Hugh Cheape celebrates the Duda of Hungary.

The history of the bagpipe is a long one and invites research and speculation. One of the most powerful and successful of this class of instrument must be the Great Highland Bagpipe, but doubts and confusion littered its presumed history and evolution since its ‘elevation’ over other bagpipes and its ‘transfiguration’ in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This process of glorification could be said to have distorted bagpipe history in the British Isles and seemed to suit dominant cultural norms. William Donaldson has analysed this transformation and its social and economic dynamic in his penetrating studies, The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society 1750-1950 (2000) and Pipers (2005). One of the many achievements of the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society, now celebrating its thirtieth birthday, has been to break the mould of cultural norms or rather to reassert a musicological one that is perhaps more truly ‘Scottish’ in a broad sense.
Speculation and even dogmatic assertion by writers such as W L Manson (1901) and Grattan Flood (1911) littered the popular literature of the bagpipe in the first half of the twentieth century and beyond, and more than fragments may subsist in our collective consciousness. Cautious questioning by scholars such as Anthony Baines in the second half of the century tended to go unnoticed for too long. A courageous attempt at summary by Francis Collinson in his The Bagpipe: the history of a musical instrument (1975) hints at a confusion at the heart of the subject. Having produced his seminal The Traditional and National Music of Scotland (1966), he moved on to tackle the bagpipe as subset of his larger topic and the one that seemed to have left most unanswered questions – for example, concerning the distinction in the material and musical record between Lowland and Highland Bagpipe - and hence his second book which, arguably, has been far less successful. Impediments to a clearer understanding of the instrument in its observable forms today are, on the one hand, the received picture in its irresistible colours and, on the other, an unseen corollary in the neglect of a hitherto scattered material culture; and there are other bagpipe worlds beyond our own little continent. Study and performance of the bagpipe elsewhere in Europe offer important insights which are sometimes neglected by us but still serve to enlighten and impress.

hungarian piper 1

The Museum of Ethnography in Budapest staged an important exhibition on the Duda or Bagpipe between May 2004 and February 2005. Though this seems past history, it reminds us of vibrant sibling traditions elsewhere in Europe. This exhibition was one of a fascinating series with accompanying catalogues produced by the Museum, describing and illustrating traditional ways of life and setting them in wider European contexts. The next exhibition in the series, for example, A Kézi Aratás Járulékos Eszközei (‘The Auxiliary Implements of Manual Harvesting’) in 2006 followed the same format and demonstrated ‘traditional’ techniques in the harvesting process not unfamiliar in Scotland. The lesson was a simple one, that needs and problems of everyday life elicit responses and solutions fitted to them. Studies such as this make comparisons across international borders and reveal different models of ingenuity and different solutions to similar problems. Including the bagpipe in the exhibition series might not have stirred the most zealous musician and musicologist but it contextualised music in the wider sphere of traditional life.  The bagpipe exhibition’s title, Aki dudás akar lenni, was a line from a well-known Hungarian folksong, ‘If you want to be a Piper …’, and added a defining subtitle ‘Pipes and Pipers in the Carpathian Basin and Beyond’. The exhibition was organised by Zoltán Szabó, a musician and piper of long experience and achievement, who also authored a 135-page Catalogue for the Museum, A Duda. The Bagpipe, published in 2004 (and note the bilingual title). This must be recognised still as original and ground-breaking work.
A Duda has text in Hungarian and English and a 70-page illustrated catalogue of instruments collected for the most part between 1870 and 2003 for the Hungarian Museum of Ethnography. Zoltán produced an exemplar for the description and contextualisation of the material culture of the instrument. By focusing on Central and Eastern Europe, the study usefully shifted the centre of gravity away from the western fringe where popular perception has claimed the bagpipe as its own, and served to highlight collateral piping traditions. The survival of bagpipes and a piping tradition in the region is strongly evident in spite of its fall from fashion and displacement of the instrument by the oboe, itself a sixteenth-century derivative of the double-reed pipe. The simple qualifier of ‘beyond’ in Zoltán Szabó’s exhibition title and focus on the Carpathians alluded over-modestly to the author’s breadth of view and depth of analysis, and his introductory words immediately and elegantly established the benchmark for his own scholarly field:


