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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: September 2011

2 - Bartók and folk music

from Part I - Contexts: political, social and cultural

Early impressions, the verbunkos

At the turn of the nineteenth century a growing national consciousness permeated the political and cultural life of Hungary. Men of letters envisaged programmes which included the creation of national art built upon the foundations of national customs and folklore. The call went out to members of literary and scientific societies asking them to collect folk tales and folksongs, and the response was so great that by mid-century the material gathered was large enough to fill several volumes. As good as the intentions of these early collectors may have been, they saw the literary value alone in folksongs and printed only their texts without the music. This unfortunate omission was partly remedied by folksong collectors of the second half of the century. Not knowing, however, the difference between the songs in oral circulation, they uncritically took up in their collections popular tunes, patriotic songs and school songs intermingled with folksongs. Not even the most important publication of the century, István Bartalus's seven-volume collection, Magyar Népdalok, Egyetemes Gyüjtemény [Hungarian Folksongs, Universal Collection], was free of its predecessor's mistakes.

Misconceptions about folksongs during the nineteenth century were also strengthened by the popularity of two rapidly growing musical trends: the verbunkos, or recruiting dance – a tempestuous, flexible, appealing, sentimental type of instrumental music which took its origin from folk music, before becoming transformed in the hands of gypsy musicians; and the popular art song – a pseudo-folksong product of dilettante composers, flooding the urban musical scene during the second half of the nineteenth century.

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The Cambridge Companion to Bartók
  • Online ISBN: 9781139002219
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