This article contains some basic information about Socialist Realism and politically progressive art in Hungary. I will try to update this as I research more.
FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886)
The most famous pre-revolutionary music composer was Franz Liszt (1811-1886) who represents perhaps the peak of bourgeois-revolutionary music in Hungary. Liszt was a romantic composer who contributed significantly to the development of music through his masterful piano playing, through his compositions and by helping other composers. He contributed significantly to music criticism through his articles and books (most famous being his book about the life and work of Chopin). Liszt was sympathetic to revolutionary ideas, was deeply concerned about the life of the ordinary working people, and supported the democratic and national liberation movements. He tried to create a Hungarian national style in classical music. As his inspiration in this venture he used the verbunkos, a style of dance music used in military recruitments in Hungary.
At the time Hungary was an Austrian protectorate and culturally dominated by the Germanic world. However, after the failed 1848 revolution by Lajos Kossuth, the reactionary Hapsburg rulers of Hungary were forced to make compromises. They gave Hungary somewhat more cultural autonomy and Liszt was able to start a Musical Academy in Hungary in 1875 with his colleague Ferenc Erkel as its director.
FERENC ERKEL (1810-1893)
Ferenc Erkel was another important composer of the pre-revolutionary era. He is the founder of Hungarian national opera, the first Hungarian composer to write operatic music. His most successful work was the patriotic opera Hunyadi László (1844) and another highly respected work is Bánk bán (1861). He also composed the opera Dózsa György (1867) about the famous peasant revolution of 1514.
The Ferenc Erkel Prize for great composers was created in the Hungarian People’s Republic in 1952.
Like Liszt, Erkel was largely influenced by Western styles but tried to create a Hungarian kind of music and tried to make art music something which ordinary people can also enjoy. The greatest composer of the Hungarian People’s Republic, Zoltan Kodaly said that Erkel “chose the path that made it possible to bring music closer to the people, and the people closer to music. In composing the music for a whole series of folk plays he used genuine folk music. It is a pity that he did not go further, but the gap between folk song and opera seemed to him too big to make any decisive attempt at bridging it. Yet until this has been done, there can be no hope of establishing real contact between the ordinary people and the higher forms of music.” (quoted in László Eősze, Zoltán Kodály: his life and work, p. 149)
“Erkel, Ferenc. Born Nov. 7, 1810, in Gyula; died June 15, 1893, in Budapest. Hungarian composer, conductor, teacher, and figure in the music world.
Erkel studied under H. Klein in Pozsony (now Bratislava). From 1828 to 1835 he was in Kolozsvár (now Cluj), where he taught and, in 1830, was a bandmaster. In 1835 he took up residence in Budapest, where from 1838 to 1890 he served as the principal conductor and music director of the National Theater. He was appointed music director of the Philharmonic Society in 1853 and of the National Hungarian Association of Choral Singers in 1868. From 1875 to 1889 he served as principal and professor of piano at the National Academy of Music in Budapest; F. Liszt was the academy’s president.
Erkel was the founder of the Hungarian national opera. Most of his operatic works are based on tragic episodes in the struggle to liberate Hungary from its conquerers, the most important being the heroic lyric operas Hunyadi László (1844) and Bánk ban (1852; staged: Pest, 1861; Moscow, 1957; Novosibirsk, 1958), which gained great popularity among the composer’s contemporaries. Several melodies from these operas, some set to new lyrics, became mass songs that were sung during the revolutionary popular demonstrations of 1848–49 and 1918–19.
Erkel achieved a synthesis of contemporary Western European opera and traditional Hungarian music, making use of the verbunkos (dance) style and Hungarian folk melodies. Among his other operas—he composed a total of nine—are Báton Mária (1840), Dósza György (1867), and two comic operas. Erkel also composed the Festival Overture (1887), works for the piano, incidental music for “popular plays” (népszinmü), and choral works, notably “Hymnusz,” the Hungarian national anthem (1844).
Szabolcsi, B. Istoriia vengerskoi muzyki. Budapest, 1964. Pages 71–74. (Translated from Hungarian.)
Maróthy, J. “Put’ Erkelia ot geroiko-liricheskoi opery k kriticheskomu realizmu.” In Muzyka Vengrii. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from Hungarian.)
Abrányi, K. Erkel Ferenc élete és müködése. Budapest, 1895.
Legány, D. Erkel Ferenc miüvei és korabeli történetük. Budapest, 1972.”
(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by P. F. Veis)
BELA BARTOK (1881-1945)
An important composer of the early 20th century was Béla Bartók (1881-1945), whose work (such as his symphonic poem “Kossuth” about the 1848 revolution) was progressive and supported national liberation. During the Hungarian Soviet Republic (1919) Bartók was a member of the Musical Directorate. After the revolution was crushed he toured abroad and considered emigration. “Everything is being ruined here”, he wrote in an autobiographical work. He finally had to escape the country after Hungary joined WWII on the side of the Nazis. He went to the USA, where he died in poverty.
Right from the beginning Bartók had been inspired by Liszt to create a Hungarian national music. However, after serious research into Hungarian folk music he realized that although the verbunkos are genuinely Hungarian, they are not really folk music. After conducting serious research among the masses he began using and popularizing folk musical motifs collected from the peasants of Hungary and neighboring countries. He began his long collaboration with Zoltan Kodaly, who also collected and studied folk music and had a similar goal of creating a national Hungarian music.
Due to periods of marginalization, isolation from the people, and foreign emigration (which he deeply regretted), part of Bartók’s work suffered from negative bourgeois influences. He lived during the period when capitalism entered its imperialist stage, and the bourgeois system suffered a serious decline in quality of art which has continued ever since. Bartók’s early goal had been to unite the folk music of the masses with elements from contemporary academic music. He had to eventually abandon this project as impossible, and was disturbed by the deepening crisis of bourgeois music.
Bartók’s idea of uniting mass music with classical music had been absolutely correct. However, he didn’t realize that what the contemporary academia considered ‘classical music’ was really decadent imperialist music, which was decaying more and more, and abandoning all principles of art, and all principles of classical music. Bartók understood this only instinctively. In reality Bartók had stumbled upon the core problem of musical art. It was necessary to combine the music of the people (the folk) with classical music, but bourgeois music had abandoned this goal and started to decline further and further. The only solution was to go forward to Socialist Realist music.
Bartók was one of the greatest composers of the 20th century with great artistic achievements. Though Bartók was not a communist he was an ardent anti-fascist and often worked with communists, for example with the writer Béla Balázs. Bartók was a patriot who defended Hungarian independence, and an internationalist. A telling example of Bartók’s internationalism is that he collected thousands of folk songs originally in Hungary, but eventually expanded his research to Slovak, Romanian, Ukrainian, Turkish and other folk songs, even using them in his compositions. A deep and critical Marxist analysis of Bartók’s work was written by Chao Feng (Bartók and Chinese Music Culture).
Despite his great genius and his great achievements, some of Bartók’s works suffered from decadent bourgeois formalism. Some works such as “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta” is written based on mathematical patterns, and sounds like random dissonant notes. It sounds like it could’ve been written by a computer without ears. It was written in the style called “Serialism” which was fashionable in bourgeois circles at the time, and which reached its peak in atonality. (Atonality means music which doesn’t have a key. It sounds extremely unnatural, unsettling and irritating.)
Some other works such as “The Miraculous Mandarin” are vulgar, without artistic merit and exhibit the same values as typical capitalist consumerism, the main protagonists are villains, prostitutes, thieves and murderers. It also sounds blatantly ugly.
Along with formalistic ugliness the most typical problem in Bartók’s work is pessimism. His works all depict someone who is deeply alienated in capitalist society and often isolated from the masses. Even good works by Bartók such as “the Concerto for Orchestra” suffer from this.
Bartók’s great achivements
Despite the faults, Bartók wrote some very good works which were frequently performed and played on the radio. Favorites included songs for singing such as “Enchanting Song”, “Don’t Leave Me!” and “Pillow Dance”; selections from the Ten Easy Pieces for Piano (particularly “Evening with the Széklers and “Bear Dance”). The Sonatina and the Romanian Folk Dances were also very popular and played many times a week on the radio. Bartók’s late works (particularly the Violin Concerto, the Divertimento, the Concerto for Orchestra, the Third Piano Concerto, and the Sonata for Solo Violin) were also played very often.
Additional information, criticism and analysis about individual works as well as a full list of Bartók’s works that were considered artistically valuable and not formalistic is attached as appendix 1 at the end of the article (even formalistic works continued to be played sometimes. There wasn’t necessarily a complete “ban” against them).
Communists took art seriously and wanted to make sure Bartók’s best work was being displayed. A newspaper editorial from 1950 states:
“The purpose of these programs is to make known Bartók’s true face, his true art, for the working class. We introduce Bartók, the fierce scholar of the Hungarian folk song, Bartók, the progressive artist, the great composer. This week the Radio’s listeners will find practically every outstanding work of his on the program, and through lectures, popular explanations, and introductions these works will find their way to the hearts of the listeners.” (quoted in Danielle Fosler-Lussier, Music divided, p. 56)
The Western imperialists’ reaction to Béla Bartók
The capitalist west carried out a two-fold strategy regarding Bartók. On the one hand, they tried to claim Bartók for themselves. They claimed that the majority of Bartók’s work, all the folk-inspired pieces, and other beautiful and artistic pieces were worthless. In the opinion of the western imperialists only the ugly formalistic and dissonant works, as well as to a lesser extent the escapist and mystical influenced works had any merit. They tried to propagate Bartók’s worst pieces and attacked Communists for not performing them or liking them. They tried to appropriate Bartók, without ever mentioning that when Bartók was alive he never received any support from the West. They let him die of illness in poverty and misery.
Great Hungarian composer Ferenc Szabó wrote:
“Even if we do not agree with certain details of the Bartókian worldview, Bartók belongs to us organically and cannot be separated from us. This is why the English-speaking students of Goebbels trumpet to the world that the Hungarian People’s Republic has denied Bartók, and that in his home—in Hungary—today it is forbidden to perform Bartók’s works. This statement is just as false as their claiming Bartók as their own, equating Bartók with themselves and their filthy worldview. The Hungarian People’s Republic sincerely, rightfully, and with decided openness has always acknowledged Bartók as its own. One of the loveliest streets in Budapest is named after him. One of the most important musical institutions that leads and comprises the spontaneous musical activity of the Hungarian workers carries Bartók’s name. . . . We, the composers of the Hungarian People’s Republic, down to the last man, claim him as our own.” (“Bartók Does Not Compromise” quoted in Music divided, p. 64)
While propping up fascists in Greece, South Korea and Spain and supporting fascists all over the world, Western commentators hypocritically attacked all democratic folk-music and folk-inspired music as fascistic. They also claimed that all melodic classical music inherently seemed “stalinist” and thus should be persecuted. These theories were promoted by fake leftists on the payroll of the CIA such as Theodor Adorno and “the Frankfurt School”, and American Trotskyists of the Partisan Review including Clement Greenberg, Dwight Macdonald and Kurt List. They were also funded through the CIA front organization “Congress for Cultural Freedom”. This was a crusade by the imperialists to destroy beauty in art and to destroy Socialist Realism.
The second half of the imperialists’ strategy regarding Bartók was to minimize his relevance for contemporary composers. Because he wrote folk-influenced and beautiful music Bartók was seen as suspiciously similar to Socialist Realism. Historian Danielle Fosler-Lussier writes:
“Bartok’s music largely fell out of the teaching repertory for composition students at two important European centers of innovation, in Messiaen’s courses in Paris and at Darmstadt. The thinkers who subscribed to modernism as an ethical imperative were also among Europe’s most influential teachers—Leibowitz, Adorno, Scherchen, and Messiaen—and their prominence surely hastened Bartok’s departure from the curriculum and influenced the musical preferences of the next generation of composers. The turn away from Bartok as a model was not merely a shift in taste; it reflected new views of history and of musical style that were shaped directly or indirectly by the political pressures of the early cold war years. For some, such as Scherchen and Stuckenschmidt, the new view was heavily influenced by perceptions… of the threat of socialist realism. For others, such as Stockhausen, the new view seems to have been encouraged by Adorno’s philosophical criticism of musical style but applied in an abstract way to the history of style… (Music divided, p. 48)
When reactionary composers left Hungary and moved to the USA, they were not allowed to show any love for Bartók, or for anything Hungarian:
“Apprehension about the influence of Bartok and the quasi-political connotations his music had acquired lingered for years. The composer Gyorgy Ligeti, who left Hungary for the West late in 1956, exemplified this long-lasting anxiety about Bartok in a particularly poignant way… for Ligeti, as for the other figures [of his ilk], the question of Bartok’s influence was uncomfortably entangled with the [so-called] political backwardness [i.e. socialism] of Eastern Europe; for Ligeti, these were also fraught questions about his personal history and about where he belonged… Ligeti… explicitly avoided addressing the question of Bartok’s influence or even acknowledging the existence of his own works before his emigration… in 1970 he still felt the need to suppress these elements of his personal history, to draw a veil over everything that connected him to his Hungarian past.” (Music divided, pp. 49-50)
BELA REINITZ (1878-1943)
According to Finnish marxist music critic Ilpo Saunio among the first to discover the importance of Bartók was communist composer Béla Reinitz. According to Saunio Reinitz himself was “one of the most important proletarian composers of the early 20s” (Saunio, Sisko, veli, kuulet kummat soitot, p. 101). In 1919 Reinitz worked together with Bartók and was the kommissar for music and theatre affairs in the Hungarian Soviet Republic. He was forced to escape Hungary after the fall of the Soviet Republic. In emigration he composed various works, including communist songs (such as the hilarious satire “Der Revoluzzer” and the anti-war “Der müde Soldat”). After returning to Hungary he composed works based on the great revolutionary poets Sándor Petőfi, Endre Ady and Attila József.
