After the turning point  •  The sixties  •  The seventies •  Selected Bibliography


After the turning point

World War II is a turning point in the history of Hungarian popular music for several reasons. The leaders of cultural policy in Hungary virtually eradicated the thriving, western-type entertainment industry of the interwar period first under the pressure of Nazi Germany, then under the pressure and with the efficient help of the Soviet Union, which invaded the Carpathian Basin in 1945. This industry was substituted for a short time by a system based on national socialist principles, than it was reestablished according to socialist standards. With regards to popular music, this meant that from the end of the ’40s traditional club-life has ceased, and all forms of music, which could even slightly be related to the “imperialist world” were prohibited and mocked. Even such movie classics of the ‘50s, as the Dalolva szép az élet (1950) or the Egy pikoló világos (1955) presented the “jampec” (ca. teddy boy) as typically malignant and undesirable persons. The negative standpoint of the party remained unchanged even after the détente following the 1956 revolution. If, for instance, one browses an issue from the early years of Magyar Ifjúság, the first and foremost youth journal of the era, they will find that there is virtually nothing about jazz and modern American dance music genres (such as rock and roll or twist). In the first decade following 1945, the newest trends of popular music and jazz have been entirely overshadowed by socialist realist dance songs, styles instructed in dance schools and the propagated revolutionary songs.
This is probably why the recording of Bill Haley’s classic, Rock Around the Clock by the jazz guitarist and exceptional soloist, Andor Kovács from the band of Lajos Martiny in 1957 was considered a great progress. Benkó Dixieland Band was established in the same year. This ensemble was one of the most important bands of the era and prepared the way for the breakthrough of Jazz and beat in Hungary. Soon, additional ensembles appeared beside that of Benkó, and in 1962, the short-lived but at its outset quite popular Ifjusági Jazz Klub (Youth’s Jazz Club) was founded at Dália café. The détente of the political atmosphere in the beginning of the ‘60s and the accompanying ideological shift towards the genre (the 1961 article of Leonid Utesov for example) removed or partly even eliminated most institutional obstacles from the way of jazz’ further proliferation among the wider public.


The sixties

This was quite unlike beat music. By the beginning of the sixties, the interest for beat music in Hungary rose significantly. This was due to the following facts: many in Hungary listened to Radio Luxemburg; the first beat ensembles appeared in clubs of Budapest in the sixties; Radio Free Europebegan broadcasting a new program, Teenager Party. The institutional system of the entertainment industry, rebuilt in the post-war period, and its rigorously centralized way of information flow have, however, hindered keeping up with western trends and the overall development of this form of popular music for many years. From an ideological point of view, the accusations against beat music were largely the same as the previous ones against jazz. There was, however, one significant addition: the “immodesty” and “ignorance” which – according to the ideology – characterized most of the representatives of the new style, proved to be unacceptable for the preservers of high culture and promulgators of refined erudition. But when according to a nationwide poll of KISZ in 1963, it turned out that “modern dance music” enjoys great popularity among the youth, overall prohibition became inappropriate for regulating beat music in Hungary. Therefore, the following years were spent with redirecting this style into a “fitting” course and establishing the frameworks of a refined socialist entertainment culture capable of incorporating western trends as well.
Almost all of the by now legendary beat ensembles started out in this period. Moreover, the balance of forces so characteristic for almost the entire subsequent decade started to become visible at the outset. There were only a couple of ensembles, which could at the same time conform to the expectations of the authorities, the entertainment business and the audience (being talented, trustworthy, acclaimed, but not being scandalous). By the time the independent Hungarian youth musical culture was born (1967-8), in which the leading roles were fulfilled by singers who performed in Hungarian, it was quite obvious that three unique ensembles: Illés, Omega and the Metro emerged from among the contestants. Together with them, there were only about one or two dozen artist, who decisively influenced the life of the popular music of the ‘60s.
Beat, despite its increasing popularity and number of fans, could at this time not become the leading genre in Hungarian popular music, since the decisive majority of the adult population (and a lesser proportion of the youth) preferred to the newly imported popular music of the West, traditional dance music, gypsy music and the so-called “mulatós” (also adjusted to the needs of the era). This situation has not changed even after the breakthrough victory of Illés at the 1968 Táncdalfesztivál (lit. Festival of Dance Music). Nevertheless, by then, beat and the various genres of rock emerging from it became important even prominent agents on all levels of the culture of Kádár-era Hungary.
The growing importance of the genre is not only evidenced by the triumph at the Táncdalfesztivál and the appearance of “amateurs” in TV, but also by further events which proved the increasingly amiable standpoint of the authorities and the leading institutions of popular music. Such was the featuring of beat in movies (Ezek a fiatalok, 1967, Extázis 7-től 10-ig, 1969), the numerous debates about it in journals, magazines and the electronic media, but also the attempt of cultural authorities from 1966 to politicize lyrics and to import so-called protest songs and political songs critical of the Western world (such as those of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez).
The genre which had aimed primarily at depriving beat from its anti-establishment overtones and harmonizing modern musical trends with the political and public topics which intrigued the public opinion of socialist society the most, was re-established in Hungary under the heading of political beat. The first and probably the only important event of political beat was the national festival organized in 1967. Since the festival did not arouse as strong echoes as it was expected in party headquarters, the festivities died of in subsequent years due to the lack of interest.


