{95.} Hungarian Music since 1945
by György Kroó

The Second World War does not represent a watershed in the stylistic development of Hungarian music, since it is the emergence of the new society and democratic development that brings with it the triumphal decade of the Kodály school. Because of the special coincidence of circumstances, however, out of the conception of the originally oppositionist and modern Hungarian art music, based on folk foundations, there grows, in the political atmosphere of Stalinism and McCarthyism under the influence of artificial isolation and Zhdanov aesthetics, conservative-biased national academicism. Bartók died in 1945. Although the international orientation of his folklorism was of the greatest possible topicality in those years, his art being predominantly of an instrumental nature, with an inclination towards experimentation and “exaggeratedly” individual, does not fit into the official picture formed of music’s exclusively popular-education function – indeed at the time of modern byzantinism, around 1950, a part of Bartók’s legacy becomes subject to suspicion and judgment. The way opens all the more broadly for Kodály’s art and teaching. The period recognizes the basic pedagogical, popular and national educational attitude of this, it appreciates its predominantly textual-vocal character, its evocative-historical-patriotic tone, it accepts his folklorism leaving the original folk song untouched, or using a style of arrangement which preserves the song recognizably, his language, refined into classicism in the course of approximately twenty years, and it takes delight in the closedness of his style, free of all experimentation, of every foreign influence. The authority, indeed supremity, of the Kodály style is secured by the personal presence of the master (he survived the war by twenty-two years) and the continuity of {96.} his creative work (Czinka Panna, 1948; Zrínyi’s Appeal, 1955; Symphony, 1961). The generations born between 1900 and 1920, the most active leading Hungarian composers of the decade, his own intellectual and spiritual pupils, live and work under the illusion that official recognition and propagation of Kodály’s art and compositional trend represents not only the fulfilment of a popular-education programme of extraordinary effect begun a quarter of a century earlier, but also the adoption of a modern musical style. The Kodály slogans “Bring art closer to the people and the people closer to art” and “Music belongs to everybody” represent a mission for Hungarian composers and encourage their disinterestedness in face of the new trends in the workshops of Europe, concrete music, the rhythm and dynamic tone-row, the electronic studio, clusters and aleatory. The folk song – together with the movement song, serving the new ideology – moves into the limelight, similarly to the sixteenth-century chorale, with the experience of post-war reconstruction and the renewal of life. The increasing number of vocal and instrumental arrangements, cantatas, choral suites, also remind one of the period of chorale arrangements. In 1947–48 the flourishing choir-movement, the folk-song cult among the youth and the social atmosphere of liberation prove favourable to this literature and truly make it a consumer commodity for the masses. But even in spite of the finest idealistic intentions and educational attitude, this crop leads stylistically to the epigonism of Hungarian peasant music and Kodály’s art, the characteristic idioms of Kodály’s music lose their original concentration and individual significance with surprising rapidity, and become diluted into an everyday language. The oppositionist pathos of Kodály’s music, the community voice bursting forth from personal experience rooted in a life-long identification with village people become anachronistic; these features of his art, on the other hand, pointing in the desired “stabilization” direction make all the greater impact: his linguistic conservatism, his representative character, his formal classicism. Creative demands are replaced by the need to write music that is comprehensible and singable, requirements of the new official aesthetics. This trend resulting from an inner conviction induces composers to voluntary acceptance of external compulsion. The ideal of popular art is from 1949 gradually replaced {97.} by state art, the practice of a controlled and administratively directed musical life. Commitment and ideological affiliation are measured by the musical style of a composer; the ignominious adjectives “formalistic” and “cosmopolitan” gain currency. That the progressive musical style is identified with the major mode, the classical aria, rondo or sonata form, the chord sequences distilled from Kodály works and proclamatory composition becomes exalted into an unwritten law. At the time of this imposed uniformity every sign of creative individuality roused suspicion, an immediate mobilizing or festive effect is expected from every musical genre, optimistic musical expression becomes a fashionable and typical aesthetic category. The inner tragedy of the period lies in that the Hungarian composer, in spite of his style being simplified to extremes and accepting all the odium of conservatism, was unable to find a way to the public; the public, until it became entirely fed up with these, too, remained on the level of movement songs and folk song cantatas – it no more listened to, enjoyed or understood the new Hungarian piano concerto or symphony, it found them no easier than Bartók’s chamber music from the twenties, it found new Hungarian music no easier than it would have found the works of the second Viennese school if it had by any chance, without any preparation, the opportunity of listening to them. The sacrificing of originality, individuality and the possibility of searching for new things did not produce the expected result. The formidable increase in the number of opera-goers, the start of record-collecting, the democratization of the composition of the concert-going public is an extraordinary achievement brought about through financial sacrifices by the government and good organizing on the part of the musical institutions. The new public, however, became the public of Beethoven and Puccini, and the circle was thereby closed.

