2001 Volume 2
Pátria. Magyar népzenei
"Pátria." Gramophone recordings of Hungarian folk music
3 CD-ROM's. Edited by Ferenc Sebô.
Budapest, Fonó Records Ltd., 2001.
It all started with
a phonogram collection established in 1898 at the National Museum's
Department of Ethnography through the pioneering efforts of linguist
and ethnographer Béla Vikár. He was the first scholar
in Europe to use a phonograph to collect language and folk music
data, as a supplement to the established method of taking notes
shorthand (1896). Later, his method became a standard in both
linguistics and the study of folk music. Interestingly, the Ministry
of Culture had put one condition on the funding it provided to
establish the collection: it would have to be set up so that anybody
could access it. After all, a collection of folk songs represents
a treasure, one intended for the public, so if it were hidden
away in an underground vault somewhere, what would be the point
of investing so much money and work? To this day, however, freedom
of access remains a distant dream. Aside from socio-political
restraints, previous data storage systems may have presented the
single greatest obstacle since, even with the best intentions,
they tended to serve the interests of preservation at the expense
of public access.
This explains why the active folk dance/folk music enthusiasts in the 1970's known as the táncház generation guarded the legendary Pátria recordings like prized possessions, copying them from tape to tape since that was the only means of acquiring this exquisite authentic Hungarian peasant music. Much of it was, of course, familiar to many but only through adaptations distorted beyond recognition, dry exercises in music classes, and word of mouth. These authentic recordings were even listed in the Hungarian Radio inventory as being scholarly rarities inappropriate for public consumption and stamped "To be played only during special programs". It was against this backdrop that the transcriptions in composer-ethnomusicologist László Lajtha's Szék Collection (1954) sparked such controversy and misapprehension among professionals. The question became: Why would anyone transcribe music that would never be played? Once, at one of the Sebô Band's first folk music concerts, composer Lajos Bárdos asked me how we had learned to play music from Szék (Sic, Romania) so well. Like others he had clearly not believed Lajtha's conviction that this was possible. But those of us who wanted to play folk music in its authentic form in the early 1970's never thought of Lajtha's monograph as some sort of self-important pseudo-scholarship. Since we had been able to access the lion's share of the music itself through the Pátria record series, it was the transcriptions that assisted us in eventually figuring out the basic techniques behind this unique and ancient playing style.
The idea of launching a series of folk music records from all the Hungarian-speaking areas was initiated by Béla Bartók, who had been urging the gramophone recording of Hungarian folk songs and especially of authentic peasant performances since 1914. He was hoping to call the attention of both the general public and the relevant public officials to the importance of studying folk music. In 1936, four experimental records were produced, with only fifty copies of each, called Magyar Népzenei Gramofonfelvételek (Gramophone Recordings of Hungarian Folk Music), as a cooperative effort between the Hungarian Historical Museum and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The recordings were directed by Bartók himself in collaboration with specialists from the Ethnographic Collection, based on materials previously gathered in Somogy and Tolna Counties by geologist-cum-folk music collector Vilmos Seemayer. As Bartók had planned, the records were accompanied by detailed documentation with transcriptions of the music and lyrics, background information on collection efforts and performers, as well as photographs-as if he had been anticipating the eventual release of a CD-ROM. The detailed musical scores transcribed from recordings played at low speed provide a meticulous analysis of the music on the records. They shed light on how the pieces were performed in a way that we could never discern by simply listening to the music. Bartók provided listeners with an important guide, one that would enable them both to understand an all-but-forgotten world of music and to make it a part of themselves.
Through the tireless efforts of young ethnographer Gyula Ortutay, this small undertaking, which had enjoyed great success in professional circles, was followed by a record series on a considerably larger scale between 1936 and 1944. These recordings, made in the Hungarian Radio studios, broke new ground by being the first to present peasant music in actual performance. No one-including specialists from the Museum of Ethnography who collaborated on the series-had any preconceived notions about how long the series should last. Their intention was to include all the riches still available and worth recording from throughout the Hungarian-speaking territories. Professional guidance was offered by Bartók himself as well as by Lajtha and Zoltán Kodály. In nine years, 125 metal molds were created, on the basis of which 107 records were released up to 1942 by the Pátria company, then run by Péter Pál Kelen. In addition to secular folk music, folk tales, folk customs, and religious folk songs were also included in the new series, presenting the characteristics of the main dialectal areas of Hungarian folk music. The only shortcoming in the project was that the accompanying documentation had not been completed on time, and the haphazard addition of leaflets hardly saved the day. Bartók's vision had clearly not been realized. After a break due to the war, Lajtha took over the leadership. The new recordings, however, never reached the general public; for the most part they were made exclusively for the Museum of Ethnography, with the cooperation of Kodály and ethnomusicologist Benjamin Rajeczky in the early period, and with folklorist Zsuzsanna Erdélyi and ethnomusicologist Margit Tóth from 1958.
The original but complicated recording technique that had been used (recording in the studio, editing on the spot, recording on wax, and finally casting metal molds) was revolutionized with the introduction of reel-to-reel tape recorders which guaranteed far greater fidelity. From 1952 onwards, the metal masters were produced from previous tape recordings. Meanwhile, collected material continued to be processed and transcribed, as a result of which a whole series of monographs was published by the Zenemukiadó (Music Publishers) which presented larger units of the recorded material, e.g., Széki gyujtés (The Szék Collection) (1954); Köröspataki gyujtés (The Köröspatak Collection) (1955); Sopronmegyei virrasztó énekek (Wake Songs from Sopron County) (1956); Csángó népzene I-III. (Csángó Folk Music I-III) (1956-1991); and Dunántúli táncok és dallamok I. (Transdanubian Dances and Tunes I) (1962). True, these were transcriptions without sound recordings, but no better compromise could be made under the given circumstances. The transcriptions and orchestral scores, all the fruit of much labor, could now be published, while the recordings would have to wait for better times to come.
