To the folksong collector during the first decade of the twentieth century Hungary afforded immeasurable opportunity. It is true that the isolated mediæval pattern of life of the peasantry had slowly changed… but peasant culture remained as it always had been, although economic and political conditions were completely altered. Nevertheless, when Bartók and Kodály began their joint activity it was the last possible moment, for the oldest reputable songs were even then only to be found among the oldest people.
Lajos Lesznai: Bartók
By the end of the nineteenth century the scholarship of folksong collecting had increased considerably since the days of George Thomson and Beethoven. The original wave of enthusiastic amateurs was being gradually replaced by equally enthusiastic but professionally trained young musicologists (soon to become ethnomusicologists) who, in addition to their own pretty stringent field work, also authenticated, classified, categorised and generally tidied up the work of previous generations.
As Lajos Lesznai (see above) points out, Hungary presented a particularly rich source of material for such research and with field-workers of the quality of Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály and László Lajtha the preservation of traditional Magyar music was in particularly safe hands.
Not that the dedication of these young composers was entirely altruistic. They were looking for an escape from what they viewed as the jaded and overblown vocabulary of late nineteenth century music and were delighted to discover just what they needed in their own back yard!
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