Institute for MusicologyInstitute for Musicology MTA MTA BTK MTA BTK ZTI MTA BTK ZTI (magyar) MTA MTA BTK MTA BTK ZTI MTA BTK ZTI (magyar)
AMUROB (Archivum Musicae Rituum Orientalium Budapestinense)

Context and goal of AMUROB


1) Religious and ritual music material in the Archive of the Institute for Musicology HAS
Research on historical songs and hymns, on liturgical music, and the problems to be solved


A great amount of religious and ritual music material has been incorporated in the immense amount of folk music in the Archive following collections in the 19th and 20th centuries. Our current knowledge suggests that the data contained in the archives may be distributed into three categories.

a) The Roman and Greek Catholic strophic hymns—„Kirchenlieder”, at first paraliturgical, later quasi-liturgical songs—and the hymns of the Protestant churches, originating from Hungary. To summarise: all strophic-rhymed church Lieds that came into existence from the late Middle Ages onwards in Hungarian, or the language of an eth­nic minority. A large part of this material forms the Historical Song and Hymn Collection, created by Benjamin Rajeczky, László Dobszay and Janka Szendrei (see XVI–XVII. századi dallamaink a népi emlékezetben [16th and 17th-century melodies in folk memory]. Budapest 1979.). This collection contains pieces created in, or after the late Middle Ages, which are documented—with our without musical scores—in 16–19th-century publications, and ma­­nuscripts, but were later adapted as they entered the folk music stock through popular usage.

Connected to an entry in the archive is its metadata (time and place of recording, the name of the collector, the serial number of the piece in the archive), a musical transcription, and, if found, the original form of the hymn from a 16th to 19th century scored hymn-book, its musical characteristics, the origin of the lyrics, the versification, and further hymnological information, based on the monographs written by Kálmán Csomasz Tóth (A XVI. század magyar dallamai [Hungarian tunes of the 16th century]. (Régi Magyar Dallamok Tára 1. [Collection of old Hunga­rian tunes]). Budapest 1958) and Géza Papp (A XVII. század énekelt dallamai [Hungarian tunes of the 17th cen­tury]. (Régi Magyar Dallamok Tára 2.). Budapest 1970). László Dobszay made a convincing attempt to determine the historical and stylistic layers of the entire Hungarian church hymn material—in relation to the Roman Catholic and mainstream Protestant hymnals currently in use—in his university textbook which summarises the whole his­tory of the Hungarian church hymn phenomenon with an ecumenical approach (A magyar népének [The Hun­garian church hymn] Veszprém 1995.).

However, following the death, or retirement of these scholars, the processing of this material has come to a halt for some years. A considerable amount of new material has been entered into the archive, and new directions of research have been launched regarding the sources of these melodies, their historical range—their occurrence in hymn books—, and their use today. The work of the mentioned researchers was updated by Ágnes Papp (Kecskésné) in 2016–2018. 

b) The liturgical chant of the Byzantine Orthodox communities living in Hungary—mainly Serbians—, that of Hungarian, Slovakian, Ruthenian Greek Catholics, as well as data collected among Christians living in the Middle East and Africa (Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Etiopia). A few smaller collections contain Hungarian (Catholic and Protestant) and Latin Gregorian chants sung by peasants in Transylvania and Moldova (the Csangos), and examples of the Hungarian Ashkenazi Jews’ synagogal melodies.

The processing of this liturgical material has hardly any antecedents in the history of research (except the Gregorian passions in Protestant liturgical use, see Kornél Bárdos’ and Péter Hoppál’s studies). The bulk of the material collected by Ilona Borsai during her most significant and exceptional research endeavours in the 1960s in Coptic (and other Christian, Jewish and Muslim) communities remained unprocessed except for a small part which she herself published in her stu­dies. Other Jewish and the Greek Catho­lic collections of the Archive have also not undergone any other but the most basic archiving processes.

c) Following the series of folk music collections in the 20th century a considerable amount of data of para­liturgical, and folk ritual origin was included in the archive. This category is naturally closely connected to the ritual songs of folk customs. The historical church hymns and the ritual music of folk customs are intertwined with one another, the so called paraliturgical could often hardly be separated from folklore, even official liturgical ele­ments could become a part of folk customs, and—especially in recent decades—folk material could enter into the official liturgical books.

The study of this question has many historical antecedents in research: a lot of medieval Hungarian traditional ritualistic folk customs (and their melodies) have been proven to be of Slavic origin, adopted and adapted from the Slavic population here before our ancestors. Some of these important customs even existed in western Hungary until recently.

The archive also contains e. g. a little collection of Iraqi children’s games, as well as data regarding Egyptian wedding traditions from the collection of Ilona Borsai etc. This part of the collection is totally unknown for ethnology and ethnomusicology.


A huge volume of data has been inventoried and examined at least on a basic level, but to work on a digital archive the volume, types, and thematic aspects of this group of sources must be examined thoroughly. All the earlier material of the collection and new acquisitions have been digitized simultaneously in the last few years.



