The Modern Hungarian Oriental Music Project

In order to understand the intention of this project, we must know the historical and theoretical background of the topic.

Historical background

The supposed Hungarian Maqam
There was an ancient musicality which was uniform in the beginning of the civilization. The music form which existed in that time was in a perfect harmony with the human being's mental, physical, life and nature. The music that we can call Oriental music culture was formed of this ancient musicality. The maqam was a later manifestation of that ancient music culture.
The image of the maqam as a musical form and culture is deficient. To get the possible widest image of the maqam we must suppose the existence of the Hungarian and also the Bulgarian Maqam. 1000 years ago the main condition for the Hun tribes living in the Carpatic-Basin was to take over the Catholic religion. Together with the new religion, Hungarians had to take over Latin as an official language. The new culture also brought new music. In about 500 years the ancient Oriental music together with the ancient religion vanished. Some fragments were inherited only by the folk music. In the Hungarian folk music, especially the old folk singers in Transylvania, use a special ornamentation while singing. They sing in a non-tempered system. Their manner of bending notes, how one note gets to another one, is a typical property of the Eastern music. In the meantime, our history was rewritten by the surrounding powers covering up the tracks of the ancient music. After many years of enthusiastic research, I will attempt to discover the kind of Oriental music played by our ancestors.

Countries where the maqam music is played

It is obvious that in all Arabic countries, in Iran and Turkey, the maqam has a high-level living culture, but the influence and the direct traces of the maqam culture can be in found in the music of the following countries: South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Turk peoples, like Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan; as well as Iran, and Armenia. In Europe it is found in the music of Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, and Hungary, the traces of the Oriental music can be found in fragments. Maqam fragments can also be found in Malaysian and Indonesian music. Today we can also add Hungary to the list of places where the ancient Oriental music culture exists even if in fragments in the folk music, because the image of the Oriental culture would not be whole without it.

The musical instruments of the ancient Hungarian Oriental Music

The Hungarian traditional music still uses two ancient musical instruments. One of them is the koboz, the other is the zither. The name koboz also speaks of the Eastern origin. (komuz, kobuz, etc) The kobuz is a bowed instrument in Cenral-Asia but the Hungarian koboz is a lute-like plucked instrument with no frets on the fingerboard. That instrument would be a perfect device to play Oriental music but it is used only for folk music. Though the Hungarian zither changed a lot and it received a tempered fretboard, but it shows that we never received these instruments, but we brought those instruments with us from the ancient homeland and developed it for accommodating Western music.

Bartók had a suspicion

Béla Bartók made extended research into ancient music. He travelled to Arabic countries to collect folk music to study the obvious similarities with Hungarian music. These materials were hidden from the public for more than half a century, and has became available for the public only recently. Many maps came across illustrating the places where our ancestors lived. Some of them are more than 2000 years old. These maps are direct evidence for the assumption of Bartók. The Hun Empire was huge and strong. The ancient Hungarian music impacted the Oriental music and vice versa; it was influenced by the surrounding Eastern countries. It is an exciting question: What would our music be like now if the Hungarians never came to the Carpatic Basin? We can guess: cultural globalization roots not in the spirit but the material. It is possible to demolish physical objects with violence but it is not possible to kill an immortal substance like the music.

What is the maqam?

