Chapter Five Hungary

In: Roma Writings
Open Access

5.1 Introduction

This study aims to present the role of Gypsy musician journals as part of the Gypsy civic emancipation efforts. After introducing the general situation of the Gypsies in Hungary and the presentation of the literature on the Gypsies, I turn to the journals of the Gypsy musicians. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was established in 1867 through the so-called “Austro-Hungarian Compromise,” and was composed of the Kingdom of Hungary and the Austrian Empire. During almost all of its existence, the throne was occupied by Franz Joseph I of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. From 1867 until his death in 1916, the monarch held both the Austrian imperial and the Hungarian royal titles. The two countries were related not only by the person of the ruler but by the ministers of war, foreign affairs and finance and their respective ministries. These areas had the designated “imperial and royal” ministers, of whom Hungarians were always appointed either foreign or finance ministers (Romsics 2005:17–18).

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the house of Habsburg-Lorraine played an important role in Gypsy studies. Archduke Joseph Carl, of the palatine branch of the imperial family, the premier branch residing in Hungary, was a key figure in furthering research on Gypsies. The imperial and royal archduke, who had served as commander-in-chief of the Royal Hungarian Army for many decades, worked extensively in organising and patronising the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, as a board member and later as an honorary member. One of the most prominent areas of his interest was studying and exploring the linguistic and cultural relations of the Gypsy population of the monarchy (Soós 2000:6–8).

The journal Ethnologische Mitteilungen aus Ungarn (Ethnologic Notice from Hungary) was published between 1887 and 1907, under his patronage, and included the separate issues entitled Mitteilungen zur Zigeunerkunde (Notices about the lore of Gypsies). He tried to resettle wandering Gypsies on his estate in Alcsút and set up a school for their children, but his initiative eventually failed. He corresponded regularly with the leaders of the Gypsy Lore Society, supporting their journal not only financially but also by authoring articles (Landauer 2004:22–23; Soós 2000:6–12). The financial support of the Archduke made the publication of the following Hungarian-Gypsy dictionaries possible: in 1885, Endre Győrffy’s Magyar és czigány szótár – Czigányúl mondva vakeriben (Dictionary of Hungarian – Gypsy Dictionary. To say in Gypsy [language] vakeriben) and in 1886, Ferenc Sztojka Nagyidai of Gypsy descent himself, published Ő császári és magyar királyi fensége József fõherceg magyar- és czigány-nyelv gyök-szótára – Románé áláva. Iskolai és utazási használatra (Dictionary of the word stems of the Gypsy and Hungarian languages by His Imperial Highness, the Archduke Joseph). Furthermore, in 1888, Joseph Carl published his book Czigán nyelvtan (Gypsy grammar, in Hungarian) – Románo csibákero sziklaribe (Romani language textbook, in Romani), in which he tried to analyse the Gypsy dialects of Hungary (Győrffy 2011; Landauer 2004:6–12). The imperial and royal archduke maintained close professional relations with Gypsy researchers of the given period; especially with Antal Herrmann and Henrik Wlislocki, both from Transylvania, and both members of the Gypsy Lore Society and very prolific authors.

The most emblematic work of Antal Herrmann can be considered the analysis and editing of data from the 1893 nation-wide survey of the Gypsies by the National Royal Hungarian Statistics Office. The ethnographer summed up the figures in about one hundred and fifty pages, which he published under the title A Magyarországban 1893. január 31-én végrehajtott Czigányösszeírás eredményei (The results of the census of Gypsies carried out in Hungary on January 31, 1893) in 1895, and the volume of the Magyar Statisztikai Közlemények (Hungarian Statistical Bulletin) (Herrmann 1895), published as a bilingual edition, in Hungarian and German languages. The census provided extremely detailed data on the Gypsy population of Hungary at the turn of the century. The study was mainly inspired by the “issue of settlement for wandering Gypsies,” however, the entire Gypsy population was censused (Herrmann 1895:1). At the time of the survey, there were 274,940 Gypsies in the country, ninety percent of whom were classified as “permanently settled,” seven percent “long-term residents” and three percent as “nomadic Gypsies” (Herrmann 1895:11). The study also included data on the linguistic affiliation of the Gypsies, which revealed that almost forty percent of the Gypsies were native Hungarian speakers. Almost thirty percent of them were Vlach Gypsy and about twenty-five percent of them spoke the archaic Rumanian dialect Boyash. The remaining few percent were recorded as native speakers of, among others languages, Slovak Serbian, Croatian, Ruthenian, and German (Herrmann 1895:34). See Table 5.1 for details.

Table 5.1
Table 5.1

Gypsies in Hungarian lands by language and settlement, late nineteenth century

(Cserti Csapó 2011:39–40).

The three language groups were very distinct from each other, living in separate Gypsy settlements and did not marry each other (Erdős 1989:42–56). Within the so-called Romungro Gypsy group, with Hungarian as their mother tongue, a separate group was formed by Gypsy musicians, about whom the research report noted the following: “Amongst the domestic Gypsies the musicians are very prestigious and in all respects the elite, the most intelligent and from a national point of view form the most significant class. However, from both a social and artistic perspective they are in need of many kinds of correction.” (Herrmann 1895:59)

In terms of settlement, Gypsy musicians showed similar proportions to the total Gypsy population (Herrmann 1895:76). However, the sporadically available sources show that Gypsy musicians with permanent residency lived dispersed within the urban areas of towns, and it was not even uncommon for them to accumulate significant wealth. Furthermore, they sometimes had extensive social network capital among the influential non-Gypsy population (Hajnáczky 2019, 2020a; Nyerges 2015). In part, the favourable social standing of the prominent personalities among Gypsy musicians made it possible for them to form associations and found journals in the first half of the twentieth century (Hajnáczky 2020b; Marushiakova and Popov 2021a:467–548).

In 1901, in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, on the initiative of non-Gypsy journalists, but with the cooperation of Gypsy musicians, the Hungarian Musicians’ Journal (Gypsy Musicians’ Bulletin) was founded. However, it only survived for a few issues. In 1908, the Gypsy musicians themselves initiated the establishment of their own association and the launch of a newspaper entitled the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal. This paper was published continuously until its folding in 1910 (Hajnáczky 2020a). The Great War was a stalemate for the Gypsy musicians’ self-organisation as many of them were enlisted as soldiers. The monarchy lost the war, which meant the disintegration of the empire and the mutilation of Hungary. As part of the peace treaties around Paris that ended the First World War, Hungary, as a losing party, had to sign the so-called Trianon Peace Treaty on June 4, 1920, at the Grand Trianon castle in Versailles. Among other things, the peace treaty dictated the borders of Hungary, according to which the area of the country decreased from 282 thousand to 93 thousand square kilometres, while its population decreased from 18.2 million to 7.6 million. More than 100,000 square kilometres and 5.2 million inhabitants went to Rumania, while Czechoslovakia received 61,000 square kilometres and 3.5 million people. More than 20,000 square kilometres and 1.5 million inhabitants were annexed to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and 4,000 square kilometres and nearly 300,000 people were annexed to Austria. Poland received 589 square kilometres with 23.6 thousand inhabitants and Italy 21 square kilometres with nearly 50 thousand people (Romsics 2005:145–147). The Treaty of Trianon naturally also affected Gypsies in Hungary; due to the new country borders, their number decreased to a fraction, and from a linguistic point of view, a proportional shift could be experienced in favour of native Hungarian speakers (Cserti Csapó 2011:39–40). Hungarian Gypsy music, perceived as an integral part of bourgeois Hungarian life and identity before the war became part of Hungarian irredentist ideology and revisionist efforts, and partly because of this, their initiatives enjoyed significant support from the authorities (Hajnáczky 2020c, 2020d). After the end of the First World War, Gypsy musicians formed associations, and in 1924 re-launched the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal, and in 1938 Hungarian Gypsy Music (Hajnáczky 2019).

