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BOOK REVIEW: Two Centuries Military Music in Hungary. A History of Hungarian Military Music Conducto

Two Centuries Military Music in Hungary. A History of Hungarian Military Music Conductors and Marches, 1741-1945. By László Marosi. Budapest: Editio Musica Budapest, 2015. [xii, 221 p. ISBN 9789633307687 (paperback). $35.00.] Illustrations, appendices, bibliography.

It is not surprising that so little has been written about Hungarian military music. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the bands were part of the Austrian Empire, and, as such, were ignored or simply mentioned in books on the Empire. Marosi has made an excellent effort to fill that lacuna with a thoroughly convincing scholarly study of the subject. Perhaps, if Martin Wheeler had read this book, he would not have written in his review of one of Franz Lehár’s operettas that “Lehár, like his father, was an army bandmaster. This goes partway toward explaining his rather crude orchestration.” (Opera News, September 2017, 69). Hopefully, Marosi’s work will become seminal in counteracting this anti-military music prejudice.

The book is organized into six chapters, each covering a period of Hungarian history. Chapter 1 deals with the development of military music in the Imperial-Royal Army (1741-1848). Great attention is paid to the field musicians, those who played the fife and drum (for infantry) or trumpet (for cavalry), and sounded the daily camp duties (Appendix 1 contains musical examples). Chapter 2 covers the brief War of Independence (1848-49), when a National Guard was formed and the most frequently performed marches were Hunyadi (Erkel) and Rákóczi (Liszt).

Chapter 3 covers the life of the military band in the Imperial and Royal Army from 1850 to 1914. Marosi refers to this period as the “golden age” of the military band “because of its defining importance, function, and connections to civic cultural life.” (p. 107) He goes to great length describing the organization of the various Hungarian bands within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the strength and instrumentation of the bands, the uniforms of the musicians and their duties, and the band’s importance in providing music not only for military duties, but for concerts, civilian festivals, church services, operas and theatrical performances. In many garrison towns, the military band was the only viable musical organization. The military conductor was expected to teach the young musicians, rehearse the band, orchestrate music according to the band’s instrumentation, and compose marches for special occasions. Some of the notable conductors discussed in this chapter include Béla Kéler, Hermann Dostal, Ferenc Lehár Senior and Junior and József Prichystal-Pécsi. Wagner on a visit to Venice in 1858, was very pleased with the performances of his works, but also commented on the Italian audience’s reaction to the music performed by the bands: “thousands and thousands of people gathered, enjoyed the music, and paid great attention to it, but after the performance, they did not put the hands together in an applause as a mark of general approval, because applauding an Austrian [or Hungarian] military band would have been counted as treason.” (p. 90). The concert programs included overtures, operatic selections, solos, arrangements of traditional Hungarian folksongs and marches. Selections were quite contemporary and international as in a concert by the 71st Infantry Regiment Band given in 1899 that included the overture from Sidney Jones’s operetta Geisha, composed in 1896. (p. 106)

Finally, in 1896, as reported in chapter 4, the Royal Hungarian Honvéd Army established bands separate and distinct from the Austrian Empire: each of the seven military districts was permitted a band. Conductors were to be of Hungarian birth, graduates of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, and were “to cultivate Hungarian music including marches and Hungarian compositions in general, as well as the use of the tárogató.” (p. 129). The musicians had to be Hungarian citizens. These Hungarian bands were important for all national celebrations, as participation by the Austrian bands was forbidden, since they were required to be apolitical and loyal to the emperor.

Like other European and American military bands, the musicians were trained to be double-handed, that is, capable of playing string as well as wind instruments. These bands therefore were able to perform as a concert orchestra as well as a military marching unit.

They must have attained high musical standards: the Szeged band, under Sándor Figedy-Fichtner, performed a Liszt Piano Concerto with Béla Bartók to great acclaim. Similarly, the Székesfehérvár band, under Richard Fricsay, accompanied Ernö Dohnányi in concerts. Marosi considers Richard Fricsay Junior, director of the Royal Hungarian River Force Band, to be the Hungarian John Philip Sousa. Lengthy biographies of both are included. Incidentally, these 48-piece bands with professional leaders stand in stark contrast to the US Infantry regiment bands of 28 men and mostly poorly qualified leaders sent to Europe with the AEF in 1917.

There is a brief discussion of the Hungarian bands under Russian control in chapter 5, and then the music of the Hungarian National Army (1920-1945) in chapter 6. Of interest here is that the Hungarian Royal Honvéd Air Force Band had a sarrusophone choir (photo p. 135) and that the band toured America and Canada after World War II and then moved to Australia.

The work ends with a brief summary, followed by Appendix A which provides thirty-three musical examples of the military camp duties. (One could wish that Marosi would have included scores of the Hunyadi and Rákóczi marches, since they were apparently so important) A very lengthy Appendix B (pp. 164-217) catalogs two centuries of military marches in Hungary arranged by composer. This is followed by a bibliography, but regrettably, no index.

Marosi is to be commended for the fine English translation of his original Hungarian work. We can quickly overlook such curious translations as pipe for fife, superannuation for pension, and tunesters for the field music. It would have been better for the reader, however, if he had used traditional endnotes instead of the author-date system. One example should suffice: on page 127 he states “On July 1, 1924, the number of regimental bands was decreased from 14 to eight (Hadtörténeti Intézet 844/Eln. 10.-1924 basic number: 2.483/Eln. 10.-1924 February 5, HL.HM-material collection 1176.) But these are very insignificant complaints.

A quick check for Hungarian military music on Google Books brought nothing but recordings of marches. Checking and eBay gave the same results: there simply are no scholarly (or even popular) studies of this subject and Marosi’s excellent work deserves recognition as the trailblazer in this field.

Raoul F Camus

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