Monday, 11 February 2013

Bartók and Nationalism:
A History in Six Dances 4

Béla Bartók: Six Romanian Folk Dances, Pianist Zoltán Kozsis

Dance from Bocsum
Buciumeana . Bocsumi tánc

The word Bucium means bugle. The instrument as used by Romanian shepherds has a very long horn, longer than the average didgeridoo.  Really it’s a kind of alpenhorn. Bucium, the place, is in Alba, Romania, not far from the city of Alba Iulia, which was known to Hungarians as Gyulafehérvár, the white fort of Julius. All places in Northern Romania and Transylvania had Hungarian names, as well as German or Saxon ones, sometimes transliterations of each other.

A good many Hungarian artists left Hungary after 1919. Most left because they felt vulnerable politically and culturally, either as Jews, socialists or avant garde artists, some because they could see better opportunities abroad, some becauase they feared persecution.  Horthy’s white terror was directed largely at Jews, because Jews were among the most active figures in the Bolshevik administration. Horthy’s government brought in the very first anti-Jewish laws, the numerus clausus of 1920, which restricted the number of Jews in higher education and the professions, and this was just a start. Clearly, opportunities for Jews were going to be restricted. If you stayed at home you had to keep your head down and, possibly, give up religion and change your name.

It wasn’t just Jews leaving of course but many other prominent writers, philosophers, musicians, painters, singers, scientists, far too many to name. For them too it was clear that Hungary was not going to be sympathetic to revolutionary or avant-garde art. It was a major cultural diaspora, one of many in Hungarian history but culturally probably the greatest. Nor was it just Hungarians moving around Europe and America. All that revolutionary cross-fertilisation, all that meeting of ideas we find after the war, was the product of trauma and collapse.

Those who stayed at home would find their reputation restricted. The great Hungarian photographer Károly Escher for example is hardly known here because he stayed behind. But he is of equal stature to those who went. 


The writers generally left for a while then returned. Hungarian was the language they wrote their poems and novels in: that was their art and nobody abroad spoke or wrote Hungarian.

The issue of the language is closely tied to the condition of the Hungarian psyche. Hungarian is utterly isolated. It is an island in a sea of Slavonic, Romance, and Teutonic languages, unrelated to anything else, except, according to most accepted theories, to Finnish and Estonian. The benefit of linguistic isolation are that you are obliged to learn other languages in order to get about the world, so when you do leave you are prepared.. The disadvantage is that you will never quite hit the precise shade of meaning that matters. If you are a writer that is fatal.

Having an isolated language is a matter of both insecurity and pride. It is what you are, but no one outside your language circle will ever known what that is. It is a vital element in the Hungarian psyche and an important factor in the temper and stance of Hungarian politics.

The post war emigration had said goodbye the country. The dance from Búcsúm has a nicely Hungarian twist and lilt. By a strange linguistic quirk the Hungarian word búcsú means farewell.  

This is the shortest text. Two more to come.

1 comment:

Gwil W said...

Big day today in Hungary according to this morning's Austrian news on the radio. Something about far right constitutional 'reforms' I heard mentioned.