Table 5.2
Table 5.2

Gypsy musicians’ associations and newspapers in the first half of the twentieth century

(Hajnáczky 2019; Hajnáczky 2020a)

The period previous to the end of the First World War was, of course, the age of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, whereas the period following was that of the territorially much reduced Kingdom of Hungary. The overview of the publications proceeds chronologically.

5.2 Hungarian Musicians’ Journal (Gypsy Musicians’ Bulletin), 1901

The Hungarian Musicians’ Journal (Gypsy Musicians’ Bulletin) – The professional journal representing the Gypsy musicians in Hungary and abroad (Hungarian original: Magyar Zenészek Lapja. (Cigányzenészek Közlönye) A magyarországi és külföldi czigányzenészek érdekeit felkaroló szaklap) was published in 1901, in Budapest by the Hungarian Musicians’ Journal Publishing Office. The bulletin was published every two weeks and only three issues were published. The journal was edited by Henrik Miskolczi and Elemér Márkus, themselves both non-Gypsies.

The well-known Gypsy first violinists Vilmos Radics and Pali Rácz began, towards the end of the 1880’s, to work to create a mutual-aid organisation for Gypsy musicians. The idea ultimately failed in the absence of support and due to the personal conflicts it caused (Parádi 1908). Nearly a decade later, a group of active journalists founded the first magazine representing the interests of Hungarian musicians, the Hungarian Musicians’ Journal. The journal wanted to deal with both non-Gypsy and Gypsy musicians, and the editorial board also envisaged the establishment of a patient aid association and employment agency (Magyar Zenészek Lapja 1897a, 1897b, 1897c). The enthusiastic initiative soon failed, as the publisher did not live up to expectations and simply condemned the newspaper to cessation.

However, despite the initial failure, the newspaper reporters did not lose their determination, and in 1900 they re-launched the journal which, by its second year, intended only to represent the interests of Gypsy musicians. This change in emphasis appeared in the name of the periodical; becoming the Hungarian Musicians’ Journal (Gypsy Musicians Bulletin), and the following line was added as a subtitle: “A professional journal advocating the interests of Hungarian and foreign Gypsy musicians.” (Magyar Zenészek Lapja 1901a)

As a first step, the editors set up a newspaper committee inviting popular Gypsy first violinists and laid out the mandate of the paper thus:

We would like to give our dear readers a paper that will always be useful: it will have a portfolio, artistic discourse, songs awaiting their setting to music, news from the country and abroad, news, etc. In each issue we shall also publish a song, the music and lyrics of which were written by our most famous musicians and poets. We will publish the accompanying notes and make it available to our esteemed readers. (Magyar Zenészek Lapja 1901a:2)

Gypsy violinist members of the editorial board: Béla Radics, Pali Rácz, Károly Balogh, Marci Banda, Lajos Munczy, Antal Kóczé, Gyula Rácz, Laci Rácz, Bertus Bogdán, Józsi Csóka, Jóska Babári, Pali Farkas, Péter Márkus, Gyula Hegedüs, Sándor Oláh, Géza Balogh, Dezső Babári, Miklós Berkes, Náczi Dani and Lajos (Magyar Zenészek Lapja 1901d). The articles in the first issue provided insight into the recent events of the founding of the journal, as well as arguing that Gypsy musicians need not only a voice but also an association (Miskolczi 1901; Serly 1901). Non-Gypsy journalists would have gladly taken on the role of flag bearer for the latter objective, which they openly emphasised in the editorial:

You, who number about fifteen thousand; You, who partake in well-deserved successes, not only in Hungary but also abroad; You who, with your art, evoke deep emotions in everyone’s heart: Would you stand aside when it comes to your own interests?! On the one hand, it is very beautiful and noble, because they show that they do not rely on anyone else; but on the other hand it is very wrong, because by doing so they are turning their backs on the common good. After all, this is not selfish-interest, which is disgusting! But about how to end the war between yourselves and form an alliance that would clearly advance your interests; and which would give you, such a significant generation, social position. And it is up to you. Is it not a sad fact that every branch now has an association or organisations, only Gypsy musicians do not?! And it would be easy to form, you just have to want it. You, we know, truly want this to come about, it simply needs someone to take the initiative to move towards this noble institution. Well, we are more than happy to sacrifice our time and for this lofty purpose, we are just waiting - and we know that we are not waiting in vain - for you to work hand in hand with us to achieve success. We will not regret the time or effort to establish a national association for Hungarian Gypsy musicians, and similarly you will not regret devoting your time, sometimes, to this noble cause. Please read carefully our plan as laid out in this issue - and listen to your heart speak, for it is the best counselor in such cases. (Márkus 1901:1)

The initial steps were taken by the aforementioned non-Gypsy newspaper reporters together with the Gypsy musicians in order to found the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Federation. First of all, the statutes of existing national associations were studied in order to create customised association rules for Gypsy musicians. Some of the emblematic points of the draft were published in the journal, according to which the association would have provided, among other things, illness benefits and funeral aid (Magyar Zenészek Lapja 1901b). Gypsy musicians could have joined the group as lifelong, founding, regular, and supporting members, depending on how much they supported the organisation (Vas 1901). Following the announcement of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association, the editors of the paper came up with another innovation, namely that they wanted to establish an agency for the placement of Gypsy musicians abroad (Magyar Zenészek Lapja 1901c, 1901e). However, the efforts of the journalists were not a complete success among the Gypsy musicians, only three hundred people assured them of their support, expressing their frustration in the columns of the paper they wrote (Magyar Zenészek Lapja 1901g):

If there were to be a couple of renowned Gypsy first violinists, sparing neither time nor financial sacrifice, willing to join with us, we who founded our paper for and have dedicated months to saving and improving the well-being of the Hungarian Gypsy musicians; in addition to founding a foreign agency and then a national federation. If this were so the Gypsies would not be lying in the mud so, and could even be pulled from it. But the Gypsy first violinists and orchestra members in Budapest – they sleep soundly. Rural first violinists and members of their orchestras seem to be awakening. (Magyar Zenészek Lapja 1901f:1)

Eventually, due to the general lack of interest, the editorial board gave up its wide-ranging dreams for Gypsy musicians, restored the journal’s original name, and dedicated the columns of the journal to the founding of the Hungarian Musicians’ Association.

5.3 Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal (1908–1910)

The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal - The Official Journal of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Association - The social journal representing the interests of the Hungarian Gypsy Musician (original Hungarian title: Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja. A Magyar Cigányzenészek Egyesületének hivatalos lapja. A magyar czigányzenészek érdekeit felölelő társadalmi folyóirat) was published between 1908–1910, by the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Association. The journal was published every two weeks, the existing issues are incomplete in number, only forty-five issues can be found. It was edited by Miksa Breyer, Lajos Hegedüs, Ferkó Vörös and László Szepessy, all non-Gypsies.

A few years after the futile attempt of Vilmos Radics, Pali Rácz, and some journalists, the foundation of a Gypsy musicians’ association was again on the agenda as an initiative of an ageing Pál Rácz and Vilmos Radics’ son, Béla Radics. The founding of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Association in 1908, was not without controversy, sometimes they came under the disapproving gaze of the daily press, but those who stood on the Gypsies’ side arose victorious (Parádi 1908; Sárosi 2012:13). The Hungarian Musicians’ Home, led by Pali Rácz, hosted their meetings in the so-called Gypsy Home, later presumably the café called the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Club (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908u; Nyerges 2015:72–73; Sárosi 2012:48–59). At the inaugural meeting in March, the leading figures of the Budapest association of Gypsy musicians set a goal of launching a newspaper entitled the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal.

The editorial staff of the Gypsy musicians’ journal dreamed specifically of a colourful periodical, covering a wide range of topics, in accordance with the interests of Gypsy musicians. Over time, more and more columns were launched, and readers also received a sheet of music supplement. Firstly, they reported on the activities and plans of the association, and also informed the Gypsy bands about domestic and foreign job opportunities. Calls for competitions and song contests for Gypsy musicians, as well as reports on their progress and results were also published. Poems, literary portfolios, and sections of a novel being written were also published in the columns of the paper, though mostly by non-Gypsies, though for the most part they were writings about Gypsy musicians and voiced their interest and concerns. The editorial office, for example, devoted a separate section to horse racing as well as a presentation of the lives of once-famous first violinists. The last pages of the issues featured brief news reports on Gypsy music society, as well as ads from tailors, shoemakers, dentists and instrument makers.

