Bartók deeply identified with the indigenous folk-music of Hungary
and its influence can be heard in many of his works - not just the actual
tunes or rhythms but, as he said in 1927, 'I place
great emphasis on the work of technical arrangement .... I do not like to
repeat an idea without change and I do not bring back one single part in
exactly the same way. This method arises out of my tendency to vary and transform
the theme ... the extremes of variation, which are so characteristic of our
folk-music are at the same time the expression of my own nature'
(Ujfalussy: Bela Bartók quoted in McCabe
Bartók Orchestral Music, BBC publications 1974). Hungarian
folk song was virtually unknown to the middle classes in which Bartók
grew up, apart from the use made of them by Liszt and Brahms. However, in
1904 Bartók became interested having heard his neighbour's maid singing
The red apple has fallen in the mud. He was so taken by the song that
he composed his own version of it and arranged for the original to be published
too. He then set out with a portable phonograph to collect thousands of the
folk songs of his native Hungary. In this he was assisted by Kodaly. At almost
exactly the same time, Holst and Vaughan Williams were doing the same for
British Folk song.
There have been various revivals of interest in folk music with the advent
of the tape rercoder , cine and video and the general popular youth interest
in folk music in the 1960s and 70s. The members of the performing group
Muszikás were among them, and went out into the villages of Hungary
to learn the instrumental techniques. 'We found ourselves
fascinated by the beauty and richness of folk art - and this experience changed
our lives'. With the growth of the Dance House Movement Muszikás
found themselves being invited to play around the world. Their singer,
Márta Sebestyén, has recently become more widely known after
her appearance on the soundtrack of The English Patient and Deep
Forest's Boheme. Having performed at a Bartók festival
in New York, where Bartók's music was well known but the folk music
was a new encounter, Muszikás decided to make this record.
On this disc we have three things: some of the original field recordings
made by Bartók, reinterpretations of these by Muszikás retaining
the folk presentation and finally examples of Bartók's own music that
incorporated the folk tunes he collected. This is a great idea and it works
The disc opens with a whirling csárdás of increasing speed
- Dunántúli friss csáardások
(Transdanubian fast csárdás) . Muszikás learned
this from a band in Bogyisla and it contains four melodies which Bartók
would have known well, the last of which he incorporated into his Hungarian
Peasant songs for Piano op 20. This gets the disc off to a wonderful,
There follows an original phonograph recording of a traditional Romanian
song, Jocul Bãrbãtesc, which he collected from a country
village in Máramaros (Maramures). This melody was used in Violin duo
No.32 'Dance of Maramaros' which is then played by a folk fiddler,
Mihály Sipos and the classical violinist, Alexander Balanescu. Finally,
Muszikás let rip in their own style with vocal by Márta
Hey, my little lover,
Don't be shivering so hard
For you're yellow-hued as wax
Don't be shuddering so sorely.
That is the format on the disc and to fully detail it would be to reproduce
the accompanying booklet notes. In summary similar treatment is given to:
On the Rivers Bank - a Csango Hungarian tune
Swineherd's Dance for two violins - a leaping dance for Michaelmas
when the shepherds received their pay - used by Bartók in For
Dunántúli ugrósok ( a Transunabian ugrós)
2 violins, viola, bass and tambura (a plucked string instument)
Shepherd's flute song played by Zoltán Juhász on a
very breathy long flute which gives it almost a didjeridu flavour.
Muszikás then play a Forgácskúti lad's dance
followed by an original phonograph recording of My Horse's shoe and
Bartók's rather melancholic Violin Duo No 28 'Sorrow'. This
is rounded off by Muszikás performing a Slow Lad's Dance from
Bonchida (2 violin, viola, bass and cimbalon giving a Hungarian flavour)
Things liven again with Magyarbece csárdás with
Márta Sebestyén's nasal singing. This old-style melody
came from Southern Transylvania which Bartók used in the fourth of
his 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs.
This is followed by an ordinary flute but played in a similar style to the
long flute, a sound produced by both blowing and singing into the instrument,
in this instance accompanied by the sound of dancing.
Violin, viola and bass play a whistful Bota Dance which is a male
stick dance from Upper Marosvidék in Tranyslvania used in Bartók's
Rhapsody for violin and Piano. The mode of playing the viola and bass
is to give the effect of violin with accordian accompaniment.
In 1912 Bartók was inspired by a melody from Petrovasile in Torontál
to write the 44 Violin Duos. We hear Muszikás play the
Torontál Dance - a slow csárdás - and the original
(rather warbling) phonograph recording leads to a performance of the 44th
duo 'Transylvanian Dance' with Muszikás rounding off with
Lad's Dance from the Fuzes which has a similar halting rhythm.
Another lamenting graveyard song follows: 'The Churchyard gate is
finally open' . This type of melody is known as dawn song. The
mood lightens with a vocal Kalotaszeg dances - Bartók frequently
wore waistcoats from the Kalotaszeg region where he found that virtually
every village had its own string band.
The last track is the first recording that Bartók made in 1906: 'I
left my Homeland' sung by András Borek . This was the song that
profoundly altered Bartók's career ,which he then reworked into
Hungarian Folksongs 1. It was this melody that was sung to him by
the audience at his last appearance at the Music Academy before he emigrated
I set out from my homeland,
From famous, little Hungary
I looked back when I reached halfway
And the tears spilled from my eyes.
I have found this sensitively assembled recording illuminating, instructive
and vastly entertaining. My enjoyment has been enhanced by the extraordinarily
detailed, 24-page booklet (English only) compiled by Muszikás - clearly
a labour of love and without which I could not have written this review.
Now how about that follow-up demonstrating Vaughan Williams and Holst's use
of indigenous folksong?