In addition to overseeing the recording, Lajtha paid special attention to the appropriate archival storage of the molds already made. The surviving official correspondence-letters between Ortutay and the Pátria (later Durium) company and later between the Ministry of Culture and both Lajtha at the Museum of Ethnography as well as the cable company which manufactured the molds-bears witness to myriad setbacks as well as to fierce battles fought by Lajtha. When he died in 1963, recordings were being made for a 245th record, but no records were ever produced from either the numerous 78-r.p.m. molds or the approximately 100 microgroove masters.
A new series of long-play microgroove records, produced by Rajeczky and released by Hungaroton from 1964 onwards, were the outcome of the latest collection efforts by the Folk Music Research Team at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and also included a large number of earlier Pátria recordings. Of these Hungaroton releases-which totaled approximately 490 LP record sides-81 and half sides of earlier Pátria recordings were re-released in their entirety along with 31 assorted Pátria tracks. (Interestingly, it was not standard practice to measure recording time on these old Bakelite discs although each side of a 78-r.p.m. record was usually 5-6 minutes in length. For the benefit of collectors, the Hungaroton numbers are LPX 1187,
10 095 to 10 098, 18 001 to 18 004, 18 045 to 18 047, 18 050 to 18 053, 18 058 to 18 060, 18 092 to
18 094, 18 112 to 18 116, and 18 124 to 18 128; as well as MK 18 206 and S-1/1997.) From among these releases, only two albums, Magyar népzenei hanglemezek Bartók Béla lejegyzéseivel (Hungarian Folk Music Records with Transcriptions by Béla Bartók) (LPX 18058-60) and László Lajtha: Széki gyujtés (László Lajtha's Szék Collection) (LPX 18092-94), and one CD, Népzenei példatár 1-2. (A Collection of Folk Music 1-2) (S-1/1997), contain cohesive and unabridged sections of the collected material. These publications follow Bartók's original vision even in their presentation: the recordings are accompanied by a booklet containing scores and lyrics. A selection from the remaining, unpublished parts of the audio material was published in 1992 in Lajtha László népzenegyujtésébôl, Balassagyarmati és soproni zenekar (A Selection of László Lajtha's Collection of Folk Music: Bands from Balassagyarmat and Sopron) (MK 18 206). Other valuable recordings have been placed in storage indefinitely at the Museum of Ethnography, some on carefully preserved molds but others on gradually de-magnetizing reels of tape.
There may be two explanations for old recordings being re-released amidst those made with more up-to-date technology. One might be that in the course of time the number of good old-style performers has gradually decreased. The other is that the idea of continuing the earlier series according to the original vision or of doing that in addition to re-releasing the earlier recordings has been laid to rest. The fact that there have been considerable changes in the technology of data processing since the launching of the series must also have had an impact on these developments. Only half a century has elapsed from the early complicated process of wax records cut on the spot through wire recorders and later tape recorders up to digital equipment. The development of publishing technology has also swiftly surpassed the traditional methods of processing recorded data. Analog recordings, information booklets, and digital audio CD's have now been superseded by CD-ROM's with sound, images, and text. It seems that it is only now that technology has caught up with Bartók and Lajtha's essentially multimedia vision. Similarly, a major obstacle has been overcome in realizing the hundred-year-old dream of making this legendary folk music collection, the Pátria series, available to professionals and the general public alike.
Our new release contains both secular and religious folk music from the Pátria series, but, unfortunately, not the folk tales that had originally accompanied them and were so close to Ortutay's heart. Considerations of space and money informed the decision to omit them, but we are hopeful that a future grant will enable us to release this important part of our folk culture, too. Our primary aim was to realize the original Bartókian idea at least in its structure. In keeping with his vision, we have attached all the existing documentation to the sound recordings (hand-written transcriptions, collection information, photographs of the collectors and performers, and background information on them). These have been supplemented with the most important accounts and essays on the history of the recordings published in their entirety through the options made available to us by advanced technology. However, while sifting through the surviving written documentation, we came to the sobering realization that there were large gaps. The work of transcribing the recorded material had never been completed, and much of the documentation seems to have been ill-fated. A great deal of written notes were lost, probably forever, and most of the surviving material still needs to be organized and deciphered. It was clear that we had to act now to release the existing material with an eye to eventually bringing out a more consistent publication complete with new transcriptions in a few years-and after far more work. Importantly, this is material which has never been available in its entirety for researchers or the general public. In keeping with Lajtha's philosophy, we are convinced that an incomplete but published collection is worth more than a complete but forgotten one. Support from the Museum of Ethnography, the Institute of Musicology, and Ildikó Lajtha, heir to the László Lajtha estate, made it possible to bring together, even if only virtually, the scattered pieces and various copies of documentation stored in different places (for no apparent reason), and to present it to the general public as a whole. Our publication is, therefore, intended to be a resource for further studies and maybe an incentive to complete the project once begun.
For practical reasons, the recordings are presented in three parts, following the usual division of Hungarian folk music into dialectal areas as suggested by Bartók:
CD 1: Transdanubia (I)
CD 2: Great Plain (II) and Upper Hungary (III)
CD 3: Transylvania, Bukovina (IV), and Moldva (V)
It is our fervent hope that, by filling a long-felt void in folk culture research with the release of these priceless recordings, we will also have contributed something invaluable to the ongoing process of Hungarian culture in general.
2001 Volume 2