History sung

Irén Ács: The White Lake near Szeged, Hungary, 1972 (From the album “Magyarország Otthon” (Hungary at Home)
Recently we were listening with Wang Wei along a whole night to the songs of the Spanish Transition, comparing those years with those of the change of regimes in Eastern Europe. During that night we decided that we would post for each other some songs now and then that put into words the history as it was personally experienced, and that thus became “hymns” for a generation, as they say in Spanish.

Such songs, in spite of their popularity in their own countries, are almost always unknown beyond their borders. They are never translated, and when their melody is occasionally borrowed it is always provided with a new text. Only if you take into consideration how many such songs you know and love in your own language – and hereby we ask the benevolent Reader to share with us her or his own ones – then you realize how important dimensions of the history of all the other countries remain unknown to you, even if you perhaps know the languages of some of them.

At the same time it is exactly the local notoriety of these songs that makes it difficult to write about them in one’s own language. For what could I tell about them that my compatriots do not know? If it were not for the deliberate bilinguism of our blog, we would prefer to write about them only in English, so that Wang Wei – or Pei Di – would translate them only into Spanish or Hungarian, respectively. Under the circumstances, however, we cannot but keep in mind an ideal reader who is a foreigner but nevertheless reads well Hungarian or Spanish; and consequently we also expect our benevolent Reader to keep in mind that these posts have been written for such an ideal reader and to benevolently forgive us the references to things too well known to her or him.

It is even difficult to label these posts in their original languages. In English most of such songs are called “ballads” and those who sing them “ballad singers.” In other languages there is no word for the genre, but yes for their authors-singers, like the Spanish and Italian “cantautores” and “cantautori”, or the Russian “бард”. In Hungarian, however, neither the genre nor its singers have a term of their own, although both of them exist since the medieval minstrels and the wandering chronicle-singers of the Turkish wars to János Bródy and Dusán Sztevanovity (the latter has just published in print his complete lyrics written since the '60s with the title Csak szöveg [Just texts]). Finally, while keeping “ballad” as our English label, in the Hungarian version of the blog we decided to adopt the label “énekelt versek” (“poems sung”) coined by the great performer Ferenc Sebő in the '80s which also indicates how much this genre has borrowed from written poetry, both from medieval minstrels and Renaissance chronicle-singers and from modern authors.

János Jankó: Serbian musicians at a wedding, Cserépalja (Torontál county), 1895 (From the album “A régi világ falun” (The old world in the villages))
As this thread started from the songs of various changes of regimes, let us open our sounding gallery with the song of the Hungarian change of regime undergone by ourselves, the Happy times by Zorán Sztevanovity.

(Those who read some Hungarian, here can find a fascinating short biography of the two brothers of Serbian origin, the singer Zorán and the poet Dušán whose father, having fought as a Serbian partisan against the Nazis, suffered several years of persecution, imprisonment and tortures in the '50s as a member of the Yugoslavian embassy of Budapest for resisting to the claims of autocracy of both Tito and Stalin. One of their most famous songs, also quoted below, bears reference to these events.)

Interestingly, the experiences of the years of change in the late '80s and early '90s, bringing with themselves the interruption of so many friendships falling on the other side of the unexpectedly and irrationally outlined new ideological borders, will be also familiar to our Spanish readers, albeit not in the perspective of twenty, but rather of eighty years. We specifically call the attention of our foreign readers to such polysemic idioms like “camp” (peace camp, pioneer camp, labour camp), or “digging a pit” (“gravediggers of capitalism” and the Hungarian proverb “who digs a pit for others will fall in it himself”), as well as to such idiosyncrasies like Unu leu, 1963 the unspecific great purpose or the never-falling sun of glory that will also sound familiar to those heirs of the world empire of Emperor Charles V (above which the sun never fell) who have lost it through a long series of defeats.

Dusán Sztevanovity (text) and Zorán (song):
Boldog idő (Happy time) (from the CD Az élet dolgai (The things of life), 1991)

So proudly stood the camp
in the very middle of the world
and we had a tent of our own
and her and me in it

It was a tremendously bright age
the Sun shone day and night
and we discovered the great purpose:
she me and I her.