ZOLTAN KODALY (1882-1967)
The greatest composer of the Hungarian People’s Republic was Zoltán Kodály. He was a long time collaborator of Béla Bartók both as a composer and researcher. He devoted his life to composing music, musical education, and researching folk music. He made great achivements in all three fields. His music, which is greatly influenced by folk music, is characterized by an optimistic, clear, democratic-humanist spirit.
The Communist composer Bela Reinitz had said: “In the future, Kodaly will be numbered amongst the most illustrious Hungarians. His name will be added to the list of distinguished men who have upheld the culture of our country” (quoted in László Eősze, Zoltán Kodály: his life and work, p. 19). Reinitz’s prediction turned out exactly correct.
Kodaly’s life goal was to unite the music of the masses, the folk music, with art music. With Bartok he traveled the countryside of Hungary and neighboring countries collecting folk melodies.
In the Hungarian Soviet Republic
“The very best of the creative intelligentsia, scholars, painters, composers and others, had lined up with working-class power, a number of them, like Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok, accepted responsibilities in the cultural field.” (Henrik Vass, Studies on the History of the Hungarian Working-Class Movement (1867-1966), p. 136)
In 1918-19 Kodaly worked in the Musical Directorate of the Hungarian Soviet Republic under Reinitz:
“The administration of music was put in the hands of Bela Reinitz, who assumed executive authority from the time of the bourgeois Revolution in October 1918; and who, in the discharge of his duties, called upon Kodaly, Bartok and Dobhnanyi for their expert advice, appointing them as his musical Directory. At its meeting on 14th February, 1919, the Council of Ministers reorganized the Academy as the National Academy of Music of Hungary… Kodaly was appointed to the newly created post of Deputy Director. Kodaly accepted the post at the instance of Reinitz. But he was also motivated… partly because he saw it as a long-awaited opportunity of realizing one of his cherished plans, the creation of a sound system of solfeggio instruction, hitherto badly neglected… The fate of the Hungarian Republic of Councils was sealed by foreign intervention; and at the beginning of August 1919, the dictatorship of the proletariat was overthrown. With the restoration of capitalism, Kodaly’s initiative at the Academy was completely crushed. A witch-hunt was started against anyone who had held office under the Hungarian Republic of Councils, and it became a time for paying off old scores. Reinitz had to flee the country.” (László Eősze, Zoltán Kodály: his life and work, p. 22)
Among other things Kodaly was accused of allowing Red Army soldiers to be recruited at the Music Academy and instructing Academy staff to orchestrate the Internationale (László Eősze, p. 23).
On 3rd February Bartok who also participated in the Music Directorate of the Soviet Republic, wrote to the authorities to defend Kodaly. (László Eősze, p. 24)
Kodaly was accused of anti-patriotism but he defended himself and was shown to be the true patriot, a true servant of the people, while his Horthyist fascist accusers were fake-patriots, simple bourgeois nationalists, nothing but servants of rich capitalists and foreign corporations. Kodaly said:
“Let him who has done more for Hungary than I… come forward to lecture me. All the work I have accomplished has been done without any financial aid from the State, but with an expenditure of my own money that might almost be called prodigal. And, incidentally, (these efforts) are of a kind that cannot be paid for in money. And from where have I obtained the energy for all this? Doubtless from that ‘anti-patriotic disposition’ of which people are so anxious to find me guilty. I have never meddled in everyday politics. But, figuratively speaking, every bar of music, every folk tune I have recorded, has been a political act. In my opinion, that is true patriotic policy: a policy of actual deeds, not of mere phrase-mongering. And it is for this I am being persecuted.” (László Eősze, p. 24)
Kodaly never apologized for working in the Music Directorate of the Soviet Republic and defended all his comrades, including the Communist Reinitz:
“As to the men with whom I had the pleasure of serving on that body, any Hungarian musician, I should have thought, would have been flattered to share the company of men like Dohnanyi and Bartok.” And, defending Reinitz, then in voluntary exile, he said: “Our relations were founded on mutual respect. I learned to know him as a fanatic for truth and a man of character from whom I cannot withhold my respect.” (László Eősze, p. 25)
Kodaly was removed from the post of Deputy Director and put on forced leave of absence from the Academy, but since all the best academics defended him, he could not be dismissed entirely.
In 1926 Kodaly composed his famous opera Hary Janos, which he stated, represents the truly Hungarian optimism. This great opera achieved popularity.
Horthyist fascist critics attacked the opera, and in particular attacked it for using folk melodies: “it smells of the ethnographical museum. . . the musical score, consisting as it does of motifs artificially transplanted from folk song, has very little chance of lasting success.” (quoted in László Eősze, p. 32)
The Hungarian fascists actually were not patriotic, they did not love their own people but despised them. The fascists were bourgeois nationalists, fake patriots. Actually their policy had always been to enslave Hungary to Austria, Germany, and other Western imperialist powers. The fascists did not support Hungarian culture but romanticized capitalist Germanic music and Germanic culture, which at that point had already been fully taken over by stagnating elements and had begun to decline.
Kodaly as a real patriot and democrat, servant of his people, said:
“We refuse to be a musical colony any longer. We are not content to continue aping a foreign musical culture. We have our own musical message, and the world is beginning to listen to it attentively. It is not we who have invented Hungarian music. It has existed for a thousand years. We only wish to preserve and foster this ancient treasure; and, if sometimes the opportunity should be granted us, to add to it.” (László Eősze, pp. 30-31)
Kodaly then focused on developing Hungarian choral music, because at the time it did not exist. All choir works up to that point had always been sung in foreign languages, such as Latin or German. The attacks of the decadent fascists against Kodaly continued. The reactionary clerical newspaper Magyar Kultura wrote:
“Kodaly in particular, but also in many respects Bartok, is essentially a destructive spirit” (quoted in László Eősze, p. 38)
Things became more and more difficult with the rise of Italian and German fascism:
Kodaly expressed his protest against Fascism in his greatest work The Peacock Roared or The Peacock Variations with lyrics by Endre Ady. The choral singing version of it was banned outright, and a number of instrumental performances were also prohibited by the Fascists (László Eősze, p. 92)
“Both [Kodaly] and Bartok were amongst the first to protest against legislation in favour of racial discrimination; and already in 1938 [Kodaly] had joined a number of progressive artists and scientists who signed a declaration, addressed to the Hungarian people and Parliament, advocating equal rights for all citizens. This courageous stand was regarded with considerable suspicion by the authorities… and it even led to several performances of The Peacock being banned by the police on account of its revolutionary words and stirring music.” (László Eősze, p. 39)
The Hungarian Fascists were completely out of touch with the people and with Hungarian culture. They did not even recognize Hungarian peasant melodies as Hungarian:
“Kodaly and Bartok were attacked on the grounds that the folk songs they collected were not Hungarian but Slovakian and Rumanian… Bartok and Kodaly were accused of promoting alien interests, and therefore of opposing official policy.” (László Eősze, p. 170)
Already in 1945 Kodaly was chosen to head the newly formed Arts Council, elected unanimously to the Academy of Sciences, and elected as a representative to the parliament. He was also chosen to lead the Board of Directors of the Academy of Music and became the president of the Musicians’ Union. (László Eősze, p. 42)
In July 1945 to a lecture at the Hungarian-Soviet Friendship society Kodaly said:
“The idea that the common people also have a contribution to make in the field of culture was expressed for the first time during the intellectual ferment that preceded the French Revolution… It is a source of great encouragement that to-day, for the first time, the common people of Hungary are entering this field, not only as consumers, but also as producers. What we have to learn from the Soviet Union is, first and foremost, to appreciate art and the artist as they deserve.” (quoted in László Eősze, p. 42)
After returning from a concert tour in the USSR where his Hary Janos had been performed by the Leningrad philharmonic with him conducting Kodaly told a meeting of the Music Academy:
“The way the Soviet State provides for its scientists and artists, removing every obstacle from their path, should he an example to any country which regards the promotion of culture as being one of the functions of Government. And all that the Soviet State demands in return is that its scientists and artists should dedicate themselves to their work. This is another respect in which the model she offers deserves to be copied.” (quoted in László Eősze, p. 43)
“And in an interview with Die Brücke, the journal of the Austrian-Soviet Cultural Society, he praised the exemplary organization of musical training in the Soviet Union.” (László Eősze, p. 43)
In 1947 when Kodaly was 65 years old, his birthday was again celebrated by lovers of music, but for the first time there were official state honors and state celebrations. Kodaly had achieved the respect he deserved:
“In addition to receiving the freedom of his native town, Kecskemet, he was invested with the Grand Cross of the Order of the Republic by the Minister of Education; and on 15th March, 1948, he was one of the first of his countrymen to he awarded the newly instituted Kossuth Prize, “for signal services in the fields of science and the arts.” (László Eősze, p. 43)
On the same evening his new opera, Czinka Panna, with a libretto written by Bela Balazs, got its first performance by the Budapest Opera Company. The text by Balazs was criticized for historical inaccuracy, but the critics’ only complaint about the music was that “there was too little of it; and indeed there are parts of it—notably the Minuetto Serio and the Rakoczi March—that brilliantly evoke the spirit of the anti-Habsburg war of independence in the 18th century.” (László Eősze, p. 43)
In 1951 Kodaly succeeded in introducing his methods into musical education institutions and in 1952 he was awarded his second Kossuth Prize, the First Division of the Order of the Hungarian People’s Republic, and the title of “Eminent Artist.” (László Eősze, p. 45)
Kodály well understood the importance of folk music and agreed with the Soviets about it:
“in 1946, he [Zoltan Kodaly] had publicly praised the Russian tradition of basing works of art music on folk music: “The Russian composers came closer to their people because they lived among them, spoke in their language. For their melodies they discovered the outstanding, original forms of polyphony that preserve the characteristics of the melody. In their own creations they maintained the atmosphere of folk music, even as they also elevated its forms almost exponentially.”” (Music divided, p. 97)
After Zhdanov’s well-known criticism of formalism in 1948 Kodály wrote:
“Zhdanov’s warnings are nothing new to us. For thirty years I’ve said the same thing. By this I do not mean to say that we are ahead of them… They have already gotten over a national classicism that we have just come to. On the other hand, there was such here too (at the same time as theirs: Liszt, Erkel), only they did not succeed in such a close connection with the people as Rimsky and his fellows. We had to make up for that… In any case there are many common problems, and we can learn a lot from each other.” (Music divided, p. 97)
Kodály fully agreed with Zhdanov’s statement that “Internationalism in art does not spring from the depletion and impoverishment of national art; on the contrary, internationalism grows where national culture flourishes… Only a people that has a highly developed musical culture of its own can appreciate the musical riches of other nations.” (Zhdanov, On Literature, Music and Philosophy)
“The question that faces us is, whether we can best hold our own in world music by sacrificing our individual characteristics or by emphasizing them? Some think that it is by the former method that we shall become the best citizens of the musical world. My own view, on the contrary, is that the more intensively we study and cultivate our own music, the more we shall be able to contribute to world music.” (Kodaly quoted in László Eősze, Zoltán Kodály: his life and work, p. 78)
Criticism of Kodály’s “peasant romanticism”
Kodály was correct in highly valuing folk music, but he supported folk music too one-sidedly and uncritically. Classical music inspired by folk music alone is not enough. Kodály sometimes implied that if one only used folk elements then that is all that was required, and even more erroneously that even a formalistic piece would be elevated to the status of real art, if it utilized folk motifs.
In May 1950 in New Music Review (Új zenei szemle) “Miklós Csillag published a harsh critique of Kodály that included a cautionary comment about the interpretation of folk music influences in art music [the interpretation that using folk elements is all that is required]. He wrote:
“The young people of Hungarian music regarded Zoltán Kodály with great expectations. They expected that he would stand before them and show the direction for the founding of a new Hungarian music worthy of our revitalized nation. They waited for him to step forward, all the more so because they believed that his musical work of the past justified this hope. Kodály, however, still owes the people’s democracy this positive leadership. Our composers lacked direction, and thus it is understandable that when they brought with them formalist trends not only from the environment, but also from our musical education of past decades, they ran into a dead end both in general content and in the formal sense as well. Many were of the opinion that the working out of folk themes would avert the formalist dangers from the outset. However, the problem is that with us, the folk theme most often went through the mill of the kind of formal and harmonic processes that made it wholly inappropriate and unenjoyable for our working masses.”” (Music divided, p. 104)
The great Communist theoretician of art József Révai said:
“The folk song cannot, it is impossible that it could, reflect the new richness of feeling, the richness of feeling that belongs to the person who is building socialism. Does this mean that we turn our backs on the folk song? It is not even worth debating about it. Now we are the ones who say that Hungarian poetry cannot go further on the path of Ady or even of Attila József, because neither is sufficiently part of the folk. One can go further on the path of Petofi—naturally with new content. Now I ask you, apply this to Bartók. My opinion is that we can continue better on Kodály’s path than on Bartók’s. . . . [But] if we state that we cannot go further on Bartók’s path, this does not mean that we deny Bartók.”
Almost immediately after his statement that Kodály’s path was preferable to Bartók’s, Révai proceeded to criticize Kodály’s person and his politics in no uncertain terms, even while continuing to praise his music. “I maintain what I said, that I had not heard a work as valuable as the Peacock [Variations] in our ‘socialist music literature,’ and Háry János too is an entirely outstanding opera. Unconditionally we must work with Kodály—here there is no disagreement at all. But to believe that Kodály can be a leader ([aside:]Comrade Szabó), that he should stand at the forefront of our new music, I feel there must be a certain lack of confidence with regard to our own strength and a misunderstanding of the relationship between us and Kodály.” Révai went on to describe how Kodály had tried to save choruses that were affiliated with Catholic religious organizations (“cover organizations for the political reactionaries”) and to state that Kodály was a sentimental populist who wanted to hold back the development of Hungarian music. His rhetoric became irate; he concluded by remarking that he could say much more, but he did not wish to “blacken Kodály’s name.”