The word maqam in Arabic means place, location, or rank. The maqam is a melody type. Each maqam is built on a scale, and carries a tradition that defines its habitual phrases, important notes, melodic development, and modulation. The Maqam is also a modal structure that characterizes the art of music of countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The maqam however has a deeper and more complex meaning as well. It marks an ancient music system and form. The maqam as a music culture is always strongly tied to the sacral life. The maqam music is not only for itself as a "l'art por lart." It has a very intensive sacral and ritual charge, depending on the performing circumstances and the player. Most traditional and classical maqam music is modal and uses non-tempered intervals. There are unequally distanced microtones within the maqam system that do not exist in modern European music. Maqam music was played not only in courts and rich environments. Over many centuries, the maqam continued to develop. The tradition reached the academies and it is taught by high-level musicians. This also means that it became a classical music. The exact beginning of the maqam tradition is unknown, and is a subject of debate among maqam musicians and connoisseurs. Some believe that the maqam is a several hundred years old tradition, brought in by the conquering Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Others postulate that it began during the Abbasid period (8th-13th century A.D.), when Baghdad was the seat of the Islamic caliphate and was a great center of art, learning, and technological achievement. Still others believe that the maqam may reach to a much further past, to Iraq's ancient civilizations, the Babylonian and the Sumerian. Different archives containing all the possible data about the maqams deal only with the formal appearance of the maqams. In my research, I would like to raise the attention to its deeper primordial roots in the spiritual dimension.

In tracking the maqam

The roots of ancient Oriental music can be traced back to the days of the Elamite Empire (2,500-644 B.C) in Persia. Little is known of the music during this period, except for the fact that various instruments, such as plucked and bowed string instruments, lutes and flutes were created and played. Later, the ancient Oriental music extended into Arabic culture and together with the Islamic religion, the maqam appeared as a new music form. Though the origins of Persian modal music remain vague, research has revealed more than was previously known. Barbod the Great of the 7th Century (A.D.), a court musician of the Sassanian Empire, created the first ever musical system in the Middle East, known as the "Royal Khosravani," dedicated to the king Khosrau II. Many current names of the modes used in Iranian classical music, dastgah, have survived from that time by oral tradition, though many of the modes and melodies have disappeared, probably because of Arab invaders who viewed music as immoral behavior.
Iranian classical music relies on both improvisation and composition, and is based on a series of modal scales and tunes which must be memorized. Apprentices and masters (ostad) have a traditional relationship which has declined during the 20th century as music education moved to universities and conservatories. The roots of Arabic maqam music can be traced back the pre-Islamic period known as Jahiliyyah. Though there is a lack of scientific study to definitively confirm the existence of Arabic music at those times, most historians agree that there existed distinct forms of music in the Arabian peninsula in the pre-Islamic period between the 5th and the 7th century AD.

Music research by archaeological method: putting together broken and disorganized fragments

The object of my research is the over 2000 year old ancient Hungarian instrumental music culture. We can ask why we did not hear about the Hungarian Maqam so far. There is an answer. The history of the world, not only the Hungarian, has been adulterated by certain powers and persons. Hungarian history has also suffered through many adulterations. In the 19th century, our origin has been overwritten and modified at many points. However, all the happenings of the past can be tracked by studying and comparing others histories. This is like a puzzle. We can put it together finding the proper parts. I did this with the music: I studied all the music which is related to the ancient Hungarian Oriental Music. Broken, disorganized smaller systems built into each other, can be restored again by knowing the larger systems which include the fragments. I attempted to recall, restore, and recreate the ancient music in a new modern way and that is why I named it as the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music project. This web site is dedicated to this. One of the most important sources is the Uyghur maqam music from Xinjiang/North China. Beside studying and collecting music from other cultures, another way also exists to recall music from the far past. I believe that the Akasha Chronicle of The Music exists somewhere and we can access it by proper initiation in an intuitive way. People who are very sensitive and have a special instinctive talent, are able to recall the ancient collective experiences of nations and cultures. This is what we can consider as the deepest mental roots. By this instinctive music recollection it is possible to bring up music. Shamans in the old times knew these techniques. Though we do not have that kind of method, but we have something else which is maybe more efficient in the music: it is the pure honest improvisation. I express myself musically mostly by improvisation. After 35 years of practice, I developed special intuitive techniques to access the deeper roots of the music. In my research, I tried to find not the forgotten pieces but the Archetype of the Oriental musicality which is rooted in a deeper reality. I felt credibility for this work because as Hungarians at the back of our mind we can access them because in the depth of our minds there still exists a little piece of the Ancient East.