In the work of the period the vocal genres are in the majority, but for the most part these are arrangements, folk-song suites, small cantatas. The preservation of the original folk-song structure proves favourable to strophic and variation forms, but unfavourable for thematic development. From among the composers of hundreds of occasional works Lajos Bárdos (born 1899) (Kossuth Suite, Folk-Song Rhapsody) and Endre Szervánszky {98.} (born 1911) (Honvéd Cantata) stand out; and of those arrangers connected with the stage and dance Rudolf Maros (born 1917) (Ecseri lakodalmas-Ecser Wedding) is the most significant. In the forefront of more complex works with original themes Rezső Sugár’s (born 1919) oratorio Hősi ének (Heroic Song) (1951) brings attention to the timeliness of the Baroque tradition; Ferenc Szabó’s (1902–1969) monumental cantata Föltámadott a tenger (The Sea Rose Up) (1955) puts the expressive power of the verbunkos (recruiting music) to the test with symphonic apparatus. The worthiest continuer of Kodály’s a cappella choral poetry is Lajos Bárdos (A Nyúl éneke [Song of the Rabbit], 1946; A Földhöz [To the Earth], 1951; Éji órán [In a Night Hour], 1956); the eminent representatives of a much smaller song production are György Kósa and Ferenc Farkas (born 1905) (Gyümölcskosár [Fruit Basket], 1946; Szent János kútja [Saint John’s Well], 1945). The fashion of the historical opera and operetta springs up (Farkas: Furfangos diákok [Artful Students], 1949; Csínom Palkó, 1950; Rezső Kókai (1906–1962): Lészen ágyú (There Shall Be Guns); István Sárközi (born 1920): Szelistyei asszonyok [The Women of Szelistye], 1951), and the Hungarian operatic burlesque is born (György Ránki [born 1907]: Pomádé király új ruhája [King Pomade’s New Clothes], 1953).

If the folk-song arrangements and small cantatas were directed at the programmes of the amateur choruses and dance ensembles, if the movement songs, odes and oratorios add to the lustre of the celebrations of national-historical displays, if the new Hungarian opera, operetta and ballet strive in a modern way to satisfy the tremendous interest of the hundreds and thousands who had previously scarcely set their foot inside a theatre, then the cultivation and conquest of the new concert public becomes the target of undemanding, bright sinfoniettas, divertimentos and suites, serving the purpose of spectacular-virtuoso amusement, while at the same time the new concerto literature lightens the worries in connection with the employment of Hungarian performing artists. Among the massive divertimento crop suggesting a good social disposition one comes across real value, too (Endre Szervánszky: String Serenade, 1947), but this genre is usually a collecting-depot for the typical everyday idioms or clichés of the period. Characteristic {99.} features are the fourth-second melodic outline of the parts, strict periodization or folk-like strophic construction in the themes, pentatony, gently modal colour, avoidance of chromaticism and polyphonic techniques, trochaic-like Hungarian rhythm, academically symmetrical-static form, conservative orchestration. The free and spontaneous creative atmosphere of the first stage of the period (1945–48) can be felt in Ferenc Szabó’s concerto Hazatérés (Homecoming, 1948) and in his piano cycle Felszabadult melódiák (Liberated Melodies, 1949), together with the first string quartets (1947) of Pál Járdányi (1920–1966) and Béla Tardos (1910–1966) and the violin concerto by János Viski (1906–1961). After this and in comparison with it the divertimento deluge represents the shallow provincialism of the second stage (1949–1955), although one of its branches, the wind quintet literature, contributes considerably to the blossoming of Hungarian wind performing culture. The typical tone of concertos is represented by Gyula Dávid’s Viola concerto (1950); even in this framework the tone frequently evokes the divertimento world (Szervánszky: Clarinet Serenade, 1950). Instead of the Hungarian symphony, for which Kodály had earlier given no pattern, and which found its best equipped masters in the persons of Pál Kadosa and Imre Vincze, the neo-romantic suite and programme-symphony is born, under literary inspiration, in the studios of Ferenc Szabó (Ludas Matyi, 1950; Emlékeztető [Memento], 1952), Pál Járdányi (born 1913), (Vörösmarty, 1953), and Endre Szervánszky (Attila József Concerto, 1954). Chamber-music production is even leaner. Pedagogical literature does indeed flourish but the age is not susceptible to the art of real chamber music: in twelve years there appear scarcely more than a dozen string quartets and this genre is considered his own solely by a representative of the older generation, László Lajtha (1892–1963).

