Culture of Hungary

Hungary embraces the beautiful city of Budapest on the Danube river, once known as Buda on the right bank (west) of the river, and Pest on the left (east). Buda and Pest joined as a single city in 1873. Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and boasts rich folk traditions of embroidery, pottery, carving and decorated buildings.

Hungary has a profound literary tradition, yet many of its writers and poets are not so popular abroad due to the limited prevalence of the Hungarian language. One notable writer includes Sandor Marai, as well as Imre Kertesz, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002. Janos Kodolanyi achieved growing popularity in Finland and Italy in the middle of the 20th Century. The Hungarian writer Peter Esterhazy won recognition in Germany and Austria, while Magda Szabo has acquired popularity in Europe. Many significant Hungarian mathematicians include Paul Erdos, John von Neumann and Janos Bolyai. Hungarians boast the invention of the ballpoint pen, the BASIC programming language, the match and the electronic railway engine.
The first golden period of Hungary’s film-making industry began in the 1930s, when it developed comedies. Many Hungarian films won international acclaim, especially in Germany. The second success period for film in the country came in the 1960s, when the art films of Miklos Jancso won public acclaim, while in the 1980s Istvan Szabo was awarded an Oscar. Significant contemporary Hungarian filmmakers include Bela Tarr and Janos Szasz, who create their art in harmony with the traditions of Hungarian cinema.

Hungarian Fine Arts, and their branches, flourished through the centuries. In the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the works of King Mathias, and architecture in particular, demonstrated the power of the church and was predominant over most forms of art. Romanticism of the 19th Century gave the impetus to the development of historic and genre paintings. The Nagybanya School of painters introduced Impressionism in Hungarian art, the impact of which was greater than that of the avant-garde. The end of the Second World War saw increasing significance of illustration and graphic arts. At the end of the 20th Century, many Hungarian artists created major projects related to the celebration of the millennium. Contemporary Hungarian art polarises various artistic genres, while its architecture is seen in the construction of huge office buildings and department stores.
Many gifted Hungarian musicians in Classical and Jazz music are world famous. Hungarian music began with the country’s folk music, with adaptations found in the compositions of Bela Bartok, joining ancient music traditions with the vanguard of international music. Recent music genres employ the unique folklore flavour to produce masterpieces. The music trends of the Hungarian Conquest blended together with old style genres characterised by a descending line of melody, diatonic laments, Transylvanian pentatonic laments and various dance traditions accompanied by the pipe, which appeared in the Middle Ages and survives today. Hungary’s humanistic songs of ancient times had remained unexplored until relatively recent times. Today, Hungarian music ranges from the rhapsodies of Franz Liszt to folk and Roma music.

Theatre in Hungary flourished in the 16th Century, when it existed in the form of school acting. Later, the theatrical tradition developed in the country’s impressive castles. The age of Romanticism brought the development of Classical theatres. The theatrical culture in Budapest evolved with the People’s Theatre, in Buda, and the Pest Hungarian Theatre, which became the National Theatre in 1840. The Nemezeti National Theatre was built in 1873 and brought a long line of successful directors. The first renowned Hungarian directors who won national acclaim included Ferenc Erkel and Ede Szigligeti.

In the 19th Century, one of the most discussed issues was the use of the Hungarian language use. In the capital, theatres were Germanised and seen as a way of spreading the Hungarian language. The first permanent theatre to perform a play in Hungarian was the Nemezeti. The founders of the theatre believed that theatre had an important mission of spreading their native tongue, and as it operated by public funds, critics were attentive that it adequately accomplished its mission. Theatre of the time served not only to cultivate the power of language, but nationality as well. Years later, the literary purpose of theatres was defined with the development of drama. Actors at that time were considered only interpreters and performers, but not artists. However, this attitude was altered in the beginning of the 20th Century, influenced by Max Reinhardt. Theaters appeared in succession in Budapest and the cabaret experienced the height of its popularity.

In 1907, the Bonbonierre institute opened and brought world recognition to Endre Nagy, who popularised and enriched literary cabaret with songs and chansons. This was an important period in the development of Hungarian theatre, marked by the emergence of Hungarian humour as well. In the 1950s, an attempt was made to revive the Vidam Szinpad Theatre and Mikroszkop Szinpad Theatre as a political cabaret, but with only a few similarities with the original genre. During the Second World War, theatres operated by a system of enterprises, and partly collapsed under private property ownership. Later, they were nationalised and assumed a uniform artistic structure, especially employed by the performer Stanislavskij, who, according to him, defined a ‘methodology of physical actions’. The most significant personalities of the time in the world of theatre included Tamas, Zoltan Varkonyi and Major. In Western Europe, theatre workshops were open in succession, while alterative theatre groups in Hungary became widespread in the 1970s. Today, such groups are an important part of the theatre culture in Hungary. In the mid-1980s, arts and politics were completely separated and theatres entered a period of restructuring. At present, artists, directors and playwrights strive after the establishment of public theatre companies.