Folk music research
It is difficult to say since when the hurdy-gurdy has been used in Hungary.
In Europe the first representations are from the 11th century (from the territory of Northern Spain), but it is already
mentioned by Arabian chronicles from the 8-9th century.
According to some researchers, the expression „Symphonia Ungarorum” in the 12th century text of the Hungarian
St. Gerald refers to the hurdy-gurdy, but this is hard to prove. However, in a 16th century aristocratic blazon
it is surely appears this instrument, which indicates its general notoriety. What is more, in this blazon a typical
Hungarian hurdy-gurdy form can be seen. This aristocratic family had estates on the Great Hungarian Plain and in the
Hajdúság, and their name was Lantos (bard)!
So we have to be careful with our written resources, because in old times people did not group the instruments in
the way we do. In connection with the hurdy-gurdy I am to mention three examples. The first one is this certain
Lantos family, the second one is a text from Szentes written around 1810, saying the following:
„ A gazdagabbaknak dudássok volt, a szegényebb sorúaknak hegedűssök. Tekerő hegedűs volt pedig Gerecz János”.
(The richer ones were bagpipers, the poorer ones were fiddlers, and János Gerecz was a winding fiddler.) If
only the first half of the sentence subsisted accidentally, everyone would think of the fiddle. It i sonly the
second part that shows that it is about the hurdy-gurdy.
The third example comes form the 1930’s and can be heard as part of the famous “Pátria” folk music collection, when István Balla,
a hurdy-gurdy player from Szentes, talks on the gramophone record about his playing, saying, „Dudálta és tekerte Balla István 63
éves szentesi földműves”. (Piped and winded by István Balla, 63-year-old ploughman.) However, he only plays the hurdy-gurdy,
though he plays one of the tunes without crackling in bagpipe playing method. This means that the words lyre, fiddle, or bagpipe
could refer to a hurdy-gurdy as well.
The Hungarian folk music researchers paid attention to the hurdy-gurdy already from the beginning. Béla Bartók collected hurdy-gurdy music
in 1906 in Szentes.
Zoltán Kodály also wrote about the instrument in 1943. He says, (the comments in parentheses are from the author of this text) ,,In our
country it only has its traces in Szentes. The last one was made around 1907, its master, János Szenyéri (he was called by the neighbourhood
Szerényi, the hurdy-gurdy-maker) already died. His son, Dániel (1885-1969) is still alive, plays and fabricates.(All in all he made three instruments.)
We managed to find a hurdy-gurdy player for the gramophone-recordings of the Radio and the Museum of Folk Arts in 1939.”
(This is the certain ,,Pátria” collection, in which two hurdy-gurdy players, István Balla and József Kiss can be heard, and also a
zither player and singer, Mária Mecs Balogh or Mrs. József Maszlag, who, by the way, could play the hurdy-gurdy as well.)
Fortunately, the findings of Kodály were proved to be wrong by further researches, as only during the ,,Pátria” collection
almost forty hurdy-gurdy players turned up from around Szentes.
Further research was impeded by World War II for a long time, and the situation was not better under the communist regime, thanks to the
frantic destruction of farms during this period.
Nevertheless, in the 60’s the collection was continued by Bálint Sárosi and the staff of Institution of Musicology at the other
side of the River Tisza, around Tiszaalpár, where they met, among others, Mihály Bársony (1915-1989), his brother József (1912-1996),
and Rókus Papp (1901-1978). During this time, brilliant recordings were made performing a hurdy-gurdy-clarinet duo Zsigmond Halász Szabó
and István Kanfi Horváth from Szentes, and the Imre Boros-Márton Kovács duo from Bokros.
The so called ‘Dancehouse Movement’ of the early 70’s reinvented hurdy-gurdy, and Mihály Bársony became a regular guest in the club
of the legendary Sebő Band. In the 80’s musicians of these dancehouses started to collect music along the middle part of the Tisza.
Excellent records were made by Pál Havasréti and Ágoston Z. Bartha, and I joined them at the end of the 80’s. Today it counts as
irreparable knowledge about hurdy-gurdy playing what we learnt from János Sinkó (1902-1994) of Csongrád, Mihály Varga “Cselédes”
(1902-1994) of Kiskunfélegyháza, Márton Kovács “Kúresz” (1923-1999) and Rókus Tari (1913- ) of Bokros, Mihály Bársony, József Bársony and
József Hajdú (1914-1999) of Tiszaalpár.
Even today, this instrument is represented in reference works as having been used in a small area along the middle part of the Tisza,
around Csongrád and Szentes. On the contrary, it can be stated, with a little exaggeration, that at the land Gyula Hankóczi puts his
feet on the hurdy-gurdy will surely pop up! Today the existence of the instrument is proved on the whole Great Hungarian Plain from
the southern part of Csepel Island until the southern boundary of the country, and to the east as far as Arad. More and more data are
being found in Transdanubium and in the northern parts as well. I am sure that the traces of the hurdy-gurdy could be searched with
considerable results among the Hungarians living beyond the border in Serbia and in the Partium. However, these are already plans for
the near future.