Hungarian Duda

‘Aerophonic instruments that incorporate a reed and airbag have been used in Eurasia and the region of the Mediterranean for thousands of years. It would be difficult, in fact, to name a single nation or ethnic group that has not produced at least some type of simple bagpipe, with many such instruments surviving as living elements of culture even today. In fact, through its near-continuous presence in a variety of areas of musical culture, the bagpipe has exerted an influence on the development of the folk music of virtually every people in Europe, Asia and North Africa.’  The historian of music and ‘organologist’ still has to go far to experience clear thinking about the bagpipe. In Zoltán Szabó’s three sentences, we seem to have a more concise and incisive view of longer-term bagpipe history than, arguably, has ever been achieved in the British Isles or the anglophone world.
Significantly for well-founded reasoning, its starting point was the material culture of the instrument. Zoltán Szabó’s Catalogue opened with an overview of the Museum of Ethnography’s bagpipe and reed instrument collection, with accounts also of each collector and music researcher whose efforts had contributed to its development. He highlighted research and collection as important processes and identified successive periods and initiatives which marked the collection’s evolution. The ‘history of collections’ is a topic at the heart of ethnological studies, supplying an historiography which is not much scrutinised but always supplies important insights. The bagpipe in the wider sense of the word has been a topic barely touched on in this context in the British Isles with the exception of the work of the late Anthony Baines on the Balfour Collection in the Pitt Rivers Museum and the collection’s European, Mediterranean and North African context.
Zoltán Szabó described in detail how the Hungarian collections began in the 1870s with expeditions to explore and study the ‘cultures’ of the Far East. It was in the 1870s also that the serious collecting and study of old musical instruments began in England and Scotland, a recognisable milestone being ‘The Special Exhibition of Ancient Musical Instruments’ in the embryonic Victoria and Albert Museum in 1872. Uncomfortable as it seems to us, a ‘proper’ function of an imperial power, such as was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was the study of exotic cultures, and such endeavours lay behind the development of anthropology, ethnography and ethnology as disciplines. The instruction given by a Hungarian collector to his agents and helpers in 1897 reads as a period definition of ethnography. In spite of its overtly colonialist tone, it serves too as a bleak reminder that so little systematic collecting of this sort was done in Scotland:
‘You must make especially certain that the object you intend to purchase is not a product of European industry, but one made by the native for his own use from traditionally available materials. Of primary importance to the ethnography of this region in the area of agriculture are tools, and especially those with stone parts, in the area of shepherding, the original and primitive trappings of the horse, and in the area of fishing, hooks and harpoons, especially where made using bone, horn or stone. To be collected from the entire region are musical instruments, especially the elaborately carved reed pipes.’
Incomparable added value to this Catalogue was the detailed account of the succeeding generations of scholars and ethnomusicologists, the ‘construction’ of typologies (that is, deciding on and applying classifications to instruments), the advent of mechanical recording with the Edison ‘phonograph’ cylinder, the sophistication of technique and the extraordinary pioneering research of the professional musician-composers, Béla Bartók (1881-1945) and Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967).