It was a great life
The song was echoing on
The heart was drumming

for that was a beautiful, happy time
no wine, no money, only me and her
That was a beautiful, happy time
happy time

In the daytime we mostly digged pits:
the beautiful future already came up to the shoulders
and we were always on the top
once me and then her

Tell me anything, but I liked
that damned past time
because there was the tent in it
and her and me in the tent

It was a great life
The song was echoing on
The heart was drumming

for that was a beautiful, happy time
no wine, no money, only me and her
That was a beautiful, happy time
only me and her, happy time

And then the camp suddenly collapsed
in the very middle of the peace
and the tent buried us under itself
with me and her in it

And by when we finally crept out
there was no camp, only bad weather
and we set out to seek for a new tent
this way me and that way her

In front of us
there was the large horizon
and I already see

that this will be the beautiful happy time
no problem, no money,
no wine, no woman
This will be the beautiful happy time
no money, no woman
happy time
Olyan büszkén állt a tábor
Pont a világ kellős közepén
És a miénk volt egy sátor
Benne ő, és benne én

Az egy roppant fényes kor volt
Éjjel-nappal a Nap sütött
És a nagy célt felfedeztük
Engem ő, és én meg őt

Nagy élet volt
Az ének szólt
A szív dobolt

Mert az volt a szép boldog idő
Se bor, se pénz, csak én meg ő
Az volt a szép boldog idő
Boldog idő

Nappal főleg vermet ástunk
Már vállig ért a szép jövő
De mi mindig fölül voltunk
Egyszer én, máskor ő

Mondhatsz bármit, nekem tetszett
Ez az átkos múlt idő
Mert a sátor ott állt benne
És benne én, s benne ő

Nagy élet volt
Az ének szólt
A szív dobolt

Mert az volt a szép boldog idő
Se bor, se pénz, csak én meg ő
Az volt a szép boldog idő
Csak én meg ő, boldog idő

Aztán összedőlt a tábor
Pont a béke kellős közepén
Maga alá gyűrt a sátor
És benne ő, és benne én

S mire lassan előbújtunk
Tábor nincs, csak rossz idő
Megyünk sátor után nézni
Erre én és arra ő

Előttünk áll
A tág határ
S én látom már

Hogy az lesz a szép boldog idő
Se gond, se pénz
Se bor, se nő
Az lesz a szép boldog idő
Se pénz, se nő
boldog idő

Péter Korniss: In the Workers’ Hostel of the Budapest Gas Company, 1979 (From the album “A vendégmunkás” (The Guest Worker))
Two other songs serve for footnote to this one. The Volt egy tánc (There Was a Dance), written on the melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Waltz” and published on the same CD – it could have not even been published earlier – sums up the history of the fifty years coming to a definitive end in 1989, through the personal history of the author’s and singer’s parents: from pre-war years, the last time when there was dance and brooch and culture in Hungary through the darkness of the fifties to the hopeless provincialism of the three decades of the so-called “Kádár era”. There’s not much to explain about this either. We call the attention of the foreign reader that the “dreadful car” is a synonyme of the idiom “fekete autó” (“black car”, e.g. “the black car came for him” = ‘he was arrested by the secret police’) that in those years put deep roots in colloquial Hungarian.

Dusán & Zorán Sztevanovity: Volt egy tánc (There Was a Dance) (From the CD Az élet dolgai (The Things of Life), 1991)

A show-white ship was sailing on the river
and the boy and the girl pressed close to each other
a colorful lampion was shining on the sky
like the brooch on the deep blue vest
And the board was filled with music,
they played a slowly swinging romantic song
ay, ay, ay, ay,
there was a dance, a dance
as beautiful as you only see in movies

And the trains set off, one after the other
and the boy was standing at the window
and the old, hardeded soldiers in the wagon
were just laughing at him:
If you are a man, hide your tears
– what will you do when coming to the battlefield?
Ay, ay, ay, ay
there was a dance, a dance
and perhaps there will be a continuation one time

A dance, a dance, a dance, a dance
and through the flames, death and smoke
a white ship is sailing

And the trains came back, one after the other
– some peaceful years we did merit too –
and then came that dreadful car
and it silently stopped in front of the house.
And Mom was standing at the window
and waiting for my father for years again.
Ay, ay, ay, ay
there was a dance, a dance
perhaps there will be a continuation some time

