Translation, Adaptation, and Intertextuality in Hungarian Popular Music

by Ádám Ignácz (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection 284 Pages


This volume undertakes a comprehensive examination of issues of translation, adaptation, and intertextuality in Hungarian popular music. Focusing on the period of state socialism, the authors provide various examples of how musicians – professionals and amateurs alike – borrowed songs from distant times and places, reinventing them in a new political, technological, and esthetic environment. The case studies deal with a wide range of genres
and styles that played an important role in Hungary, such as operetta, protest song, folk, jazz, pop, and rock. Placing the Hungarian experience in a regional context, the collection also gives insight into the music scenes of the neighboring countries through a major comparative study on the Beatles adaptations in the Eastern Bloc.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • A New Volume on Popular Music Adaptations
  • Work, Authorship, and Originality in Popular Music
  • Case Studies from the History of Hungarian Popular Music
  • Operetta Adaptations in Hungary in the First Half of the 1940s
  • I. Introduction
  • II. Rewriting – Franz Lehár: Zigeunerliebe/Garabonciás (The Wandering Scholar [1910/1943])
  • III. Change of Medium – Jenő Huszka: Bob herceg (Prince Bob [1902/1941])
  • IV. Interpretation – Franz Lehár: Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow [1905/1942])
  • V. Looking Ahead. After 1945
  • Dialogue with a Legend: Musical Engagements with the Songs of Katalin Karády
  • I. Introduction
  • II. Framing Karády: Theory and Method
  • III. The Karády Revival during Late Socialism
  • IV. Tamás Cseh: An Ironic Tribute
  • V. Gabi Jobba’s Karády: A Counter-Nostalgic Approach
  • VI. Rediscovering Cabaret, Uncovering an Era: The Budapest Orfeum
  • VII. Judit Hernádi: The Karády of the 1980s?
  • VII. 1. Valahol Oroszországban (Somewhere in Russia)
  • VII. 2. Sohase mondd (Never Say) and the Diva Figure of Late Socialism
  • VIII. Underground Musical Politics: Nincs kegyelem (No Mercy) a Retro Album by Ádám Dévényi and Juli Postásy
  • IX. Conclusion
  • Self-Evocation and the Construction of the Past in the Songs of János Bródy
  • I. Introduction
  • II. Illés and Fonográf (1965–1980)
  • III. Bródy’s Solo Albums until the Regime Change
  • IV. Outlook: Bródy and the Memory of Hungarian Beat
  • Appropriation and Reinterpretation: Comments on P. Mobil’s Cover Album És?
  • I. Introduction
  • II. What Is a Cover?
  • III. The P. Mobil Trajectory: From Hard Rock to National Rock
  • IV. Tracks from the Album
  • V. Canon Formation
  • VI. Summary: Affirmation and Parody
  • All Together Now: The Translatability of the Popular Song in Socialist Hungary
  • I. Intro
  • II. The Two Faces of Speedy Gonzales: Questions of Genre, Authenticity, and Coolness
  • III. In the Shadows: Things to Do Instead of Translations
  • IV. Blown in the Wind: “Campfire Versions” and More
  • V. Stairway to the Heaviside Layer: Two Genuine Triumphs
  • VI. Epigraphs of Christine: A Subjective Interjection
  • VII. Under Their Thumb: The Question of Control
  • VIII. Roll Over Zhdanov: A Triumph of Irony
  • What Is Pol-Beat? The Global Political and Local Intellectual Sources of the Hungarian Band Gerilla, 1965–1971
  • I. Introduction
  • II. A “Khrushchevist” Model State: Simulated Public Sphere and Sublimated Consumption
  • III. Global Revolutionary Imagination – Imagined Local Revolution
  • IV. Pol-Beat and Revolutionary Poetry
  • V. Pol-Beat as Urban Folk Music: János Maróthy and the Critique of Kádár’s Hegemony
  • Authenticity and Hybridity in Roma Folk Music of Hungary
  • I. Huttyán
  • II. Authenticity
  • III. Čačipen – “Real” Roma Folk Music
  • IV. Research on Roma Folk Music in Hungary
  • V. Roma Folk Music under State Socialism
  • VI. Roma Folk Movement
  • VII. Entering World Music: The Hybridization of Roma Folk Music
  • VIII. Conclusion
  • Beatles Adaptations in the Eastern Bloc: Case Studies for Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, the GDR, and Hungary
  • We Can Work It Out: Adaptations of The Beatles’ Songs in Communist Czechoslovakia
  • I. Introduction
  • II. The First Recording and Olympic’s Image as the Czech Beatles
  • III. The Beatles in the Repertoire of Professional Orchestras
  • IV. The Beatles in the Context of the Cultural Politics of Normalization
  • V. Conclusions
  • Back in the USSR: The Ephemerality of Soviet Beatles Covers
  • I. Introduction
  • II. Vocal-instrumental Ensemble Arieľ
  • III. Let It Be
  • IV. Conclusion
  • Sharing All the World: The Beatles’ Reception in the GDR
  • I. The Beatles and the Party Line
  • II. Media Resonance and Cover Versions
  • III. Adapted for the GDR Stage: Brigade Feuerstein
  • IV. Out Past All the Borders: Beatles Covers in the GDR
  • Music for the Old and the Young: Adaptations of The Beatles’ Songs in Socialist Hungary
  • I. Upbeat
  • II. Preliminary Considerations
  • III. Beatles Adaptations in Socialist Hungary: A General Overview
  • IV. Imitations in the 1960s
  • V. 1970s: The Decade of Transition
  • VI. Jazz, Disco, Pop: Tracks of Beatles Nostalgia in the Late 1970s and early 1980s
  • VII. The Beatles Goes to the Theater: The Last Years
  • VIII. Concluding Comments
  • About the Authors

