The main flavour of contemporary Hungarian music rooted originally in the Hungarian traditional music, and traditional music education. In the beginning of the last century Zoltán Kodály (one of Hungary’s most remarkable composers) reformed the music education. His concept focused on early childhood music education by teaching children (from age of 6 yrs.) folk songs and use those songs as stepping stones to learn “musical hearing” and score reading. “Kodály Method” and Béla Bartók’s extensive folk music research helped to preserve Hungary’s folk culture, and served as an indicator of the later so popular folkdance-house-movement (Táncház) from where most of the internationally known Hungarian Folk-world bands (Muzsikás, Kalyi Yag, Téka, Söndörgő, Besh’o’droM or solo singers like Ági Szalóki or Ágnes Herczku) originate from. During the sixties and seventies the two main waves (besides the procommunist music groups) were strongly present: the Hungarian beat music and the folk dance house movement. There is also a great revival of Romani (Gypsy) folk music and dances, performed in its most authentic form by the Parno Graszt ensemble. Singer Bea Palya uses folk inspiration in a world music environment, often using poems or tales for lyrics. Bands like Makám, Napra or Zuboly experiment with a creative clash of folk and pop, electric and acoustic instruments, merging many different genres.
As a very important pillar of basic to middle-level music education, Hungary has a general music school system (usually on an afterschool part-time basis). An extensive network of specialized music high-schools prepare the musically talented for a musical career and give a strong background to the studies at one of the music colleges or universities. Founded by the famous Romantic pianist and composer Ferenc Liszt in 1875, the Zeneakadémia (Music Academy) is one of the most acclaimed music universities in Europe hosting students from all over the world. Its grand concert hall in downtown Budapest (built in 1907) is the prime venue for concerts of classical music in Hungary. The most acclaimed contemporary soloists (pianist Dezső Ránki), conductors (Zoltán Kocsis) and composers (György Kurtág, Emil Petrovics, György Orbán, György Ligeti, Miklós Csemiczky) were graduates and/or teachers of the Academy.
Besides the strong folk musical heritage, the current face of Hungarian music today (from jazz- to electronic genres) was mainly shaped by the city culture of Budapest. The first music venues out of the “cultural house system” were founded at the end of the eighties. The first ruin pubs (venues that inhabit abandoned properties) opened during the nineties and that method turned to be a general practice among young entrepreneurs that also gives an up to date appeal to the city’s tourist offers. The Budapest live music culture is mainly influenced, on a grassroots level, by ruin pubs and major festivals (listed bellow). Financial support for the music scene in Hungary can come either from the National Cultural Fund, which gives call-based subsidies to the entire cultural life in the country, direct ministerial support (e.g. for WOMEX world music festival), or the Cseh Tamás Programme, which also supports the presence of Hungarian professionals and bands at international events (showcase festivals, conferences, tours etc). The Cseh Tamás Program’s budget is coming from the percentage of mechanical rights ( that are included in the price of any data storage capable devices sold in Hungary).
The Hungarian State Opera House, located in a representative Neo-Rennaissance building on the Andrássy Avenue, was opened in 1884 with fragments from the romantic operas by Ferenc Erkel, conducted by the composer himself. Erkel’s works (Bánk Bán, Hunyadi László) are practically the only classical Hungarian operas still performed on a repertory basis. The first golden age of the opera (1888-1891) was hallmarked by the directorship of Gustav Mahler. Today the Opera House performs a large repertory of all the major opera and ballet classics. The norm-breaking and visually very elaborate opera stagings by Balázs Kovalik, the former artistic director, were highly acclaimed also by theatre critics. Péter Eötvös’s five major operas are very popular in Europe and America alike, and kept on the repertory of many famous houses worldwide. His Russian language Three Sisters became a hit right after its 1998 world premiere in Lyon. His 2010 opera, The Tragedy of the Devil (Die Tragödie des Teufels), was staged in the direction of Balázs Kovalik by the Beyerischer Staatsoper in Munich, while one of his most recent works, Oratorium balbulum, is coming to MÜPA in November, with the Vienna Philharmonics conducted by the composer himself. The Hungarian opera soloists often run a world-wide career: coloratura soprano Erika Miklósa (b. 1970), a Mozart “specialist”, has already played in productions in Germany, USA, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, UK and Spain.
Sziget Fesztivál is one of the largest music and cultural festivals in Europe. ‘Sziget’, meaning ‘island’ in Hungarian, refers to the Old Buda Island, where the one-week-long event is organized every August. Here all the musical genres are represented from rock, electronic music, heavy metal, reggae to electronic and world music, often performed by the biggest international stars. In 2012 Sziget came out first in the contest between Europe’s twenty-five largest festivals organized by Yourope and Virtual Festivals Europe. A little lower on the river, next to the Petőfi bridge A38 Ship is anchored, giving space to one of the coolest music clubs in Europe. The former Ukranian stone hauler has been hosting since 2003 concerts in a variety of styles and genres, yet very consistent in quality standards. The floating live-music hall and restaurant won first place of the 100 great bars of the world contest of the Lonely Planet guide book in 2011. And for the lovers of classical music there’s the Palace of Arts next to the southernmost Danube bridge. Opened in 2005, the monumental multi-cultural building hosts a modern concert hall, a theatre and a museum of contemporary art, placed under a single glass-covered pentagonal shell. From inside, the mass of the Bartók Béla National Concert Hall appears as a beautifully developed wooden beehive. The auditorium, with a maximal capacity of 1700 seats, was designed in a way to be able to give a perfect acoustic experience for all genres and orchestra sizes, ranking among the top five concert halls in the world.
by Márton Náray and Attila Szabó