The Uyghur source

The first task in the research was to find ancient relatives of the Hungarians. There are many of them. One of the closest relative are the Uighur people. Uyghur people consider the Hungarians also as ancient relatives of them. Though the Uyghur took the Islam religion, they somehow managed to preserve the main properties of their ancient music. When listening to the Uyghur music, we can discover astonishing similarities between Hungarian folk, Arabic traditional, maqam, and Chinese music. Their music has changed quite a lot in the last centuries, but the old maqam form is still alive. Uyghur use the term muqam to mean a "suite of compositions" or in some cases to mean "classical music." Even if there is modal coherency between different pieces in each suite, modulations occur as the suite unfolds; completely obscuring the initial mode. This is why the Uyghur muqams sound so organic. For the Uyghur, the term muqam implies that it has a muqam heading (bash), and a suite of pieces whose structures correspond to certain modal and rhythmical requirements, which must follow the introduction.

Uyghur Music and the Twelve Maqam

The Twelve Maqam (On Ikki Muqam) are a prestigious set of musical suites which the Uyghur trace in their present form back to the sixteenth century and the court of the Yarkand Khanate, though they also claim continuity with roots of considerable antiquity. Each of the Twelve Maqam are characterised by mode, melodic patterns, and modulations, but that Maqam is basically a suite structure which comprises a series of vocal and instrumental pieces. Tracing their heritage back to Central Asian Turkish people, the Uyghur's music owes much in terms of structure to Arabo-Persian maqams (modes and melodic patterns). The strings and woodwinds are also obviously descended from Middle Eastern instruments. In Uyghur music is also found some harmonic and melodic elements from the music of the neighboring Huns and Mongolians.

About the Uyghurs

Xinjiang-Uyghur is currently an autonomous region in China's extreme northwest. It is sometimes called "Chinese Turkestan." The Uyghur homeland is a region of oasis towns separated by great distances and, until the last few decades, accessible only by arduous journeys by camel train through deserts and over mountains. In times of peace, the oasis dwellers of this region traded in the goods which passed along the Silk Road from China to the Near East and to Europe. Contemporary Uyghur trace their ancestry back to the Uyghur Turks and ancient Hungarians, whose steppe kingdom flourished on China's northwestern borders during the eighth and ninth centuries. After the fall of this kingdom, a portion of its people fled westwards into the region now called Xinjiang, where their descendants mingled with the indigenous inhabitants and established a series of local kingdoms and khanates. Islam first arrived in this region under the Qarakhan khanate in the tenth century. Historically, Sufism has been a strong influence amongst the Uyghur, as it has across Central Asia.

Theoretical background

The folk music and the maqam

There are some common properties between the folk music and the maqam: they both have a clean form with a strong inner structure showing certain rules of natural principles. However, there are some differences. The folk music is simple and transparent. The maqam is complicated and toned. The folk music is available for everyone, while the maqam requires initiation, studying, and training. Not everyone can play maqam. Nevertheless, the maqam and the folk/traditional music made mutual influences on each other. Maqams took on folk motifs; folk songs took on maqam motifs. The folk music can freely exist and is available in a specific cultural community if outer intervention does not threaten it. The maqam can exist only in an initiated, skilled, and educated environment like the court of rulers. The transmission of the knowledge happens from master to student by initiation and learning the rules. That is why this culture can remain clean. By now the maqam is taught in high-level music academies. Both folk music and the maqam can be very complicated if the player performs it in improvisation. Folk music does not have notation; in the maqam, the notation exists but not as exact as in Western classical music. In the maqam. the pieces are not always written pieces; many performers improvise the whole piece while keeping the rules of the tradition. The ancient Hungarian music might be very similar to this. Folk music is the imprint of the collective recollection and the author is not known. The maqam many times is a composed piece, but sometimes only improvisation (takasim), or both. We could rename it, but it is important to place this new musical phenomenon in a historical background which proved to be strong enough to survive the centuries of adulterated history.

