. Bela Szakcsi Lakatos

Ferenc Snetberger, Elemer Balazs, Kalman Olah, Veronika Harcsa, Juli Fabian, Jazzation, Bolyki Brothers – a few names of the new wave- are great ambassadors of the Hungarian jazz which roots in the traditions of Hungarian folk, classical and gipsy music, and is a unique experience to explore on jazz festivals, jazz clubs of Budapest or through the internet.

2021 Concert, Solo

Tony Lakatos - Frankfurt Radio Big Band

Pest is worthy a night

Tango by Ferenc Snétberger, guitar solo

Budapest Jazz Orchestra feat Tóth Vera