BUDAPEST
AND MUSICAL HERITAGE

Budapest and Hungary have an unbelievably rich musical heritage, which has always been a significant part of the international music scene. One of the top three things music lovers usually associate with Hungary/Budapest might be the name of Bartók, Liszt, or Kodály.

Bartók is known to be Hungarian, and Liszt is famous for his Hungarian rhapsodies, though not everybody knows he indeed was Hungarian, while Kodály is associated with the Kodály-method, which is a widely regarded, proven music education concept to teach music. However, this heritage goes far beyond these three geniuses.

Many threads of music history meet in an exceptional school, the Liszt Academy of Music (founded in 1875 and being the only institute in the world founded by Liszt himself). The teaching staff, the list of famous alumni,  and the impact the school has made on the history of 20th classical music are unparalleled.

CONCERT VENUES

In the magnificent Art Nouveau building, where the Liszt Academy of Music (Zeneakadémia) is housed, you can enjoy the beauty and the wonderful acoustics of its celebrated Grand Hall (Nagyterem). For many Hungarians, a classical music concert spells Zeneakadémia Nagyterem.

The Opera House has served opera lovers since 1884 and is proud to have prestigious names on the list of artistic directors, such as Mahler, Karajan, Gardelli, etc. A large-scale renovation of the historic main building has recently been finished and the magnificent building is open again in full splendour. Together with an expansion in the outskirts of Budapest, the Budapest Opera House aims to become an opera playing centre of European significance that  offers traditional and contemporary operas, as well.

Another recently renovated venue with a remarkable history is the Vigadó Concert Hall, a place of memorable first performances from the past, and a concert hall and exhibition space today.

Did you know?
Bart√≥k submitted his only opera, the Bluebeard‚Äôs Castle to a national opera contest in 1911. The evaluators rejected the piece with a remark ‚ÄúUnfit for production‚ÄĚ.
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Did you know?
...a country [Hungary] whose population, even today, is barely over ten million has produced so many musicians and so much outstanding music. I am grateful for having been born and trained there. (Sir Georg Solti)
Did you know?
Professor Leó Weiner, a professor of chamber music in the Liszt Academy Budapest, always told his students to stay humble, because the music they play will always be superior to them.
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“Liszt’s works had a more fertilizing influence on the following generations than those of any other composer (even Wagner)..." (Béla Bartók)
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Did you know?
‚ÄěG√©nie oblige‚ÄĚ was the motto chosen by Franz Liszt. He certainly lived up to it, developing his mercurial talents as one of the outstanding pianists of his time, as a bold innovator in composition, as a conductor, and as an influential teacher and writer on music.
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As far as modern music venues are concerned, MUPA has become an important concert hall in the European landscape since its opening in 2005. Tickets for the Wagner Days held every June, and for the thematic Musical Marathons are selling like hot cakes, making these events one of the top attractions of the city. MUPA is not only a concert hall, but has theatre and modern museum arms, as well as circus attractions, and an ice rink in wintertime.

The Budapest Music Centre (BMC) is a remarkable institution, with a mission of becoming a centre of contemporary music.  Opened in 2013 in a transformed old building, it offers a rich concert programme, owns the Opus Jazz Club, and maintains a unique contemporary music archive. BMC  houses the Péter Eötvös Foundation and has become the Hungarian home of György Kurtág.

An architectural miracle, the House of Music, Hungary opened in early 2022,  offering an amazing exhibition on the history of music, and a high-tech interactive, experience-focused music space along with various music programmes all around the year.

If contemporary music is your field of interest, another special venue called FUGA offers unique music programmes and contemporary architecture exhibitions in the city centre. 

Other venues such as the Italian Cultural Institute, the Festetics Palace and of course churches, such as the St. Stephen Basilica, Matthias Church, Belvárosi templom (church), and synagogues The Great Synagogue and the recently renovated Rumbach Street Synagogue regularly offer classical music performances.

The Operetta Theatre is the second most important centre of operetta playing next to Vienna. The operetta is a genre fairly characteristic of the Central European region, and some of the greatest figures including Franz Lehár, and  Emmerich Kálmán are of Hungarian origin and both were connected to Budapest for some years.

