Hungarian folk song(s): Népdal (Népdalok)    Style and instruments Népdalok
  Hungarian city music: Magyar Nóta(k)    Style and instruments Magyar Nóta
  Examples    Hungarian Folk music in the Netherlands



Largely Hungarian folk music is divided in two types of melodies:

  • Népdalok: (Old) Hungarian folk songs and
  • Magyar Nóta (song) or Nótak (songs): Hungarian city- or urban music, current Hungarian Folk Music. The distinction between these categories, however, is not always fully clear, since many of the better known népdalok also became popular as a Magyar nóta, although usually somewhat modified and played in the urban style. Two separate types of melodies with a special function, Verbunk and Palotás, came up during the same period of urbanization as well.

These folk songs are samples of a rich musical trove. The database of the Hungarian Science Academy records over 150.000 songs originating from all rural villages of the Hungarians living within the Carpathian Basin of Central Europe. Some of these melodies reach back into centuries. Composers like Béla Bartók. and Zoltán Kodály (Wikipedia) realizing how exact the singing population preserved the not notated musical heritage of their ancestors, started from on 1905 to collect Magyar folksongs These songs had survived through many centuries as a heritage of a once flourishing Eurasian culture. During the 16th and 17th centuries Transylvania (Erdély), now part of Romania, and especially the region around Székely, was the center of Hungarian music. In fact Transylvania then was the only part of Hungary free of Turkish occupation. At the start of the eighteenth century in Hungary, during the so called Kuruc period of the fight for freedom against Habsburg, the nation produced the Kuruc songs. This period also produced a unique instrument, the tárogató, as playing in these Kuruc Noták (mp3). Many titles and lyrics of Hungarian folk songs remain a better reflection of Hungary's cultural history than current national borders.

Most of these Népdalok were composed around longer existing poems. Today many Hungarians, even when living in foreign countries, not only know numerous of such old songs, but usually also most of their lyrics. This is reflected in large on-line collections with lyrics of Népdalok, like Daloskönyv (online collection of lyrcis)

Katonadalok or soldier (katona) songs form a separate category. They are often based upon emotional texts, sung by marching troops. For a YouTube video of some examples see: Kantonadolok. Below six kantonadalok samples out of the collection. Neither Kantonadalok, nor traditional military and weapon dances, like recruiting or Hajdú dances (YouTube) have much connection to the Verbunk (see below) other than their use for recruitment.


Style: Many Hungarian folk songs (Népdalok) go back for centuries. They include a broad variety of styles varying from slow songs to dance music like the csárdás. A good example of a Népdal Csárdás is given in the YouTube video Kalocsai Csárdás és mars The music uses a strophe structure, usually but not always isometric, that is in even numbers. Also Pentatonic or fife tone formations do occur, like in Repűlj a páva (mp3) with the five notes F G A C D.

Lyrics are the core of a Népdal, presented by one of more voices or a chorus. As a consequence there are several large on-line collections of lyrics of Hungarian Folk. Resolute and diversified rhythms are expressing the true soul and spirit of the related text.

Instruments: of the better known instruments the most commonly used for accompaniment are:

  • Violin or fiddle like in the YouTube video Csávási cigány csárdás
  • Viola: Characteristic for many songs is the use of a second violin or even better a viola as a so called "brácsa" (bratsch), supporting the songs rhythm by drawing together two or three (of the usual three) strings, like this YouTube video, an example of a single Bratch or this example of a bratch with a violin in Cigány Verbunk (YouTube video)
  • Double bas with violin, bratch and accordion in this Transsylvanian gipsy dance (YouTube)

Some of the more specific instruments used are:

This urban music is a musical style starting to develop during the end of the 19th and the early years of the 20th century. In the preceding first decades of the 19th century the virtuoso gypsy violinist János Bihari (1764 - 1827), also involved in the development of the Verbunk,(see below) was the most famous leader of a Gipsy orchestra. He certainly has composed folk songs as well,, but since he could not read nor write music, his inheritance is based upon memories of later musicians.

Usually this urban music is also referred to as "Gipsy Music", since often played by Gipsy bands. Typical Gipsy music, however, usually has a different style, (mp3) as can also be noticed in some more samples of Gipsy songs below. With the rapidly growing popularity of the Magyar nótak, also Hungarian and German musicians started to play this music
. Unlike most Gipsy musicians they were trained to read music. The same Hungarian musical heritage also contributed to many operetta areas. In fact the many Hungarian orchestras, regularly playing in Vienna, caused a mutual influence both on melodies and style of playing.

