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2017 December 18 (Hétfő) - Auguszta névnapja Search for:

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    Netis Csárdás
    Hungarian Music, Gypsy Music, Folk Music

Netis Csárdás

Fodor Sándor (Neti)
Fodor Sándor (Neti)

An interview with Sándor Fodor
by László Kelemen (translated by Peter Laki)

Sándor Fodor or "Neti," as he is known, is the great old man of folk music in the Kalotaszeg region. At 78, he is still active as a performer, teacher, and a frequent guest at folk-music camps and workshops. His playing can be heard on three CDs and countless field recordings. His repertoire is seemingly inexhaustible: every time I see him, he surprises me with a tune I have never heard before. He is a small, stocky man; his eyes are full of life and his mien extremely expressive. When I first saw him play, I noticed that he was making music with his face, with his body, with his whole being. When I first met him I was a student and I used to go to Kalotaszeg to collect music. During the breaks of the recordings I picked up the viola and we played together. Later he invited me to do weddings with him; I accepted, as this allowed me to learn the living Kalotaszeg music from the inside. We stayed in touch even after I moved from Transylvania to Hungary. We regularly invite him on tours and recordings with the Ökrös Ensemble. During the long years of our acquaintance I heard him tell many interesting stories about old Kalotaszeg, about musicians and his own life full of struggles and adventures. I wrote as he spoke:

I was born in Gyalu (Gilau), Kalotaszeg, but I didnt stay there very long, for my parents got divorced and we moved to Szucsák (Suceag). I have moved around in Kalotaszeg all my life. I even lived in Hungary for a while, near Székesfehérvár, when we had to flee during the war. We were very poor. I had to work. At twelve, I already played first fiddle at weddings. My father was also a musician but he didnt care about us. I was named after my mother, who was named Neti. My uncle introduced me to Feri Csipás, the Left-Handed, who taught me, along with his own son. He was the best-known musician in the whole area; he played in the hotel restaurant at Bánffyhunyad (Huedin). He got the most recent sheet music from Budapest every month, and even played in a movie (The Madonna of Kalotaszeg). He was very strict and demanding. But the toughest lessons were the weddings where he took us with him: we had to sit on the musicians bench and watch the music. Then after we got home we had to play what we remembered. I was scolded very often, Ill never forget: "Sanyi, youll never make a first fiddler"—I did, anyway! I remember waking up in the morning under the musicians bench: we were full of dust from all the dancing, so that we couldnt even open our eyes until we washed them. Well, that was my education, but it was a good one because I still live by it. My sons fate was different: he went to a music school. We bought him all the instruments. He can play on these new-fangled instruments that Ill never learn, but these days he often accompanies me on the organ, because the world has changed. This year I havent played a single wedding with viola accompaniment, only electric ones.

When I met you guys, I was surprised: why would these young folks, my sons age, want to learn to play the old Kalotaszeg music on the old instruments? Why dont they just go after their own music, why dont they play the guitar, the drums, the organ, like the rest of the young people? Then I understood and now Im glad to be able to pass along what I have in my head and my hands, as I learned it from Csipás and the other musicians of the old days. A lot of people come to my house—young people —I welcome everyone and no one has ever left me without a song for the road. Under Ceausescu it was forbidden to put up foreigners; whats more, I live right across the street from the police station. Even in those days, I had guests, so security came to tell me Id be punished because Id had foreigners stay at my house. I told him, this isnt right that you cant receive guests in your own house. One word followed another. I offered him a glass of brandy, I played some music, and at the end he said: "Uncle Sanyi, you put up who you want, just let us know so we can look the other way"—and left. I was never pestered again, even though I had many visitors, even Japanese and Americans. Then Ceausescu was finished, and now I can travel, too. I often go to Kolozsvár (Cluj) to the táncház ("dance house"), to help out. I love to play for the young people, because theyre looking for the old things; I like to teach them so that this music may be preserved. I go to Hungary every year to teach at camps, or just to play. Ill go for as long as I have the strength. Its hard because Im old and it hurts everywhere, but Ive hardly ever been sick in my life, even though Ive been smoking since I was a kid, and I eat and drink what I want. Other people have all these grains and mueslis for breakfast to stay healthy, but I start the day with a good shot of brandy, coffee, and a cigarette.