The seventies

The young audience did not adore the popular version of beat music anymore. Instead, they were thirsty for hard rock and progressive rock, two styles which, although they conquered the world in the second half of the sixties, have arrived to Hungary a few years belated. Progressive rock never received institutional support by the Hungarian government, and it has never become more than a musical subculture, despite the almost worldwide fame of the ensemble Syrius and the fact that it would have been reasonable from an ideological standpoint to support this genre. The ensemble Syrius, which brought together the most talented rock and jazz musicians of the era (such as László Pataky, Miklós Orszáczky, Mihály Ráduly, András Veszelinov) had some success in Hungary (especially in 1972-3) and even did a tour in Australia, but due to the constant hindering of tours abroad and the paucity of the fans, the most promising asset of export of Hungarian popular music was shortly disbanded.
Some Hungarian ensembles, however, which had the confidence of the authorities too, managed to endure in popular music even on an international scale. Hungarian performers, who could keep pace with Western trends the most from among ensembles from socialist countries, enjoyed the highest favor with Western European pop managers, record labels and consumers. This is evidenced, on the one hand, by the success of Omega, an ensemble, which traveled to Great Britain already in 1968. Omega’s breakthrough was subsequent to their reorganization (coupled with a change in their musical style). First, they hit the rock market of the Comecon, then that of the Western world, and they were still among the highly favored ensembles in the ‘80s. Another ensemble with several tours beyond Hungary’s borders was a supergroup, Locomotiv GT (also known as LGT). Supergroups are ensembles, which were established after the great transformation of 1971 and the members of which, had come from another orchestras with previous successes. LGT’s establishment was actually due to the reorganization of Omega. Its founder and leader was Gábor Presser, who rose to fame as Omega’s composer and keyboardist. Presser recruited the associates for his new idea from two further, beloved orchestras, the Metro and the HungáriaSkorpió (established in 1973) was also regarded as a supergroup since it consisted of former members of LGTHungária and Mini. In its six years of existence, Skorpió has also toured in several countries of Europe.
By the middle of the ’70s, Hungarian popular music was also already characterized by the diversity of genres, styles and sub-cultures. As a result of folk music research and the folk dance movement, Sebő EgyüttesMuzsikásVujicsics, and with a more rock-alike tone, Kormorán have also begun to operate beside the genres mentioned so far. Following the breaking up of Illés in 1973, Levente Szörényi and János Bródy, the two composers have tried temporarily to introduce country music in Hungary with the ensemble FonográfKaláka an orchestra focusing on putting poems to music became popular, while Tamás Cseh and Géza Bereményi invented a novel musical tone, beloved and reflected upon primarily by young members of the intelligentsia. Also dated to the middle of the 70s is the cult of hard-rock, evolving together with the appearance of Piramis.
This diversity is a clear proof of the progressive approach gaining the upper hand in pop culture policies within the confines of the state-party authorities. This, of course, did not mean that the development of popular music in Hungary could tread the same path as its western counterparts. But due to business interests and the changes of public taste, certain decisions were already made partly according to market-based and consumer-based viewpoints. Thus beat and rock music retained in some sense and in certain genres its counterculture overtones, and its occasional scandals and the increasingly scarce counter-measures by the authorities called attention to its disadvantageous position as compared to mainstream trends. Nevertheless, they became an integral part of mass culture, and contributed much to the slothful revision of underdeveloped social institutions and customs of listening to music.