You can find altogether around twenty professional symphony orchestras, early-music ensembles, chamber orchestras, youth orchestras and choirs in Budapest, so top-quality symphonic performances, oratorio evenings or choral concerts take place constantly all over the city. Lovers of musicals can find top-quality performances in the Mad√°ch Musical Theatre.

The houses and apartments where Liszt, Kodály, and Bartók lived in Budapest are museums today.

TRADITIONAL MUSIC

Authentic Hungarian folk music is a living tradition in the city. Originally based on the folk tunes of the rural villages of Hungary and the surrounding countries, it has become part of our urban life, thanks to a revival movement of the 70s, called Dance Houses (t√°nch√°z in Hungarian). The best places to enjoy folk dance performances, workshops, and dance sessions with live folk music are the Fon√≥ Budai Zeneh√°z (Fon√≥ means spinning room), the Hagyom√°nyok H√°za (Heritage House), whose resident ensemble is the famous Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, and the National Dance Theatre. In summer, every Thursday evening is a ‚Äúdance-house evening‚ÄĚ in the open-air Kobuci kert, in a green courtyard of a palace.¬†

JAZZ MUSIC

The lovers of jazz music should look for smaller, intimate jazz clubs, such as  Budapest Jazz Club,  Opus Jazz Club of BMC,  Café Jedermann, HUNNIA Art Bistro, and IF Jazz Café.  There is a ship called A38 anchored in the Buda side river bank, an old Ukrainian military ship, which was converted into a complex of a bar, a restaurant, and a concert hall, where you might spot some excellent concerts, too. In addition to these places, jazz is also offered in the major concert halls, and you can come across live (jazz) music in certain cafés and bars, too.

GYPSY MUSIC

Gypsy music in restaurants and coffee-houses is in revival lately, so you may easily come across a gypsy band in a restaurant playing the special ‚Äúcoffee-house gypsy music‚ÄĚ genre. Watch this footage to listen to the music of outstanding gypsy violinist Lajos S√°rk√∂zy, Jr., who plays in the Sz√°z√©ves √©tterem (100-year-old Restaurant). This type of music¬†and the dances like ‚Äúcs√°rd√°s‚ÄĚ form the core of the repertory of the unique Budapest Gypsy Symphony Orchestra, too.

This is not to be confused with the folk genre of gypsy music played by the band  Kaly Jag, cimbalom player Kálmán Balogh, and the band Parno Graszt from a tiny rural village of NE Hungary. Outstanding examples of the cross-over gypsy music are Mitsoura, the Besh o droM, and the East Gypsy Band. A unique formation is the cimbalom duo of two versatile artists Miklós Lukács and Kálmán Balogh. The most famous gypsy musician of our time is the internationally celebrated Roby Lakatos, who has recently returned to his home country Hungary. Another celebrated gypsy artist of Hungary is the singer Mónika Lakatos, the winner of the WOMEX 20 Artist Award, and her band Romengo.

If you opt for our Gypsy Culture Tour you can gain an insight into the musical culture of the gypsy communities in Budapest.

 

MUSIC FESTIVALS IN BUDAPEST

Budapest offers specific cultural festivals in the main seasons. Recently rebranded local festivals invite you to explore the culture of the city, such as Budapest Spring Festival, Bart√≥k Spring, Budapest Autumn Festival, and Liszt Fest. When summer breaks open-air theatre venues of the city awaken from their winter slumber and huge performances of musical theatre pieces, operas, operettas are on. August is the month of the SZIGET Festival (The Island of Freedom), which has developed into one of the top festivals in Europe in the last couple of years attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors (islanders) from all over the world.¬† For six weeks in July and August, a series of free concerts appear at different scenic spots of the capital under the umbrella of¬† Zen√©lŇĎ Budapest (Resounding Budapest). In the peculiar ‚Äúruin pubs‚Ä̬†you can find live shows with jazz, pop, country, folk, or even classical music as well.

All of these spots are a tangible part of the cultural history and the current urban life of Budapest, not only for their rich and authentic programmes, but for the architectural heritage they possess.

Our tours pass the most important buildings of significant classical music heritage in the city centre of Budapest. You can enjoy stories related to the buildings, the musicians, and composers connected to them, and gain insight into how their lives and oeuvres are interwoven with the international music scene.

Learn more about how the Hungarian classical music scene was and still is an integral part of international music life!