The period, the impetus of the style finally lost its breath about 1955. Hungarian music was a faithful companion to the heroic period of the great social transformation and its bureaucratic aftermath even if neither of them inspired it to regeneration. Although Hungarian composers magnificently accomplished their popular-cultural, popular-educational mission, the provincial artistic atmosphere, hermetically sealed off from world trends, had {100.} a crippling effect, and ten years after Bartók’s death it becomes general knowledge that the Hungarian music cart is thoroughly stuck in the quagmire. In the course of these ten years an unparalleled revolution in musical style and technique took place in the world. A transformation in musical form and harmony which cut open an abyss deeper than in any earlier change of style, on the one hand between the traditional and the new, and on the other hand between contemporary art and the public. Now that Hungarian musical life can gradually breathe freely and escape from under the suffocating pressure of the personality cult, it should inevitably start by taking account of its own position in relation to this new music conception and music technique. In parallel with the passing of Stalinism and the appearance of a new composer-generation, the twenty-five–thirty-year-olds of the time, the evolution of musical life and creative work takes in a new direction: after the epigonism of the Kodály school comes an internationally orientated epigonism in which technique becomes the central issue.

The years of the musical turning point (1955–1959) are primarily the years of information-gathering and study. Bartók becomes the great paragon. As opposed to the stylized, classical, folklorist Bartók of the fifties, the lonely, haunted, suffering, rebelling artist is discovered in him. In this it is not the fact that more major seventh intervals appear in Hungarian works that is important, nor that the celesta is to be heard increasingly and the strings rustle more, nor even that notturno and scherzo études are written to the pattern of the Music of the Night and The Miraculous Mandarin. Bartók teaches the age that art is not merely playing and service, but the formulation and articulation of the great questions of life and man. With his works he sets off a general stylistic fermentation, he puts Hungarian music in the context of European development, with his own compositions from 1910 onwards into the twenties he brings attention to Schönberg and Stravinsky. The other study-material, the twelve-tone technique, is no spiritual nourishment for Hungarian composing, but rather a finger exercise which provides a preparation for study-trips abroad, encounters with Darmstadt, Warsaw, Paris, Rome, for becoming acquainted with post-war studios, and finally leads to the discovery of the starting point of all these – Anton Webern. Consciousness of {101.} the abrupt change in compositional conception, expression and style, is conclusively demonstrated by two works in 1959 (György Kurtág: String Quartet; Endre Szervánszky: Six Orchestral Pieces). There are signs that the vanguard of Hungarian composing has in many respects brought in its half-century arrears in technical orientation. It takes many years, however, to eliminate technical provincialism, and it is not until around 1964–65 that interest in the direction of tradition begins to complement the exclusive interest in the avant-garde.

After the uniformity of the earlier period, Hungarian composing became much more varied and differentiated, irrespective of the age of the composers. Of the generation of the sixties, Ferenc Szabó (1902–1969) remains faithful to the Kodály school, of which he was the most talented member, but now he, too, writes the summarizing works of his individual style in chamber-music genres (Piano Sonata No. 3, 1961; String Quartet No. 2, 1962). Ferenc Farkas, in his Homo ludens way, playfully builds into his works (Hybrides, 1957; Correspondence, 1957) the ideas of the twelve-tone technique, and though the unceasing interest of the artisan stimulates him to further study and experiment in the following decade, too, his creative world-concept, which is most personally represented by the Cantus Pannonicus in Latin (1959), is not changed. In the spirit of conscious isolation from Vienna, György Ránki, the eminently talented Hungarian stage master of musical characterization and couleur locale, composes the Hungarian Faust – The Tragedy of Man by Imre Madách (1970); on the other hand, precisely in search for a compromise between dodecaphonic music and the Bartók tradition, Pál Kadosa (born 1903), whose work at its start in the thirties was characterized by vigorous interest in avant-garde trends, writes his tremendous symphonic output (Symphonies Nos. 4–8, Pian e Forte, Piano Concerto No. 4). We can consider Endre Szervánszky, the youngest member of the professor generation, to be the pioneer in stylistic regeneration. His Six Orchestral Pieces – apart from the combination of Reihe-like melody and Hungarian rhythm – had an excitingly novel effect at its première in 1960 with its independent percussion parts and naked impulses. Endre Székely (born 1912) clearly follows in the footsteps of the second Viennese school, {102.} Gyula Dávid represents a peculiarly Hungarian trend, dodecaphonic in no more than its melody-forming principles, while Rezső Sugár and Pál Járdányi undertake the preservation of the best traditions of the Kodály school. András Mihály (born 1917) establishes himself as the advocate of the necessary compromise between old and new. Gábor Darvas (born 1911) is an adherent of the serialistic and aleatoric school (Medália, 1965) and aleatoric-graphic music (Hangok és zörejek [Sounds and Noises], 1966), electronic music (Phonotese, Luna 9, 1967–68) and concrete music (Mariphonia, 1969) are first written in Hungary by Zoltán Pongrácz (born 1912). The leaders of the regeneration, its most agile and significant figures, are, however, younger: Rudolf Maros (born 1917), András Szőllősy (born 1921), György Kurtág (born 1926), Zsolt Durkó (born 1934) and the two now world-famous revivers of the Hungarian opera – Emil Petrovics (born 1930) and Sándor Szokolay (born 1931).