Selected Bibliography

Borbándi, Gyula. Magyarok az angol kertben – A Szabad Európa Rádió története. Budapest: Európa, 1996.
Burger, András – Pethes Sándor (ed.). Könnyűműfaj '81: popzene és környéke egy tanácskozás tükrében. Budapest: KISZ Budapesti Bizottság, 1981.
Dalia, László – B. Molnár László. A dal ugyanaz marad. Budapest: Media Nox, 2002.
Dám, László. Rockszámla. Budapest: IRI, 1987.
Erdős, Péter. Hogyan készül a popmenedzser?Erdős Péterrel beszélget Acsay Judit. Budapest: Unio, 1990.
Fekete, Kálmán: Első magyar Blueskönyv. Budapest: Alexandra, 1996.
Fenyves, György. Csak fiataloknak I–III. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1966–1970.
Fonyódi, Péter. Beat-korszak a pártállamban. Budapes: XX. századi intézet, 2003.
Garai, Imre. Sláger: Egy táncdalszerző vallomásai. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1966.
Göbölyös, N. László. Hatvannyolc akkor és azóta: (h)ősök, utódok, szellemek. Budapest: Pallas, 2007.
Göbölyös, N. László. A 60-as évek 45-ös fordulaton: slágerek és történelem. Budapest: Szabad Föld, 2003.
Havasréti, József, K. and Horváth, Zsolt (ed.). Avantgárd: underground: alternatív: popzene, művészet és szubkulturális nyilvánosság Magyarországon. Budapest: Artpool, 2003.
Jávorszky, Béla Szilárd – Sebők, János. A magyarock története I-II. Budapest: Népszabadság, 2005–2006.
Kiss, István Zoltán. Magyar könnyűzenei lexikon 1962-től. Budapest: Zaj-ZONE, 1998.
Kocsis, L. Mihály. Illés: énekelt történelem: vocal history. Budapest: Zikkurat, 1999.
Koltay, Gábor. A koncert: dosszié. Budapest: Ifjúsági Lapkiadó, 1981.
Koltay, Gábor. Benkó Dixieland Band story. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1982.
Kőbányai, János. Beatünnep után. Budapest: Gondolat, 1986.
Losonczi, Ágnes. A zene életének szociológiája. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1969.
Losonczi, Ágnes. Zene – ifjúság – mozgalom. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1974.
Malecz, Attila. Éteri dallamok: zenei műsorok és közönségük. Budapest: n. p., 1986.
Malecz, Attila. A zenei ízlés Magyarországon. Budapest: Tömegkommunikációs Kutatóközpont, 1987.
Poós, Zoltán. Táskarádió: 50 év, ötven magyar sláger. Budapest: Rózsavölgyi, 2010.
Pozsonyi, Ádám. A Lenin-szobor helyén bombatölcsér tátong: a magyar punk története, 1978–1990. Budapest: Magánkiadás, 2003.
Romhány, András. A városi népzenéről. Budapest: BMK, 1987.
Sebők, János. A Beatlestől az Új Hullámig: A rock a hetvenes években. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1981.
Sebők, János. Magya-rock. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1983.
Sebők, János. Könnyűzenei lexikon. Budapest: IPV, 1987.
Sebők, János. Rock a vasfüggöny mögött: hatalom és ifjúsági zene a Kádár-korszakban. Budapest: GM és Társai, 2002.
Sükösd, Mihály. Beat, hippi, punk. Budapest: Kozmosz, 1985.
Szakács, Gábor. Így volt, ez van, hogy lesz? Magyar beatológia. Budapest: Nemzeti Korona Lapkiadó, 1996.
Tardos, Péter. Beat-kislexikon. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1971.
Tardos, Péter. Beat-pop-rock. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1972.
Tardos, Péter. Rock-lexikon. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1980.
Ungvári, Tamás. A rock mesterei: az ellenkultúra története. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1974.
Vitányi, Iván. A „könnyű műfaj”. Budapest: Kossuth, 1965.
Vitányi, Iván. Beat. Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1969.