Ádám Ignácz

A New Volume on Popular Music Adaptations

The history of music has never just been about original ideas, new compositions, previously unknown structures, or linguistic and technical inventions. Musicians – composers and performers, professionals and amateurs alike – have always borrowed, recycled, or recontextualized music from themselves, from others, and from distant times and places, whether simple melodic fragments or complete pieces. Regardless of whether these arrive in a new place in their original form or through translation and adaptation, songs, melodies, and rhythms that travel in time and space create specific dialogues between different eras and geographical or social formations.

Over the last two decades, several works have dealt with the issues of borrowing, traveling, or recycling in the context of popular music. As welcome as the growth in the number of scholars addressing such issues is, however, only a few have so far attempted to study these issues comprehensively, either in monographs or thematic volumes, in order to provide a synthesis of the relevant international research. Among the most important points of reference we find today are The Pop Palimpsest: Intertextuality in Recorded Popular Music (2018),1 edited by Lori Burns and Serge Lacasse, Lucile Desblache’s Music and Translation: New Mediations in the Digital Age (2019),2 and Danielle Fosler-Lussier’s Music on the Move (2020).3 The authors of these books not only represent a wide range of academic disciplines (such as popular music studies, translation studies, and musicology), but also, in contrast to the relevant authors of the preceding decades,4 do not limit their focus to a single period or phenomenon. Their work widens the boundaries of research both geographically and in terms of the periods and genres explored.

The recent authors divide their attention between popular music and other spheres of music culture to varying degrees. Nonetheless, attempting to compare techniques of adaptation and intertextuality in art music, popular music, and folk music, they shed light on the historical antecedents of contemporary musical phenomena. They show precisely that key concepts of traditional musical analysis and music esthetics – such as “work (of art),” “authorship,” or “originality” – can have meanings beyond those tailored to art music and composer-centered thinking, and reveal the close links between the emergence of new adaptation techniques, soundscapes, and textures and the development of media and technology (instruments, sound recording, etc.) in the 20th–21st century.

However important the analytical perspectives they have provided, these books also remind us that, on the basis of the research done so far, it remains challenging to conceive a universal history or theory of adaptation in popular music. The knowledge is still much deeper about intertextual practices associated with the history of modern Western (and particularly Anglophone) popular music after 1945, and about musical transfers that took place under the media and technological conditions of the highly developed Western (capitalist) countries. Locations “outside” the centers of the global music industry are also primarily discussed in relation to Western popular music: most of the research focuses on the travel of Anglo-American genres to the “peripheries,” or of “local,” “exotic” music to North America and the larger markets of Western Europe.5 The political, economic, and cultural formations that do (did) not follow the modernist-capitalist path and the transfers between “peripheries” have often been overlooked by scholars of popular music adaptations.