The orchestral sound of the sixties was explored by Maros in his Eufonia series (1963–65), he initiates Hungarian punctualism, quarter-tone and note lunge technique, and with his fine shapely works really succeeds in smuggling cluster music into the Hungarian public’s ear. Tonal, serial and avant-garde techniques are amalgamated by András Szőllősy, whose transparency of style, taste and sense of form in his Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 (1968, 1970) lift him well above the average of the period. The justification of grand themes and the timeliness of assuming responsibility are emphasized in Petrovics’s two operas (C’est la guerre, 1961; Crime and Punishment, 1969) and his oratorio (The Book of Jonah, 1966) on the highest musical-dramaturgical level. Sándor Szokolay, with the surety of instinctive talent, achieves mass effect through his veristic opera (Blood Wedding, 1964) and his dodecaphonic opera (Hamlet, 1968). In the course of contrasting recent constructive trends and the Bartók legacy, György Kurtág shapes his works which are comparable to Webern in their concentration and quality. After a series of miniatures using various tone-colour combinations (String Quartet, Wind Quintet, 1959; Eight Piano Pieces, 1960; Eight Pieces for Violin and Cymbalo, 1961; Jelek brácsára [Symbols for Viola], 1962; Cinque merrycate for guitar, 1962) he continues his development in a monumental voice-piano {103.} cantata, setting to music with the passion and pathos of Schutz the confession of the sixteenth-century preacher-poet, Péter Bornemisza, the poem of trial, sin, death and reconciliation (1967). The search for tradition and the attitude of accepting the national and European tradition are just as characteristic of Zsolt Durkó. He is the master of micro-structures, constructing from small cells concertos in the spirit of variation (Organismi, 1964; Cantilene, 1968), orchestral pieces (Fioriture, 1966; Altamira, 1969) and chamber compositions (String Quartet No. 2, 1968). One is reminded of Kodály in the way Durkó creates a tradition for himself by imagining a pagan Hungarian minstrel melody or the medieval organum and constructs modern works on them (Una rapsodia ungherese, 1965). But in this universal Hungarian musical world-concept there is also room for the ornamental technique of gipsy music – and even the validity of the Bartókian golden-section proportion. It is on this broad road, at once international and Hungarian, that the youngest generation are progressing with Attila Bozay (born 1939), Sándor Balassa (born 1935) and Zoltán Jeney (born 1943) among the best at the forefront.

The period from 1965 to 1970 provides encouragement. After service to international fashion the search for the national tone becomes an inner necessity, the stuffy atmosphere of locked-up studios is replaced by the desire to meet the public. The difference between techniques and stylistic trends diminishes, a new kind of Hungarian eclecticism unfolds its wings in the favourable atmosphere. Hungarian composition is at present gradually winning independence and is thus becoming an organic part of the main stream of international music. The outlines of a new Hungarian school are emerging in dozens of new works. As far as technique is concerned this new school is in the van of development, yet it has rediscovered for itself folk music as a source of inspiration with the Bartókian attitude (and not style) as its model (Bozay: Piano Variations, 1964; Maros: Lament, 1969, etc.). Apart from this stylistic synthesis, an increasing number of works are appearing which radiate the emotional richness, humanity, perfection which are the essence of art in all times. In 1970 Hungarian composition is once more an important component part of European culture.