Révai’s assertion… that Kodály’s style was the one that should be followed was moderated by the repeated statements that the folk song could not be used as it was (as in, for instance, Kodály’s opera Háry János), but must be fundamentally changed to express the new content… The party thus notified composers that even though in general Kodály’s path was better than Bartók’s, it was by no means the perfect model.” (Music divided, pp. 112-114)
Kodály received extremely high praise from Révai, who stated that his opera “Háry János” is outstanding and that the “Peacock Variations” is the best music of socialist Hungary. Révai also stated that the path of Kodály was superior to Bartók. Why is that? Kodály’s work was consistently more melodic, simply beautiful while artistically deep, more popular and democratic in style, not obscure, bizarre and dissonant, and not pessimistic.
But Kodály also received some harsh criticism. He was not a Communist and did not understand Communism or the proletariat. He had petit-bourgeois tendencies: he shielded conservatives and reactionaries because they were his friends, he looked at things in a petit-bourgeois way, in a supposedly “neutral way” and not from the point of view of the proletariat. Such an “objectivist” or “neutral” petit-bourgeois outlook always only shields the outlook of the capitalists.
Musically Kodály was already becoming outdated. His was the music of the utopian peasant democrat. The music was not urban enough, not proletarian enough, and relied too heavily on copying what was old instead of developing something truly new. Kodály’s music was the best music of the past and of today, but what was required was a music of the future.
SOCIALIST REALIST MUSIC
It was necessary that as a Socialist society was being built, a new Socialist music was created. Socialist Realist music needed to master classical music, folk music, and develop something truly new and superior from the best old sources.
The most influential Socialist Realist composer in the Hungarian People’s Republic was Ferenc Szabó. He had studied and worked with Kodály. Szabó’s work is of excellent quality, but he lost influence after de-stalinization and the rise of revisionism.
Szabó wrote symphonic works and other instrumental works, but achieved even greater success with choral works and mass songs, including film music. He won the Kossuth Prize for the film score for Ludas Matyi (1950). His score for Föltámadott a tenger (1953) is also excellent.
Another skilled composer of Socialist Realism was Endre Szervánszky. His song “Honved kantata” (“Homeguard cantata”) is well known and highly respected. Szervánszky was awarded the Kossuth Prize in 1951.
“Szervánszky was given the silver award for his orchestral Rhapsody and for the Home Guard and Patriotism cantatas, and Szabó received the gold award for Song Singing and for the music to the 1950 film Ludas Mátyi. These works continued to be played often on the radio as well as in live performances for several years.” (Music divided, p. 114)
Detailed analysis and criticism of the works of Szabó and Szervánsky is at the end of the article as appendix 2.
ENDRE SZEKELY AND ANDRAS MIHALY: MUSICAL SABOTEURS
The creation of a Socialist Realist musical life was hampered by the sabotage activity of a reactionary composer Endre Székely inside the Hungarian Working Peoples’ Party and Union of Composers. Székely was strongly criticized in a 1950 document found in the archives of the Party’s Agitation and Propaganda Division:
“”Whereas in the other branches of the arts serious progress is shown . . . our musical culture demonstrates nonetheless a constant and rapid regression. The leadership, or one might say “rule,” is held in the hands of a narrow little clique, which in directing our musical politics keeps in its sights not the goals of our party or the interests of the working people, but rather the individual interests of the clique’s members. Many signs point to the fact that here we are speaking not merely of the careerism of individuals, but rather of enemy influence, intentional troublemaking, and sabotage.”
…the typescript announced that Endre Székely was the leader of the clique accused of obstructing Hungarians’ progress toward socialist realist music… The author of the typescript indicted Székely as a brutal dictator who controlled nearly every facet of musical life and who hindered every socialist development. He also accused Székely of “political crimes”: the corruption of Hungarians through the appropriation of politically tainted melodies (including the tunes of fascist marches and Zionist songs); the placement of “enemy elements in important functions”; the intentional alienation of Kodály; and the programming of “reactionary” (sacred) choral music by composers such as Handel, Lassus, and Viadana.” (Music divided, p. 121)
Already in the past “Ferenc Szabó had lodged complaints about him [Székely] to the Ministry of Education and to the party’s Division of Agitation and Propaganda.” (Music divided, p. 121)
Opportunist composer András Mihály was Székely’s main accomplice. Mihály was strongly criticized for his conservatism, nationalism and anti-Soviet bias. Both Mihály and Székely were bureaucratic despots who suppressed other composers and suppressed democracy. Due to their reactionary nationalism they tried to repress true communist composers like Szabó and attacked them as “Soviet composers”.
A memorandum to Révai stated:
“In the area of musical life András Mihály and Endre Székely cannot hold leading functions. From this it follows that they must resign from membership in the board of the association. We further recommend that Mihály resign his membership in the Music Academy’s board of directors, that Székely resign from the membership of the Opera’s board of directors, and that likewise both of them resign from their offices in the Association of Hungarian Librettists, Composers and Music Publishers. Only Székely must resign from the editorial committee of the New Music Review; Mihály may continue to fulfill that function. Székely’s resignation from the position as the director of the Radio Chorus may be considered if we can find an appropriate replacement.” (Quoted in Music divided, p. 136)
A meeting was then held under Révai’s leadership where Mihály and Székely had the chance to defend themselves. Székely failed to say anything adequate while Mihály gave a self-criticism. However, this self-criticism was not severe or thorough enough, and his later career showed it was entirely dishonest. Mihály continued a covert struggle against the Party and socialism for years afterwards.
In the realm of popular music and musical entertainment in the Hungarian People’s Republic, Folk Ensembles were created, such as the Honvéd military Ensemble, the Radio Folk Ensemble, the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble and Rajkó Ensemble, Gypsy Orchestra of the League of Young Communists.
MIHÁLY CSOKONAI VITÉZ (1773-1805)
Mihály Csokonai Vitéz was an early progressive Hungarian poet who drew inspiration from the people:
“Csokonai Vitéz, Mihály Born Nov. 17, 1773, in Debrecen; died there Jan. 28, 1805. Hungarian poet and dramatist.
Csokonai Vitéz’ poems, representative of the Enlightenment, reflect the influence of J.-J. Rousseau and Voltaire; they include “Evening” and “Constantinople.” In the satirical play Tempefői (published 1844; staged 1938), he denounced the stagnation and ignorance of the nobility. The poem cycle Songs of Lilla creates an atmosphere of amorous languor, bitter solitude, and disappointment while protesting against social inequality. Csokonai Vitéz’ poems combine traditional mythological elements and a refined style with the form and language of Hungarian folk poetry.
During his lifetime, Csokonai Vitéz published only a small amount of poetry, the collection of translations Spring (1802), and the comic epic poem Dorottya (1804).
Összes versei, vols. 1–2. Budapest, 1967.
In Russian translation:
[“Stikhi.”] In Mad’iarskie poety. St. Petersburg, 1897.
[“Pesnia.”] In Antologiia vengerskoi poezii. Moscow, 1952. Pages 89–97.
Gidash, A. “Tvorets prekrasnykhpesen.” Ogonek, 1955, no. 4.
Sinkó, E. Csokonai életműve. Novi Sad, 1965.
Tótfalusi, I. Árkádiában éltemén is Csokonai élete. Budapest, 1966.
Csokonai Vitéz Mihaly: Bibliografía. 1945–1954. Budapest, 1955.”
(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
MIHÁLY VÖRÖSMARTY (1800-1855)
“We are the rightful heirs, the straight continuation of all that which was progressive in our thousand years of history, of all which was vigorous and pointed to the future. That is why we could intimately and unitedly celebrate the centenary of the 1948 revolution, the birth of Vörösmarty, the anniversary of the death of Petöfi and the fighter for freedom, General Bem. That is why we develop further and lead to victory the great ideas of Hungarian progress. This historical heritage makes every Hungarian Communist duty-bound to fight even better, not to spare his efforts for the happiness and flourishing of his much-suffered people.“ (M. Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party February 25, 1951)
“Mihaly Vörösmarty (1800-55)—The great poet of the Reform Period, whose work still bore marks of the classical period, but who turned more and more towards national and popular themes His great epic poem The Flight of Zalan, marked the beginning of a new period in Hungarian literature. His poetry expressed the romantic spirit of the times His later life was affected by the defeat of the War of Liberation, and his poetry became pessimistic and full of foreboding.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
“Vörösmarty, Mihály. Born Dec.l., 1800, in Kapolnasnyék; died Nov. 19, 1855, in Pest. Hungarian poet, playwright, and critic; exponent of Hungarian romanticism. Graduated from the departments of philosophy and law of the University of Budapest.
In 1825, Vörösmarty published the romantic patriotic narrative poem Zalán’s Flight. His play The Exiles (1830) embodied the notion of the lawfulness of an uprising against a despotic king, and the story-play Csongor and Tünde (published 1831) gave expression to the idea of the victory of life over death. Sympathy for the people (the ballad Beautiful Ilonka, 1832) and the spirit of the love of freedom (the historical drama Czillei and Hunyadi, published 1844; the poem The Call; and others) are characteristic of his writings. He welcomed the revolution of 1848 (the poem Battle Song) and was elected deputy to the revolutionary parliament. In 1849 he became a judge of the High Court of Appeals of Hungary. The poems Foreword and The Old Gypsy, written after the defeat of the revolution, when terror was prevalent, testified to Vörösmarty’s fidelity to the ideals of national liberation.
In Russian translation:
Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1956.
Klaniczai, T., J. Szauder, and M. Szabolcsi. Kratkaia istoriia ven-gerskoi literatury. [Budapest] 1962.
Horváth, J. Vörösmarty drámái. Budapest, 1969.”
(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
SÁNDOR PETÖFI (1823-1849)
Sándor Petőfi was a legendary patriotic poet and revolutionary. He was a key leader in the 1848 revolution and is the National Poet of Hungary. His poetry was taken as a model by Socialist Realists.
“Sandor Petofi (1823-49)—The greatest Hungarian poet, and one of the great poets of the world. He was also the most far-seeing of the political leaders of the 1848 revolution. He was killed in battle in 1849. His writings were distorted and in some cases repressed by the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Horthy regime. Under the People’s Democracy his work is widely appreciated, and lie is hailed as its leading precursor.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
“Petőfi, Sándor. Born Jan. 1, 1823, in Kiskőrös; died July 31, 1849, in Fehéregyhaza. Hungarian poet and revolutionary democrat; participant in the Revolution of 1848-49 in Hungary.
Petőfi’s father, I. Petrovics, a Serb by birth, was a cattle merchant; his mother was from a poor Slovak family. Poverty led Petőfi to enlist as a soldier in 1839. He was dismissed from the army in 1841 because of illness. He became an itinerant actor and also earned his living by translating and copying. His first poem, “The Drinker,” was published in 1842. In 1844 his collection Verses was published on the recommendation of M. Vörös-márty. It already revealed a nationally based world view and a realism imbued with humor. Many of Petófi’s poems, such as “Once Into the Kitchen I Flew” and “Bargaining,” have become popular songs.
The rebellious protest of Petőfi’s poetry became democratic in character at an early stage, as seen in “Against Kings” and “The Wild Flower.” In his heroicomic narrative poem The Village Smith (1844) and the folkloric fairy-tale epic The Knight János (1844), Petőfi abandoned the prevailing conservative pseudo-romantic literary canons and affirmed popular content and form.
Disappointment in love, critical attacks on his alleged crude-ness and tastelessness, as well as concern for the fate of his country, led to an inner crisis for Petófi. The cycle Clouds (1845— 46) is imbued with a sense of the disharmony of existence, and the narrative poems Szilaj Pista Silai (1846) and Salgó (1846) contain tragic themes.
In 1846, Petőfi attempted to found a revolutionary organization, the Society of Ten, among the radical youth of Pest, in order to strive for a democratic literature. His friendship with J. Arany and marriage to Julia Szendrey (1847) were of great importance for Petőfi. As the social struggle intensified, his poetry became almost a calendar of its events, expressing civic responsibility and a craving for revolutionary action. This is seen in “Only One Thing Troubles Me,” “The Palace and the Hovel,” “To the Poets of the 19th Century,” “In the Name of the People,” and “Heroes in Sackcloth.” In his love lyrics, Petőfi celebrates a woman whom he sees as a comrade in the revolutionary and patriotic conflict. The unity of socially analytical realism and revolutionary romanticism and of clarity of expression and intense intellectuality, as seen in Man and Lights!, elevates Petőfi’s work to humanistic and literary heights.
In 1847, Petőfi became head of the Young Hungary organization. He helped develop the program for the bourgeois democratic revolution (the “12 Articles”). Together with P. Vasvári, he led the revolutionary uprising of Mar. 15, 1848, in Pest and Buda. He called for the complete abolition of feudalism, the intensifying of the revolution, and the founding of an independent and democratic Hungarian republic. The poet-tribune demanded full implementation of popular rights in such works as “National Song,” “To the Gallows With the Kings!” and “To the Nation.”
Defeated by the nobles in elections to the National Assembly, Petőfi joined the revolutionary army in September 1848, becoming the aide-de-camp of J. Bem in January 1849. He wrote battle songs glorifying the soldiery. As before, the content of his lyrics merged with the revolutionary cause, but now tragic chords appeared as well, evoked by national difficulties, the enemy’s military superiority, and the absence of other revolutionary centers in Europe. These traits are seen in “Most Terrible Times” and “Life or Death” and in the narrative poem The Apostle (1848; published in full in 1874), whose hero sacrifices his life for the liberation of the people.
