Sunday, March 8, 2015


Hungary has a strong musical history.  Many of the earliest music shares commonalities with certain ethnic groups in Russia as well as other traditions from China, Mongolia, and Native Americans and other Europeans. As Hungarians began to develop the idea of what it is to be Hungarian, their music reflected these changes as well, allowing for a distinction from other musical styles around it. One of the key features of Hungarian music is their use of pentatonic scales (which, to me, always sounds stereotypically Asian), and they also liked to transpose parts of the melody, usually or down a fifth. Another key feature of Hungarian music is their use of the ABBA style (not to be confused with ABBA, the Swedish musical group from the 1970s. Way different.), although many Hungarian composers preferred to use the theme and variations style.

There are three Hungarian composers who are widely known in the realm of music history: Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, and Franz Liszt. Bartók is known for using Hungarian folk songs as the basis for many of the pieces he wrote. A lot of the folk music used came from the violin and bagpipe music of the Roma people. 

Although Kodály (pronounced Ko-dye) was a gifted composer, he was best known for his work as an ethnomusicologist and pedagogue. He is the namesake behind the Kodály Method of music education. It’s one of the methods many students remember learning in school throughout the world.  In fact, it’s built on the best teaching methods around the world in teaching music, and Hungarian music researchers helped combine these methods and adapt them to teaching music in Hungary. This method is what I learned on, and part of this method is built on learning solfège (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do) and the hand symbols that go with it. Solfège in and of itself was around centuries before Kodály, and several cultures developed their own version of it. However, part of what the Kodály Method taught was using solfège with the concept of “movable do” (that solfège is used to teach the relationship between pitches, not to learn absolute pitches).  The Kodály Method also built on rhythm syllables as well, and once students understood these concepts well, then they were taught how to notate music. His contributions changed early music education throughout the entire world. 

Franz Liszt was not only a world-famous composer but also a gifted pianist and teacher. I love listening to his music, but I usually resent him for one reason: he often wrote music that only he was able to play. And that's fine, except that he had massively huge hands, so he often wrote intervals of 10ths. What normal person can play 10ths? Really? He is most famous for his Hungarian Rhapsodies, which I highly recommend listening to. 

Most Hungarian dances are danced to folk music, and several of these dances were specific to one region or another.  There are written records of folk dancing since after the Renaissance period, and several types of dances found in Hungary: ugrós (jumping dances from the Middle Ages, has ties to the Transylvania region), verbunkos (men’s solo dance stemmed from military recruitment practices of the Austro-Hungarian army), karikázó (type of circle dance performed by women), czardas (energetic dance from the 18th and 19th century), and the legényes (men’s solo dance from the Transylvania region).  

And that brings me to all the modern musicians I listened to recently. First of all, I suddenly turned into a 6-year-old boy when I came across the band called Superbutt.  However, their music is anything but childish.  Their hardcore rock/metal sound certainly didn’t disappoint.  The thing I liked about it is their change-ups. Yes, they can be loud. Yes, they scream at times. But they also are not afraid to play pizzicato for a few measures.  Quite impressed. Although I have no idea what's going on in the video above. It reminds me a little of of an updated version of the video for "Money For Nothing" by Dire Straits.  Guitarist Zoltán Báthory was named Golden God’s “Best Shredder” in 2010 and is most known for being one of the founding members of the metal band Five Finger Death Punch.  

One slightly older band I listened to is called P. Mobil. I couldn’t help but think of the cell phone company.  Or the oil company.  They definitely had a 1980s hair band feel with some pretty good guitar riffs that you can tell had a folk influence buried in there somewhere. 

There were a few indie rock bands that have become pretty popular in the past 5-10 years or so.  The first one is The Moog.  They kind of reminded me a little of The Killers. I really liked what I heard, and they sing in English.  Another indie band from Hungary is called Amber Smith.  Also singing in English, I can tell they have a lot of folk influence, especially American folk. I swear, at times they sounded like Fleetwood Mac. I really liked them. The Poster Boy is another indie band that I listened to.  They have some funk and blues elements in their music, but they merged it with rock so well that it works.

EZ Basic is an indie band with a 1990s sound in a lot of their songs. They also sing in English and merge some electronic sounds in with their rock music. Heaven Street Seven, who sings in Hungarian, is another band that does the same thing. I think it’s kind of fun music. Definitely puts you in a good mood; it’s the kind of music you can put on while you’re cleaning your house. 

I actually did find a Hungarian punk band! I love punk music and have since the mid-1990s. The band Alvin és a Mókusok has a very American punk sound, resembling early Green Day at times. They’re fun to listen to. 

And of course, Hungary also has its own hip-hop artists as well. I was kind of surprised with the number of artists and variety of musical styles. I listened to Ganxsta Zolee’s album Gyilkosság Rt where there were a lot of songs that mixed funk into their music. I also listened to Sub Bass Monster, which definitely had a lighter side to the music and the flow of the rhymes reminded me of early 1990s hip-hop music. Dopeman mixed a lot of rock and funk into his music, kind of reminding me of the Brazilian group Ultramen at times. However, by far my favorite artist I listened to is FankaDeli. The mix of classical, jazz, acoustic piano (which will get me every time) and near perfect flow for the style of music makes this so attractive to me. It reminds me a little of the styles of the Croatian group Elemental (who I absolutely love). Unfortunately, there aren’t any albums available through iTunes, but I did find there’s only one album (called Világegyetem) available for download through Amazon. I think I’m definitely going to download this.

Up next: the food

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