And the brooch was not enough to buy any more coal
and the third winter passed away
and an early morning they rang the bell three times
and my father stood at the door
It did not matter that we already had nothing
the great pawnshop swallowed everything
ay, ay, ay, ay
there was a dance, a dance
and perhaps there will be a continuation indeed

A dance, a dance, a dance, a dance
and through the prison, solitude and hope
a white ship is sailing

But the news and cannons were speaking again
in fact, why should life be different?
and we pressed all we had in two suitcases
but we already did not manage to leave
Now they watch the TV in silence
where another world is shining
and they don’t call anyone to account
for the long series of stolen years
Because dreams were lost for nothing
like the clothes left in the pawnshop
Hm, there was a dance
a dance, a dance
and sometimes they believed there would be a continuation

Hófehér hajó úszott a folyón
S összesimult a fiú s a lány
Színes lampion fénylett az égen
Mint a brosstű a mélykék ruhán
És a fedélzet zenével megtelt
Szólt a ringató, lassú románc
Aj, aj, aj, aj
Volt egy tánc, volt egy tánc
Ilyen szépet csak filmekben látsz

És a vonatok indultak sorra
És a fiú az ablakban állt
És a vagonban nevettek rajta
A harcedzett vén katonák
Hogyha férfi vagy, rejtsd el a könnyed
Mi lesz veled, ha a csatában jársz
Aj, aj, aj, aj
Volt egy tánc, volt egy tánc
Talán egyszer még lesz folytatás

Egy tánc, egy tánc, egy tánc, egy tánc
És a lángon, a halálon, füstön át
Úszik egy fehér hajó

És a vonatok megjöttek sorra
Néhány békeév nekünk is járt
Aztán jött az a rettegett autó
És a ház előtt halkan megállt
És a mama az ablaknál állva
Újra évekig apámra várt
Aj, aj, aj, aj
Volt egy tánc, volt egy tánc
Talán egyszer még lesz folytatás

És a brosstűből szénre már nem telt
És a harmadik tél is lejárt
És egy hajnalon csöngettek hármat
És az apám az ajtóban állt
Azt se bántuk, hogy nem volt már semmink
Mindent elnyelt a nagy zálogház
Aj, aj, aj, aj
Volt egy tánc, volt egy tánc
Talán mégiscsak lesz folytatás

Egy tánc, egy tánc, egy tánc, egy tánc
És a börtönön, magányon, reményen át
Úszik egy fehér hajó

De már szóltak a hírek s az ágyuk
Mondd, az életük miért lenne más
És mi mindent két bőröndbe gyűrtünk
De már nem ment az elindulás
Már csak csendesen nézik a tévét
Ahol ragyog egy másik világ
És ők nem kérik senkin se számon
Az elrabolt évek sorát
Pedig semmiért vesztek el álmok
Mint a zálogban hagyott ruhák
Hm, volt egy tánc
Volt egy tánc, volt egy tánc
S néha elhitték, lesz folytatás

István Kováts jun.: Investigation on the spot of an accident. Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc), 1950s (From the album “Képgyártó dinasztia Székelyudvarhelyen. A Kováts-napfényműterem száz éve” (A picture-manufacturing dynasty in Székelyudvarhely. The hundred years of the Kováts Sunshine Studio)
And finally the same hopeless atmosphere is immortalized in another footnote song, the Vasárnap délután (Sunday Afternoon), as we have undergone it ourselves. When I look inside, I clearly see in front of me even today the stale silence and choking desperation of the empty city in a Sunday afternoon. When I tried to present this to Wang Wei as the quintessence of Eastern European existence, illustrating it precisely with the Vasárnap délután, he just laughed and cited to me the Portuguese fados speaking about the same unbearableness of Sunday. So small is this our world.