Translation and Popular Music by Şebnem Susam-Saraeva (2015),6 which deals with Greek–Turkish (popular) music exchange, or the conference proceedings of the Trayectorias research network specializing in music transfers between (Southern and Central) Europe and Latin America7 have already shown that large-scale studies for specific locations and attention to specific transfers can both nuance and extend the knowledge and theoretical assumptions found in Anglophone research. And the same can be said about works on the music scenes of East Central Europe, a region under Soviet influence for most of the second half of the 20th century and still facing the far-reaching (cultural) consequences of the Cold War.8

While drawing attention to patterns of musical orientation, reception, and transfers different from the “Western” or “global,” such works can demonstrate that political and geopolitical circumstances can really leave their mark on musical interpretations and music-making. The texts of Translation, Adaptation, and Intertextuality in Hungarian Popular Music, while taking their analytical departure from the general theoretical issues addressed in recent Western literature, also seek to emphasize the interconnections between individual artistic decisions (regarding song selections, repertoire building, and adaptation practices) and extra-musical (such as political, geopolitical) circumstances.

The present volume focuses on a specific period in the history of Hungarian popular music: the decades of state socialism, which lasted from the late 1940s up to the late 1980s. However, socialist Hungary is not presented here as a unique geographical and cultural place isolated from its surroundings, or from its own past and future. In fact, quite the opposite. As far as the local level is concerned, we find it worth examining what was preserved from interwar Hungary in the ideologically reconfigured cultural sphere after 1945, and what can be learned through adaptations about the memory of the socialist period after the regime change in 1989/1990. The essays also explore Hungary’s transnational musical exchanges that took place during the Cold War. The socialist countries of East Central Europe have often been interpreted as victims, or as inward-looking, isolated entities that were “cut off from global trends until the capitalist takeover in the 1980s and 1990s.”9 Rather, here we see these countries as “active co-producers” of a specific international network led by the Soviet Union. This network, usually referred to as the Eastern Bloc or the Second World, had, like the Western countries, its own media, contact, and transfer channels through which its members could interact to gather and exchange information, both with each other and with other parts of the world.10 Second World citizens had access primarily to regional (Central and Eastern European) cultural goods, but neither the Global South (from Latin America to Asia and Africa), nor even the Western world was unknown to them, even if the extent of knowledge they could acquire about these regions was strongly influenced by whether they were considered political-ideological allies or enemies of their own “bloc.” Popular music adaptations shed a unique light on the operation of these communication “loops” and the possibilities or limitations of (cultural/musical) orientation. They also give us useful insight into the functioning of a genuine and fully efficient Second World music market with a plethora of links to the 20th-century international music industry, yet which was based on rules and principles a bit different from those of the First World.

The essays can be classified in several ways; for example, according to whether they provide examples of the local or transnational travel of popular music and whether they examine the recycling of recent hits or the appropriation of music from previous periods. Another possibility is to highlight certain topics recurring in more than one chapter of the volume. Among these, the issue of the hybridization of traditional and modern genres from the second half of the 1960s onwards and the general rise of retro and nostalgia in the 1980s deserve particular attention. Almost all of the authors reflect on one of these issues in some way, and by exploring the local characteristics of these phenomena, they show the depths to which politics and ideology have influenced Hungarian popular music and popular music adaptation practices in the period under study.

Four texts deal with the local migration of popular music. Ferenc János Szabó and the duo of Barbara Rose Lange and Anna Szemere analyze the ways in which once-popular pieces can be reinvented decades later in a transformed environment of media and technology, in a new political and esthetic context. Szabó discusses the 1940s versions of well-known Hungarian operettas from the early 20th century, examining how the development of radio, film, and sound recording gave rise to new adaptation techniques, and how these adjusted to wartime discourses and later to the ideology of state socialism. Lange and Szemere discuss repressive collective forgetting and selective remembrance through the recycling of songs by Katalin Karády (Hungary’s best-known actress-singer between the two World Wars) in the late 1970s and the 1980s. They demonstrate that the first wave of popular music nostalgia under state socialism not only marked the revival of rock and roll and beat music but also provided an opportunity to revitalize and reinterpret earlier, ideologically problematic eras of Hungarian music. Dániel Radnai and József Havasréti focus on the Hungarian rock music of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, as well as its memory after the regime change, thus approaching these decades from a later point in time. Radnai examines the role of musical and textual allusions, quotations, and self-quotations in the oeuvre of János Bródy, considered one of the most significant songwriters and lyricists of the Hungarian beat era, and argues that through the means of intertextuality, Bródy created a particular version of the past of Hungarian rock music in each of his creative periods, before and after 1989. Havasréti analyzes a 2019 cover album, P. Mobil’s És? which, he argues, was compiled with the aim of (re)creating the Hungarian hard rock canon, while also providing a parody of some artists traditionally considered as key figures in local rock history.