Petőfi died in a clash with cossacks of the tsarist army. His works began to appear in Russian in the 1850’s in translations by V. Benediktov, F. Korsh, M. Mikhailov, and A. Mikhailov. In the Soviet period his translators have included V. Levik, G. Abashidze, A. Lunacharskii, L. Martynov, B. Pasternak, L. Pervomaiskii, and N. Tikhonov. His poetry has been translated into most of the national languages of the USSR.
Összes művei, vols. 1-3. Budapest, 1955.
Összes Költeményei, vols. 1-2. Budapest, 1966.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1-4. Moscow, 1952-53.
Tigr i giena. Moscow, 1957.
Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1958.
Stikhotvoreniia, poemy. Moscow, 1971.
Vitiaz’ Ianosh: Izbr. stikhotvoreniia. Moscow, 1972.
P-ov, S. “Aleksandr Petefi: Vengerskii poet.” Russkoe slovo, 1861, no. 3.
Mikhailov, A. “Aleksandr Petefi.” Zhivopisnoe obozrenie, 1878, no. 21.
N-v, N. “Aleksandr Petefi.” Zhivopisnoe obozrenie, 1899, no. 32.
Kun, B. “Shandor Petefi—poet mirovoi svobody.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1958, no. 3.
Gidash, A. Shandor Petefi. Moscow, 1960.
Lunacharskii, A. V. “Aleksandr Petefi.” Sobr. soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1965.
Shakhova, K. O. Shandor Petefi spivets’ ugor’skoi revoliutsii. Kiev, 1969.
Gershkovich, A. A. Poeticheskii teatr Petefi. Moscow, 1970.
Iiesh, D. Shandor Petefi. Moscow, 1972.
Rossiianov, O. K. “Sovremennost’ Petefi.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1973, no. 1.
Ferenczi, Z. Petőfi életrajza, vols. 1-3. Budapest, 1896.
Hatvany, L. Igy élt Pető fi, vols. 1-5. Budapest, 1955-57.
Ady, E. Ifjú szivekben élek. Budapest, 1958.
Pándi, P. Petőfi Budapest, 1961.
Petőfi tüze. Tanulmányok Petőfi Sándorról. [Budapest] 1972. (Bibliography, pp. 565-77.)”
(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by O. K. Rossiianov)
JÁNOS ARANY (1817-1882)
“Janos Arany (1817-82)—The greatest epic Hungarian poet of the nineteenth century. He supported the revolutionary movement of 1848-49. His greatest work The Trilogy of Toldi, was the story of a fifteenth century small nobleman, who fought against the ruling oligarchy. He translated Shakespeare into Hungarian, and wide a number of essays on poetry, drama and literary history. A member of a group of writers studying folklore and folk poetry; his work showed strong influence of this trend.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
The poet János Arany was another revolutionary comrade and friend of Sandor Petőfi.
Arany’s poetry reflects peasant life with deep truth and insight and his poetry shows the aspirations of the peasantry for liberation. Arany’s epic Toldi trilogy, powerfully depicts the struggle of the peasant masses (see Lukács György: A százéves Toldi)
Arany’s works also advocated a scientific materialist worldview (such as the poem “The Mustache”, a parody of a superstitious kulak)
Despite Lukacs holding right-deviationist views and later becoming a renegade, his analysis of Toldi is profoundly correct. After the failure of the 1848 revolution and the death of Petöfi, Arany’s work changed. He became somewhat pessimistic and escapist. Already in Toldi we see that the protagonist is alienated from the aristocratic world, but doesn’t consciously fight against it, only abandons it. In his late work Toldi became interested in myth and the ancient Hungarian past. Without Petöfi’s revolutionary courage and vision, he could no longer attain the political sharpness and heights of artistic quality of his best work.
After the proletarian power was established in Hungary there was an increased interested in Arany. The works of the great poet were studied and became popular:
“For the 1950 Book Day, an anthology of the poet’s poems was published… János Arany’s oeuvre received increased attention on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of his death .” (Ágnes Eitlereitler, “The “Re-Tuning” of János Arany’s Life and Work in the Popular Education of the 1950s”)
“Arany, János Born Mar. 2, 1817, in Nagyszalonta; died Oct. 22, 1882, in Budapest. Hungarian poet.
Arany was the son of a peasant. He worked as a schoolteacher and was a clerk on the town council. His epic poem Toldi brought him recognition and the friendship of M. Vörösmárty and S. Petöfi. He took part in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848–49 and wrote the popular songs “Song of the National Guardsman” and “What We Do.” In 1857, Arany wrote the angry patriotic ballad “Welsh Bards.” He was also the author of historical ballads (such as “László V”), epic poems (Toldi, 1846; Toldi’s Eve, 1848; and Toldi’s Love, 1878), narrative poems (such as Kevehaza), satirical poems (such as The Lost Constitution); and lyrical and philosophical poetry.
Összes munkái, vols. 1–12. Budapest, 1900.
Összes kolte ményei, [vols. 1–3. Budapest,] 1955.
In Russian translation:
Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1960. [Foreword by E. Malykhina.]
Ballady. Budapest, .
Tri velikikh vengerskikh poeta. Budapest, 1952.
Levik, V. “Poeziia la. Arania.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1961, no. 12.
Klaniczai, T., J. Sauder, and M. Szabolesi. Kratkaia istoriia vengerskoi literatury XI-XX vv. Budapest, 1962. (Translated from Hungarian.)
Riedl, F. Arany János. Budapest, 1957.
Keresztury, D. “S mi vagyok én . . .”: Arany János’ 1817–56. Budapest, 1967.”
(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
ENDRE ADY (1877-1919)
The most important pre-revolutionary Hungarian poet of the 20th century was Endre Ady who wrote democratic, patriotic and anti-imperialist poetry. The best analysis of Ady’s work was done by the marxist theoretician Joszef Revai. I have added links to collections of Ady’s poems in English at the end of the article.
In the introduction of Poems of Endre Ady by Anton N. Nyerges, the author claims that Ady fits poorly into the “communist mold”. This is simply an ignorant statement. Ady of course was not a socialist realist, he actually came from the symbolist tradition. However, there is nothing of the usual reactionary character of much of symbolism in Ady. Ady opposed the non-political attitude and pessimism of symbolism. In Ady’s work there is nothing similar to the poet Akhmatova, who was strongly criticized by Zhdanov. There is sadness, but no apathetic pessimism, there are themes of love and emotion, but nothing anti-political, there are themes of ancient mythology, but nothing about wanting to return to the past.
Ady began from the symbolist tradition and wrote much about mortality and death. He used symbolist techniques and religious imagery, but he developed a unique Hungarian and democratic set of symbols. The class struggle deeply resonated with him and he started also writing about it and demanding revolution. The first imperialist world war shocked him deeply, and as a committed democrat and internationalist he focused a lot of his artistic attention to oppose the war. In his last works the horror of the war is the main theme, and this is generally regarded as the peak of his career.
In his poems there can be found an anti-imperialist, internationalist and socialist revolutionary program:
In the book Blood and Gold the entire cycle “Money, Our Lord” is a critique of capitalist society, albeit perhaps obscure. Ady writes:
“By gloomy banks of Babylon I sit…
My father, Mammon, hear these fawning prayers
trembling from your little servant’s lips
…I sit enslaved
…Mammon, soothe my sorrowing chasteness
and say that it was you who willed my fate.
Hum that my lot is good, my rags no curse.”
In the book On Elijah’s Chariot in the poem “Song of the Magyar Jacobin” Ady perfectly characterizes the situation. Hungary is asleep, the masses are asleep. But only when the masses awaken to revolution they can build a better life for themselves:
“poor anaesthetized Hungary.
Do you exist? — and we?…
When will we fuze a thousand mycelian desires
into one enormous will?
How long will they be rulers
and we the sheepish millions?…
all belongs to us tomorrow
in this land of the sombre disinherited
if we will and if we dare.”
He also emphasizes internationalism, and says all the different nationalities must work together against their common oppressors:
“for magyar, slav and roman sorrows
are issue of a single sorrows…
When shall we coalesce
and out in one voice
we the rabble and homeless
the magyars and non-magyars?”
The poem “The Star of Stars” from the same book is one of the most beautiful poems I have ever read:
“Never will the red star fall —
sun, moon, and Venus streak from sight,
but the red star lords in the eastern sky.
…dawn can emerge with one star alone.
Red star, shine refulgent and rule.
Since first men looked toward the sky,
the red star has kept their hope alive.”
In “The Grandson of Dozsa” (Dozsa was the leader of the Hungarian peasant uprising of 1514) Ady identifies himself with the revolutionaries and threatens the nobility:
“I am grandson of George Dosza…
If the people come, ho magnates,
whither from marauding castle litters
shall you flee?”
In “The Message of the Mirage” Ady warns the bourgeoisie too:
“Ye, good burghers…
Tomorrow may be too late to change,
To correct old sins, the ancient charge.
Gentlemen, there may be dire trouble some dawn
If you be awakened by a red mirage.”
In one of his most beautiful poems, “The Sun of March” Ady writes a communist revolutionary program:
“Sun of the March month, mighty is your power,
and yet in aeons you never seared us with
a Revolution, a Hungarian March.
Like Mastodons we sate in mirrors of ice
…if we fail to trample those who bar our way,
all those who hinder a Hungarian March.
If there is a God who smites, let him smite
those who would keep the smallest bit of old.
A curse is on this land, we must destroy
all the agglomerations of our past…
We see revolt in every passing hour
and look with unspeakably murderous eyes
at haughty aristocrats and the newly rich,
because within this world that hurries on
our future and our life is now at stake.
The stench of rank and money stupefies…
The radiant March has ordered everyone
to be reviewed and weighed in battle ranks.
At last this March may reach sad Hungary
… a miracle of beauty your coming.”
Ady’s anti-war poems have become famous, particularly “Remembrance of a Summer Night” and “Leading the Dead” which depict in a fittingly apocalyptic style the destruction, death and madness that overtook the entire country. Another famous poem is “Greetings to the Victors” where Ady mourns the horrible devastation.
Of course Ady was not a Socialist Realist, and showed the influences of his own time. He was a solitary individual artist, a visionary, and not a stereotypical idealized proletarian poet. But nonetheless, in Hungary he was the best of his time.
“Ady, Endre. Born Nov. 22, 1877, in the village of Ermindscent; died Jan. 27, 1919, in Budapest. Hungarian poet and publicist. Son of an impoverished nobleman. Studied at the law faculty of Debrecen University.
Ady’s first collection was Poems (1899). His passionate striving to change bourgeois reality begins to appear in the collection Once Again (1903). His article “Earthquake” (1906) was devoted to the December 1905 armed uprising in Moscow. During the years when the liberation struggle in Hungary was on the ascent, one of Ady’s main lyric themes was the call to revolution—for example, in the cycle “Song of the Street” in the collection On the Chariot of Elijah the Prophet (1908) and in the poem “Let Us Gallop Toward the Revolution” (1913).
Összes versei, vols. 1–2. Budapest, 1955.
Válogatott cikkei és tanulmanyai. Budapest, 1954.
Összes prózai mũvei, vols. 1–8. Budapest, 1955–68.
In Russian translation:
Stikhi. Moscow, 1958.
Rossiianov, O. K. Tvorchestvo Endre Adi. Moscow, 1967.
Bóka, L. Ady Endreélete es mũvei. Budapest, 1955.
Bölöni, G. Az igazi Ady. Budapest, 1966.
Varga, J. Ady Endre. Budapest, 1966.”
(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
ATTILA JÓZSEF (1905-1937)
The time of true Proletarian Poets was going to follow: the best example of this is Attila József. He joined the Communist Party in 1930 and was persecuted by the fascist government. The life of the great proletarian poet ended tragically, as he had long suffered with mental illness (probably Schizophrenia) and committed suicide in 1937. Particularly in the early 30s József developed Socialist Realism. Some of his later poems show signs of his suicidal mood and mental degradation, dealing with topics of madness and premonitions of his own death. Some of his poems particularly from the period of his worsening mental health, do not stand up to the same high quality as his best works. They suffer from pessimism, mysticism, individualistic subjectivism and general formalism. All the negative qualities and mistakes in his art are explained primarily by the fact that Attila József remained quite isolated from the masses.
It must be noted that Attila József committed some political mistakes (idealistic tendencies), which were caused or made worse by his mental suffering (more about his mistakes in appendix 3 at the end of the article). Despite any mistakes, he was always held in very high regard by the Hungarian Communist government. Attila József was awarded a posthumous Kossuth Prize in 1948. In 1950 the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic created the Attila József Prize which was awarded to Hungarian writers of excellent quality.
The great national liberation revolutionary poet Petőfi, the democrat, internationalist, socialist poet Ady, and the proletarian Attila József, laid the foundations for Socialist Poetry in Hungary. All the other great national poets such as János Arany and Mihály Vörösmarty were also greatly appreciated. However, Petöfi was the greatest because he was the most connected with the masses, learned from them and thus achieved the greatest clarity and expressiveness. Jozsef Revai said:
““It could disturb our progress, had we not related critically to such giants of the Hungarian culture as Béla Bartók, Endre Ady, Gyula Derkovits and also a part of the works of Attila József should be listed here in a manner. Theirs is a great work, eternal treasure of the Hungarian culture. But it is not a coincidence that the Hungarian poetry did not depend on the ways of Endre Ady or Attila József, but in the imaging methods and democratization of the style going back to Sándor Petőfi. These great rebels without exception had the weakness that although they hated the old world and wanted the new one, they were more or less isolated from the revolutionary popular movements of their age, or they did not quite uphold it”” (quoted in “The rule of Sándor Petőfi in the memory policy of hungarians, slovaks and the members of the hungarian minorty group in Slovakia in the last 150 years”, Ivan Halász, Andor Mészáros, Gábor Schweitzer, Károly Vȍrȍsp. 135)
Stressing the superiority of Petőfi, Revai said in another speech “Hungarian poetry cannot go further on the path of Ady or even of Attila József, because neither is sufficiently part of the folk. One can go further on the path of Petőfi—naturally with new content.” (Music divided, p. 113)
That is not to say that others didn’t make contributions, they certainly did, and it had become part of the artistic culture, but Petőfi’s superiority lay exactly in his democratic clear style, which was most suitable for advancement. It needed to be developed further and given a new Socialist content.