The Modern Hungarian Oriental music in practice

The Modern Hungarian Oriental music has an inner system which is based in several Eastern traditions and shows strong universal principles in that it is able to incorporate all the important and required elements. In this way, there can be passages not only between the Hungarian folk and maqam music, but also between all kinds of Eastern music. The Hungarian Oriental music has only structure and rules for the form. The musical content fits into the form quite freely. The composer/performer of the Hungarian Oriental music does not write down the maqam as a piece. Only the inner symmetries and modes are written. The performing is a realtime application of the specific and determined rules of the given maqam. In the Hungarian Maqam, the performer is the composer in one person. A good word could be the "comproviser" expressing the spontaneous and conscious character. (Jazz music is somewhat similar in this aspect.) The player never plays the piece in the same way. That is the point. In this way, the performer can recall always fresh, new energies while playing.

Syntheses of East and West in the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music

The Hungarian music culture has a mission since Bartok. Hungary is situated at the border of West and East. Our deepest mentality is Oriental, but Western culture made a determining influence on our culture. This influence is not definitely bad. The polyphony is another new and equal aspect of the music. There are intentions in Arabic maqams to extend the music to the polyphony. In Hungarian music due to Bartok we have a huge heritage of the highest level of polyphony. His harmonic concept can be an important basis to make a new synthesis between the ancient Oriental music systems and Western chromatic polyphony. Bartok managed to create a real synthesis between Oriental pentatony and western chromaticism. In the Modern Hungarian Oriental music, the way of building the music can not only be melodic, but also polyphonic. The Modern Hungarian Oriental music is a perfect medium to start on this path.

The Oriental Music as a universal form of music expressing the primordiality of the human soul

What is the reason why traditions back so many thousands of years still exist in the 21st century? Neither time nor history could charm them away. For some reason they resisted foreign powers and influence. They still change, but their universality is in the changing. The form is constant - only the content changes. Such an ancient tradition is the Oriental music. It exists in the most varied of forms. This universal musical form manifested in the physical world to carry the primordiality of the human soul. It expresses its continuity and the timelessness and the eternity of its presence. It is a sacred phenomenon of music. The Oriental music can appear in various forms in different music cultures like maqam or the Indian raga as universal form of musical expression. These forms are not rooted in the physical world; this is why they can stand against outer cultural interventions of any kind.

Inner rules of the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music

The inner rules of the Hungarian Maqam are discussed in another chapter in detail, so now only some general points: The inner rules provide the creative mainframe for the performance leaving enough freedom for expression. The rules also provide enough time for expressive development. Though it is not based on Hungarian folk music, its musical material is always compatible with it. The rules provide the performer the strength of the musical architecture, and also the freedom of the performer for improvisation. The rules show the player some directions, possibilities for ornamentation, and variations. Playing Modern Hungarian Oriental music demands strict studies, accepting and applying the rules.

Improvisation in the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music

For most of people, for even the most educated classical musicians, improvisation is a mystical and largely misunderstood thing. The ability of improvisation is rather a part of the spiritual intelligence, if someone was born with it. It is possible to develop, but it cannot be taught and studied in any direct way. The talent for improvisation is a kind of intuition, an ability which is far above the rational intelligence. With hard work it is possible to assemble and perform various pre-learned variations, it is possible to practice them but the result will never be magic or authentic. While improvising, the performer brings primordial music to physical reality. The ancient Eastern musical cultures always used improvisation as the most honest and deepest way of expression. It exists in ragas and maqams, it exists in modern music, and in jazz in many ways. Improvisation has an extreme importance in the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music. As we do not know exactly what the ancient Hungarian Music was like, we have to go deep to bring it up from the depth of our collective recollection. Improvisation is a mystic intuition similar to the regressive hypnoses we can lift over experiences to the present physical reality. The rules of the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music make it possible to use different levels of the improvisation. It is possible to play simply with some ornamentation, it is possible to vary and change the modes and the tetrachords, and it is also possible to play absolutely freely.