Franz Liszt and "Gypsy Music"

18/Mar/2011 - 29/Aug/2011
Having for a long time been drawn into relation with Gypsies by more than one kind of personal sympathy, we have been naturally led to take a warm interest in matters related to them and to everything that can provide enlightenment and an explanatory text on their art, to which we have devoted much attention, care and study. The memory of Gypsies is closely intertwined with memories of our childhood, and with a few of its most vivid impressions. Later we became an itinerant artist, just as they are in our homeland. They pitched their tents in every country of Europe and it took centuries for them to travel the length and breadth of those countries, while we, as though condensing into a nutshell their fate over many centuries, have travelled through those countries in the space of a few years and have often remained foreign to the peoples we visited, because like them, we too in constant exhaustion have sought the ideal in art, if not in nature.

The starting point of this exhibition is Franz Liszt's book A czigányokról és a czigány zenéről Magyarországon published in Hungarian in 1861 (and in English as The Gipsy in Music in 1860), or more precisely the part of it beginning from section LXVII devoted specifically to Gypsy music. (The book was first published in 1859 in Paris as Des Bohémiens et de leur musique en Hongrie.) The subject is presented along two lines: music and dance, that is, through the history of music and dance and through portrayal in the fine arts.

In agreement with the passage cited from Béla Bartók's academic inaugural speech -"We all know now that the conclusion reached in this book, namely that what Gypsy musicians play in Hungary, and even Hungarian peasant music itself, is music of Gypsy origin, is entirely mistaken. We all know, on the basis of unquestionably convincing evidence, that this music is of Hungarian origin. It would be a waste of time to put forward any further proof." - it is the aim of our exhibition to examine precisely this process whereby, with the contribution of Gypsy musicians, "Hungarian" music is constructed as an integral part of Hungarian national culture.

Regardless of Bartók's truth, Franz Liszt was strongly influenced by Gypsy music-making. We are familiar with the musical processes from the work of Bence Szabolcsi and Bálint Sárosi. The musical specialisation of certain Gypsy groups took place in the second half of the 18th century. By the end of the century the composition of the orchestra, the instruments and the size of the bands were finalised. The musical styles and trends can also be clearly traced. The prevailing taste and style at the turn of the 18th-19th century was the verbunk. The word (of German origin) refers to the recruiting of soldiers. Its best known representatives were János Bihari, Antal Csermák and János Lavotta, and Franz Liszt mentions them in his book. This was followed in time by the csárdás, a name derived from the word csárda (inn), one of the main places of merry-making.

Both musical styles were interpreted by Franz Liszt and his contemporary composers and even students as Hungarian dance. Bence Szabolcs summed up the essence of this view >>for example, the aim of the highly important series of publications titled Hungarian Popular Songs from Veszprém County, for example, was "not only to rescue from oblivion the finer pieces existing in manuscript, and to encourage our Hungarian composers to composition and originality, but also to contribute in this way too, to the embellishment of the Nation, and especially to instil through this channel national sentiment into the hearts... of our noble Hungarian Ladies who do not understand our language": and for this reason "in bringing these popular songs to the attention of the world we wish ... to display the National Character, and to acquaint foreigners with the musical skill of the Hungarian."<< And further on: "The epochal change of direction in the history of Hungarian music around the 1800s lies principally in the fact that the "nation recognises itself in its music" and from then on consciously identifies with it, at the same time identifying the music with its own being, desires and aspirations."

In the second half of the 18th century, in the Central European empires ruled by enlightened absolutism, when the attention of the ruling house and steadily growing intellectual enquiry turned towards the peoples of the empire - towards the various occupations outside the estates and the different religious and linguistic communities the common people, as the working pillar upholding the existing order, entered the national pantheon. At first this was the case for the Gypsies too, as a group regarded in the same way as the peasants, as being outside the estates. The first ethnographical portrayals (drawings, engravings and prints) make no real distinction between Gypsies and peasants, or other "archaic occupations" and craft groups. These people also increasingly appeared in paintings, as figures in genre scenes.

But in the course of the organisation of nation states and the elaboration in the 19th century of the structure of the national culture the emphasis shifted to the idealised linguistic and religious group, and peoples who fell outside this were excluded from the ranks of those destined for nation-building. In this way, among the peoples of the empire, the Romanians and the Slovaks were left out of nation-building in 19th century Hungary, and the Gypsies too also gradually dropped out. But in many portrayals of peasants from the mid-19th century (by Liszt's contemporaries), in pictures of folk life and genre scenes we find Gypsy musicians playing verbunks or csárdáses for dancing or merry-making peasants or melancholy outlaws. Then by the end of the 19th century the portrayal of Gypsy musicians without the inclusion of peasants appears as a subject in its own right. The exhibition thus presents a narrow but important part of the expression of Hungarian national culture. Franz Liszt, Miklós Barabás, Sándor Petőfi (to mention only a few names) eventually come together, and "Gypsy", that is, "Hungarian" music and dance, thinking about Gypsies and their portrayal was to become one of the common themes of their meeting.


The exhibition has been arranged in four loosely-linked spaces.
The first space is the large exhibition room on the mezzanine floor facing the inner court. Half of this space is devoted to an interpretation of the history of music and dance with quotations from Franz Liszt and his contemporaries, period portrayals, lithographs and prints, scores and the frontispieces of printed scores, and to add to the experience there are three cabins where visitors can hear verbunks and csárdáses, as well as a selection of the Liszt compositions they inspired. The musical instruments on display recall those used by Gypsy musicians in the early and the late 19th century. The other half of the hall contains important portrayals of Gypsies in fine arts up to the mid-19th century.

The second space is the staircase leading up to the first floor and the upstairs corridor where you can see a small collection of paintings from the mid and late 19th century, prints and engravings based on them, reflecting the portrayal of peasants by national Romanticism. The third space is at one end of the corridor around the first floor where themes related to the exhibition are projected. The fourth space is the area in front of the permanent exhibition in the first floor corridor. Here there is a display of 19th century ethnographical objects (mainly pastoral art) depicting stylized scenes of merry-making, dancing peasants and music-making Gypsies. The programme of projected slides shows famous Gypsy musicians and hospitality places in Budapest employing Gypsy musicians.

Curators: Peter Szuhay and Krisztina Pálóczy