“József, Attila. Born Apr. 11, 1905, in Budapest; died Dec. 3, 1937, in the village of Balatonszarszo. Hungarian poet; became a member of the Hungarian Communist Party in 1930.
József was the son of a worker. He studied at the universities of Szeged and Vienna and at the Sorbonne. Imitation of E. Ady, G. Juhász, and W. Whitman is noticeable in his first collection, Beggar of Beauty (1922). However, in his collections It Is Not I Who Shouts (1924) and No Father or Mother (1929), despite the well-known influence of expressionism and surrealism, he was already asserting his own defiantly grotesque, but at times sincere, lyric manner. József’s poetry, in which an intense drama-tism appears, reflects the unfortunate condition of working people and their will for revolutionary struggle (the collections Root Out the Stumps and Don’t Whine, 1931; Night on the Outskirts, 1932; and Bear’s Dance, 1934). In his last collection, Very Painful (1936), bitter protest is interwoven with depression and despair.
Összes versci. [Budapest] 1966.
Összes művei, vols. 1–4. Budapest, 1952–67.
Irodalom es szocializmus. [Budapest] 1967.
In Russian translation:
Stikhotvoreniia. Moscow, 1958.
Stikhi. Moscow .
Shargina, L. ‘Attila Iozhef.” In the collection Pisateli stran narodnoi demokratii. Moscow, 1959.
Rossiianov, O. “Poeticheskii obraz u Attily Iozhefa.” In the collection Poeziia sotsializma. Moscow, 1969.
Szabolcsi, M. Fiatal életek indulója. Budapest, 1963.
Forgács, L. József Attila esztétikója. Budapest, 1965.
Tötök, G. A lira: Logika. Budapest, 1968.
Balogh, L. József Attila, 2nd ed. Budapest, 1970.”
(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by O. K. Rossiianov)
MIHÁLY TÁNCSICS (1799-1884)
Mihály Táncsics was a significant revolutionary writer, close comrade of Petőfi and a socialist propagandist.
“Táncsics, Mihály Born Apr. 21, 1799, in Ácsteszér; died June 28, 1884, in Budapest. Hungarian revolutionary democrat.
The son of a serf, Táncsics worked as a farm laborer, weaver, and teacher. He was a supporter of the French Revolution, the Jacobins, and Robespierre and an advocate of French utopian socialism. In The People’s Book (1842), Views on Freedom of the Press (1844), and The Voice of the People Is the Voice of God (1848), he set forth the most radical program of revolutionary reforms of his time, including emancipation of enserfed peasants without redemption payments and the introduction of universal suffrage. In 1847 he was jailed for his revolutionary pronouncements. His liberation, on Mar. 15, 1848, was one of the first events of the Revolution of 1848–49 in Hungary, in which Táncsics, together with S. Petőfi and P. Vasvári, led the radical wing.
In June 1848, Táncsics was elected a deputy to the Hungarian National Assembly. After the defeat of the revolution, he was sentenced to death in absentia. He hid until the proclamation of a general amnesty in 1857. In 1860 he was arrested and imprisoned for organizing a demonstration to commemorate the anniversary of the revolution. After his release, in 1867, Táncsics formed ties with the workers’ and socialist movement, and for a time he was chairman of the Universal Workers’ Union.
Válogatottirásai. Budapest, 1957.
Moi zhiznennyi put’. Moscow, 1972. (Translated from Hungarian.)”
(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by T. M. Islamov)
JOZSEF EÖTVÖS (1815-1871)
“Jozsef Eötvös (1815-71)—A poet, writer, philosopher and politician, he was a member of the liberal-minded aristocracy. He fought against injustice, the feudal system and for the emancipation of the Jews. He was the author of several historical novels, one of them dealing with the peasant revolution of 1514. His style is heavy and complex, but full of thought. In later life he joined the Government, and compromised with the Hapsburg Monarchy.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
KALMAN MIKSZATH (1849-1910)
“Kalman Mikszath (1849-1910) —One of the most popular Hungarian novelists, who introduced political satire into his short stories. He was well acquainted with the life of the people and the small gentry, and showed up the abuses of the bureaucracy. Although he depicted the debauchery and decadence of upper-class life, he did not go as far as to draw conclusions from his observations, his style is full of charm and natural humour.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
ZSIGMOND MÓRICZ (1879-1942)
Zsigmond Móricz was Hungary’s greatest fiction author of the 20th century. He wrote Critical Realism. During the Hungarian Soviet Republic he worked for several communist newspapers and in the Writers’ Directorate. As a result he was persecuted and blacklisted in Horthy’s Hungary. Móricz’s most famous work is Be faithful unto death, which has been translated into English. It is a semi-autobiographical story about a sweet student boy named Mihaly (or “Misi”) who is struggling with the hardships of life and is falsely accused of theft. It reads a lot like Charles Dickens, and is just as good. I absolutely loved reading it. The book vividly reveals the class realities of semi-feudalist capitalist Hungary.
Relations is a novel about a poor clerk in a small town, who is promoted and discovers how corrupt the town bureaucracy is. The rich bureaucrats have been stealing town funds for decades and are involved in all kinds of scams. This is a very hard-hitting critical realist work.
Gold in the mud is realistic examination of peasant life with incredibly life-like characters. The premise might sound boring, but the book is absolutely gripping. The depiction of the characters small and big joys, life’s monotony and agony of unhappiness are all shown with amazing reality and life. The characters are so vivid and believable that you get very invested in them, you smile at even their brief happiness and cry at their tragedies.
“Móricz, Zsigmond. Born July 29, 1879, in Csécse; died Sept. 4, 1942, in Budapest. Hungarian writer.
The son of a peasant, Móricz studied at the University of Debrecen; he later became a journalist. He won renown for his story “The Seven Kreuzers” (1908). His novels on country life, Gold Nugget (1911), Behind God’s Back (1911), and The Torch (1917), are imbued with sympathy for the common people. In 1918, Móricz hailed the bourgeois-democratic revolution and, in 1919, the Hungarian Soviet Republic.
In 1920, Móricz published his novel Be Good Till Death (Russian translation, 1959), his lyrical reminiscences of childhood. In the novels Gentry Spree (1927; Russian translation, 1961), Hot Fields (1929; Russian translation, 1963), and Relatives (1930; Russian translation, 1954), Móricz depicted the decline of the feudal gentry in Hungary and the greed of the capitalists. He wrote the historical trilogy Transylvania (1922–33). In 1935, Moricz published his novel The Happy Man, about the tragic fate of a Hungarian peasant condemned to inescapable poverty in a world of moneygrubbers.
In the last years of his life, Móricz became increasingly rebellious; for example, his novel Betyár (1937). His works, following the trend of critical realism, occupy an important place in Hungarian literature.
Összegyüjtött müvei, vols. 1–49. Budapest, 1953–60.
In Russian translation:
Rasskazy. Moscow, 1954.
Izbrannoe, vols. 1–2. Introductory article by O. Rossiianov. Moscow, 1958.
P’esy. Moscow, 1962.
Zhuzhanna v Klagenfurte: Rasskazy. Moscow, 1970.
Ady, E. “Móricz Zsigmond.” Nyugat, Aug. 16, 1909.
Móricz, V. Apám regenye. Budapest, 1963.
Illés, E. Krétarajzok. Budapest, 1957.
Czine, M. Móricz Zsigmond útja a forradalmakig. Budapest, 1960.
Móricz, M. Móricz Zsigmond érkezése. Budapest, 1966.
Vargha, K. Móricz Zsigmond: Alkotásai és vallomásai tükrében, 2nd ed. Budapest, 1971.”
(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by E. I. Malykhina)
Jozsef Revai said about the great classical Hungarian authors:
“Our struggle for socialist humanism is indeed humane because our fight for a classless society is strengthened and enlarged by the knowledge that the old and inhuman world has been loathed, not only by us but also by those great critical realists such as Jozsef Eötvös, Kalman Mikszath and Zsigmond Moricz, who unveiled the depravity and rottenness of the old world with shattering force. It is we who carry out the death sentence on the old world, but Moricz in his novels had already pronounced that this world was ripe to perish.
To honour classical realistic inheritance and to study it seriously, of course, does not mean that we renounce the right to set out and criticise the weakness and class-limits of our great realistic writers. We know that Eotvos was not only the writer of The Village Scribe, etc., but also the man who was frightened by the storm of 1848 and who compromised after 1867, We know that Mikszath not only criticised the Hungary of the gentry with murderous satire but also contemplated the process of its decay with cynical amusement, without giving voice to the despair of the people. Zsigmond Moricz, who in the last period of his life already searched for a way out, by means of popular revolution, from the decay of gentry Hungary, nevertheless could not free himself completely from a certain melancholic sympathy, from feeling a certain “Hungarian solidarity” with the gang of depraved gentry who set fire not only to their own homes but to the whole country.
We do not thus close our eyes to the class-limitations of our classical realists and to the weaknesses which arise from them, but we also know that their work and their importance and the part played in the history of Hungarian literature cannot be characterised and understood from these class- limitations alone. Can we understand Eotvos only by the fact that he was a baron, and he was in the Ministry of the compromising Bathanyi Government who forsook freedom? Can we understand Mikszath only from the fact that he played cards with Kalman Tisza?” (Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, pp. 25-26)
*Tisza was a liberal politician who eventually became a strong reactionary.
PETER VERES (1897-1970)
“Peter Veres—Born in 1897, the son of a day-labourer. He worked as a swine-herd until the age of eleven. Alter serving in the First World War as a private, he became the most prominent member of the “peasant romantic” trend in Hungarian literature. He was many times persecuted by the police, and sent to a forced labour camp during the Second World War. After the liberation he became one of the leaders of the Peasant Party. In 1950 he was awarded the Kossuth Prize for his novel The Test Case.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
“Socialist construction, the leading role of the Party in the life of the people, can be depicted to an even lesser degree as time goes on by standing outside and above the struggles of the people, without Party adherence, and by the “objectivity” of old realism. This is proved, for instance, by the development of Peter Veres who, as a peasant realist writer, while depicting the new peasant life without any preconceived “political” intentions, found himself confronted with the problems of the producer co-operatives, of Communist peasants, and of the role of the Party; and when trying to solve these problems in a literary way, under the pressure of creation, so to speak, developed from a peasant realist into a socialist realist.” (Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, p. 25)
Despite growing closer to socialism, Veres remained to a significant degree influenced by his lifelong career as a peasant populist. As such he could not follow the correct course with guidance from the Marxist-Leninists. In 1953-55 he came somewhat under the influence of rightism. During the 1956 counter-revolutionary uprising, Veres did not actively support the uprising, but also did clearly understand its significance. He wanted to bring an end to the bloodshed by negotiations, but this was utopian. After the uprising Veres continued his work in the People’s Democratic government, but could not understand or resist the new Kadarist revisionism.
JOZSEF DARVAS (1912-1973)
“Jozsef Darvas—Born in 1912, the son of a day-labourer. He became a teacher and, later, editor of the left-wing periodical Thought. His first book, Black Bread, was one of the pioneer works of Hungarian popular literature. One of the founder-members of the Peasant Party, he was Minister of Construction m 1947-49, and Minister of Education in 1950.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
Jozsef Revai said that after Horthy’s counter-revolution many writers apologized for their support of the Soviet Republic. But after the creation of the Hungarian People’s Republic, how many self-criticized for their concessions to horthyism? Revai said: “Jozsef Darvas is the only one who did that, and he isn’t the one who had most reason.” (Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, p. 22)
In 1953-54 Darvas wavered politically. He held something like a middle position between the Marxist-Leninists and the rightist group of Imre Nagy. In 1954 he returned to the Marxist-Leninists, but couldn’t put up a serious enough resistance against the later Kadarist revisionism.
ERNO URBAN (1918-1974)
A skilled writer who received the Kossuth Prize in 1952 and the Attila József Prize in 1971. Urban had political waverings in 1953-54 when his satirical play “The Cucumber Tree” was published. This play was influenced by rightist views and received criticism from the Marxist-Leninists. Urban distanced himself from Imre Nagy in 1954 and came back to the side of the party. However, he couldn’t put up a serious fight against the later Kadarist revisionism.
SÁNDOR NAGY (1922-1990)
Sándor Nagy was a writer and journalist from the Peasant Party. In 1948 he joined the Communist Party and helped organize the People’s Colleges. He won the Baumgarten Award and the Kossuth Prize in 1949. He began working for Szabad Nép and Hétfői Hírek. In 1952 he won the Third Degree Stalin Prize for his work “Megbékélés” (Reconciliation). In the mid 50s he worked for the Művelt Nép and wrote articles on culture for Hétfői Hírek.
Sándor Nagy “confronted the Communist Party in the early 1960s, because of its Sino-Albanian policy. He was convicted on charges of political agitation in a so-called Sino-Albanian lawsuit.” (sources 1, 2) At that time the Party had become revisionist and held anti-Chinese and anti-Albanian views (I would really like to get more information about this). After serving his sentence Sándor Nagy worked as a manual laborer.