Dusán & Zorán Sztevanovity: Vasárnap délután (Sunday Afternoon) (From the CD Zorán III, 1979)

On Sunday afternoon the city dies a little bit
and the shopwindows are somehow paler
On Sunday afternoon a real ice cream is a real pleasure
and sometimes I feel an old fragrance

On Sunday afternoon, after the long and silent lunch
Mom always put the nice clothes on me
At the door she combed my hair and she did
not pay attention
to my demand to let me dress all the week like this.

na - na - na - na - Sunday afternoon
na - na - na - na - Sunday afternoon

On Sunday afternoon the faces of the girls are a
little bit nicer
and the big boy promised to come home by ten
The shoes are shining on the parquet floor of the
dance school
and a few pairs manage to perform the figure

On Sunday afternoon was it that I got to know you
your brother was playing chess with my father at us
we were teenagers and I talked heaps of crap to you
and we tried and found how good love was

On Sunday afternoon perhaps anger is more silent, too
and the divorced father can see his little son
Relatives from the countryside pay visit to the newborns
and all the flowers are bought up at the cemetery
of Farkasrét.

On Sunday afternoon was it that I saw you again
and it all happened again as at one time
You did not grew much more adult, neither I more serious
and we knew beforehead how good it is to love

On Sunday afternoon my time silently passes away
and sometimes I feel as if you were nearing
on Sunday afternoon is always too close the evening
when I know you’ll never come again

On Sunday afternoon the city dies a little bit
and the shopwindows are somehow paler
On Sunday afternoon nothing has happened since long
only sometimes I feel an old fragrance

Vasárnap délután a város meghal egy kicsit
És valahogy sápadtabbak a kirakatok
Vasárnap délután egy igazi fagylalt jólesik
És néha érzek egy régi illatot

Vasárnap délután a csendes, hosszú ebéd után
A mama rám adta mindig a szép ruhát
Az ajtóban még megfésült és nem hallgatott rám
Ha kértem, hadd járjak így egész héten át

na - na - na - na - vasárnap délután,
na - na - na - na - vasárnap délután

Vasárnap délután a lányok arca kicsit szebb
S a nagyfiú ígérte tízre hazajön
A tánciskola parkettjén a cipők fényesek
És néhány párnak a figura összejön

Vasárnap délután volt mikor megismertelek
A bátyád apámmal nálunk sakkozott
Kamaszok voltunk és sok hülyeséget beszéltem neked
És kipróbáltuk, a szerelem jó dolog

Vasárnap délután talán a harag is csendesebb
S az elvált apa láthatja kisfiát
A vidéki rokonok látogatják az újszülötteket
És Farkasréten is elfogy a sok virág

Vasárnap délután volt mikor viszontláttalak
És újra megtörtént, ahogyan egy régi napon
Te sem lettél felnőttebb és én sem komolyabb
És előre tudtuk, szeretni jó nagyon

Vasárnap délután az időm csendesen megy el
És néha úgy érzem, máris érkezel
Vasárnap délután az este mindig túl közel
Mikor tudom, hogy többé nem jössz el

Vasárnap délután a város meghal egy kicsit
És valahogy sápadtabbak a kirakatok
Vasárnap délután már régen semmi sem történik
Csak néha érzek egy régi illatot

Endre Lábass, Caprichos 1 (in: Budapesti Negyed 1993/2 (http://www.epa.oszk.hu/00000/00003/00002/labass-k.htm)

2 comentarios:

Julia dijo...

Me gustó mucho esta entrada y las canciones que Tamás comparte con nosotros.
Quedé especialmente sobrecogida por la primera fotografía que realmente me deja sin palabras.
Quise hacer una respuesta desde la música argentina, pero me salió demasiado larga (y poco selectiva) así que finalmente la mandé al mail de Studiolum, no sé si les habrá llegado.
Saludos y gracias como siempre

Inoa Ferrer Reynés dijo...

Hola Tamás

Muchas gracias por la información, pues la verdad es que escribí la entrada del blog sin apenas informarme. La intención de mi publicación era puramente emotiva, pues crecí con las canciones de Leonard Cohen y quería rendir un pequeño "homenaje" al artista con motivo de su próxima actuación en Mallorca.
Tras leer tus líneas, percibo mucho más tangible esa línea que une tierras y culturas diversas y dispersas. ¡Qué mejor forma de hacerlo sino con versos y canciones!

Un abrazo desde Mallorca y que el son de este waltz una a los pueblos por mucho tiempo :)