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With a few exceptions, the scholarly literature on Hungary’s Gypsy music remains frozen in an increasingly remote past, in what Budapest journalist Imre Déri in 1912 called “the old patriarchal relationship between the Gypsies and the gentlemenmerry-makers.” Yet Gypsy musicians thrived in the twentieth century, through dramatic social and economic changes, adapting to new institutional frameworks and audience expectations. In the early days of the Hungarian Radio, culture brokers attempted to regularize sound production to fit the technical demands of this new medium, in the process asserting new controls over the musicians; their proposed changes led to a public conflict with the musicians, the “Gypsy war” of 1934. Under socialism the state initially strove to break the “feudalist-capitalist” framework of the previous system by closing restaurants, but then reopened them as sites for workers’ entertainment and tourist revenue; additionally, Hungary’s professional folk ensembles (created there and throughout the East bloc after the model of Igor Moiseyev’s ensemble in the USSR) filled the ranks of their orchestras with Gypsy musicians almost exclusively until the 1980s. Using oral history interviews and journalistic and archival sources, this essay shows how these artists sought both economic stability and recognition as they negotiated changing conditions.

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