A few months after its establishment, the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Association organised a concert entitled The Five Hundred Gypsy Concert at the People’s Theater, the proceeds of which were intended to increase the association’s reserve capital (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908b; Sárosi 2012:50). The concert featured the most famous Gypsy first violinists of the era and nearly forty Gypsy bands, that is to say about five hundred performers in total. The Gypsy musicians performing at the concert were able to enjoy significant success and recognition both in the ranks of the audience and in the columns of the mainstream press. The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal June issue even published a selection of articles praising the concert, choosing articles published in national or other prestigious dailies (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908d). At the same time, this well-intentioned initiative also resulted in strife and insults within Gypsy music society. Some distanced themselves from the event, sometimes just because their names were not mentioned on posters promoting the event. There was a Gypsy first violinist who would have been willing to perform at a concert for the benefit of the association but only for a considerable sum of money. While others refused to participate because they would not have been allowed to play a solo or were not entrusted with conducting the host of five hundred musicians (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908c). In addition to all this, the organisers were also attacked, by the non-participating Gypsy musicians, for the fact that the concert did not meet its high financial hopes, which was attributed to a lack of proper advertising and careless organisation (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908e).

The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal continually worked towards effectively representing the interests of Gypsy musicians. They regularly provided fresh articles and data on the steps taken by the cafés that adversely affected Gypsy musicians, and they also published revealing articles on the members of Gypsy music society who had violated its written or unwritten rules (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908j, 1908k, 1908m, 1908z). In September 1908, for example, the Gypsy musicians’ publication wrote of its outrage that café owners were hiding the penalty costs within the contracts (grief money), according to which if a Gypsy orchestra withdrew from the contract, it would have to pay a relatively high sum to the café owner (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908r). And in May of the following year, it could be read in the columns of the paper that café owners began to abolish or significantly reduce the advance paid to Gypsy bands (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909p). The newspaper also monitored the operation of the Hungarian Gypsy Orchestras’ Agency, founded in 1908, to see if it fulfilled the role of job placement touted by the impresario in the journal:

We visited the impresario, Sándor Kovács, to find out about the purpose of the agency. He outlined the purpose of the agency to us as the following: He found that the café owners in Budapest keep the honorarium of the bands to a minimum and he wants the established agency to prevent this. He places bands for the highest possible price and does not collect his commission from the orchestra, but from the café owner. The company also made it a goal to find placements abroad. The impresario also made a promise that he would support our association with an adequate amount each year. Our paper will check the operation of this new company and the moment we see that it deviates from its intended purpose, we will immediately seek a remedy against its operation. We, therefore, urge our readers to contact our paper immediately in the event that they have a complaint against the new company so that we can initiate proceedings. However, if we see the company embracing the interests of Gypsy musicians, we will be the first to support him. For the time being, we shall monitor its activities. (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908f:2–3)

The first articles in the Gypsy musicians’ journal were extremely positive about the work of the agency. The paper published the agency’s practical professional announcements (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908v, 1908x), and highlighted that it had obtained placements for several orchestras in the capital, as well as beginning to explore opportunities abroad (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908h, 1908s, 1908t). Early in 1909, the owner and impresario of the agency were cordially invited to join the editorial board of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909a). However, in less than half a year the gap widened between the Hungarian Gypsy Orchestra’s Agency and the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Association, as the impresario continued his business with no regard for the interests of Gypsy musicians. The agent, a non-Gypsy, was now a member of the Gypsy Musicians’ Journal editorial board, and subordinated the paper to his own business interests, which eventually led to his expulsion from the editorial board (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909u). He was also accused of charging too high a commission and driving certain Gypsy orchestras out of cafés using underhanded means in order to replace them with orchestras whose placement he mediated. The Gypsy first violinists in Budapest launched a movement against the agency and decided to visit the Minister of the Interior in order to have it banned (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909w). The association, in turn, decided to write an appeal to the Minister of Commerce asking him to take steps for the immediate revocation of the impresario’s tradesmen license. Furthermore, the organisation also stated that it would issue a circular to the cafés and restaurants in the hopes that the now rejected agent come upon closed doors when turning to them (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909v). The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal did not hide its position on the matter either, it published its views in a strict tone in its editorial:

In our opinion, it is completely unnecessary for an agent to mediate for Gypsy orchestras in Budapest. Needless to say, before there was no such institution, Gypsy musicians had a grand time. However, as soon as the agent pitched his tent, complaints and friction immediately ensued. […] Mediation in Budapest is not only unnecessary but quite simply harmful. The agent cannot get a higher salary, so the commission is taken from the first violinist’s cut. […] The agent should do respectable foreign business or stay with his old potato agent craft and not long for the title of impresario. (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909x:1)

The newer goals of the association were published in the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal in August 1908. The president of the organisation, Béla Radics, wanted to create a national pension association for Gypsy musicians, which would have allowed not only Gypsy musicians from Budapest to join but all Gypsy musicians in Hungary (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908n). The president’s plans were for no assistance or pension to be claimed from the membership fees and donations received by the national pension association in the first years; he considered it conceivable only later after a sufficient pension fund had been accumulated (ibid.). The president’s initiative sought to answer a burning question (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908v), the financial difficulties of ‘aged’ Gypsy musicians. He wrote of this in a later editorial:

Today, only young first violinists are sought across the country. The foreign proprietor, before negotiating, asks for a portrait and if the first violinist is not a young man, he does not even enter into negotiations. Nowadays, age comes first and only then does art follow. The young first violinist can bow better, the contractors say, and thus when choosing performers put the old ones to the back. […] So if they do not take care of themselves, they have to form an association that will take care of the elderly and those incapable of work, using small contributions. The contributions will be perhaps the smallest part of the pension fund. Each orchestra conductor will need to ensure that the pension fund grows through charitable donations and is strong enough to ensure each member’s hope for the future that as he grows old he shall rest and spend the last days of his life without worries. The ministry, which supports all similar associations, would not refrain from supporting the pension association of Gypsy musicians. Some of the Budapest orchestra conductors have connections and if they were to describe the situation we are in would certainly be useful and win the support of the highest and most distinguished circles. (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908o:1)

The association, through the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal, raised its voice not only on behalf of the ageing Gypsy musicians who were drawing towards the end of their careers but for Gypsy musical society as a whole. During its existence, the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal regularly published writings about the unsustainable situation of Gypsy musicians and their financial difficulties. It reported on the declining opportunities of rural Gypsy orchestras, who wanted to find stages in cafés and restaurants in Budapest. However, the capital city did not promise more favourable opportunities either; some of the Gypsy musicians there only had work from one day to the next (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908g, 1908q, 1909c, 1909f). At times, foreign opportunities shrank, for example, in an Austrian spa town, Hungarian songs were banned, Hungarian Gypsy musicians were expelled from a Croatian coastal town, and cafés in Paris closed their doors to Gypsy musicians (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908l, 1909j, 1909f). The association newspaper tried to reassure Gypsy musicians, at the same time encouraging them to trust in a better future and not give in to the sense of hopelessness (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908i, 1908y, 1909s).

