Ernö Kallai Kiss Peter Berki Lajos Sárközi jr. Ernö Kallai sr. Lajos Pádár Geza Jonas Csaba Luckacs

Description of the music


Largely Hungarian folk music is divided in two types of melodies:

  • Népdalok: (Old) Hungarian folk songs and
  • Magyar Nóta (song) or Nótak (songs): Hungarian city- or urban music, current Hungarian Folk Music. The distinction between these categories, however, is not always fully clear, since many of the better known népdalok also became popular as a Magyar nóta, although usually somewhat modified and played in the urban style. Two separate types of melodies with a special function, Verbunkos and Palotás, came up during the same period of urbanization as well.


These folk songs are samples of a rich musical trove. The database of the Hungarian Science Academy records over 150.000 songs originating from all rural villages of the Hungarians living within the Carpathian Basin of Central Europe. Some of these melodies reach back into centuries. Composers like Béla Bartók. and Zoltán Kodály (Wikipedia) realizing how exact the singing population preserved the not notated musical heritage of their ancestors, started from on 1905 to collect Magyar folksongs These songs had survived through many centuries as a heritage of a once flourishing Eurasian culture. During the 16th and 17th centuries Transylvania (Erdély), now part of Romania, and especially the region around Székely, was the center of Hungarian music. In fact Transylvania then was the only part of Hungary free of Turkish occupation. At the start of the eighteenth century in Hungary, during the so called Kuruc period of the fight for freedom against Habsburg, the nation produced the Kuruc songs. This period also produced a unique instrument, the tárogató, as playing in these Kuruc Noták (mp3). Many titles and lyrics of Hungarian folk songs remain a better reflection of Hungary’s cultural history than current national borders.
Most of these Népdalok were composed around longer existing poems. Today many Hungarians, even when living in foreign countries, not only know numerous of such old songs, but usually also most of their lyrics. This is reflected in large on-line collections with lyrics of Népdalok, like Daloskönyv (online collection of lyrcis)

Katonadalok or soldier (katona) songs form a separate category. They are often based upon emotional texts, sung by marching troops. For a YouTube video of some examples see: Kantonadolok. Below six kantonadalok samples out of the collection. Neither Kantonadalok, nor traditional military and weapon dances, like recruiting or Hajdú dances (YouTube) have much connection to the verbunkos (see below) other than their use for recruitment.


Style: Many Hungarian folk songs (Népdalok) go back for centuries. They include a broad variety of styles varying from slow songs to dance music like the csárdás. A good example of a Népdal Csárdás is given in the YouTube video Kalocsai Csárdás és mars The music uses a strophe structure, usually but not always isometric, that is in even numbers. Also Pentatonic or fife tone formations do occur, like in Repűlj a páva (mp3) with the five notes F G A C D.

Lyrics are the core of a Népdal, presented by one of more voices or a chorus. As a consequence there are several large on-line collections of lyrics of Hungarian Folk. Resolute and diversified rhythms are expressing the true soul and spirit of the related text.

Instruments: of the better known instruments the most commonly used for accompaniment are:

  • Violin or fiddle like in the YouTube video Csávási cigány csárdás
  • Viola: Characteristic for many songs is the use of a second violin or even better a viola as a so called “brácsa” (bratsch), supporting the songs rhythm by drawing together two or three (of the usual three) strings, like this YouTube video, an example of a single Bratch or this example of a bratch with a violin in Cigány Verbunk (YouTube video)
  • Double bas with violin, bratch and accordion in this Transsylvanian gipsy dance (YouTube)

Some of the more specific instruments used are:

  • Bagpipe like in Dancing for Hungarian Pipe Music (YouTube)
  • Cimbalom. (see picture below) This instrument is developed by Schunda in Pest from on 1874 as a larger version of the previously used Hammered Dulcimers. To day in some cases this instrument is also used to play Népdalok, like in this YouTube video: (2 violins, cimbalom. bratch and double bas) Its most common and typical use, however is to accompany the Magyar Nóta or Urban Hungarian Folk music (See below).
  • Cither or a cithers orchestra like the Szabó Ferenc Csoportja (YouTube)
  • Hurdy gurdy like in Playing on the tekerő (hungarian hurdy-gurdy) (YouTube)
  • Tambura: see Tambura, For an orchestra of Hungarian tambura’s see:
  • Ravnica – Hungarian Dance No. 5 – Tambura (YouTube)
  • Tárogató (taragot): a double-reed woodwind instrument, like the oboe, with a penetrating sound. ((mp3) Taragot players use it as a solo instrument. To day mainly the clarinet is used for this purpose.


This urban music is a musical style starting to develop during the end of the 19th and the early years of the 20th century. In the preceding first decades of the 19th century the virtuoso gypsy violinist János Bihari (1764 – 1827), also involved in the development of the Verbunkos,(see below) was the most famous leader of a Gipsy orchestra. He certainly has composed folk songs as well,, but since he could not read nor write music, his inheritance is based upon memories of later musicians.

Usually this urban music is also referred to as “Gipsy Music”, since often played by Gipsy bands. Typical Gipsy music, however, usually has a different style, (mp3) as can also be noticed in some more samples of Gipsy songs below. With the rapidly growing popularity of the Magyar nótak, also Hungarian and German musicians started to play this music. Unlike most Gipsy musicians they were trained to read music. The same Hungarian musical heritage also contributed to many operetta areas. In fact the many Hungarian orchestras, regularly playing in Vienna, caused a mutual influence both on melodies and style of playing.

Three songwriters should be mentioned that played an important role in the early development of the Magyar nótak: Dankó Pista (1858 – 1903), Kálmánn Simonffy (1814 -1853) and Elemér Szentirmay (János Németh) (1836 – 1908) The Gipsy violinist Dankó Pista (Wikipedia) has composed over 400 songs, many of which still are well known, like the samples of 30 songs of Dankó Pista below . Just these 30 songs provide an excellent impression of the core of the Magyar Nótak. This also holds true for songs still popular to day likesthe samples below of songs of Kálmánn Simonffy and of Eleme