Three songwriters should be mentioned that played an important role in the early development of the Magyar nótak: Dankó Pista (1858 - 1903), Kálmánn Simonffy (1814 -1853) and Elemér Szentirmay (János Németh) (1836 - 1908) The Gipsy violinist Dankó Pista (Wikipedia) has composed over 400 songs, many of which still are well known, like the samples of 30 songs of Dankó Pista below . Just these 30 songs provide an excellent impression of the core of the Magyar Nótak. This also holds true for songs still popular to day likesthe samples below of songs of Kálmánn Simonffy and of Elemer Szentirmay. Although there were much more song writers, of most of them only one or a few songs have survived the living tradition. Some writers just wrote one single song, still well known.

At the turn of the century one of the best known composers was Árpád Balazs (1872 - 1941). He also was actively engaged in classical music and he had knowledge of music writing. To day quite a number of his approximately 200 songs still are popular: see samples of Arpad Balazs songs below. On the other hand of the 500 songs written by the appreciated songwriter Józ
sef Dócsy (1863 - 1913) only a few songs still are popular. See Jószef Dócsy songs below.

Surprisingly in the two decades immediately preceding 1945 over 20.000 new songs were written, mainly by dilettantes, however, without compositional experience and in many
cases of a to poor quality to "survive". Successfully song writing became the fruit of chance.

During the first decades of the 20th century this compelling music became quite popular in many Western countries. As decribed below, this was particularly the case in the Netherlands.

Fortunately this music still is popular in Hungary, as is shown in two stimulating YouTube videos, that of a concert in Paris of young Hungarian musicians and that of Potta Géza muzsikál a Hungarian family with friends, playing and singing Hungarian folk songs.

Even to day orchestras playing Magyar nóták also play many of the better known Népdalok, although in the urban style of the Magyar Nótak. In this way the two different styles, originating from the urban and the rural society, respectively, developed into a modern mixture of Hungarian folk music, with less clear borders.

Verbunk and Palotás

Verbunk (in some cases also called Verbunkos)
is typical Hungarian musical style arose around the 1730s and unfolded as a Hungarian dance form in the last third of the 18th century. (Lujza Tari)
It is a musical dance genre of great importance, becaming a national symbol in the 19th. At the end of the 18th century, the Verbunk was a mans dance, played and danced at soldier recruiting. The word "Verbunk", (plural "verbunkosok") derived from the German word "Werbung", and was related to the recruitment for the permanent army of the Habsburg Empire. In the interest of recruiting the military authorities used dances that people liked to dance. In that way many Hungarians became soldier. In the early period recruiting took place mainly among the peasant population. Around the end of the 19th century the Verbunk also became a favorite dance among civilians. Many of the Hungarian soldiers became hussars, since horse riding was an element of their living.

Partly the Verbunk was related to local folk tradition, and usually based upon a song with text. However, since the noble and slender upper-class layer more or less refused to consider the existence of folk music, the later part of the Verbunk was influenced by classical and non Hungarian music, like German or Italian, rather than by folk music. The period until the mid-19th century witnessed the consolidation of the specific national dance types, first of all the csárdás. This popular style spread and became popular as urban civilian music, or Magyar nóta (see above)

The earlier mentioned famous violin player János Bihari, composed folk music and several Verbunk melodies, like a first version of the Rákóczi March. Below some samples in this collection of a Verbunk based on local tradition and some of a Verbunk in a more classical style

A particular variety of a slow and noble walking dance is called palotás like the Bihari palotás.(mp3) (see also some palotás samples below). Palota is the Hungarian word for palace. The palotás usually was followed by a fast dance. During the 20th century, however, a newer type of dances replaced this ancient majestic music. Finally the palotás was played at ceremonial weddings only.