From its beginning to its end, the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal continually announced songwriting competitions for Gypsy musicians, promising the winners great sums and fame in reward. In May 1908, the paper proclaimed its first song contest, promising a significant sum, one hundred crowns to the first place, and the publication of the winning song (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908a). In the months following the call, nearly two hundred and twenty folk song entries were received, which the organisers of the competition were happy to register. At the same time, the editors reported of their outrage, as many applicants engaged in fraud, with many submitting songs written by others or ones that had been previously released. In the nineteenth century, it was common for songs with known or unknown composers to be performed as folk or popular tunes. In addition to this, the popular thinking concerning composer, arranger, and performer were different than in later decades. For these reasons, there was a debate at the time as to who was responsible for a given song (Sárosi 1971:136–170). The following lines serve to illustrate the differences in thought concerning authorship:

[...] it pains us to speak of such things happening these days! Not long ago a truly beautiful composition was printed as the work of Patikárius, I was happy to play it and praise Patikárius – and then I learnt that the composer was Pecsenyánszky … It happens that a famous Gypsy will visit the countryside and learn a csárdás from a whistling composer and then return to Pest to have it set to piano and publish it as his own composition. The Gypsy does not do this from malice, he believes that what he learnt is called composition. (Sárosi 1971:161)

The first-place winner was awarded the grand prize of one hundred crowns by the jury, and those entries submitted that were considered outstanding were awarded a certificate. The editorial board immediately announced a new song contest, citing its great popularity, again granting a hundred crowns to the composer of the song judged to be the best (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908p). For the second call, the number of entries was many times more than the previous one, almost seven hundred applications were submitted, many of which were disqualified because of plagiarism. The jury also noted that most of the songs received were inappreciable, even with the utmost goodwill, and thus ended up in the trash (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908w). Nevertheless, the top prize of one hundred crowns was awarded again, but the winner was later found to have submitted the work of a renowned Gypsy first violinist, and as soon as the dishonesty came to light he was immediately stripped of his prize (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1908z, 1909b). The editorial staff was not discouraged by the series of discrepancies and scandals accompanying the song contest, and it was announced again and again in the years that followed. The popularity of the song contest among the applicants also proved to be unbroken. About six hundred entries flooded the editorial office with the next call (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909k), while the following one received more than one thousand one hundred applications. During the latter, two gold medals, one hundred crowns per winner, one silver medal and certificates were awarded. The majority of the submitted songs continued to be judged as subpar quality by the jury, and many again choose to apply with the work of others (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909t).

In addition to the song contest, the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal editorial board announced a public competition for Gypsy first violinists in January 1909, citing letters from readers as the reason. A cut-out ballot was published in the paper, with which readers could vote for the most popular Hungarian and Budapest first violinists. The Gypsy first violinist who received the most votes was to be awarded a gold medal, while the second was to be awarded a silver medal. The call soon enjoyed great popularity among Gypsy musicians and their fans and patrons alike. The circulation of the paper increased significantly within days, as it was only possible to vote on the ballot paper cut from the journal itself. The first violinists in the capital and in the countryside did everything they could for votes, the journal wrote: “Recently, for example, one of the rural orchestras ordered 200 copies of our paper and, so to speak, had the whole city vote. Our distributor in Budapest is using a small cart to take out the ‘Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal’, so many people are purchasing or being made to purchase it by orchestra heads.” (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909d:5) The voting continued with unbroken enthusiasm even after a few weeks, orchestra leaders continued to do their best to win: “One of Budapest’s orchestra leaders has recently distributed 300 newspapers among his audience for the purpose of voting. A coffee house proprietor bought 100 newspapers to support another.” (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909e:5)

Due to the great interest and the influx of ballot papers, the editorial staff had to employ two people simply to count the ballot papers on a day-to-day basis and to calculate the competition’s standings. Because the audience competition of Gypsy first violinists was extremely popular not only among the Gypsy musicians of the capital but also among the rural Gypsy musicians, the remuneration was slightly modified. The most popular first violinist in Budapest and in the countryside could now both win a gold medal, likewise, the second-place winners could win a silver medal in the capital and the countryside (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909g). The number of votes skyrocketed in the following weeks, with more people voting than in all the previous months combined.

The results of the audience competition for the Gypsy first violinists were announced in the April issue of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal, in which it was also explained that large and small gold medals are awarded in the capital in addition to the silver medal (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909l). In Budapest, the grand gold medal was won by Laci Rácz, while the small gold medal was won by Józsi Csóka, and the silver medal was taken home by Elemér Sáray. Two grand gold medals were also awarded in the countryside because Gyuri Dick and Dávid Kozák won in a tie, and György Csikay won the silver medal. The awards were bestowed in the capital by the editorial board amid much pomp and in the cafés that served as the base for the winning Gypsy first violinists’ while rural winners received their medals by courier, the editorial board citing long distances (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909n).

From the number of votes cast for the Gypsy first violinists’ audience competition, we can gather some indirect information on the circulation of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal during the examined period. It can be stated that at least 469 copies of the paper were purchased on January 15, 1909, but the actual number may have been slightly higher than this. The Gypsy first violinists who received a small number of votes were not included in the lists, and presumably, not all readers took the opportunity to vote. The paper increased its sale each week until April 1, 1909, when it reached 52,474 copies sold in total. The audience competition significantly boosted the paper’s circulation, but that did not necessarily mean the number of readers multiplied. In any case, the audience competition of the Gypsy first violinists meant significant publicity and revenue for the edition. The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal data of January 15, 1909, provided some basis for determining the real number of readers, because at that time the orders for hundreds of copies had not yet arrived en masse to the editorial office.

Table 5.3
Table 5.3

Data on voting and winners in Budapest for the Gypsy first violinists’ audience competition

(Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909e, 1909g, 1909h, 1909i, 1909ac, 1909d).
Table 5.4
Table 5.4

Data on of the voting and winners in the countryside for the Gypsy first violinists’ audience competition

(Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909e, 1909g, 1909i, 1909ac, 1909d).

After the Gypsy first violinists’ competition, the editorial board of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal came up with another initiative; citing a highly successful foreign example and the opinion of the high society audience, a national Gypsy musician competition was proposed, for the following reason:

Every year, the world’s most famous opera singers come together in Bayreuth to perform a concert. Music lovers and music connoisseurs from all over the world flock to listen to the concert. High social circles proposed the idea of whether it would not be nice and good for our Gypsy musicians, from all over the country, to compete for one, or possibly more, great honors. […] The great and important goal of the annual national Gypsy music competition would be for the people of the capital to get to know the good hitherto unknown, obscure rural orchestras. And for the well-known good orchestras to show every year that they are getting even better and not in decline. These would be the advantages for the bands. First violinists should perform solo songs and show that they are not only masters of their craft when an entire orchestra is behind them, but also when they have to stand with a single violin before the thousand-headed monster that is the critical opinion of the general public. Orchestra members should also showcase their knowledge. Let the best bass player stand upon the stage and showcase his talent, the best cimbalom etc. Let us hear the best tárogató, large winds and small winds. Honour those who know what they are doing and boo those who are only good at boasting. It does not take skill to tell a hundred people that I am the best bassist in the country, it does however take a lot more art for a hundred people to say about someone that he “is the best bassist.” (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909m:1–2)

The national competition for Gypsy musicians was to be held in Budapest from the ides of August to the end of September 1909, and two orchestras would have been given the opportunity to perform every day, amounting to about seventy ensembles during the thirty-five days of the event. In addition to all this, they also wanted to make room for the solo performances of the first violinists and orchestra members. Great emphasis would also have been placed on the promotion of rural bands, with only twenty-five of the seventy Gypsy bands being allowed to be nominated from the capital, and the remaining forty-five places going to rural bands. The travel and accommodation expenses of the latter would also have been borne by the organisers. Prizes worth thousands of crowns were promised, which would be awarded by a carefully selected jury of experts (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909o, 1909q, 1909r). Finally, the national Gypsy musician competition, despite several confident announcements, was only held in November, at the Orpheum managed by the Royal Hotel in Budapest, and with a number of modifications. The event completely lost the character of a competition, and took on the profile of a charity event, with gold medals promised for all performing Gypsy orchestras. The proceeds of the concert would be used for the erection of a statue to Archduke Joseph Carl of Habsburg-Lorraine, the “Gypsy musicians’ apostle” (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909y, 1909aa, 1909ab). Archduke Joseph, the well-respected son of the deceased, was also invited to the event (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909z), and visited the popular many week-long charity event on several occasions (Magyar Czigányzenészek Lapja 1909ac). A permanent author and the later editor-in-chief of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal wrote an ode entitled “The Chief Voivode” glorifying the memory of the late Archduke Joseph:

