Béla Bartók: Hungarian Folk Songs (Complete Collection) Online publication



Following the initiative of Ferenc Sebő the computerized registry of the folk music collection of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Musicology began in the early nineties under the guidance of László Dobszay. The electronic data-processing of the closed and the so-called historical systems separated from the rest of the material took place within the frames of this work. From the mid-‘90s István Pávai suggested the unification of the earlier data input methods and their conversion to an up-to-date database. These steps were taken soon. With the help of a competition in 1999 we created an interactive and dynamic Internet website-system that provides a database in which the main types of old Hungarian folksongs are searchable by their musical attributes and acquisitional and geographical details. The capacity of data-processing systems and the possibilities of computerized immediate display of different media has grown remarkably in the last decade. This extensive technical development makes it possible that earlier independent databases of part-repertories be joined, and data be supplied with the playing of the media attached to them.


      The software development that began in the first years of the new century on the basis of István Pávai’s plans served this purpose. As a result we now have a database management system at our disposal. The system was developed especially for folklore archives (Folklore Archiving System), and the uploading of different part-units and part-databases has started. Since the Bartók-system's was the most detailed upload that was conducted in the ‘90s and we succeeded in digitizing the record cards, the Folk Music Archive had the chance to first publish the Bartók-system online from its collection. We managed to do this within the frames of an NRTO (National Research and Technological Office) competition (Complete Critical Edition of the Musical Works of Béla Bartók) which was won by the Bartók Archives.


      As is known, the publication of the Hungarian folksongs organized by musical criteria by Bartók between 1934-1940 upon the commission from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in a traditional book-format critical edition was started in the early ‘90s by the Akadémiai Kiadó [Béla Bartók, Hungarian Folk Songs. Complete Collection, Vol. I. (edited by Sándor Kovács, Ferenc Sebő), Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 1993] The first volume of the planned nine of the series was published in 1991 (English version in 1993), the second in 2007 (only in Hungarian). The online publication does not aim to be a substitute to the critical edition of a traditional type. However, it will help basic research necessary for the publication of the next volumes, by speeding up preliminary work, making orientation in the large amount of data easier, and ensuring fast access to expansive information. While a book-format edition presents the written documents that fix the system thus it can be compared to other critical score editions philologically, the online publication based on the most up-to-date computerized technologies shows an example of integrated multimedia method of publishing a folk music collection which is new even in international comparison.


      For the present edition we traversed the complete data file of the Bartók-system, selected the record cards that were difficult to decipher and digitized them. We also examined those record cards of the Bartók-system that had no systematic number and after developing the appropriate groups we attached a virtual reference number under the letter "F" (Függelék - Appendix) so the database management system can handle it. Thus the complete material of the system can be represented on the computer similarly to the A, B, and C classes by these systematic numbers. The inventory numbers assigned on the reverse side of the record cards are only suitable for identifying the existence of data but cannot be used to determine the cards' physical sequence because of their inconsistency. Therefore record cards without a systematic number were basically invisible for the computer database on system level, and in the lack of a reference number entered by the user could only be found accidentally. We are continuously expanding the display of the transcription variants (including the transcriptions beside the museum phonograph cylinders and the transcriptions identifiable in the collecting notebooks) of the data of the Bartók-system and the two volumes of the critical edition. In the interest of the detailed introduction of the Bartók-system we also digitalized the rhythm charts and later we will join the rhythmic formulas to the thesaurus segment presenting the tune system. Because of the possibility of simultaneous and instant access to the records and transcriptions, the playback of the phonograph recordings, the filtering of cylinder-number errors and the presenting of the essential differences between the audible and visible became an absolute necessity.


Users are welcome and encouraged to send their comments about the site in e-mail , including its functioning, irregularities, shortcomings and the appearance of misentries. Unlike a printed book-format publications, the online publication can be brought to perfection continuously on the basis of incoming comments.