Style: Urban Hungarian Folk Music (Magyar Nóta) include a broad array of styles like:

  • the slower songs, called Hallgató, categorized under Rubata (R) in this collection. Hallgató (meaning "shut up and listen") is originating from minstrel traditions, based upon lyrics often sung without rhythm, while accompanying music retains the melody.
  • the dance music like Csárdás, (csárdá = roadside inn) Lassan (slow) Csárdás, Friss (quick, lively) Csárdás. The earlier described Palotás (palace dance) and Verbunkus, or recruitment dance usually are categorized under Csárdás (C) in this collection.
  • the Nóta or Song with a great variety of styles are ccategorized under Song (S) in this collection.
    The Andalgó (A) also belongs to this category. It can be recognized by the typical rhythm support of the brácsa (bratch) as in this YouTube video: Jaj de szép kék szeme van magának )

All of these styles, categorized in this collection under Csárdás (C), Rubato (R) and Song (S) are represented below in some examples,

The ramaining category Various (V) includes related styles, like Gipsy melodies.

Instruments: the most typical instruments for orchestra's playing Magyar nóták are the first violin played by the Primas, a second violin or rather a viola used as (rhythmic) brácsa (bratch), the cimbalom and the double bas, like in this YouTube video: Terék József és barátai

Other instruments played in larger orchestra's are: a cello, a taragot or clarinet, a second cimbalom and, especially in western countries, a piano.

The Magyar Nóta or Urban Hungarian folk Music uses strophes both in even and uneven numbers. Usually the first strophe is repeated again as last strophe. In many cases the first strophe is repeated as second strophe, but in a quint higher pitch. Not uncommonly in at least the last of more verses the last two strophes of he verse are repeated again.


During the start of last century folk music from East European countries and especially Hungarian folk music became popular in the Netherlands. Several Hungarian orchestras came over to play in Dutch restaurants. Some of these musicians even stayed in the Netherlands for the rest of their live like Lajos Veres, (YouTube) and the Hungarian and later Dutch cimbalom player Timi Balázs (image and mpr below) Also famous was the pianist Sandor Vidak (YouTube) usually playing in the Kurhaus bar in Scheveningen.

This was also the period when Dutch students of several Universities started to play this music. As a result to day more Dutch amateur orchestras are playing these Magyar Nótak than in any other country of Western Europe. See the website Cimbalom Dutch platform. Several professional musicians, like the earlier mentioned Timi Balazs enjoyed it to train Dutch students in playing Hungarian folk songs.

(Timi Balázs mp3)