The Chief Voivode


Archduke Joseph – His name a hundred times blessed,
His eagle eyes look down into this vale of tears
And at his gaze all burst into bloom,
Where before fallow stumps had waved;
That they may not become blackguards in their nomadic ways
Creates a Gypsy settlement in Alcsút;
Saves our language treasures in a Gypsy dictionary,
The work of his hands bestows blessing upon blessing.
But where is the hand to gather into a string of pearls,
The ocean of merit of the archduke …!
Naive love shines from him,
Gypsy lips name him the “Chief voivode”;
And their kiss pays for the dust,
That touches the feet of the chief voivode,
Adoringly resurrecting him from the dead
May his statue stand forever.
A more poetic glorious statue than his
The poet’s imagination would never imagine,
If weeds were to be proud palms,
Oh what would Gypsy tribute create!
Musical notes will turn to stone
And every stone shall sound
You, princely Gypsy advocate,
Whose memory so many faithful hearts guard.
László Szepessy (1909:1)

After the charity concert, the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Association, and with it the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal, ceased to exist, the reasons for which we have no knowledge of due to a lack of sources. However, with the dissolution of the organisation, the need for a Gypsy music organisation and newspaper did not disappear within Gypsy music society. A decade later, the previous leaders of the former association founded the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association, which within a few years launched a paper they called the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal (Hajnáczky 2019, 2020d).

5.4 Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal (1924–1931)

The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal – The professional bulletin of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association (in Hunarian: Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja. A Magyar Cigányzenészek Országos Egyesületének szakközlönye) was published from 1924 to 1931, in Budapest. The journal was published irregularly, every one to six months, the existing issues are incomplete, only twenty-seven issues are known. The journal was edited by Dr. Jenő Járosi and Béla Mázor, both non-Gypsies.

Gypsy musicians did not permanently give up the dream of an association of their own, however, the Great War did not favour their aspirations as many of them were enlisted. On the front, they often served as military musicians or served in military bands. Over time, they became so-called military first violinists, front-line Gypsy musical bands were formed and made the monotony and vicissitudes of the standing war more bearable, but mainly for the officers (Scholtz 2018). After the end of the First World War, the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association was formed under the direction of the most prestigious Gypsy first violinists, which, unlike its predecessor, allowed not only Budapest Gypsies to join but also rural Gypsy musicians. It formulated its goals as the following:

4. § The goals of the association:

a) b) To promote the material, moral and intellectual interests of its members, all according to Christian principles, and provide legal protection for them. Through the reciprocal support of the members the attainment of better working conditions and protection of acquired rights, based on Christian principles, with the exclusion of political and religious debates.

c) To restrict, with the support of the Royal Hungarian Ministry of the Interior, the operation of uninvited musicians and those arriving from foreign lands.

d) The promote and develop the art of Hungarian Gypsy musicians.

e) To provide for a retirement fund for its full members, according to the financial capacity of the association and to be defined in future statutes, furthermore in cases of accident and sickness for provision of financial support to be given, again to be decided at a future general meeting. Burial is to be provided for full members and their legal next of kin by the association according to the statutes. (Hajnáczky 2019:167–168)

The association wrote in the very first paragraphs of its statutes that the organisation intends to launch a paper, which took place a few years later, in 1924. It was then that they launched the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal, which, until it folded in 1931, was intended to inform Gypsy music society. Primarily, the paper gave an insight into the activities and operation of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association through the published articles, calls and minutes. Like the national organisation, the initiatives of the Budapest group and local groups in the countryside appeared in the edition. Social news of Gypsy music society was also featured in the columns; funerals, weddings, anniversaries, balls, decorations, awards, domestic and foreign performances, and lawsuits. Literary and historical writings were also provided with a forum; poems, short stories, portfolios, and essays were published. The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal considered the plight of Gypsy musicians, their aid and job placement, the suppression of jazz, and the establishment of the Bihari Music School to be the most important topics.

In the 1920’s Hungarian Gypsy musicians struggled with serious financial problems both in Budapest and in the countryside, as their job opportunities narrowed significantly, for which they blamed in part the spread of jazz throughout Hungary (Vámos 2018; Zipernovszky 2017:75). The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal regularly kept the issue on the agenda, publishing a number of writings and minutes which drew attention to the plight of Gypsy musicians. Dramatic lines here quoted from the association’s newspaper report the critical conditions of Gypsy musicians:

We receive a lot of complaints from all over the country about the harshness of economic conditions, and in several places they complain that the now fashionable jazz music wants to increasingly force out Gypsy music. It is undeniable that we are in a very difficult economic situation. It is equally difficult for the people of Budapest and the people of the countryside to make a living. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927b:1)

According to some writings, the situation had deteriorated to the point where the daily income of Gypsy musicians is at stake:

The issue is the problem of livelihood, and is already at the threshold of starvation. The newspapers wrote that among the 3,800 Gypsies in Budapest, barely 10% are at work, while the rest are adrift … Every day, heartbreaking cries for help arrive in writing to the association, desperately begging for six or eight hungry, naked children … The general economic situation is affecting all sections of society, none of them is in a happy situation, but the fate of the Gypsies is exacerbated by the jazz bands, which forces them more and more into the background and knocks the bow out of their hands and takes the bread out of their mouths. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927h:1)

The critical state of the Gypsy musicians was further strained by the conflicts that surfaced again and again in their association, as well as the lack of cooperation and cohesion. Due to the above-mentioned, the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal regularly berated the membership and did not shy away from reproachful outbursts. It was the first to report that rural Gypsy musicians sometimes unjustifiably criticised Gypsy musicians in Budapest because, in their opinion, the musicians of the capital did not care about the association and did not pay the membership fee (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927a). At the local level, Gypsy musicians also competed with each other for job opportunities; it was not uncommon for one to under-bid the other, something café and restaurant owners often took advantage of (Farkas 1927).

The scaremongering and spreading of malicious rumours neither favoured unified action among Gypsy musicians nor served the representation of their interests; an editorial in the paper described it thus:

Now, now, what’s this malicious rumour intended to do? What is this “joking about” supposed to be? Do Gypsies really need all this news snatched from thin air and without any serious basis. Take this into consideration (if such people tend to think at all) those who toll the warning bell. Because such rumours are only suitable to stave off the remedies to the many troubles afflicting the poor Gypsies … But what are some people doing, instead of working together to help the leaders fix the troubles? Insults! When he speaks to Palko, he blames Paul. If he talks to Paul, he blames Palko. If he talks to the national president, he blames the president of the local group. If he talks to the president of the local group, he blames the national president. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927b:1)

In the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association, the conflicts of interest of the members sometimes worsened to the point where they endangered the successful outcome of the general meetings. The Gypsy musicians’ journal repeatedly drew the attention of the membership to appearing at the meetings free from anger, intrigue, and bias. It also went on to say that generalised, intolerant bull-headed demands must end and space must be provided for deliberations in the interests of the association. Because of these previously mentioned factors, the association’s leadership proposed that local groups only be represented through a delegation and have a say in national forums only in proportion to their numbers (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927c, 1927d, 1927g).