When I was young, I travelled on foot a lot. There were no taxis (in Kalotaszeg people called a car a taxi). The train was expensive, often I walked home three villages away after two or three days of exhausting playing.

Uncle Sanyi, you've lived through a lot: war, Communism, capitalism. What do you think: has the world changed?
Well, a lot has changed and nothing. When I was a kid, we were very poor. People had no money, so they gave you produce for playing: wheat, potatoes, or they would give you labor. Todays young people have everything, yet they dont always appreciate it. Nor do they always appreciate us musicians! Today, its this disco stuff everywhere: easy music, easy dancing, they turn on the tape recorder, they turn off the lights, nobody cares how they dance. Sometimes I come with "pig" bands that I feel ashamed of: saxophone, drums, and organ. The older people pull away, they say: "Sanyi, Sanyi, what kind of band did you bring?" But what am I supposed to do if thats what the young people want? Thats how the world has changed.

Yet music is power even now, but only if you serve people. You have to cater to people, do as they wish. They valued me for my music, and they still do. But I keep learning even to this day. I learned a lot of songs from you guys. I dont need much time—I hear it once or twice and I know it already. I teach a lot, too, because the more people know your music, the more people will talk about you. Poor Csipás has been dead for ten years, but people still know him through his music. Or Kömös of Tura is still known for his songs, even though he was a lead fiddler in the past century. If I have a chance to go into the world, I have to bring the songs of these long-gone musicians as well. I have to show Burálós legényes, Csipáss csárdás or Nonikas virtita. They are always with me, they guide my hand and hold my bow when I play. And maybe you guys, too, will say some day: "This is Netis legényes or csárdás."

Hungarian Music, Gypsy Music, Folk Music by László Kelemen đ

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Hungarian Music, Gypsy Music, Folk Music

Kelemen László
Kelemen László

by László Kelemen (Translated by Peter Laki)