    A = Andalgo   C = csárdás   N = Népdal    P = Palotás   R = Rubato (Halgato)    S = Song    Vb =Verbukos
Melodies of Dankó Pista (1858 - 1903)
Az a szép, az a szép
Pretty girls, pretty girls have blue eyes
Búsan szól a kecskeméti
Melancholy sounds of Kecskemét
Csitt babám hej, de jó volt az este
Hush my love, how great was last night
Dankó Pista hegedűjét
 Danko Pista's violin
Egy cica, két cica
One kitten, two kittens
Egy csillag sem ragyog
 Not a star shines
Elmegyek a tengerszélre
I'm going to the seashore
Elment a tyúk a vásárra
He went to the fair with a hen
Eltörött a Hegedűm
My fiddle broke
Hallod rózsám, Katika
Listen my rose, my little Kati
Hamis a rózsám
My saucy rose
Három sós perec
Three salty pretzels
Írom a levelem
I'm writing my letter
Künn a dorozsmai határban
Out in the fields of Dorozsma
Madár vígan dalol
Birds sing joyfully
Még azt mondják nincs Szegeden boszorkány
They still say there're no witches in Szeged
Most van nap lemenőbe
The sun is just going down
Nagy Bercsényi Miklós (Gyönge violának)
Great Nicholas Bercsényi
Ne gyónj nekem
Don't confide in me
Nem átkozom ibolyakék szemedet
I do not damn your violet blue eyes
Nem fúj a szél nem forog a dorozsmai szélmalom
The wind stopped , the windmill of Dorozsma
Nem jó mindig minden este(1882)
Not good. not good, all nignt
Nem sírok én (már) többet
I am no longer unhappy
Némuljon el a hegedű
Let the violin be silenced
Nem vagy legény Berci
You're no real lad Berci
Nincsen a császárnak
The emperor hasn't
Nincs szebb lány a Magyar lánynál
Hungarian girls are loveliest
Szőke (Barna) kislány, csitt
Brunette girl, hush
Vásárhelyi sétatéren
On the promenade of Vásárhely
Vörös bort ittam az este
I drank red wine last night
Zúg a szélvész, háborog a Balaton (1895)
The Balaton lake is stormy
Movie Dankó Pista 1941
Songs of Kálmánn Simonffy 1814 -1853
Árpád apánk ne féltsd osi nemzeted!
Our ancestor Árpád have no fears for your acient nation
Ha meghalok, csillag leszek
If I die, I'll turn into a star
Jaj, de magas ez a vendégfogadó
Oh, how high is this inn
Szomorú fűz ága
Weeping willow bough
Songs of Elemer Szentirmay (János Németh) 1836 - 1908
Csak egy szép (kis)lány van a világon
There's only one lovely (litle)girl in the world
Debrecenbe kéne menni
One should go to Debrecen
Gyászba borult az életem
My life is thrown into mourning
Hivom ki, csalom ki
I'm calling her, I'm luring her
Jázminbokor kihajlik az utcára
Jasmin-bush arching to the road
Nagy a feje, búsuljon a ló
It has a big head, the horse should grieve
Szálldogál a fecske .
The swallow flies
Sárga ugorkának zöld a levele
Yellow cucumber has green leafs
Szép menyecske (1869)
Lvely Bride
Utca utca ég az utca
The street is burning
Zsebkendőm négy sarka
The four corners of my handkerchief
Songs of Arpád Balazs (1872 - 1941)
Ahogy én szeretlek nem szeret úgy senki
No one loves you the way I do
Befordultam a konyhára
I turned into the kitchen (poem: Sándor Petőfi)
Debrenenben voltam Debrenenben voltam, a Nagyerdoben jártam
I was in Debrecen, I went to the Great Forest
Fa leszek, ha fának vagy virága
I'll be the tree if you're the bloom
Gyere velem akáclombos falumba
Join me in my acacia covered village
Ittagyom a falutokat
I'm leaving your village
Kantinosné angyalom
Mrs. Kantonis my angel
Két babonás szép szemednek
Your mesmerizing eyes
Valakinek muzsikálnak
Music is playing for someone
Songs of Jószef Dócsy (1863 - 1913)
A kanyargó Tisza partján
R (N)
On the banks of the meandering Tisza
Darumadár útnak indul
The crane starts out
Édesanyám kössön kendőt
Dear mother put on a kerchief
Kit gyászol a fecskemadár
Whom does the swallow mourn
Magas a kaszárnya
The barracks stands high
Megáradt a patak
The brook overflowed
Nádfedeles kis házikóm
My little reed thatched cottage
Verbunk local tradition
Asszony. asszony, az akarok lenni
Woman, a woman I want to be
Kapuvári Verbunk
Verbunk of Kapuvár
Kun verbunk
Verbunk of Kun
Lassú Verbunkus
Slow Verbunkus
Miskolc verbunk
Recruiting dance of Miskolc
Turai verbunk
Verbunk of Tura
Verbunk classical styl

Bihari J. Verbunk

Verbunk of J Bihari
Bihari J. Verbunk 1
Verbunk of J Bihari 1
Rákóczi csárdás
Rákóczi (Prince) csárdás
32-es baka vagyok én (katona)
I am an infantryman aged 32
A kaszárnya előtt áll egy magas nyárfa (Katona)
There is a tall poplar front of the barracks (Mil)
Azt dalolja a kis madár (Katona)
Little birds are singing
Bajtárs, ma még tán csak (katona)
Buddy, today life may be 5 minutes (mil)
Csárda csárda tetejetlen csárda (Katona)
Csarda, csarda open-air csarda
Majd ha egyszer vége lesz (Katona)
Then at once it's over.
Bihari palotas
Bihari's palace dance
Hunyadi László - Palotás (Princess -Palotás)
Palace dance of Hunyadi Laszlo
Madocsa tánc
Madocsa dance
Ördöglovas-Palotás (operetta)
Hell rider's palace dance
Vadász-László Palotás
Palace dance of Vadasz Laszlo
Kurucz Noták (Tárogáto solo)
Kurucz Noták
R (N)
Kurucz Songs
Gipsy Songs.See futher under Various (V)
A cigányok, se-haj, úgy élnek
Gypsies, hey, they live like
A neményi halastó
The fishpond of Nemény
xxxxxx Ando Tyire
On the grass