The desperate financial situation of the Gypsy musicians increasingly required the leadership of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association to take decisive steps to ensure the effective implementation of the social welfare promised in the statutes. Notably in the area of accident, sickness and funeral assistance, as well as the establishment of a pension fund and a job placement office (Hajnáczky 2019:167–168). The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal regularly kept the above-mentioned objectives on the agenda, and several articles and minutes of association general meetings appeared in the columns of the paper, all dealing with the wide-ranging issues just mentioned. In the March 1927 editorial, the paper reported that the organisation wanted to create a sickness fund, and noted how:

The organisation of the sickness fund will be like the organisation of the association. Each local group must set up separate monetary accounts. Detailed instructions for their organisation will be provided later. At this point, it would be a very good idea for the rural groups to start the preparatory work now. In this respect, the local group in Vác is the pioneer, on February 24th they organised a large dance with a concert, the net income of which is used for the benefit of the soon to be established sickness fund. It would be very good if other local groups followed suit. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927a:1)

The plans for a sickness fund were not affected by the change of leadership either (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927f), the organisation constantly kept itself informed and conducted negotiations to this aim, the issue surfaced at the July general meeting. The delegate of the local group in Miskolc suggested that the leadership of the organisation negotiate with the National Workers’ Insurance Institute on the admission of Gypsy musicians. At the meeting, the HGMNA (Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association) legal counsel clearly expressed his concerns about the proposal, while also drawing attention to the futility of setting up a sickness fund:

The leadership has already dealt with this issue a great deal. I have been to the Ministry of Public Welfare several times already. It is also my opinion that we would be admitted to the workers’ insurance company but I find it dangerous in several respects. First of all, we put a heavy burden on the shoulders of the members. What we calculated was that an average member would have to pay 6–7 pengős per month and the same amount by the proprietor. This would be very difficult for members to pay in view of the current hard conditions, but secondly, the owners should also be considered. Today, everywhere the situation is that they are trying to lower the wages of the Gypsies, some employers do not even host music because their venues cannot afford it. If now the employers would have to pay a sickness benefit in addition to the wage, they would employ even fewer Gypsies and if they did they would pay less because the sickness benefit would also burden them. And this is not such a small amount. Imagine, gentlemen, for an orchestra of, say, 10 members, a café would have to pay 60–70 pengős a month. In addition, frequent changes in staff would make entry very difficult. Admitting and dismissing members is a lot of work. […] In addition, there may be two ways to solve the issue. We could first set up a private sickness fund. Firstly, it requires a large administration, secondly, it is expensive. If we do this for the members, then we also have to give the members hospital care, and it costs a lot and we spend the money on it unnecessarily, because 90% of our members can be admitted to hospitals on the basis of a poverty certificate anyway, so it does not make sense. It makes all the more sense for them to pay for something they have received for free so far, because hospital care is the same, whether it is on the basis of the poverty law or on the basis of association membership. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927f:2)

The legal counsel, Dr. Jenő Járosi, a non-Gypsy, considered the only viable option in this area was for the association to refrain from setting up a private sickness fund and to provide medical and pharmaceutical care to members at affordable prices. According to his plan, they should contract with a pharmacy to offer a discount if medicines are bought exclusively from them. Relying on his preliminary negotiations, he also explained that a doctor could be contracted with only one pengő of the members’ monthly payment. As an initiative, he saw it justifiable to introduce the above only in the capital, and, if the feedback were to be favourable, to extend it to rural local groups (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927f). The following year, the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal published news about the introduction of a sickness fund and the establishment of a pension fund, but the association was still unable to make any significant progress in this area (Bura 1929a; Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1929a, 1929f, 1929g, 1929i).

The prospects of the Gypsy musicians were only further decreased by the fact that in May of the following year, an article complaining about the misuse of the funeral allowance appeared in the journal written by the organisation’s leadership. First of all, the article stated that although the statutes of the association provided for the provision of funeral assistance to members and their relatives who regularly pay the membership fee, the problem was that most of the members did not fulfil their obligation to pay the fee. Nevertheless, in the event of death, funeral assistance was immediately demanded from the association, which then directly threatened the association with financial collapse:

So here is the main cause of the problem, the member is months behind in paying his membership fee, but when someone in the family dies he comes pleading and begging that he was unable to pay, his father, mother, or wife even goes to the group leaders to cry, to ask for forgiveness etc. and to only pay for the funeral aid, they just do not think of the fact that hundreds and hundreds do exactly this, so money does not come into the association’s treasury, and so from what are we to pay aid. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1928a: 2)

Not only the lack of membership fee payments hindered the association, but there were also cases where the Gypsy musicians unlawfully took aid for deceased relatives:

There have been cases where a member reports his mother or father’s death and asks for an allocation of aid. However, not only did he not support his parents, but perhaps he even lived in another city and did not care for them all his life. But when they die, he thinks to himself, ‘Excellent! I may get some aid and if I will try to see if they grant it’. However, under the rules, funeral allowance is granted for parents only if the child, who is a member of the association, lives in the same household as the parents and the parent is dependent solely on him, the member. (ibid.)

The honorary president of the HGMNA, Gypsy first violinist, Béla Radics, argued the following year that membership of the association only be composed of first violinists, because only then could funeral assistance be provided to members (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1929a).

In the field of job placement, some progress could be observed in the implementation of the Ministry of Commerce decree number 85.271/IX. 1928, which regulated the operation of the association’s placement agencies. The decree was especially well-received within the ranks of the National Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association, as the organisation of job placement was an old debt of the leadership. According to the decree, the association set up a job placement office, headed by a responsible agent, who also directed the work of the other agents. The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal reported on the benefits of the newly created body with extremely favourable words: “The great advantage for Gypsies is that the agent cannot charge a so-called arbitrary agent’s fee, as he has done previously, but only the 5 percent set by the board of directors. We have already told our members that if an agent charges more than this under any pretext, they should immediately report this to the leadership of the association, which will take immediate action and retaliate against the abuse.” (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1928c:3)

The paper also gave news that the HGMNA had set up an arbitral tribunal in order to smooth out the frictions between Gypsy musicians and agents and that everyone gets their fair share. The measure was motivated by the need to avoid years of litigation before state courts. The contracts were also standardised, henceforth only a document approved by the association could be used. Contrary to the previous practice, the contract was now concluded not only between the employer and the first violinist but also between the orchestra leader and the Gypsy musicians. The mentioned stipulations were beneficial to both parties, the Gypsy musicians could not quit their work and leave their conductor overnight, and at the same time, the hands of the Gypsy first violinists were tied in terms of how much he had to pay the orchestra members (ibid.). The association made the following confident remarks in the journal about the background of the newly conceived measures: “In general, the great advantage of these innovations is that in the future, the association will guard the rights and obligations of both orchestra conductors and members. So neither can be circumvented, as they have been in the past.” (ibid.)

Within the framework of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association, new departments and bodies were established to deal with the issue of placement. In 1928, the bassists and cimbalom players of Budapest formed a department, which also aimed to settle the contracts concluded between the members and the Gypsy first violinists (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1928b). The agreement would have provided benefits and obligations for both parties:

First and foremost, the member cannot leave the orchestra without giving a resignation, which has happened many times previously and which was largely the reason the orchestras were unable to perform as an ensemble at an appropriate level. The second aim is that the orchestra conductor cannot dismiss a member as he wishes without notice, but yes, if the member is suitable, he cannot be sent away during the term of the contract, and if the contract is for a fixed period, he can only be sent after notice has been given. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927b:3)

The contract template prepared by the department determined the notice period for both Gypsy first violinists and orchestra members to be fifteen days. The association department composed of the bassists and cimbalom players in Budapest composed a list of the advantages of the contract:

1. The notice period is determined to be 15 days. 2. The contract must be signed by the member, which ensures both the member and the first violinist. 3. The member must receive the salary written in the contract. 4. The first violinist is ensured that the member fulfils his responsibilities and cannot simply leave when he so thinks. 5. There is an arbiter tribunal, which is also very important as if there is any problem with the proprietor the arbiter tribunal can settle it in a few weeks without any costs. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1930f)

The following year, the Gypsy first violinists of Budapest established the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Orchestra Conductors’ Syndicate. Its goal was, among other things, for Gypsy first violinists to act in unity on wage issues and to push the impresarios out of the market (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1929b). The first attempts at job placement was far from resolving the issue definitively. During the 1930s, new ideas were born in this field; they envisaged the introduction of a so-called ‘minimisation’, which would mean the association would determine the minimum amount of wages that could be given to Gypsy musicians per café and restaurant (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1930d). The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal summed up the benefits of the initiative as follows: “If it is established at a café that the salary there is, say, 4 P. per day, the member must receive these four pengős, no matter how much the impresario and the first violinist get. This means that prices cannot be taken lower and lower every day because the impresario cannot give members cheaper than is set.” (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1930d:6–7)

