The Hungarian Cimbalom: History and Evolution
Moore, Richard Lee
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Two distinct and separate traditions exist in the repertoire and performance styles of the Hungarian cimbalom (classical and folk). These two approaches are intertwined and can be perceived in both the canon of certain Western Art Music composers, and the performance practices of contemporary Classical cimbalists. The implicitly stated thesis of my dissertation is this very idea of a Western Art Music instrument being intrinsically linked to a folk music tradition. The Hungarian cimbalom has witnessed few changes in its design structure. Prior to Joszef Schundas innovation of 1874, no one had considered the possibility of transfiguring a hammered dulcimera portative folk instrumentinto a concert instrument. Schundas clientele prior to 1874 were middle and upper class Hungarians. With respect to Schundas cimbalom, this would eventually become the domain of the Roma musician. The acclaimed cimbalom soloist of Roma descent, Aladr Rcz, would be the first performer to introduce transcriptions of Western art music for the cimbalom to European audiences. Racz would go on to perform the premieres of compositions by Igor Stravinsky, namely the Ragtime for Eleven Instruments, and the one-act opera, Renard. The cimbaloms first entrance into the symphony orchestra came via a few works by composers Franz Liszt, Bla Bartk, and Zoltn Kodly. A turn of events transpired in 1915 when the composer Igor Stravinsky composed his first works for cimbalom featuring a series of innovative (and idiosyncratic) concepts. Since the 1950s, two streams in cimbalom performance practice were apparent: a classical and a folk tradition. Composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez wrote in ways that were less idiomatic (non-Gypsy). The Hungarian composer Gyrgy Kurtg continues to champion the cimbalom well into the twenty-first century with an impressive catalogue of solo, chamber, and orchestral works. Film and television composers are largely responsible for the cimbaloms renaissance in the twenty-first century. The instrument shows up in the scores of numerous Hollywood blockbuster films, historical or period set dramas, documentaries, and television series in ways that are both codified (East European, Gypsy music), or less so (science fiction, Far East or Middle East, ancient civilizations).