2. Hypothesis, key issues, main objectives of the project SNN 117057 NKFIH Memory of Religion in Folk Music Archives


The (para)liturgical songs of religions are often defining elements of worship, and are parts of, not only a person’s, and a community’s religiosity, but of the cultural heritage of humanity. Religious music is, in its origin and existence, connected with orality, even in cases when melodies were originally written, or a transcription modified their later usage. Religious music is closely connected with the ritual songs of folk customs, too. Thus it is justified that this material, as entwined with folk music as it is, has become an element of folk music archives.

The examination of the connections between the church hymns and the ritual folk melody stock of the multi­ethnic and religiously varied region of Eastern Central Europe is vital. And this material is so closely intertwined that its examination is only possible on the basis of mutually agreed viewpoints. It is therefore necessary to examine the interaction of folk songs linked to existing customs, or customs that dissappeared recently, and of church hymns in Slovenian-Hungarian relations, too.

Religious music is a characteristic of any religious or ethnic community, as Lutherans are characterised by Ger­man choral, Calvinists by Genevan Psalm, and Hungarian Greek Catholics by their liturgical chant of Slavic nature. Certain elements of these forms remain within the borders of a tradition, others break through the barriers of lan­guage and religion. For example it is highly probable, but yet unproven in detail that German (Austrian) Catho­lic „Kirchenlied”, a product of the hymn-reform enacted by Maria Theresa and her successors, had a long lasting and definite affect on the 19th and 20th century church music of all Catholic communities within the Habsburg Empire, and is still a determining element of in our hymnals and church services today. This repertoire must also be examin­ed in collaboration with the many „successors” of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Therefore, a new task will be to clarify the directions of interethnic and interfaith loansongs; to describe and analyse the changes in the borrowed tunes and text repertoire (melody form, textual stylistics, use, interpretations), the effect of denominational traditions in the process; how multinational regions use the shared repertoire. What of the repertoire has been maintained in rural regions, small towns (far away from large centres) by local communities having their own tradition—in spite of the globalised world and of its unifying tendencies—also looked upon favourably by churches.


Hungarians were and are especially open and responsive to the culture of eastern peoples. Following in the foot­steps of great explorers a handful of folk music collectors strove to protect e. g. the disappearing music of the Finno-Ugric peoples of Asia, and also of the Christians endangered by Islamisation in the Middle East. The col­lection of Coptic, Ethiopian, Syriac Christian, Armenian music in the archive of Budapest is largely unpro­cessed. Due to current geopolitical events, interest in these cultures has grown, and the preservation of this unequalled heritage is a task of the Hungarian scholarly community as well.

Regarding the very important oriental collections of oriental religious music in the Archive, the thorough exploration of Ilona Borsai’s Coptic collection was and is the most urgent task of research. The outstanding ethnomusico­logist collected Christian (mostly Coptic) church music and folk music in Egypt in the 1960s. Parts of the meta­information of her recordings were not completed due to her sudden death. It is often uncertain, whether a musical piece is Coptic or from another community. After the digitalisation and detailed description of the sound material of the collection, the pieces transcribed by the resarcher in her scientific articles will be identified, and investiga­tions of the repertoire, its musical and liturgical features will be conducted. Around twenty of Borsai's academic papers will be published soon translated to English (See Collected Essays of Ilona Borsai).

The project (and its continuations) has a somber actuality due to Christian communities killed or exiled in the Middle East (in Syria, Iraq etc.). Even the most random sampling methods prove that the entire oriental material of the Institute has huge significance, to say the least. Hundreds of hours of Middle East audio recor­dings made by Balázs Déri have been now parts of the wider collection: Christmas and Holy Week celebrations from Coptic monasteries (dating from the second half of the 1990s), recordings of the church music of Syriac Christian com­munities (Jacobite and Assyrian in Turabdin and Aleppo, and Hassakeh, respecti­ve­ly) now vanished or scattered due to the vicissitudes of recent years in Syria and in Turkey. As of today, the inter­national scholarly community has only minimal information about the real treasures guarded in the Hunga­rian col­lection through conference reports and a small number of relevant studies. The presentation of these treasures in front of the interested audience was and may also be a real revelation.

The general objective of the tender was to begin creating a publicly accessible database (a „virtual archive”) of the liturgical and the paraliturgical chant and the other religious music of different religious communities, and of the ritual songs connected to folk customs, stored and partly catalogued in the Archive of the Institute for Musicology of the HAS, after surveying and digitalising the recorded sound material, and expanding it with new acquisitions from private collections and supplementary fieldwork (collecting tours and expeditions).

One of the most important results of the project will be the expansion of the Historical Song and Hymn Collection, and the presentation of larger the­matic, geographic and other tendencies in an ordered virtual archive.

A necessary prerequisite of the database is to accommodate the above mentioned system (the „coordinates”) of László Dobszay to the full collection of available church hymn material (especially of Greek Catholic origin—a part of the tradition not included in research so far).