At the same time as the association was working towards its social initiatives, which sad to say were doomed to fail, it was also trying to make progress on behalf of Gypsy musicians at another level, namely its declared and determined battle against jazz music. The new musical trend was blamed in most part for the destitution and impoverishment of Gypsy musicians, something the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal regularly emphasised in its columns. It made an effort to combat jazz at both local (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927f, 1927e, 1927i, 1930a) and national levels. In the autumn of 1927, the HGMNA decided to look for allies to curb the spread of jazz, so it convened a meeting to which it invited a number of social organisations: the Hungarian Lyricists, Composers and Music Publishers Cooperative, National Federation of Hungarian Women, National Federation of Catholic Housewives, National Housewives Federation, National Hungarian Song Federation, the Turul Federation, Werbőczy Comradery Association, Csaba Comradery Association, Bethlen Gábor Circle (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927j). In his opening speech, the executive vice-president of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association spoke sharply against jazz, explaining the motive of the gathering:

The goal of our meeting is to protect Hungarian music and Hungarian song against the rising deluge of foreign music. […] Now when danger threatens one of the national treasures, Hungarian song, we feel it is our duty to champion this cause. We are at the stage when family life is infected by moral corrupting and debasing jazz music, at this moment our children are dancing the Charleston. It is the responsibility of every Hungarian to do battle against this, to kill the infection and to again water Hungarian hearts with Hungarian emotion. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927j:2)

The president of the Budapest local group did not hide his opinion on this either. He explained that Gypsy musicians would rather go hungry and cold with the onset of winter than play “Negro style.” In his speech, the secretary of the association, declared jazz music to be a “foreign worm.” And only after did he turn to the presentation of the HGMNA manifesto, in which the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Religion and Public Education were asked at length to repress jazz, and the following suggestions were made:

1. In all public places where jazz bands operate, coffee houses, restaurants, patisseries, dance halls etc. the employment of Gypsy musicians be compulsory. Jazz bands are to take equal turns playing. In the evening after 10 o’clock jazz bands are not to play at all, in consideration of their disruption of the peace and the quiet of the night.

2. In all public places where varied performances are given, such as music halls, cabarets, vaudeville shows, 50% of the performances are to be Hungarian numbers. This does not only mean the works of Hungarian composers, but also Hungarian in their style and content.

3. In all places were the public may dance: dance halls, public tea afternoons, dance reveries, balls etc. 50% of the dances are to be Hungarian. If these dances employ jazz music the employment of a Gypsy orchestra is compulsory.

In the case of point 2 and 3, the program and the dance order are to be given to the competent authorities before the issuance of the permit, which can only be issued if they are acceptable. The delegate of the competent police authority is responsible for checking that what was recorded in the program and dance order is observed. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927j:3–4)

The delegates of the invited social associations unanimously welcomed the proposal and assured the Gypsy musicians of their full support (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1927j). Based on the success of the meeting of the HGMNA addressed a brief interpolation to the Minister of the Interior, who, however, rejected their proposal, which only increased the members’ bitterness and dissatisfaction with the association’s leaders.

In the spring of 1929, first violinist Károly Bura became the president of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association and published his ambitious, innovative program in a lead article of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal. Among other things, the newly elected president explained that he sees one of his main tasks as being the establishment of a music school:

We wish to care for the conditions for cultural progress too. To this aim we will soon establish a music school to serve the training of the new generation. We have received a promise that the outstanding talents finishing here will find the path to higher training and the podiums of world success abroad. Only trained Gypsy musicians can regain all that fashionable musical trends have taken from us and only Gypsy music will be able to conjure up again a renaissance of Hungarian song and Hungarian tunes. (Bura 1929a:1)

After that, the association’s journal kept providing information about the establishment and operation of the music school, as well as publishing its calls and announcements. The idea of the music school was first formulated in 1928, and the initial steps were taken by János Ilovszky, a member of the legal committee of Budapest, and the honorary chairman of the association. At the outset, the HGMNA negotiated with the Music Academy to begin education for Gypsy musicians within its framework, but its request was rejected, citing a lack of rooms and the rejection of the idea by teachers. There was also the idea of enrolling Gypsy children deemed talented enough in existing music schools, but this idea was rejected for several reasons. On the one hand, they also wanted to provide further training for adults, which would have been impossible in music schools specialising in children (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1929c). On the other hand, it was thought that a music school not specifically serving Gypsy musicians was not suitable for teaching Gypsy youth, as only a curriculum designed along the following basic principles was considered acceptable: “This curriculum will be different from other music schools because it takes into account Gypsy traditions, which bind them to Hungarian song. The primary goal of this curriculum is to improve the interpretation of the Hungarian song, and only secondly, but in parallel, to develop general musical knowledge.” (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1929c:2) János Ilovszky was able to win numerous supporters for the music school, who helped the foundation of the institution professionally or financially.

Finally, a Gypsy music school, named after János Bihari Gypsy first violinist opened its doors in September 1929, in Budapest (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1929e). The HGMNA published the following words on the front page of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal encouraging enrolment in the Bihari School of Music:

At school, both children and adults receive education. Children receive both theoretical and instrumental instruction. Adults only receive theoretical training. Theoretical training is provided over five-month courses. Theoretical instruction in this first course covers: note writing, signs, prescriptions, timing, etc. Children and adults are taught separately in separate lessons.

Children receive education two hours a week and adults one hour a week.

Next year, in February, 1930, the second five-month course of theoretical education begins, those students who have passed the first course with at least satisfactory results can be enrolled and can present their certificate. The second course covers further theoretical training and the most basic music theory studies.

Instrumental instruction takes place over a ten-month course, two hours a week.

We invite our highly esteemed Members to apply for their own or their children’s education and come to enrol in our associations office, VIII. Német Street from August 2 to August 15 between 3 pm and 5 pm.

To apply, you must have a pupil’s birth certificate and a school certificate from your last year attesting to your education.

The association admits students with a low tuition fee (two or three pengős a month) and partly without tuition fees.

Claims for a tuition waiver must be duly applied for at the time of enrolment. The granting of the tuition waiver will be made after hearings by the association’s board of directors, the first violinist syndicate and the professional departments. (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1929d:1)

About one hundred and sixty students, all Gypsies, were admitted to the first grade and were taught theory and instruments by a faculty of sixteen, of whom only one was of Gypsy musician ancestry. The list of both students and teachers was published in the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1929h). The HGMNA soon organised a charity concert to support the music school and for the benefit of a fitting grave marker for the former president, Gypsy first violinist, Béla Radics. Nearly a thousand Gypsy musicians performed at the event, winning wide recognition from an audience of an estimated twenty-two thousand and the popular press (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1930b). Word of the Bihari Music School not only spread throughout the Hungarian press but also appeared in the columns of foreign papers; English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Finnish newspapers praised the initiative as much as the Hungarians (Bura 1929b; Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1930c). Encouraged by the example in Budapest, the local group in Pápa founded the second Bihari Music School from the proceeds of a charity concert and it began the education of thirty students (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1930e).

However, the initial inroads soon found themselves hindered. After only a few months Budapest’s Bihari Music School struggled with serious financial problems, which was only exacerbated by the fact that some of the enrolled students did not pay the tuition. The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association was forced to take serious steps to maintain the institution, students owing tuition and several teachers were dismissed and the coming general assembly was postponed to 1930, so that the sum allocated for it could be given to the Bihari Music School (Magyar Cigányzenészek Lapja 1930g). The austerity measures seemed to provide a solid footing for the financial situation of the school, and the head of the education department noted in the association’s journal about the more favourable prospects:

Having learnt from the mistakes of the past, these omissions have been avoided, in part. There is no longer cause for mistrust. The curriculum and intellectual direction of the Bihari music school is a guarantee that the Bihari school today is on the level of any other working music school asking high tuition. And all this is achieved through the tuition is as inexpensive as it is, and all the links in the schools’ operational chain accommodate Gypsy life conditions and needs. (Magyar Cigányzenészek. Lapja 1931:2)

However, storm clouds inevitably loomed over the Bihari Music School again. The scandals that erupted because of the charity concert split the association into two camps, by and large, the Gypsy musicians did not pay their membership fees, local groups, in turn, ceased to exist, and in many cases, the leadership did not even come close to achieving the goals they had previously set themselves. The Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Journal was discontinued in 1931, and then, two years later, the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association was dissolved, which also meant the closing of the gates of the Bihari Music School (Hajnáczky 2019:39–44).