In the late twentieth century, world music has entered its global stage. The astonishing wealth of styles to which we are subjected has certain drawbacks as many of us dont know what to make of this (overly) great freedom. Faced with this situation, one often turns to tradition in order to delineate the boundaries of ones personal existence, to find out who one is and where one is headed. Both in Hungary and in the West, total chaos reigns in matters concerning Hungarian (folk) music. In the West but also often, alas, in Hungary, the average person means by Hungarian instrumental folk music the art music played by Gypsies that you can hear in restaurants. This is referred to purely and simply as "Gypsy music" even by us Hungarians, although it is not that. It has only been played by Gypsies for the last two hundred years. In addition, there exists a type of traditional instrumental folk music in the villages that is also played by Gypsies but is not Gypsy music but rather Hungarian, Romanian, Saxon, Jewish, and other folk-dance music, handed down from generation to generation by Gypsies in their function as professional musicians. Finally, the Gypsies have their own folk music, a jealously guarded treasure that they use solely for their own entertainment. So many different kinds of folk music, often in the head of a single musician! It is a chaotic and misleading state of affairs. No wonder there has been confusion, and not only in the mind of the average person but also with a composer of genius such as Franz Liszt, who in his study (Des Bohémiens et de leur musique en Hongrie, 1859) argued in favor of the Gypsy origins of "Gypsy" music and was surprised at the indignant reactions from Hungary. Let us, therefore, briefly delimit these various musical traditions and explain how they came to be lumped together in the first place. Old Hungarian folk music, searched for by many during the period of national awakening in the nineteenth century but not actually found until Bartók and Kodály came along at the beginning of the twentieth, was a monophonic tradition, thousands of years old, and primarily vocal. Before the age of string instruments, this music also used to be played on winds (recorders, bagpipes, shepherds pipes) and hurdy-gurdies. String instruments appeared later, sometime during the sixteenth century, as part of a Western cultural influence (which has been more or less continuous ever since, even if its quality has changed). The strings soon took over the leading role in entertainment. Bands were formed, following Western models. As far as we can tell, the earliest bands were Jewish, until Jews were supplanted in the business by Gypsies. These bands continued to perform music from the earlier, vocal/wind-instrument period, but as they grew, they developed a new repertoire better adapted to string instruments. By the end of the eighteenth century, the best band leaders got to the point where they were able to play their own compositions; they even wrote them down or had others write them down for them. The cult of Gypsy music coincided with the period of Hungarian national awakening. The best Gypsy musicians soon formed a special caste within the Gypsy people, and they eventually lost touch with their own folk music. These gypsy bands were often in aristocratic service just as their learned contemporaries were (Haydn, for example), and as the verbunkos style became fashionable, even aristocrats tried their hand at composing in this vein. Within a short time, what is usually known as "Gypsy music" was born, and it evolved more and more into a kind of music written by Hungarian noblemen and members of the middle class, rooted in verbunkos and shaped by the Gypsies in performance. This music was what passed for Hungarian "folk music," and this was what Liszt and Brahms heard, along with the other prominent, music-loving Westerners who, for whatever reason, set foot in our country. Gypsy music and verbunkos soon found their way into Classical music; many composers (among them Beethoven, Weber, Schubert, Liszt, Brahms and Erkel) used this fashionable style, often peppering their works with actual quotes from the repertoire. Bartók and Kodály wrote countless instructive articles explaining the difference between Hungarian folk music and "Gypsy music," sometimes with great patience and sometimes in anger. Yet it is doubtful that their message has reached the general public even today. Some musicians, at home as well as abroad, received these precepts with incomprehension and even hostility, perceiving them as attacks against their own activities (Heinrich Möller, Jenö Hubay); Romanian musicologists read nationalism and revisionism into Bartóks writings. Bartók and Kodály sometimes carried matters too far, as apostles of new ideas are liable to do. In their efforts to find the ancient, "pure source," they excluded the instrumental dance music tradition, as practiced by the Gypsies, from the corpus of Hungarian folk music, which, from todays more lenient perspective, seems like an ideological and conceptual mistake. Their work is still invaluable since they collected and systematized the treasures of Hungarian vocal music in the nick of time before it vanished and compared this repertoire with the folksongs of our neighbors. (To this day, no single person has collected more Romanian folksongs than has the Hungarian Bartók.) As composers, Bartók and Kodály were the first to integrate the ancient vocal tradition into the mainstream of modern European music. In a famous essay of 1931, Bartók defined three ways in which this integration could take place. On the first, more superficial level, one takes a folk melody and adds a prelude, a postlude and an accompaniment. This can be compared, in a sense, to Bachs chorale arrangements; in Bartók and Kodálys practice, all the folksong arrangements for voice and piano belong in this category. The second level is reached when the composer invents a folksong imitation (as in Bartóks Evening in the Country); the methods of the arrangement can be the same as before. In the third and most evolved category, the composer has made the idiom of folk music thoroughly his own and uses it as a poet would use her mother tongue. With characteristic modesty, Bartók used Kodálys Psalmus Hungaricus to exemplify this last stage, but he could have cited many of his own works just as well. Bartók did not speak of an even higher level of integration that has to do with folk music only indirectly, yet is extremely important. This occurs when the composer has delved into the folk music idiom so deeply and absorbed it so completely that its elements become transmuted into elements of a higher, more general and more abstract compositional idiom. In Bartóks works one often finds a certain characteristic flavor coming from a longtime coexistence with folk music. Any composer who confronts folk music in any way, shape or form has still to deal with this epoch-making, unavoidable and unsurpassable Bartókian idiom. The decades following World War II have seen an inordinate number of Bartók epigones. In Kodálys work, the golden nuggets of folk music were embedded in an impressionistic style. Kodály devoted a large part of his activities to the musical education of his nation, writing vocal music to support the growing choral movement, but also through the system of relative solmization bearing his name, which brought him and his disciples international renown and recognition. His outlook, deeply Hungarian and broadly European at the same time, provided a stronghold, a "mighty fortress" as Hungary became engulfed by the darkness of Communism. Of course, this school, too, produced epigones. Many of them became involved with new musical institutions and "folk music ensembles," shaping some contradiction-ridden organizational structures that, ossified, hamper the musical renewal of those ensembles today. Dance music and instrumental folk music have always been influenced by the spirit of the times. When Márk Rózsavölgyi (1789-1848) composed his first Hungarian round dance, he was guided by the desire to create a Hungarian national dance. The origins of the csárdás were similar; within a few years this new dance had reached the villages where the local Gypsy bands wished to be up to date. In more traditional villages the peasants dubbed the csárdás "Gypsy dance," to indicate its foreign character. (The name still holds in the Transylvanian region of Mezöség, where the csárdás is just as current as the "Hungarian" dances.)

