Regardless, interest in Hungary and Hungarian culture has been steadily increasing over the past few decades, and the number of tourists visiting the country has rocketed in the last ten-to-fifteen years. Tourism interest from Asian countries appears to be particularly high, but Americans and Brits have been coming in droves as well. I imagine those people who have taken an interest in Hungary probably browse the internet and the library in search of resources through which they can learn a little about the country. Though I wholeheartedly support anyone who makes the effort to study and learn about Hungarian culture, or any culture for that matter, I humbly suggest that guidebooks or internet sites or history books are not the best resources to start with if one is truly interested in knowing something of another country's culture. To truly catch a glimpse into a nation's soul, to feel the pulse of the people's blood, and understand the spirit of a culture, one must begin with music.
Hungary has a rich musical legacy that includes internationally reknowned masters such as Ferenc Liszt (mentioned above) and Béla Bartok, but it is in Hungarian folk music that one can really get a sense of the spirit that rustles and moves the Magyar soul. Stemming from mostly peasant traditions, Hungarian folk music offers a genuine insights into the land and people.
Folk traditions varied from region to region, but many of these have been preserved, thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of Ferenc Liszt and Béla Bartok. Regional variations aside, the basic characteristics of Magyar Népzene (Hungarian folk music) are fairly standard - violins, violas, and a bass form the core of a given folk band. Vocal accompaniment can take many forms, but a single female or male voice is the most common.
Hungarian folk song themes span the spectrum of human emotion - from love, joy, elation, and hope to heartbreak, sadness, defiance, loss, mourning, and despair. The arrangement of the music itself - an enigmatic blend of rhapsodic flourishes and mournful wails - tugs at the soul regardless of the subject matter, but it is quite telling that even the most jubilant songs are often tinged with a hint of melancholia revealing something that is not only an innate part of the Hungarian psyche, but has also, perhaps, become a part of the nation's inherited collective wisdom.
The folk song sample I have included below features the outstanding contemporary Hungarian folk singer Ágnes Herczku. Listen to this for ten minutes and I guarantee that you will know more about Hungary and its people than any history book could describe.