Ádám Ignácz-Jan Blüml

Research on Popular Music in the Era of State Socialism in Czechoslovakia and Hungary

Trends, institutions, relations

Scholars of popular music generally agree that popular music studies as a discipline emerged in the mid-1970s in Western Europe and North America, mainly at the initiative of young sociologists, and it is considered primarily as a study of modern pop-rock music. Such narrative is shared by a large number of scholars from the former Eastern Bloc countries, too. However, the history of systematic exploration of popular music in the communist era remains largely unknown and unexplored, even at local level.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the history of popular music research in Eastern Europe, as it is evidenced in a few articles and a monograph. These texts, nevertheless, focus mainly on local issues and investigate how the research projects and academic careers of the socialist period were embedded in the political, social, and cultural history of one particular socialist country. There was only a tangential discourse of how researchers built their international networks. An overview of supranational trends in research is also still to come. In our article, we would like to focus exactly on these issues by comparing Czechoslovak and Hungarian popular music research of the 1950s and 60s and by presenting the relations between researchers from the two countries.

Tamás Szőnyei

Musical Underworld

Dangerous liaisons in Budapest after 1945

After taking over power in 1949, the communists called the tune in Hungary. Popular musical genres like jazz or operetta were deemed as decadent products of America and capitalism, thus had to be replaced by the optimistic sounds of socialism. Live music at nightclubs was observed by officials and undercover agents. One of them was the composer György Vadas. He had been expelled from the State Opera in 1948. Then he was recruited and sent to Vienna by the intelligence service to report about Hungarian social democrats in exile. Upon return to Hungary in 1950, he was interned. After his release in 1953, he became an informant. His reports from what he called the „musical underworld” of clubs and bars of Budapest prove that the political police was indeed informed about the scandalously “American” or even “African” style of several musicians in the early ’50s.

Tibor Takács

Punk’s Not Dead – But the Chicken Is

Narratives of a 1983 punk concert in Budapest

The paper discusses the “chicken-tearing” incident at the concert of the Hungarian punk band CPg held in Budapest on March 5, 1983. The story has been told and passed on in countless forms, which does not allow us to determine what exactly happened. However, the narratives about the case make it possible to examine what meanings the narrators endowed the event with. Members of the band and the audience saw the tearing of the chicken as a scandalous performance which was completely accustomed to (and “normal” at) a punk concert. The incident was (and has been) considered a crime by the authorities and several opposition intellectuals. The pattern of events, however, offers an opportunity to interpret the death of the chicken as a profane rite.

Imre Söptei

The Brass Band of Kőszeg in the 1950s

Hungary’s longest existing ensemble, the brass band of Kőszeg, which celebrated its 150 anniversary in 2016, had been operating independently until 1950 when the local council took over the control of its operation, which resulted in significant problems. This change and the musicians’ struggle for existence reflect the conditions of this era. Contemporary sources reveal the various ways the band was “used” in grand events taking place in Kőszeg, in rural areas, and in other towns. It is also typical how their repertoire was changed with compositions of Soviet-Russian authors taking up an ever-growing part of it. The new political regime used their services extensively for parliamentary and local council elections, wreath laying ceremonies, accompanying the inauguration of socialist enterprises, celebrating the heroes of the socialist emulation, and tributing those who performed best at the compulsory delivery of goods. They also visited rural areas as members of “cultural brigades” where they agitated for the communist party’s politics and the organisation of cooperatives while also popularizing Soviet culture.

During the years of the “thaw”, it was the ensemble that provided an opportunity for the town particularly afflicted by the iron curtain and closing of the borders to momentarily break out of isolation. In 1956, as part of the peace movement, they were allowed to receive Austrian guests.

Viktor Attila Soós

Campfire and Beat Mass

Contributions to the reception of Christian pop music by the party state

Christian pop music symbolized a kind of resistance in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. In this era, different branches of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, the State Office for Church Affairs and the state security were responsible for supervising the churches. In this paper, the attitude of the Hungarian one-party state to Christian pop music is explored. This genre of music is closely related to the youth as well as clerical and secular persons dealing with young people. The one-party state considered youth work and the meetings of small communities as reactionary activities. Supporters of the Christian pop music movements were often priests who had previously been involved in other lawsuits against churches. Therefore, these people were continuously observed and controlled. Christian pop music was also used for inciting conflicts within church communities. For example, it is a divisive question whether this genre is permissible in the church. It was a problem for the state that Christian pop music also attracted people to the church who had not lived a religious life before.

Marcell Miklós Mártonffy

Gunfire – with Background Music

A BOOKREVIEW ON György Gyarmati and Lóránt Péteri, eds.: 1956 és a zenei élet. Előzmények, történések, következmények.
(1956 in the Musical Life – Events, Causes and Effects)
Budapest–Pécs, Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára –
Liszt Ferenc Zeneművészeti Egyetem – Kronosz, 2019. p. 344

The book under review discusses the contacts between the 1956 Hungarian revolution and the history of 20th century Hungarian music. Although the book is based on a conference which took place at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in February 2017, it does not contain the transcripts of the presentations but 13 articles in the topics of the conference. The papers give an insight into how the revolutionary events influenced the famous contemporary Hungarian composers like László Lajtha and György Ligeti, how the mainstream musical institutions responded to the revolution, what the general attitude of the period towards Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók was like, and how the composer Sándor Jemnitz and musicologist Tibor Tallián experienced the 1956 events. The reviewer discusses each paper briefly in the hope that the readers can be presented with a panorama of the music life in this very important period of