Hungarian Artists and the Danube

Aurel Bernath Fisher boats on the Danube (rumnaplo.blog)
Aurel Bernath Fisher boats on the Danube

The Danube has always been inspirational for various artists all over Europe, including Hungary and its Danube unified capital, the city of Budapest. There are countless paintings, drawings, poems, and even songs about the River Danube in Hungarian.

Danube in Music

Just think of the Blue Danube Waltz from Johann Strauss, which is probably the most known waltz worldwide! Now the truth is that the Danube may reflect the blue sky on many days in Budapest, but not when the murky muddy mountain river waters rush to the river basin from Austria, colouring the ‘blue’ Danube greenish, greyish. That said, the Blue Danube waltz belongs to the Danube and romance. No wonder that most Budapest river cruise programmes feature the waltz, and, among other brilliant composers’ work, Strauss can also be enjoyed on the regular Budapest Gala Concerts in the Danube Palace (by the Danube).

Some of the most well known Hungarian folk songs also feature the river Danube (like “Szeles a Duna”  / The Danube is wide), no wonder that Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok’s folk collections often revolve around the river Danube (or Tisza), as the symbol of love (obstacle yet bridge between lovers), death or menace, sadness (the running river crying with the singer), or caring mother.

Paintings of the Danube

Dozens of Hungarian painters were inspired by the river Danube and its surroundings, especially Istvan Szonyi who painted some well-known masterpieces in the “posztnagybanyai” style which was the Hungarian style Postimpressionism.

Grey Danube by Szonyi Istvan, 1935 (artmagazin.hu)
Grey Danube by Szonyi Istvan, 1935

Janos Vaszary painted unique and colourful pictures of the Danube Promenade and the lively Budapest. His main influences were French and he became a popular painter in his era. Today’s artists are still inspired by the Danube and Budapest, we can find several paintings and photographs for sale about the picturesque sights of the Hungarian capital. They could make nice souvenirs.

The Hungarian National Gallery in the Buda Castle offers a great selection of fine arts from the best Hungarian artists.

Danube in Contemporary Arts

Tamas Kanya Driftwood Art by travelzona
Tamas Kanya Driftwood Art by travelzona

The Danube surroundings are still popular places for artists like Tamas Kanya who makes his creations from Romai Part to Szentendre. He creates statues and stone arts from items found on the riverside, driftwood, stones, sand, leaves, etc.

Have a walk on a sunny day by the river, and with some luck, you can meet him or his creations.

Enjoy the wonderful riverside attractions of the city from a Budapest River Cruise.

 

Poetry. And finally Poetry.

Perhaps the most well known and beloved poets in Hungary, known to butchers and politicians, shoemakers, teachers, farmers and artists alike, is Attila Jozsef. One of his most contemplative poems was inspired by the innermost historical heritage we all carry in ourselves through parents’ parents’ parents fights and words, past, present and future strands stirred up by the moving ripples of the river Danube, hence the title of the poem too.

By the Danube (English)
1
On the bottom step that from the wharf descends
I sat, and watched a melon-rind float by.
I hardly heard, wrapped in my destined ends,
To surface chat the silent depth reply.
As if it flowed from my own heart in spate,
Wise was the Danube, turbulent and great.

Like a man’s muscles bending at his toil,
Hammering, pitching, leaning on the spade,
So bulged and then contracted in recoil
Each wave that rippling in the current played.
It rocked me like my mother, told me a wealth
Of tales, and washed out all the city’s filth.

And drops of rain began to fall, but then,
As though their fall had no effect, they stopped.
Yet still, like one who stayed at the long rain
Out of a cave, my gaze I never dropped
Below the horizon. Endlessly to waste,
Drably like rain fell all bright things, the past.

The Danube just flowed on. And playfully
The ripples laughed at me as I reclined,
A child on his prolific mother’s knee
Resting, while other thoughts engaged her mind.
They trembled in time’s flow and in its wake
As tottering tombstones in a graveyard shake.

2.
I am he who has gazed a hundred thousand years
On that which he now sees for the first time.
One moment, and fulfilled all time appears
In a hundred thousand forbears’ eyes and mine.

I see what they could not because they must
Drag hoes, kill and embrace, for this enrolled,
And they, who have descended into dust
See what I do not, if the truth be told.

We know each other as sorrow and delight.
I, in the past, they in the present live.
They hold the pencil in the poem I write.
I feel them and evoke what they now give.

3.
My mother was Cumanian, and half Szekler
My father half Rumanian or entire.
The nurture from my mother’s mouth was nectar
And from my father’s lips the truth was pure.
When I stir, they embrace. Then, soon or late,
This makes me sad. This is mortality.
Of this I am made. Such words as these: Just wait
Until we are no more – they speak to me.

They speak to me, for not I am they, robust
Despite whatever weakness made me frail,
And I think back that I am more than most:
Each ancestor am I, to the first cell.
I am the Forbear split and multiplied
To make my father and my mother whole;
My father and mother then in turn divide,
and so I am made one, a single soul.

I am the world; all that is past exists;
Where nations hurl themselves against each other,
With me in death the conqueror’s victory lasts,
In me the anguish gnaws of those they smother.
Arpad, Zalan, Werboczy, Dozsa, Turks,
Tartars, Rumanians, Slovaks, storm this heart.
If in great depths a quiet future lurks,
It owes the past, to-day’s Hungarians, part.

I want to work. Enough of conflict goes
Into that need which must confess the past.
The Danube’s tender ripples which compose
Past, present, future, hold each other fast.
The battle which our ancestors once fought,
Through recollection is resolved in peace,
And settling at long last the price of thought,
This is our task, and none too short its lease.

Watkins, Vernon

Source of the quotation 1976, Hundred Hungarian Poems, Albion Editions, Manchester

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