In 1950 Revai had criticized Sándor Nagy for objectivism (political neutrality in art): “We can unfortunately observe this tendency in the young and otherwise gifted Sandor Nagy.” (Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, p. 31)
An advanced Socialist Realist type of literature was emerging. Perhaps the best representative of this new art is Béla Illés (1895-1974). Unfortunately his work has largely not been translated for foreign audiences and it suffered at the hands of the Kadarists. Other socialist realist authors include Antal Hidas, Andor Gábor, Sándor Gergely, László Benjámin, Ferenc Juhász, Péter Kuczka, Sándor Rideg and others. The 1948-53 period represented the peak of Socialist Art in Hungary. The rise of revisionism negatively affected the work of authors, either forcing them out of politics or causing them ideological confusion.
Special conditions (nationalism, titoism etc.) prevailed in Hungary during the revisionist “New Course” and rise of Imre Nagy (1953-1956) and were strengthened by it. As a result a significant number of potentially valuable writers became renegades. These writers had been given awards and support by the People’s Republic, on the assumption that they would later grow up to be great writers and worthy of expectations. However, they failed to fulfill these expectations and instead became traitors. The traitor writers are the following:
Gyula “Julius” Háy (1900-1975), a writer. Like many others, he was supported by the People’s Republic to become a progressive, democratic, anti-fascist and pro-socialist writer. He received the Kossuth Prize in 1951. In 1950 Revai had criticized Háy for his method of making the class enemy into a “tragic” central figure of a plot (see Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, p. 33). At least since 1953 Gyula Háy became a revisionist supporter of Imre Nagy. In the Writers’ Union he supported Nagy, titoist policies, and opposed the government during the 1956 counter-revolution. He was expelled from the workers’ party and sentenced to 6 years in prison in 1957. After serving his sentence he emigrated to the West.
Gyula Illyés (1902-1983), a writer. He was a member of the peasant party, and was promoted by the People’s Republic to become a progressive, democratic, anti-fascist and pro-socialist writer. As a result he received the Kossuth Prize in 1948 and the József Attila Prize in 1950. However, right before and during the 1956 counter-revolution he began to agitate against Marxism-Leninism and support a right-deviation. He didn’t produce anything of quality after that. Already in 1950 Revai had seen serious flaws in the work of Illyés and had seen that Illyés wasn’t keeping up with socialist construction: “Gyula Illyes… takes a stand for the cause of the working people, independently of time and space, but evades every reference to the present working man who in general does not only toil but is building Socialism.” (Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, pp. 25-26)
Tibor Déry (1894-1977), the most influential and gifted of all the renegade writers. He was a member of the Communist party and his book “The Unfinished Sentence” (1947) was appreciated highly by Communists. It is considered his best work. In 1948 Déry was given the Kossuth Prize. His book “The Answer (volume 2)” (1952) received very negative reviews. The flaws of the book were symptoms of his ideological deviation, but ever since getting negative reviews his revisionism and bourgeois tendencies became more blatant. He was a fellow traveler during times when Communists complimented him, but immediately when he was criticized and asked to self-criticize he showed his true colors. He was a bourgeois individualist, an egoist who couldn’t stand criticism. Déry became an angry outcast fighting against socialism. His literary work also completely deteriorated and became decadent, ugly and nothing else. He attacked the People’s Republic and Marxism-Leninism as much as he could in a discussion venue called the Petöfi Club in 1956 and was expelled from the party. Being a committed enemy of Socialism at this point, Déry worked on behalf of the 1956 counter-revolution and as a result was sentenced to 9 years in prison. He continued serving a suspended sentence since 1961 and was amnestied in 1963.
Tamás Aczél (1921-1994), a famous renegade writer, started writing agitational poems and his first collection came out in 1941. He received support from the People’s Democratic government and began writing progressive poems and novels. He received the Kossuth Prize (1949) and the Stalin Prize (1952). However, since 1953 he became a supporter of the New Course (promoted by the USSR under Malenkov’s leadership) and of Imre Nagy, who promoted the rightist economics of the New Course, but also rightism on the whole ideological and cultural front. Under Nagy’s influence Aczél completely abandoned progressive and socialist literature and poetry. As a Nagy supporter, he sided with the 1956 counter-revolution and after its failure, migrated to England (1957-1966) and later to the USA (1966-1994). In exile he became part of western academia and wrote books attacking socialism (such as “The Revolt of the Mind: History of Intellectual Resistance behind the Iron Curtain”).
Tibor Méray (1924-2020), writer and journalist. Since 1946 he worked as a Szabad Nep foreign correspondent at least in the DPRK and DDR. He was awarded a silver degree Kossuth Prize for his work in Berlin in 1953. For his literary work he was also awarded the József Attila Prize in 1951 and 1952. He was the chief editor for the literature magazine Csillag in 1947-49. During the rightist New Course Méray became secretary of the Hungarian Writer’s Association (1953-54) and was on the editorial board of Szabad Nep (1954-55). Marxist-Leninists finally succeeded in dismissing him from his position in Szabad Nep in 1955. He supported Imre Nagy during the 1956 counter-revolution and after its failure fled to Yugoslavia and later to France. In exile he wrote books attacking socialism and defending Imre Nagy and collaborated with Tamás Aczél.
PAINTING AND VISUAL ART
Realism and Critical Realism
The foremost painter of pre-revolutionary Hungary was the Realist Mihály Munkácsy (1844-1900). He painted many masterpieces, most famously the gritty “The Last Day of a Condemned Man”. Near the end of his career he turned towards more political themes and painted “Strike”, a picture of striking workers.
“Mihaly Munkacsy (1844-1900)—One of the greatest Hungarian painters of the nineteenth century His work is characterised by brilliant technique and a realist outlook. For subject he usually chose the life of the peasants, and the poor m general. Some of ins paintings show Biblical scenes. He spent some lime in Paris, where he very soon became famous.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
László Mednyánszky (1852-1919) was from a noble background and influenced by impressionism. However, he became disgusted with the aristocracy and began painting Critical Realist works depicting the suffering of ordinary people. During WWI he painted the misery of prisoners of war.
János Nagy Balogh (1874-1919) came from a proletarian background and painted pictures of workers.
Adolf Fényes (1867-1945) painted many Critical Realist works, most famously “The Life of the Poor Man” series. In the Hungarian Soviet Republic he belonged to the “Artistic Executive Committee”. Because of his jewish origin he was forced into the Budapest Ghetto by the Arrow Cross Fascists which seriously undermined his health. He died from illness in 1945.
In pre-revolutionary Hungary the Nagybánya artist colony (founded in 1896) included many leading painters of the time. Its style began with naturalism (which depicts reality metaphysically, as static and with an over-emphasis on unimportant details) and later developed under the influence of impressionism (which sometimes meant progress but soon lapsed into subjectivism especially with the neo-impressionists or “Neos” of Nagybánya) and more abstract styles. The Nagybánya school included elements of the stagnation of bourgeois art, but also trained future artists. By the 20s the school had stagnated. In 1920 the territory was annexed by Romania and the school was closed by Romanian Fascists in 1937. Nagybanya attempted to create a Hungarian national style, which was correct, but its attempt to do this was misguided. It sought to achieve this by combining elements of naturalism and post-impressionism.
The French cubist, Italian futurist, German expressionist and other foreign trends were influential in Hungarian bourgeois art for a short period in the 1900s but never took root with the people. They merely represented the crisis of bourgeois art internationally and in Hungary. This is also shown by the fact that although many artists dabbled in these styles they also quickly abandoned them as the styles ended in stagnation and crisis.
“The Eight” (approximately 1909-1918)
The “Eight” group also had contradictory tendencies. Their project represented an attempt to solve the problems of contemporary bourgeois art. The attempt ran into a blind alley, but their work had a progressive influence on the next generation of artists. It was the necessary transitionary step for some artists of bourgeois origin. The “Eight” did not have a unified style, but were influenced by a variety of foreign bourgeois trends. Their ideology was petit-bourgeois radicalism and idealist utopianism. Many of their members are not worth mentioning here as they did not contribute to progressive or socialist art.
A significant early member of the group was Károly Kernstok (1873-1940). Inspired by the Critical Realism of those times, one of his earliest paintings is a realistic picture of a socialist agitator. He also created paintings of workers and peasants (such as “The Plum Pickers”) but these were already impressionistic. Afterwards he veered further and further away from reality. This is when “the Eight” group was created. Kernstok supported the Hungarian Soviet Republic and had to flee Hungary to escape the White Terror.
Bertalan Pór studied at Nagybánya, later joining the Eight. In the course of his career he was able to overcome the bourgeois influences of his early period. During the Hungarian Soviet Republic he was the head of the painting department of the Art Directorate and designed some of the most iconic posters for the revolution. After the revolution he lived in emigration in the Soviet Union. After his return to Hungary in 1948 he changed his style completely, and began producing works of Socialist Realism.
“The Activists” (approximately 1914-1925)
The artists gathered around the magazines “Tett” (“action”) and “MA” (“today” but also short for “Magyar Aktivizmus”) are known as “the activists” . Their style was similar to the Eight and they shared a similar petit-bourgeois outlook.
A member of the activists worth mentioning, Béla Uitz, became a marxist and joined the Hungarian Communist Party. Like many other members of the group he was initially attracted to the ultra-left Proletkult art movement in the USSR. Together with his comrades he split from the activists and created a communist art magazine Egység (1922-24). During the revolution of 1919 he had created posters for the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Most activists had to escape from Hungary after the revolution was crushed by the Horthyists, many emigrated to the USSR. In the USSR Béla Uitz began developing a realistic style focusing on frescoes. He painted frescoes for the Kirghiz Soviet Republic.
Istvan Desi Huber was influenced by post-impressionism but worked in the Labor Movement and tried to develop a socialist style of art. He died in 1944 during the Nazi occupation.
Gyula Derkovits originally followed the post-Nagybánya style but the content of his work made him a forerunner of the Hungarian Socialist Realists. He was a proletarian, and created pictures of proletarians. He joined the Communist Party in 1918. After the mid 1920s he began to discard the formalistic bourgeois influences of his past more and more. In the late twenties he created the “1514” engravings about the Dózsa peasant revolt and in the 30s his true masterpieces “Generations”, “Along the Railway”, “Weaver” and others. Unfortunately his poverty had undermined his health which led to his early death in 1934.
“The Group of Socialist Artists” (1934)
In 1934 the Socialist Artists’ Group was founded. This group did not have a unified method or style, but tried to create a socialist type of art. Painters and visual artists in the group included:
–Endre A. Fenyő (painter who later became famous for Socialist Realism)
–Béla Ban (painter who made some Socialist Realist works but was mainly a surrealist)
–Béla Fekete Nagy (painter who made some realistic works but was mainly influenced by bourgeois styles)
–Andor Sugár (painter who was influenced by Impressionism but made beautiful Socialist Realist works. He died in a German concentration camp)
–Károly László Háy (Socialist Realist graphic artist and set-designer)
–Ernő Berda (anti-fascist and progressive graphic artist)
Socialist Realist visual artists in the Hungarian People’s Republic besides the above mentioned, include the likes of painter Iván Szilárd the famous Sándor Ék and poster artists István Czeglédi, Tibor Bánhegyi and György Konecsni.
Other established painters also took up the new style. For example, still-life painter Anni Gáspár Felekiné received a second degree Munkácsy Award for socialist realist paintings in 1946 and Jenő Benedek and Bernáth Aurél were awarded the Kossuth Prize for their works.
In pre-revolutionary Hungary sculptor Ö. Fülöp Beck followed the bourgeois Art Nouveau trend but produced some realistic works, mainly his bust of Zsigmond Móricz.
Leftist sculptor György Goldmann was the leader of the Socialist Artists’ Group. He died tragically in a Nazi concentration camp.
The important Socialist Realist sculptor László Mészáros also belonged to the Socialist Artists’ Group. Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl was perhaps the most talented Socialist Realist sculptor in Hungary. Sándor Mikus and Pál Pátzay also produced extremely skillful works.
Hungary became famous for its ceramics. The three most important artists in this field were István Gádor, Géza Gorka and Margit Kovács. They helped develop modern ceramics into an art form. Especially Gádor and Gorka were originally influenced by bourgeois styles, but became more and more interested in folk-art, the art of the people. In 1934 Gádor joined the Socialist Artists’ Group and tried to create a united anti-fascist front of artists. The realistic and folk-inspired tendency of these artists only increased over time, but they still worked under considerable economic difficulties. Only when Hungary became a People’s Democracy their art was given full freedom to blossom.
FERENC HONT (1907-1979)
“Ferenc Hont —Born in 1907, he is a stage producer and theatre director. After the Liberation he became director of the Academy of Dramatic Art. and of the Madach Theatre.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
He received the 2nd grade Kossuth Prize in 1949.
Béla Balázs should also be mentioned because he was a well known early Hungarian Communist aesthetic thinker, critic and writer who also worked with Bartok and Kodaly. However, he made serious theoretical mistakes.
Film reached a high level in Hungary only during the Socialist government. Before that, there barely was a film industry in the country at all. Cinema going doubled from previous figures during the first Five-Year Plan (1950-54) and many collective farms built their own cinemas. Movies were originally produced in beautiful vibrant color but unfortunately the original film prints were later damaged and color degraded over time. They could be restored to their original beauty but naturally the capitalists don’t want to do that.
Socialist Realist films in Hungary were democratic in character: they depicted the lives, challenges and successes of ordinary people. For example, Civil a pályán is a film about football, one of the favorite past times in Socialist Hungary. These films (while not perfect) are both entertaining and democratic, without losing intellectual, political and artistic quality.
Many films were made about Hungarian history. Instead of advocating chauvinism, national hatred or oppression, these films demonstrated the best progressive traditions in the nation’s history. The motto of Socialist Realism is “socialist in content, national in form”. Each country has their own history of heroic class struggle against oppression and exploitation. The film Föltámadott a tenger depicts the 1848 revolution for democracy and national sovereignty of Lajos Kossuth, Rákóczi hadnagya is about Ferenc Rákóczi’s 1703–11 peasant war against the Hapsburg monarchy’s domination of Hungary.