As far as contemporaneous transnational transfers are concerned, there are three relevant case studies. How did Hungarian musicians adapt certain Western trends of the same era in the 1960s and 1970s, with limited knowledge, while aware of the need to meet a lot of expectations if they wanted to succeed in bringing music imported from abroad into the official Hungarian public sphere? These are crucial questions for András Kappanyos, who generally scrutinizes the translatability of popular songs, while also exploring, from a linguistic and politico-historical perspective, the challenges the invasion of English-language music culture presented to Hungarian musicians during the Cold War; and for Zsolt K. Horváth, who traces the history of a specific, state-sponsored Hungarian genre, so-called pol-beat, a peculiar mixture of North American and Latin American protest songs, and Hungarian beat music. Eszter György, for her part, reverses the direction, following the process of the “discovery” of Hungarian Roma folk music and its appropriation by the popular music industry first in a local context, and then looking to the international markets of “world music” that began to boom in the 1980s and 1990s. These three studies also comprehensively discuss the decisive role played by the regime’s cultural policy and monopolized state media and record publishing showing that genres difficult to reconcile with socialist music culture usually appeared in commercialized, hybrid, stylized, estheticized forms on the music market of socialist Hungary.

When interpreting socialist Hungary as member of a larger network (the Eastern Bloc), it is also worth inquiring into what similarities and differences can be found between that country and other network members in terms of popular music adaptations and translations. For this reason, a major comparative study, written by Czech, Ukrainian, German, and Hungarian scholars, is included in the volume. Jan Blüml, Alexandra Grabarchuk, Michael Rauhut, and Ádám Ignácz investigate how the songs of The Beatles were received and recycled in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, the GDR, and Hungary, during the period of state socialism, respectively. Emphasizing the national characteristics of reception and adaptation, this investigation leads us to question how accurate it is to think of the Eastern Bloc as a “bloc” whose states followed the same path (also) in the field of popular music adaptations. After reading the four chapters, one can conclude that, although there were many similarities between the Eastern Bloc countries, especially in terms of censorship, media control, and record market management, it is not entirely possible to write the history of The Beatles’ reception in East Central Europe as a unified narrative. Firstly, this is so because state socialism never eliminated the differences between local (popular) music traditions. Secondly, because the degree of political and ideological rigidity followed different temporalities in each country.

In his foreword to The Pop Palimpsest, J. Peter Burkholder expresses the hope that the essays in that volume will prove “how fascinating it is to trace what one song draws from another and how each person – artist or producer, musician or consumer – uses old threads to weave new meanings.”11 The editor of Translation, Adaptation, and Intertextuality in Hungarian Popular Music shares the same hope. At the same time, nevertheless, he expects that the following texts will make an exciting read for all those interested in East Central European popular music in general, and socialist music culture during the Cold War in particular.

1 Burns, Lori / Lacasse, Serge (eds.): The Pop Palimpsest: Intertextuality in Recorded Popular Music. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2018.

2 Desblache, Lucile: Music and Translation: New Mediations in the Digital Age. Palgrave Macmillan: London, 2019.

3 Fosler-Lussier, Danielle: Music on the Move. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2020.

4 See Simon Reynolds’ book on nostalgia and retro culture (Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. Faber and Faber: New York, 2011) or monographs on cover versions in Western pop and rock by George Plasketes (Play It Again: Cover Songs in Popular Music. Ashgate: Farnham, 2010), Marc Pendzich (Von der Coverversion zum Hit-Recycling. LIT: Berlin, 2011), Doyle Greene (The Rock Cover Song. Culture, History, Politics. McFarland & Company: Jefferson, 2014), and the authors of Coverstrategien in der Popularmusik nach 1960 (edited by Joachim Brügge. Rombach: Freiburg, 2013).

5 Cf. Susam-Saraeva, Şebnem: Translation and Popular Music. Transcultural Intimacy in Turkish–Greek Relations. Peter Lang: Berlin, 2015, pp. 8–9.

6 Ibid.

7 See, for example, Fugellie, Daniela et al. (eds.): Trayectorias. Music between Latin America and Europe 1945–1970 / Música entre América Latina y Europa 1945–1970. Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut: Berlin, 2019.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (July)
Beatles adaptations Translation, adaptation and intertextuality in popular music Hungarian popular music
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 284 pp., 2 fig. b/w, 7 tables.

Biographical notes

Ádám Ignácz (Volume editor)

Ádám Ignácz is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Musicology of the ELKH Research Center for the Humanities in Budapest. His scholarly interests include Hungarian and East Central European popular music, as well as the history of musicology and popular music research in the second half of the 20th century.


Title: Translation, Adaptation, and Intertextuality in Hungarian Popular Music