Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

The Hungarian Folk Song in the 18th Century*

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

The Hungarian Folk Song in the 18th Century*

Article excerpt

The term "folk song" was the product of the 19th century, but the real meaning of the term was clarified even later, at the beginning of the 20th century. Thus it is obvious that no folk songs were written down in the 18th century. In the last third of the century, which is identified with the new epoch of the Enlightenment called "Sturm und Drang", folk poetry was discovered - first in German speaking regions - as a source for the revival of literature under the inspiration of Goethe's and Herder's writings. Influenced by the new theory, which spread also in Hungary, an advertisement was published in the Pozsonyi Magyar Hírmondó [Hungarian News of Pozsony (today Bratislava)] in 1782 to collect

old poems favoured by the common people, called Volkslieder [folk songs]? He who has eyes must see the treasures hidden even in the songs sung at the merry table by our dear folks relishing their mother tongue.1

At around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries the interest in the "folk song" began to arise among the most educated people. Benedek Virág, a poet and priest with a classical education wrote in a letter of 1802 to Kazinczy:2

Please, write down for me one or two verses of the songs of the kind which is sung by prankish lassies while spinning.3

Mihály Csokonai Vitéz4 warned his literary colleagues in the Appendix to the "Anacreontic Songs" in 1803:

You should not be satisfied with studying the foreign writers but go and find the simple native workers of your homeland in their woods or on their Scythian plains, and listen carefully to the singing of the village maid and the humble dosser-carrier ?5

His poems, stage plays, and the song inserts of the latter, clearly testify to Csokonai's familiarity with folk tradition. It is a great loss that his collection of several hundred songs has disappeared, his "Old and new Hungarian songs of the folks (Volkslieder), collected here and there from written or unwritten sources upon the inspiration of other refined nations, to save them - for posterity."

Ádám Pálóczi Horváth6 finished his collection "Some 400 and 50 Old and New Songs, Some of Which were Made by Myself, Others by Others" in 1813. The material and the way it is notated relate the collection to the melodiáriums [protestant songbooks] of his school-years fashionable in the protestant colleges. This is one of the most precious, largest and most "folkish" hand-written collections of the period concerned. On the basis of his correspondence with Kazinczy, it is clear that the sources he took his material from were not only his own compositions or his song repertory but occasionally his immediate "field-work" experiences:

The other day I learnt two simple songs from the lassies at a peasant ball, one of which is: "How many has the hazel yielded? Ey, Lily! About ten, or twenty. Ey, Lily!" The other one is: "While I was wealthy, I was a bastard cherished by the whole world, Now that my money is gone, I am the butt of everybody's joke?"7

He was eager to record everything he heard or learned from his childhood on, to do his best in "saving them from eternal death".8

The quantity of written 18th century sources with some relation to folk music is much greater than those from the 16th and 17th centuries. It is a sign of a change in the general attitude that besides hymns, the number of secular songs and instrumental pieces considerably grew, and from the end of the century a large quantity of sources were already printed. The sources from the period between the 1730s and the 1820s, though not evenly spread, well represent the era. The people who collected the songs came from diverse cultural and social backgrounds: musicians, priests and monks in the employ of noblemen, municipalities or the church (Keresztély Kácsor, Imre Deák, Mózes Szentes, Mihály Bozóky), and college students, poets, men of letters (Ferenc Kazinczy, Mihály Csokonai Vitéz, Ferenc Verseghy, László Amadé). Their backgrounds naturally influenced the way they wrote down the songs. …

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