Other Socialist Realist movies include Első fecskék, Ütközet békében, Tűzkeresztség, Teljes gőzzel, Becsület és dicsőség.
Musical and comedy elements were used to create a positive outlook on life and hope in the future. Films also utilized suspense elements to warn about the dangers which the class enemy still poses in the form of criminal sabotage and foreign intervention.
The most important bourgeois architect in Hungary is Miklós Ybl (1814-1891) who worked in the renaissance style. The Ybl Miklós Award for architects was created in 1953.
“Ybl, Miklós Born Apr. 6, 1814, in Székesfehérvár; died Jan. 22, 1891, in Budapest. Hungarian architect.
Ybl studied at the Polytechnical Institute in Vienna in 1831 and at the Academy of Arts in Munich during the early 1840’s. His works in Budapest include the Karolyi Palace (1863), a customhouse (1870-74), the Opera House (1875-84), St. Stephen’s Basilica (1867-91), and the west wing of the Royal Palace (1880-91). From 1845 to 1855 he built a church, a priest’s house, and a school in Fót. To a large extent, the unique appearance of the center of Budapest was determined by Ybl’s imposing buildings designed in Renaissance and baroque revival styles.
Ybl, E. Ybl Miklós. Budapest, 1956.”
(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
In capitalist Hungary, architect Máté Major had belonged to the Socialist Artists’ Group. However, he had received a purely bourgeois education and advocated bourgeois views. His work was completely superseded by the newly arising Socialist Realist architects like Emil Zöldy and Tibor Weiner.
Tibor Weiner had studied and later taught architecture in Hungary. He had been a member of the secret Communist Party of Hungary. Due to persecution he lost his academic position in 1931 and emigrated to the USSR. There he joined a group of socialist designers called “The Red Front”. He designed a vocational school for the silk industry in Baku in 1931 and a college of commerce in Tashkent in 1931-32. He began teaching in the Moscow College of Architecture and was a city planner for the new city of Orsk. After liberation he returned to Hungary.
During socialist construction, talented architects of pre-revolutionary Hungary like Lajos Gádoros, István Janáky, Antal Károlyi, Oszkár Winkler and Gyula Rimanóczy now adopted a Socialist Realist method of work.
The new socialist industrial city of Sztálinváros was built following the principles of Socialist Realism in architecture. This means it was designed to serve the people, following a visual style rooted in the national traditions.
Buildings in Sztálinváros were inspired by largely by Hungarian classicism and decorated by beautiful ornaments. frescoes and mosaics. Particulary Jenő Percz created magnificent mosaic art for the city. Painter Endre Domanovszky designed frescoes. György Szrogh designed the Dózsa Cinema and many nice buildings were designed by István Zilahy. Tibor Weiner was the lead architect and city planner.
Unfortunately this style which represented the peak of Hungarian architecture was entirely abandoned during the revisionist period (the name of the city was also changed to Dunaújváros).
Appendix 1. (On Bartók)
List of Bartók works which were broadcast on the radio since 1950 and considered not formalist:
-From Ten Easy Pieces: “Evening with the Széklers” (Este a Székelyeknél), “Bear Dance” (Medvetánc), Slovak Boys’ Dance
(Tóth legények tánca), Hungarian Folksong (Gödollei piactéren, listed erroneously as GödWllei vásárterem)
-Selections from Romanian Colinda Melodies (Román kolindadallamok)
-From Three Burlesques: “A Bit Drunk” (Kicsit ázottan)
-From Two Romanian Dances (Két román tánc), no. 1
-From Mikrokosmos: March (Induló), “Jack-in-the-Box” (Paprika Jancsi), Theme and Inversion (Téma és fordítása), Peasant Dance
(Dobbantos tánc), plus a group of six unspecified pieces (possibly selected from the collection “Seven Pieces from Mikrokosmos”)
-From For Children (Gyermekeknek): Slovak Folk Songs and Dances (Slovák népi dalok és táncok), “Stars” (Csillagok), “Joke” (Tréfa),
“Outlaw’s Song” (Betyár nóta), Dance Tune (Táncdal ), “My Dear Daughter” (Kiskece lányom)
-From Fourteen Bagatelles: Rubato, two unspecified movements, and possibly “Elle est morte” (listed as Valaki meghalt)
-From Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs (Tizenöt magyar parasztdal ): Old Dance Tunes (Régi táncdalok, listed as Régi magyar táncok), nos. 7–15
-From Nine Little Piano Pieces: Air (Dal)
-Waltz (which one is unspecified; possibly from Bagatelles, no. 14)
-From Two Elegies, no. 2 only
-One of the Three Rondos
-Romanian Folk Dances (Román népi táncok) (arrangement for violin and piano)
-Two Romanian Dances (op. 8a) (arrangement for violin and piano)
-First String Quartet
-Sixth String Quartet
-Sonatina (arrangement for violin and piano)
-Excerpts from For Children (Gyermekeknek) in two different arrangements for violin and piano
-Hungarian Folk Songs (arrangement for violin and piano)
-From Twenty-seven Two- and Three-Part Choruses: “Don’t Leave Me!” (Ne menj el!), “Play Song” (Játék), “Bread Baking” (Cipósütés), “Loafer’s Song” (Resteknek nótája), “Boys’ Teasing Song” (Legénycsúfoló), “Lonely Wandering” (Bolyongás), “Pillow Dance” (Párnás táncdal ) , “Enchanting Song” (Jószágígézo), “Suitor” (LeánykérW ), “Hussar” (Huszárnóta), “Don’t Leave Here!” (Ne hagyj itt!), “Girls’ Teasing Song” (Leánycsúfoló), “Had I Not Seen You” (Ne láttalak volna!), “Jeering” (Csujogató)
-Four Slovak Folk Songs, including one performance in a new orchestration by Szervánszky]; also Wedding Song (Lányát úgy adta) as an excerpt
-Székely Songs (Székely dalok)
-Hungarian Folk Songs
-From Eight Hungarian Folk Songs (Nyolc magyar népdal ): “Black Is the Earth” (Fekete fod), “My God, My God” (Istenem, Istenem), “Wives, Let Me Be One of Your Company” (Asszonyok, Asszonyok), “If I Climb” (Ha kimegyek)
-From Twenty Hungarian Folk Songs: Slow Dance (Székely lassú), Fast Dance (Székely friss), Dialogue Song (Pár-ének), New-Style Songs (Új dalok)
-From Village Scenes: Lullaby (Bölcso dal)
-Two Portraits (Két portré)
-Two Pictures (Két kép)
-Concerto for Orchestra
-Third Piano Concerto
-Hungarian Peasant Songs (Magyar parasztdalok)
-Hungarian Sketches (Magyar képek): complete and, as an excerpt, Melody (Melódia) and Swineherds’ Dance from Ürög (Ürögi
List of Bartók works which were seriously condemned: (Of course, there are a number of works which were neither condemned nor praised, and many works which were simply not significant or popular enough to be played)
-The Miraculous Mandarin
-Piano Concerto no. 1
-Concerto for two pianos, percussion, and orchestra
-Piano Concerto no. 2
-String Quartet no. 3
-String Quartet no. 4
-String Quartet no. 5
-Violin-piano sonata no. 1
-Violin-piano sonata no. 2
-3 Études op. 18
-Out of Doors
-5 songs on poems by Endre Ady” (Music divided, p. 54)
About Bartók’s work “Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs for Piano” (1920)
“[Music critic] Asztalos… defended the Improvisations on these grounds:
“Let us take the “Improvisations” as an example and compare them to the Six Little Piano Pieces by Schoenberg written around the same time. . . . In the “Improvisations” there are undeniably peculiar harmonic experiments. Bartók is seeking a new path: this is what we are addressing. But in every piece of the “Improvisations” there is the broadly and flexibly developed melodic material of the folk song, in many cases even left in its original purity. In Bartók’s music the human message, the deep and honest human content, seeks the form for its expression, and in the seeking, in the struggle for expression, individual constructive elements come into shocking contradiction with the basic material. At the same time, Schoenberg does not express anything for anybody; he makes inhuman, antisocial music.”
Even though Bartók’s accompaniment remains generally dissonant and achieves no clear harmonic resolution even at the end of the movement, the folk song dominates the texture throughout because it is clearly distinguished from the accompaniment by its tessitura and manner of articulation. Thus, despite the presence of “difficult” features, the folk song provides the listener with a connecting thread to follow.” (Music divided, p. 61)
About Bartók’s work “Out of Doors”
“In “Music of the Night” from Out of Doors, the melodic thread is much more tenuous. Rather than immediately introducing a melody, Bartók sets another layer of sporadic and irregular activity against the pulsating accompaniment, creating the oft-noted evocation of the sounds of the night that became so important a part of his style. Asztalos reported that the evocations of natural sounds in Bartók’s night-music style presented no difficulties in theory, since even Beethoven had engaged in this kind of mimesis. “The trouble begins,” Asztalos explained, when the listener arrives in a mysterious shadow world that is pregnant with complaints and with oppressive, fearsome signs. Here we meet a musical composition of human speech where we do not understand the words, but only the general features, and we feel their grave emotional content. . . . In many ways this world is like the symbolic world of folk poetry or Ady’s symbolism filled with phantoms—expressing the alienation of the spirit that finds no rest in society. This is even more harrowing with Bartók, because here as a consequence of the nature of the musical language itself, the true sound hallucinations become even more shadowy, reality becomes even more ambiguous, more dreadfully featureless: they become a monstrous document of imperialism.” (Music divided, p. 61)
Révai about Bartók’s “The Miraculous Mandarin” and “Bluebeard’s castle”
“In connection with the Bartók ballets, about which there was the big ruckus (to put it plainly) when they accused us of being against Bartók in general, here we turned against Menyhért Lengyel and Béla Balázs, and not primarily against Bartók. But Bartók too was accountable for whom he took up with. The subject of The Miraculous Mandarin is garbage. Bartók wanted to express something great, that love is greater than death, but Menyhért Lengyel cannot express something like that. And therefore we are not in favor of its being performed very often. Bluebeard is a pseudo–folk tale. In this period Bartók was mystical. This is not a folk tale, because if it were nobody would have anything against it. We are in favor of new operas being performed, which afterward must be judged. But even liberalism has a limit.” (Music divided, p. 135)
Appendix 2. (On Szabó and Szervánszky)
Criticism of Szabó’s “Homecoming concerto”
“Soviet composer Zakharov “criticized Szabó’s Homecoming concerto as too “individualistic,” but he said that since Szabó had more recently written better film music, at least he was progressing in the right direction. Szabó did not fare as well in Novikov’s essay about Hungarian music, first published in the main Soviet music journal, Sovetskaya muzyka, and later reprinted in Free Folk. Novikov stated that “Ferenc Szabó is one of the most talented of contemporary Hungarian composers. Unfortunately, he still clings to his less successful work, such as the symphonic poem entitled ‘Homecoming,’ which is a formalist work… The sooner he gives up toying with antiquated modernist ‘relics,’ the greater the contribution he will make to Hungarian musical life.” The reliance on Bartók in Szabó’s work may well have contributed to Novikov’s accusation of formalism… Szabó [realized the problem and] published several articles denouncing it as “pessimistic” and claiming that it reflected “every oppression, horror, and inhumanity of the time of imperialism.” (Music divided, pp. 25-26)
[For context: “Homecoming concerto” is a work inspired by Bartók’s “The Concerto for Orchestra”. This is one of Bartók’s better symphonic works, but suffers somewhat from formalistic tropes and in particular strong pessimism. This is not a bad work at all, and neither is Szabó’s “Homecoming concerto”, but it was flawed and it was known Szabó could do much better in the future. “Homecoming” (1948) was written in an earlier style suited for the broad anti-fascist struggle of 1944-48, it was not written in the style of the future Socialist society, which began to be formulated in Hungary only in 1948-49 and took shape in 1950. As such, “Homecoming” obviously seemed like a relic of an earlier era and would be considered flawed as the bar for the best composers was set higher.]
Analysis of Szervánszky‘s Honvéd kantáta
“Endre Szervánszky’s Home Guard Cantata (Honvéd kantáta), composed in 1949, and Ferenc Szabó’s Song Singing (Nótaszó), composed in 1950.These were among the first pieces on folk song themes to have been composed entirely after the 1948 resolution on music, and they were lauded at the time of their appearance as the fulfillment of great expectations in the field of socialist music.
Szervánszky’s Home Guard Cantata, a four-movement work for male chorus and orchestra, is a generic hybrid of sorts. Though choral settings of folk songs were nothing new in the Hungarian tradition, the scale of this work (both in its instrumentation and in its formal conception) indicates that it was intended as an impressive symphonic piece for the larger concert hall rather than as a project a community chorus could successfully undertake. The four movements of the piece are analogous in tempo to the movements of a symphony: the first and last movements are fast and rousing, the second movement is a scherzo, and the third is a slow ballad. Even the accompanimental styles demonstrate a complexity that surpasses the mere presentation of the folk song. In the second movement, for instance, Stravinskian ostinato patterns in the high woodwinds add textural interest without obscuring the presentation of melodies below. The grandiosity of the conception is offset somewhat by the relatively straightforward treatment of the simple melodies on which the work is based. Folk tunes are prominent in the texture and provide the basis for the cantata’s formal organization. The use of the cimbalom, a Hungarian instrument that had been employed since the nineteenth century to evoke national themes in orchestral music, enhances the folksy atmosphere.
The cantata uses soldiers’ songs to present four scenes from military life. The most obvious Hungarian musical topic of this kind is the tradition of military recruiting music, or verbunkos. In the fourth movement of the cantata, for instance, the text exclaims, “Come be soldiers!” and the instrumental interludes sound the “gypsy fiddling” topos typical of the faster style of verbunkos performance. This topos is featured prominently in the first movement as well. The piece also includes a lyrical love song and a dance song with a pastoral interlude. A possible model for the use of the military subject was Soldiers’ Songs, a 1947 work by the Soviet composer Anatoly Novikov, who had served as the Kremlin’s cultural emissary to Hungary… Musically, however, the works bear few similarities.
