Hungary has only been a nation of the “millennial constitution and a nation of lawyers” since the middle of the 18th century. Up until that point, the Kingdom of Hungary was divided “ethically, culturally, and in terms of property.” It was not until the 19th century that Hungarians considered themselves as having a “millennial constitution and being a nation of lawyers”, and most Hungarians, while not caring much for their constitution, still believe it to be “living and valid”. Some of the major characteristics of the Hungarian folk music style include:
- They have four-line stanzas. Each line has an equal number of syllables,
- The first and fourth lines are different. Beside these, Hungarian old style, for the most part, include these features:
- The rhythm is often parlando, meaning that the melodic rhythm follows the speech-rhythm of the words, and melismatic,
- The song ends on a higher note,
- Follows the Hungarian pentatonic scale (g-bb-c-d-f), there are no semitones in this scale.
Based on the songs that I listened to, there is a huge influence from western European music, as much of the Hungarian folk music contains instruments such as guitars and violins. Typically, singers are female in modern day Hungary, although in regions that were traditionally Hungary that were lost from the kingdom, there are more men singers, although still mainly female. A traditional flute that observed listening to Hungarian folk music and looked into is known as the Hungarian whistle, which is a six-holed flute. Much of the singing is melismatic, although not to the extent of Irish folk music. The cimbalom is a chordophone using metal strings strung across a large trapezoidal box, and is played by striking two beaters against the strings.
The cobza is a short, fretless lute with metal strings, and is usually double or triple strung, with a flat end clasp. The davul is a large, double-headed drum played with mallets. The duda is a traditional Hungarian bagpipe. The hurdy-gurdy is a stringed instrument that creates sound by a hand-crank wheel, which functions similarly to a violin bow, although the notes are played with a keyboard that presses wood against the strings to change their pitch. The hammered dulcimer is a trapezoidal stringed percussion instrument played with spoon shaped mallets that strike the strings.
The komuz is a 3 stringed fretless lute, the middle string is usually tuned to the highest pitch of the three. The tambourine is a percussion instrument consisting of a frame with pairs of metal jingles called zills. Most tambourines have a drumhead, although it is not a requirement for a tambourine. The zurna is an aerophone with a reed, and produces a sharp, loud, and high-pitched sound. The zither is a stringed instrument, somewhere between a guitar and a harp, and is played by plucking or strumming the strings, which are made of metal. The gardon is a stringed instrument that is similar to the cello based on appearance, however it is played more like a drum.
Instead of the strings being played with a bow, the strings are plucked or beaten with a stick. The taragot is two different woodwind instruments, the original and the modern versions, and is very similar to a clarinet in how it is played and the way it looks. The tamburica is a family of long necked lutes that have paired strings that are plucked. The frets usually are movable, allowing for multiple modes of playing.
The first song that I listened to was “Akkor szép az erd?”, which has a lot of repetition in the plucked strings part that opens the song. At 0:44 the female singer comes in, which has a soft timbre, and the rhythm continues in the background, with variation from ornamentations. At 1:41 a Hungarian whistle comes in, playing the melody that the singer was singing, who has stopped temporarily until 2:07. In the audio editing, the singer has reverb that is added in, however that would not be a part of folk music in a more natural setting. The second song I listened to was “Szivárvány havasán”, which opens with a single female singer, who is singing at a slower tempo than the first song, and has some melismatic singing. At 0:50 a komuz joins in, played by the singer. Again, the same rhythm keeps repeating, some slight variation each time based on ornamentations. Towards the end, she returns to singing only.