In imitation of their urban models (who were Gypsies), village musicians adopted many "composed" csárdás dances, as they had earlier done with other fashionable dances, transforming them according to their own tastes. Yet they were powerless in the face of the mass-culture explosion of the twentieth century (radio, recordings, film). They were forced to change the composition of their bands: the traditional string ensemble was joined first by the accordion and modern wind instruments (clarinet, saxophone), and later, in the second half of the century, by electric and electronic instruments (organ, synthesizer, guitar, rock drums). The traditional sound was thereby completely destroyed and made ridiculous.
>The changes in instrumentation brought in their train changes in the music itself, just as had happened earlier during the transition from wind to string sound. The new instruments demanded their own appropriate melodies. In a traditional Transylvanian village, where only twenty years ago Zoltán Kallós and his colleagues were able to collect the most beautiful music for acoustic instruments, the guitar, drums and synthesizers are "in" with their corresponding disco repertoire. Only rarely does an "old" csárdás or sürü crop up during a festivity. The generation that used to regard these dances as their own is slowly dying out, jeopardizing the survival of old instrumental folk music and dance in the long run. The urban groups, playing only "Gypsy" music, shared the same fate after World War II. The new power declared their music purely and simply to be "petty bourgeois," fit for the (Marxist) "rubbish-heap of history." They tried to integrate the Gypsy musicians of the cities, who couldnt protest since they knew what fate awaited those who protested in the Communist world, into the big bands of the new Soviet-style "folk-dance ensembles." Here they had to play for the dance incompetent arrangements of vocal melodies whose instrumental versions had flourished for many years in the much more mature and artistic practice of their village colleagues. The fittest continued to perform in restaurants but were gradually displaced by the rapidly growing electronic entertainment industry. Then, in the mid-seventies (during those years of rising opposition), two young men, Ferenc Sebö and Béla Halmos, started something new, based on Western models. They began to study and perform Hungarian instrumental folk music and folk dance, inspired by the research of Zoltán Kallós and György Martin, and with the help of Sándor Tímár and others, organized the first táncház (dance house). Here one could not only listen to music but also learn the corresponding dances. It was a smashing success: authentic folk music and dance left the concert stage and recovered their original function of entertainment. The táncház movement grew apace; thousands of young people started to go from village to village collecting folk music, dances and folk art; they learned how to play the folk instruments. New groups were formed, such as the Ökrös Ensemble, that strove to perform traditional instrumental music as authentically as possible. Camps and workshops were organized where participants could learn old crafts, music and dance from authentic practitioners. In the folk-dance movement, Gypsy bands are increasingly being replaced by young revival bands. At the same time, the ideological gulf between "Gypsy" music and the instrumental folk music played by the táncház people seems to be dimishing. The members of the younger generation on both sides begin to realize that the two kinds of music have more in common than the similarities of instrumentation. There is more communication than before; more and more Gypsy musicians now play instrumental folk music and vice versa. (The collaboration between the Ökrös Ensemble and Kálmán Balogh is a good example.) "Gypsy" music is open in the direction of jazz as well; many of the best Gypsy musicians are successful at international jazz festivals. On the other hand, folk music, both instrumental and vocal, has also entered the electronic age by taking its place in the global market of "world music" with successful productions such as the albums of Márta Sebestyén and Deep Forest. Despite these accomplishments, Hungary (and all of Eastern Europe) has been facing serious cultural difficulties since the demise of the totalitarian regimes, threatening to wipe out a folk culture that has been in artificial isolation for decades. We must preserve everything we have learned of folk culture and to record whatever remains. We are currently engaged in a comprehensive collecting effort under the name "Eleventh Hour," in which, over 45 weeks, we will document instrumental folk music in Transylvania, digitally recording the best of the remaining Transylvanians, Romanians, Hungarians, and Gypsies. As performers, we are striving to present the inherent values of this music, whether Romanian, Hungarian, or Gypsy, and to bring it where it belongs: the Pantheon of European instrumental culture.

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