In three of the four movements of his cantata, Szervánszky uses folk songs as building blocks to create large-scale formal units. For example, the first movement is a rondo (ABACA) in which each episode consists of a contrasting folk tune in a different key. Within each section, the tunes are almost always repeated two, three, or even four times. Between the sections—and therefore between the folk songs themselves—Szervánszky inserts short, modulatory orchestral interludes so that the voice parts never have to modulate; they enter after the arrival of the new key. This technique not only makes the vocal parts easier for the chorus; it also ensures that each folk song presentation remains in the same key throughout, which allows the songs to keep their original shapes despite the harmonization that has been added by the composer.
Bartók made a distinction in his typology of folk songs among “oldstyle,” “new-style,” and “mixed-type” songs. Each type distinguished by Bartók is associated with particular patterns of phrase structure: the older songs feature open-ended, nonarchitectonic formal patterns (for example, AAAA, ABAB, or ABCD), whereas the newer songs are often constructed on principles of return found in Western art music (for example, ABBA or AABA)… The songs used in the Home Guard Cantata all fit into either the new-style or the mixed-style categories. Some have architectonic designs suggestive of art-music influence (such as the AABA design of example 6b, which was published by Bartók in 1924), while others have phrase structures reminiscent of the old-style folk song (ABAB, AAAA) but have other stylistic features associated with the newer style, such as the verbunkos topos. This might be interpreted as a turn away from the emphasis on “authentic” models that featured the old-style song as the bearer of Hungarian identity, toward a preference for folk songs that were more likely to be in common use and therefore recognizable to audiences.
The style of Szervánszky’s first and fourth movements is highly evocative of Kodály’s use of the verbunkos style in his own instrumental works, particularly of the Intermezzo from Háry János. Szervánszky’s sequential use of folk songs to build a larger and more genuinely symphonic work also recalls some of Kodály’s most famous pieces: both the opera Háry János, made of many songs strung together, and the Peacock Variations, a set of variations on a single folk song, are constructed on this “chain” model. This technique ensures that the folk tunes remain audible and comprehensible at every moment of the performance, even though they are presented in the context of a longer piece” (Music divided, pp. 99-104)
Analysis of Szabó‘s “Song singing”
“The six-movement work is scored for chamber orchestra and chorus, a considerably smaller and simpler ensemble than that required by Szervánszky’s cantata. In addition, Szabó included in the score a part for a single solo voice to be used if a chorus was not available, thus making the work more accessible to performing groups with limited resources. Although the accompaniments are carefully and artfully constructed, they tend to be simple and repetitive and to remain in the background. This music is much less elaborate than that of Szervánszky’s cantata.
Like Szervánszky’s, Szabó’s piece uses lyrical folk texts; the overriding themes are flirtation and love, and the movements are arranged in such a way that they can be construed as telling the story of a couple from their first meeting to their wedding celebration. The narrative, however, is not made explicit in the work through dialogue, characterization, or other means; this places the piece in the genre of cantata and differentiates it from the Soviet genre of “song opera” as well as from its Hungarian antecedents, such as Kodály’s folk song opera Háry János. Among the Hungarian precursors, it is perhaps most similar to Kodály’s stage work The Spinning Room (Székely fonó), in which the words and music of the plot are derived entirely from folk song texts and melodies; but here, too, Kodály’s work was designed to be acted out on stage, whereas the drama remains implicit in Szabó’s modest cantata.
The folk songs Szabó chose for the work are mostly new-style melodies, again suggesting an emphasis on living tradition. Indeed, the title, Nótaszó, can be understood as a polemical position against the fetishization of peasant music. Nóta is the Hungarian term for a genre of popular art song widespread in Hungary since the nineteenth century… By entitling his piece Nótaszó, conversely, Szabó invited the listener into an experience of “song singing” that might include several different Hungarian song traditions, not only authentic peasant song.
Szabó’s methods of setting folk songs in Song Singing differ somewhat from Szervánszky’s in the Home Guard Cantata. Most prominent, perhaps, is Szabó’s flexible treatment of the preexisting folk melodies: he sometimes altered them by extending phrases to effect transitions or smooth over the boundaries between phrases. The folk melody used in the sixth movement, entitled “Wedding” (Lakodalmas), originally consisted of two four-bar phrases in an antecedent-consequent pattern. In his setting Szabó extends the second phrase through repetition and alteration of motives (and, necessarily, of verbal text), so that the consequent phrase cannot close but ends again on a dominant pedal, over which the orchestra jauntily reiterates the tune. The orchestra’s version, too, remains unfinished; it is not extended but is instead interrupted by a modulation to a new key for another statement of the tune. This extension of the tune’s boundaries by elementary compositional techniques breaks down the four-square shape of the tune and allows it to be used more flexibly in constructing the piece.
Szervánszky had chosen in three of the four movements of the Home Guard Cantata to include several songs as a means of differentiating sections and achieving a large-scale formal scheme. He provided modulatory passages only in the orchestral transitions; he never changed key within the vocal presentation of a particular folk tune. Szabó, on the other hand, used one folk song per movement in Song Singing, and he moved from key to key within the presentation of a single folk song. This procedure sometimes distorts the original profile of a song somewhat in the service of tonal contrast within the movement. The musical comprehensibility of the piece is not impaired in the least, for the art-music element of tonal contrast Szabó provides is usually of the sort a city-bred industrial worker might find familiar from nóta or other popular art music.
One example of this technique occurs in the fifth movement of Song Singing, entitled “Late Evening” (Késo este). This movement sets a variant of the same folk song that Szervánszky used in “Evening’s Rest,” the third movement of the Home Guard Cantata. Rather than setting the version Bartók collected, Szabó chose a variant that provided a good opportunity for tonal contrast: the third, contrasting phrase of Szabó’s tune (unlike that collected by Bartók) rises above the octave compass of the preceding phrases by one note. Szabó’s harmonization of this melody highlights the contrast implicit in his chosen variant of the tune. Taking advantage of the close commonality between the C mixolydian and F major scales, Szabó sets the first two phrases of the melody with harmonies that accentuate F major. Then, in a short orchestral interlude, Szabó effects a modulation that leads to an arrival on a D major triad (sounding as the dominant of G minor) at the beginning of the third phrase. In addition to the sense of “elevation” provided by the modulation, the phrase is also distinguished by a thickening of the texture from the pointillistic accompaniment pattern that had characterized the first two phrases to a much denser treatment with tutti scoring, including divisi string parts moving in parallel motion and a heavy walking bass pattern. This heightened phrase lasts only five measures; by the end of the vocal phrase the transition back to the original tonality has already begun.
By choosing a variant of the tune that reached outside the rigid octave compass, Szabó made it easier to integrate the tune into a musical structure that derives not exclusively from the folk song, but also from departure-and-return principles characteristic of the European concert music tradition. In other words, the composer had taken a small step toward the “synthesis” of the folk song into another tradition… This process of synthesis bespeaks an attitude toward the folk material that emphasizes not its authenticity but its utility. Szabó did not treat the folk song setting as “the mounting of a jewel”; he freely changed the substance of the song to suit the musical need of the moment. Szabó’s synthesis is not thoroughgoing, for the work is organized on the principle of a series of folk songs, and therefore strongly resembles the “chain” model used by Szervánszky. In this respect the construction of Szabó’s piece is even simpler than that of Szervánszky’s, for he does not build larger forms out of the folk songs. Still, in its fusing of folk song with formal characteristics more typical of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century art music, Szabó’s Song Singing can be said to be one step closer to the synthesis end of the spectrum than Szervánszky’s Home Guard Cantata.
During his visit to Hungary in March 1950, the Soviet composer Vladimir Zakharov had encouraged composers to take just these sorts of liberties with folk song. Zakharov expressed dismay in a lecture to the Hungarian Musicians’ Association that Hungarians were much too focused on the authenticity or purity of their folk song tradition, and not enough on what the folk song could do for socialist culture. Through an interpreter (and hence in the third person) he recounted to the Hungarians:
“Much was said during his visit about the Hungarian folk song. He himself has worked much with various areas of the Russian folk song; he understands the problems of the folk song, and he still must say that he doesn’t understand what the question is here. Many times he heard that Hungarian music, pure [tiszta] Hungarian music was finished one hundred years ago and that what has happened since then is music full of foreign influences, which must be thrown out. In his opinion this debate is unnecessary. . . . It does not matter when the melody came into being, and what influences are present in it, if this melody is needed. The essence is how the composer uses the melody. . . . It is in his opinion totally incorrect to debate about the extent to which the style of a folk song is pure.”
Here Zakharov was addressing in part the choice of folk songs to set: his dismissal of “purity” was a critique of composers’ continued respect for Bartók’s categories of old and new styles, in which the older songs were regarded as the more authentically Hungarian. As we have seen, though, some composers had already set new-style songs before Zakharov’s critique, so it is difficult to ascertain the relevance of his remarks to recent compositional practice. Zakharov’s emphasis on the utility of a given melody, on the other hand, most likely applied to issues of how the folk song is set. Rather than leaving the melodies unchanged, composers were to transform them and fit them with new contexts, as Szabó began to do in Song Singing. Among other purposes, this formal recasting of folk songs would in theory distance them from their original peasant context, thus decreasing the danger of sentimental populism and increasing their relevance to city dwellers.” (Music divided, pp. 105-109)
Criticism of Honvéd kantáta and Song singing
“István Szirmai, the director of Hungarian Radio, criticized Szervánszky’s Home Guard Cantata and Szabó’s Song Singing for failing to synthesize folk song into art music in a new way. In Szirmai’s words,
“These new works are not of high enough quality. . . . [They are just] a somewhat primitive type of arrangement. Essentially the comrades just took folk songs and tied them into a bouquet, presenting the folk songs again in their purely original form. What aspect of this work can be considered creative work? They orchestrated [the songs] for larger orchestra, they created some kind of connecting music for them. In essence, however, there was no message, they gave them back to the people in the same form in which they received them from the people. That is not much, and it is not what we expect from our composers.”
Although, as we have seen, there are some important differences between Szabó’s and Szervánszky’s treatment of folk songs, Szirmai felt that both reflected too closely the Kodályan “chain” model. From his comment it is evident that, in his view, creative work should still ideally involve some substantial personal achievement on the part of the composer; simplicity of style should not be equated with the accomplishment of a simple task. Szirmai’s comments reflect two distinct objections: the “giving back to the people” of the folk songs “in the same form in which they [were] received,” which raised once again the specter of sentimental populism; and the creative failure of the composers to transform the songs. Révai, undoubtedly the most influential voice in Hungarian cultural politics, agreed with Szirmai in the main about the quality of recent works based on folk songs. Révai did not condemn Szabó’s and Szervánszky’s works outright, but he criticized their simplicity and closeness to the original folk melodies.” (Music divided, pp. 110-111)
Appendix 3. (On Attila József’s Freudist idealist deviation)
Attila József couldn’t explain why the level of class consciousness was so low in Hungary. It seems he expected class consciousness would arise almost automatically, or at least pretty easily among the population of extremely poor workers and peasants. However, in reality (as Lenin explains in What is to be done?) class consciousness can only arise as a result of organization, struggle and study. The Communist Party must organize the people and provide them with understanding – class consciousness never arises automatically. However, because Attila József couldn’t understand this, he looked for answers in Freudism (he had received Freudian psychoanalytical treatment for his mental problems before).
Freudism masquerades as science but is really an idealist doctrine based entirely on speculations about subconscious “urges” and “drives” which cannot be measured or detected. These urges supposedly determine a person’s actions. Reactionary followers of Freud have “explained” fascism and imperialism, not as inevitable results of capitalism, but as merely the result of man’s “subconscious desire for death”. Capitalist crisis has also been “explained” merely as the result of the subconscious drives of the investors, not as the inevitable outcome of capitalism. The answers to all questions are found in metaphysical speculations about the minds of individuals, and not in material reality.
Because Attila József did not understand the cause of the low level of class consciousness in Hungary, he believed that perhaps subconscious drives of the people are hindering their class consciousness.
Books on the topic:
Béla Bartók; his life in pictures and documents by Ferenc Bónis (the book has a lot of information but for a communist book it suffers from lack of marxism)
The Life and Music of Béla Bartók by Halsey Stevens (Not bad for a bourgeois book)
Zoltán Kodály: his life and work by László Eősze
English translation of Arany’s Toldi-trilogy: Epics of the Hungarian plain from János Arany, trans. A. N. Nyerges
Poems of Endre Ady translated by Anton N. Nyerges. (Big collection of poems. See my criticism of the introduction of this book in the Ady section of the article)
Hungarian drawings and watercolours by Dénes Pataky (Good book with a lot of information, but is a bit non-political)
Modern Hungarian ceramics by Ilona Pataky Brestyánszky (Very informative, but is too soft on bourgeois art and near the end of the book tries to make excuses why sculpture and ceramics was suffering and becoming bourgeois under revisionism)
Renaissance architecture in Hungary by Feuer-Tóth, Rózsa; Kónya, Kálmán (Lots of information, very non-political)
A Thousand years of Hungarian masterpieces by Dezso Keresztury (Big collection of pictures of art works, non-political)
The art of the Hungarian furriers by Mária Kresz (Book about traditional folk clothing and textiles of Hungary, non-political)
Old musical instruments by György Gábry (book with pictures and information about musical instruments, mostly in the collection of the Hungarian National Museum, non-political)
Old textiles by Maria Varju-Ember (book with pictures and information about textile works of art, mostly in the collection of the Hungarian National Museum, non-political)