Turkic Folkmusic Archives of János Sipos


Hungarian prehistory displays a peculiar duality of language and music: the language belongs to the Finno-Ugric family, while several pre-Conquest strata of the folk music are connected to Turkic groups. Intrigued by this phenomenon, Hungarian folk music researchers launched thorough comparative examinations quite early; to mention but the most important scholars: Zoltán Kodály (1937-1976) demonstrated Cheremis and Chuvash analogies in the first place; Béla Bartók (1937a, 1976) drew still valid conclusions about the folk music of Anatolia from a relatively small material; Lajos Vargyas carried out the comprehensive historical investigation of the folk music of the Volga-Kama region; Bence Szabolcsi demonstrated even broader international musical connections after surveying an enormous material.[1] Katalin Paksa studied the eastern relations of our narrow-range tetra- and pentatonic tunes; László Dobszay and László Dobszay–Janka Szendrei applying a novel approach to the Hungarian folk music material reviewed the international material in regard to the lament and psalmodic styles, among other things. [2]

Map of the research area


In keeping with the noblest traditions of Hungarian folk music research, investigations authenticated by fieldwork have been going on to this day (e.g. Pálóczy 2005) parallel with theoretical research. Most important among them for my present dissertation are Béla Bartók’s Anatolian collecting in 1936, László Vikár’s and Gábor Bereczki’s areal field research in the territory designated by the Volga, Kama and Belaya in 1957-1978 [3] and my field research activity among Turkic ethnicities since 1987.

At the beginning, the main goal of this research series was to explore the eastern relations of the Hungarian folk music, which gradually broadened into the areal folk music research of the multi-ethnic Volga-Kama-Belaya region. I further expanded it into the comparative investigation of diverse Turkic-tongued groups living over the vast Eurasian territory. In the meantime, the study of Hungarian prehistoric connections was also going on.

It justifies research into Turkic folk music that these ethnic groups have long been playing salient roles in Asia, and without the exploration of their folk music the musical world of Eurasia cannot be comprehended. What makes this research even more interesting is the fascinating diversity of this music as well as the fact that the connections between the music of these Turkic groups fundamentally differ from their linguistic relations.

In the course of this enormous work a part of the musical map of this vast area stretching from China to Eastern Europe has been plotted. It is also a fact that no similarly extensive, analytic, comparative folk music research based on field work has been carried out earlier in Asian territories.

The long-term goal of my research is to systematize and compare by musical criteria the folk songs of Turkic groups and ethnicities living around them. In this paper I rarely touch on instrumental folk music, the repertoire of professional or semi-professional performers, the most recent strata, seldom or just occasionally discuss art music and the cultural, social and anthropological implications of music are only sporadically considered, too.

There are close connections between the languages of Turkic groups but their musical stocks are fundamentally different. Actually, that is not surprising, because these people are, at least in part, Turkified, and through their substrata they are in genetic and cultural relations with several non-Turkic peoples. My research therefore has repercussions, apart from the Turkic speaking peoples tied by culture, language and history, upon their neighbours and partly absorbed other peoples, creating the foundation for an even broader future comparative ethnomusicological research of Eurasian groups.


This Website is aimed to provide a summary about the findings of my field researches into the folk music of Anatolian Turks, Azeris, Karachay-Balkars (in Northern Caucasus and Turkey), south-western and Mongolian Kazakhs, Turkmens, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz people between 1987 and 2015. I give a detailed account of the phases and results of collecting work, analysis and comparative research.

There were no systematized archives for the investigation of Azeri, Karachay-Balkar, Kyrgyz, Aday and Mongolian Kazakh, Turkmen and Sufi popular Islamic music, while the Anatolian and Kazakh collections were hardly accessible. Besides, the material of the latter was poorly annotated, basic genres were missing, such as laments, lullabies, folk religious tunes. That was why I had to carry out extensive field work among several Turkic ethnic groups.

In the past 28 years I spent a total of some 10 years in areas populated by Turkic groups and collected and notated some ten thousand tunes. I worked mostly in small villages and finished collecting among an ethnic group when the newly recorded tunes were already variants of former ones. The created Turkic archive belongs to the major systematized and elaborated collections of Azeri, Kyrgyz, Karachay and Turkmen folk music anywhere in the world. Concerning the degree of notation and analysis, the Anatolian and Kazakh sections are also important. This large amount of tunes allowed us to draw unique and reliable conclusions, and the whole endeavor acquired the value of basic research

In addition to the works of Hungarian researchers in the Volga-Kama area and their followers (Vikár 1969a-b, 1979, 1982, 1993; Vikár–Bereczki 1971, 1979, 1989, 1999) some articles and even a few books have appeared about the folk music of some Turkic groups I studied thoroughly (Anatolian, Kazakh). In most cases, however, there are tune selections (Azeri, Karachay, Kyrgyz) or not even that (Turkmen). I have studied the local and foreign folk music researchers’ works the great majority of which refrain from classification, let alone comparative examination. I touch on these in the discussion of the respective group of people. Let me mention some who make at least partial attempts at comparison: Lach (1926-1958), Bartók (1976), Beliaev (1975), Vinogradov (1958) and Reinhard (1957).

In my work I have applied the methods of comparative folk music research with great Hungarian traditions, of which László Dobszay wrote in an article entitled “The golden age and decline of comparative folk music research” (2010) the cultivation of which – similarly to him – I also deem vitally important. I resorted to the methods of ethnomusicology adapted to the currently predominant cultural-social anthropological trends in smaller communities such as the Sufi Takhtajis and the Alevi/Bektashi communities, as well as for in-depth research among the Aday and Mongolian Kazakh people. During fieldwork I made numberless interviews with musicians which are still to be processed.

I notated the collected tunes and classified them relying on the methods applied by my predecessors to the arrangement of Turkic folk music tunes. When comparing the material with Hungarian folk music, I primarily used Dobszay-Szendrei’s (1992) conception of styles.

The used symbols and the principles of transposition and musical systematization are described in the introduction to Chapter 3 of my Academy Doctoral dissertation where I also explain why I could not choose strictly unified principles for the classification of the examined folk music materials. Let it suffice to note here that the significantly different musical materials required different criteria of classification. For instance, the Azeri, Turkmen and Uzbek songs have short lines of a few neighbouring tones as against broad-ranged four-lined pentatonic folksongs implying fifth-shifting. A main criterion of systematization is first of all the melody contour because the rest of the musical features (e.g. rhythmic scheme, syllable number, gamut, etc.) are less markedly characteristic of the tunes, and the grouping on their basis can easily be presented in tabular form.

The examined Turkic folk music stocks is discussed under “The Musical Folklore of Turkic people” in the following order: Anatolian Turkish, Sufi Bektashi of Thrace, Azeri, Turkmen, Uzbek and Tadjik, Karachay-Balkar, Kazakh and Kyrgyz as well as the folksongs of the Turkic groups in the region demarcated by the Volga, Kama and Belaya (3i), relying on the works of Lajos Vargyas and László Vikár. Whenever possible, I make references to the connections between the studied folk music and its neighbouring folksongs as well as Hungarian folk music. I also examine the Turkic background to Hungarian pentatonic fifth-shifting, lamenting, psalmodic and children’s games tunes.