5.5 Hungarian Gypsy Music (1938)

The Hungarian Gypsy Music – The Official Journal of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Federation (in Hungarian: Magyar Cigányzene. A Magyar Cigányzenészek Országos Szövetségének hivatalos lapja) was published in 1938, in Budapest by the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Association. The journal was published monthly and only two issues were published. It was edited by Béla Mázor, a non-Gypsy.

Despite the dissolution of the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Federation, Gypsy musicians were still able to take collective action in 1934; they announced a strike against the Hungarian Radio. On the one hand, because the radio management wanted to have a say in what songs the Gypsy musicians play during the broadcasts, and on the other hand, they found the payment for radio broadcasts to be insufficient (Hajnáczky 2019:45–48). The Gypsy musicians’ planned mass action eventually failed due to internal tensions, but this did not deter the leading Gypsy first violinists from founding the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Federation in 1935. The statutes of the newly established federation declared the following about the mission of the organisation:

The goals of the Federation: to congregate the Gypsy musicians living in Hungary, protect their intellectual, artistic and financial interests, improve their working conditions, to more effectively support the touristic interests related to the fame of Gypsy music, the nurturing of Hungarian song, the unified direction of their members in a patriotic and Christian spirit – the exclusion of political and religious questions. (Hajnáczky 2019:189)

In order to advance the goals set out in the statutes, the association envisaged the establishment of an office, library, placement agency, a Gypsy musicians’ home and a music school. The federation considered itself responsible for the task of constantly consulting with the competent ministries and agencies in order to further the interests of Gypsy musicians. Furthermore, in order to inform Gypsy musicians and to promote their cause, it planned to launch a journal (Hajnáczky 2019:189–190), which was finally published in 1938, and entitled Hungarian Gypsy Music. It was only published a few times. The first edition began with a militant editorial defining the mission of the newly founded paper as follows:

Our new armour is ‘Hungarian Gypsy Music’ and our spiritual warriors are the lead letters. We do not want to wage war against anyone, but we want to fight among our own ranks: against old-fashionedness, errors, ills, and bad qualities. We want to fight for the cultural development of Hungarian Gypsy music so that we can achieve a worthy place in the society in which we live a modest bourgeois life as workers. (Magyar Cigányzene 1938a:1)

In the following piece, the honorary president of the association espoused the indispensability of the newspaper: “Without a doubt Hungarian Gypsy music’s lead soldiers signify a great growth in strength for the Federation, without a trade journal effective association work would be unimaginable, it serves its membership with enlightening efforts and is propaganda for the audience at large and the respective authorities.” (Sándor 1938:1) The edition which was only published in a few issues reported on the domestic and foreign news of Hungarian Gypsy music society, concerts, performances, and it published historical articles on well-known Gypsy first violinists. It also gave news about the general meetings, plans and measures taken by the federation. The editorial board of Hungarian Gypsy Music placed great emphasis on informing foreign audiences. The best example was its launch of a “Portrait gallery of Gypsy orchestras” column, which was published in English, German, Italian, and French, the aim being to promote famous Hungarian Gypsy bands among foreign restaurants and venues. The publisher planned to send the paper to the following countries: Germany, Sweden, Norway, Latvia, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, England, Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Poland, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Egypt, The United States of America, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, India, Iran, Turkey, the South African Union, Australia (Magyar Cigányzene 1938b).

The columns of Hungarian Gypsy Music were mainly composed of writings concerning the unsustainable social conditions of Gypsy musicians. The federation’s legal adviser saw the creation of the association as a milestone as it made possible the coordinated action of Gypsy musicians in order to defend their interests:

It took ages, however it was not too late, Gypsy musicians finally realised and began to cooperate. They founded the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Federation, which should be considered by all Gypsy musicians, as a serious force of those who want to work and fight for a better more secure existence, and a calmer bourgeois life. It is therefore in the very most interest of Gypsy musicians to congregate there and forge their own destiny with one will. (Nagy 1938:6)

The Gypsy musicians’ journal repeatedly announced that the organisation had put debating the social situation of Gypsy musicians on the agenda of its next general meeting (Magyar Cigányzene 1938c, 1938d, 1938f), as well as the federation’s proposals aimed at ensuring the livelihood of Gypsy musicians. The organisation developed a draft proposal aimed at introducing ‘minimum subsistence’ for orchestra members. They envisioned classifying venues into three categories and paying the orchestra members accordingly. In the case of hotels, restaurants and cafés classified in the first class, the orchestra members would have received ten pengős per head, in the case of those classified as second-class, seven pengős, and in the places classified as third-class, five pengős. The draft proposal did not want to regulate the salary of Gypsy first violinists, it would have entrusted this to an agreement between the bandleader and the owner of the venue (Magyar Cigányzene 1938e). Another considerable achievement of the federation was the so-called ‘collective agreement’ which wanted to regulate the agreements between the Gypsy musicians and the agents. The twelve-point collective agreement was signed by the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ National Federation and the Artistic Agents’ Association in September 1938, the purpose of which was defined as follows: “Mutual protection of the interests of Gypsy music and job placement, respect for signed contracts and the elimination of the anomalies experienced.” (Magyar Cigányzene 1938g:4) The document listed at length the rights and obligations of Gypsy musicians and agents vis-à-vis each other, as well as the amount of commission, the procedure for concluding contracts and disputes (ibid.).

The steps taken by the Hungarian Gypsy Musicians’ Federation to improve the financial situation of Gypsy musicians eventually came to a halt because there was a division within the organisation. Namely, the orchestra members, claiming that the federation led by the Gypsy first violinists could not produce a breakthrough in their social existence, turned to rebellion and took over control. Due to unceasing internal tensions and the incompetence of the new leadership, the federation first came under the supervision of an official governmental commissioner and then was finally disbanded (Hajnáczky 2019:54–58).

5.6 Conclusion

Four journals concerning Gypsies in Hungary appeared in the first half of the twentieth century. The wealthiest Hungarian Gypsies and the most integrated into majority society were mostly Gypsy musicians. Gypsy musicians primarily lived dispersed within the borders of towns and cities, and it was not uncommon for them to accumulate considerable wealth or maintain close contacts with influential non-Gypsies. In part, the favourable social situation of the predominant personalities in Gypsy musical society made it possible for them to form associations and publish journals during this time. The Gypsy musicians’ associations bore the characteristics of a trade union formed by an occupational group composed by, and integrally related to, a specific ethnicity. Gypsy musicians formed the most prestigious caste of the Romungro group with Hungarian as their mother tongue. They strictly distinguished themselves from Boyash and Vlach Gypsies, whose native language was not Hungarian. Their publications do not contain any hint at them having any pretence of wanting to represent the interests of all Gypsies, not even the non-musical Romungro. As a result, their publications focused exclusively on the issues of Gypsy musical society, their cultural and social affairs. Gypsy musicians had well integrated into the majority population; their journals, therefore, did not focus on the issue of social integration or social equality of the entire Gypsy community. Instead, they sought to strengthen their social standing and to improve their financial circumstances and opportunities. The journals concerned themselves with reinforcing the Hungarian Gypsy musicians’ particular identity and the continuation of their traditions. Furthermore, they sought to develop and assist the progress of Gypsy musical solidarity and, therefore, the unified representation of their interests. Following the treaty of Trianon, the journals, in addition to the previously mentioned content, expressed their common fate and solidarity with the Hungarian nation. This was not due to any intent at assimilation, but it was an expression of their feelings of belonging to the Hungarian nation, while, at the same time, preserving their Hungarian Gypsy musicians’ ethnic identity. We can sum up that, in the end, all these efforts led to civic emancipation for at least of part of Gypsy community and Hungarian Gypsy music becoming an integral part of Hungarian culture.

Roma Writings

Romani Literature and Press in Central, South-Eastern and Eastern Europe from the 19th Century until World War II