 Béla Bartók


 Zoltan Kodály

Their focus on Hungarian history and language was set in a long-running national movement of self-assertion against the conservatism and centralisation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and attempts at repression of the language and music of Hungary by the Hapsburg Court in Vienna. ‘The unknown folk music of Hungary’ and its character was the rationale of Béla Bartók’s popular Hungarian Folk Music (1924) and it was Bartók who pointed out the significance of the bagpipe to the music of the Carpathian Basin, though the instrument was then in danger of disappearing entirely. He laid the foundations of an ‘organology’ with descriptions and musical transcriptions of the musical characteristics of bagpipe music and published scale-drawings of the instrument and its double chanter. Apart from pioneering acoustic studies by scholars such as Alexander Ellis, little was done in the United Kingdom to match the enterprise of Bartók and Kodály from about 1905.
It is interesting to recall that almost a half-century was to pass before the School of Scottish Studies was founded as a collecting and research centre in Scotland and Lenihan and MacNeill published their study of the tuning of bagpipe chanters. The success of Hungary’s ‘collecting’ enterprise can be judged by the Catalogue’s contents and also by descriptions of events which particularly advanced the study of piping. The ‘Sunday Pipers’ Competition’ of 13 November 1913 was staged as part of a research project to make audio-recordings of local traditional music and to collect instruments. The more specific purpose of the event was to record the hornpipe and bagpipe tunes and vocal music of the Hont County swineherds, traditionally a group of workers for whom piping was vocational and always part of their work. Instruments and other objects, recordings and photographs from the event survive today in the Museum of Ethnography and Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Some of this folk music fieldwork and re-recordings were made available by the appropriately branded ‘Patria Records’ from the late 1930s and are still available in LP and CD form. Another famous name was involved in this particular initiative, the ethnologist and scholar, Gyula Ortutay (1910-1978). The rescue of the subject and objects of piping in Hungary is also attributable more recently (in the 1960s and ‘70s) to the well-known ethnomusicologist, Bálint Sárosi, and his important work is duly acknowledged by Zoltán Szabó and the modern performance community.
The Catalogue continued with an account of bagpipe structure, and techniques used in the instrument’s construction and maintenance. The preferred musicological note was struck by defining the field in which the bagpipe resides as widely as possible:
‘The source of all sound in an instrument belonging to the bagpipe family is a reed made of cane, elder, straw or the shaft of a feather. Reeds come in two varieties: single reeds, such as those of the clarinet, and double reeds, like those of the oboe.’
The types of instrument described, from simple reed pipes to double chanter and multiple drone instruments, offer a full picture of the development of the bagpipe. An important proposition was offered from the research of Dénes Bartha, first published in 1934, about the use and antiquity of instruments of double bore construction in North Africa and Islamic culture. A sufficient number of what were described as ‘simple pipes’ survive in the collection to allow constructive insights to be offered regarding stages of evolution from simple pipe to bagpipe but with differing levels of sophistication co-existing rather than displacing each other.
The construction of the bagpipe was described in terms of five constituent parts – bag, stocks, chanter, drones and blowpipe or bellows, though too ready comparison with other bagpipes might lose sight of distinguishing characteristics of the Magyar duda. The chanter stock is a major component known as the ‘Head’, elaborately carved as a goat’s head and horns and symbolising the generic gaita. The chanter is called the ‘Stock’ and is a double chanter with melody pipe (with six tone-holes and the ‘flea-hole’) and single tone-hole ‘contra’ beside it and integral with it. The drone produces a third note, one or two octaves lower than the fundamental notes of the chanter and contra. Rarely do we find in the musicological or ethnological literature descriptions as here of the making and maintenance of the skin bags of the instrument. We learn of a distinctive tradition in Central Europe, the Balkans, Asia Minor and the Caucasus, where complete skins of goats, dogs, sheep or young horses are used, cured with alum and salt, and even other forms of air reservoir are found such as the stomach of a grey seal or the bladders of various animals. Broadly speaking, three types of Hungarian bagpipe were recognised – Highland (to the north of the country), Great Plain (to the east) and Transdanubia (to the west). Further distinctions were made such as the analysis of double and quadruple chanters and styles of decoration with tin and lead inlay in bagpipes of the Carpathian Basin. The level of detail amassed in the Budapest exhibition and in the Catalogue suggested serious counterpoint to classifications and typologies proposed by Anthony Baines in the 1960s. The essence of this is not that Baines was ‘wrong’ but that detailed surveys and more fully developed museum collections allow a better understanding of a cultural picture whose nuances or complexities are lost behind simple definitions and generalisations.
The second half of the Catalogue included a detailed description of each of the types of bagpipe represented in the exhibition, with illustrations of specific examples in the collection of the Museum of Ethnography and a concentration on Central and Eastern Europe. It concluded with the topics of iconography and the role of the piper in society and with a survey of the folk music revival of recent years, clearly a pan-European phenomenon. The exhibition included (and the Catalogue illustrated) a representative Great Highland Bagpipe and, given the early beginnings of the Hungarian Museum of Ethnography collections, a mid-nineteenth century or earlier instrument might have been expected. Disappointingly, this was a modern (mid-twentieth century) instrument by Peter Henderson of Glasgow, worth perhaps about £1, 500 at today’s prices as a good-playing instrument but of little musicological merit. It is observable that similar modern instruments are to be seen in other museum and conservatoire collections at home and abroad; in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford – and illustrated in Baines’ monograph – the iconic Highland bagpipe is a modern instrument by J T Forbes of Dundee, and the Highland bagpipe in the Brussels Musée des Instruments de Musique is by R G Lawrie of Glasgow. There is an evident hiatus between, on the one hand, published histories and oral histories and, on the other hand, material culture and an organological record. Whereas our ‘grand narrative’ boasts of an ancient instrument and a continuity of tradition, both are in some respects difficult to identify or define.
Celebrating the Duda of Hungary can only be an invigorating pastime and the Museum of Ethnography’s exhibition launched a raft of issues which are relevant for the musicology of Scotland. Playing techniques and repertoire make obvious and fascinating comparison. The concept of ‘folk music’, its analysis and interpretation, scrutiny of the cultural and political environment in which it has evolved, the nature of communities, the influence of patronage and payment, all provide context and are surprisingly easy to understand for Hungary, not only because these issues have been well projected by Zoltán Szabó and others but because they are fresh and outside our own domain of knowledge and prejudice. Approaches and methodologies are different and have owed much to systematic research by performers and scholars working in concert. When this has been across disciplines, interesting suggestions and hypotheses emerge. Budapest’s Museum of Ethnography worked systematically on material evidence as well as recordings from the 1870s and the Academy of Sciences’ anthropologists’ insights drew on material evidence.

Unlike the Hont County swineherds at the turn of the twentieth century, the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society have moved fast and far over thirty years and the Society’s achievements are the fruits of the energy of a dynamic membership. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the ‘academy’ could be an entrenched and conservative force but, one hundred years on, the LBPS have created an ‘academy of music’ for Scotland and Europe that is the very antithesis.  

Hugh Cheape
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Ionad Nàiseanta Cànan is Cultar na Gàidhlig
Am Màirt 2013.