The History of the Tárogató

The history of the tárogató can be followed very well from the targeted publications and studies. There is no vast difference among them, only perhaps based on the emotional ties of the writer to the instrument. You will find the essay of a musical historian different from that of an engineer or a musician playing the tárogató. The history of the tárogató can be best understood in the light of the historical events and circumstances.

There are two different types of the tárogató shawm:

a. Historical Tárogató
b. Reformed Tárogató

The Historical Tárogató
( Picture of the historical tárogató )

This instrument is known by two names, it is referred to as the Turkish pipe or the tárogató shawm. Both names indicate an instrument belonging to the same family.
Its history dates back to ancient times. Reference to some pipers as early as the period a millennium ago in the history of the Hungarians can be found, however, there is no clear evidence how much those pipes can be related to the tárogató shawms we call by that name. ’Piper’ as a family name was also known in the chronicles.
The first written records are found in the 15th – 16th century, where the expressions ’pipers’ and ’ shawm’ can often be seen in the documents. One thing is clear, that during the Turkish occupation of Hungary (1526 – 1686) the Turkish pipe is a military instrument. Its shrill, piercing voice made it ideal for the purpose, otherwise it was used in the everyday life. Corresponding descriptions disclose that it was popular among Hungarians at that time. The wedding ceremony of György Rákóczi II and Zsófia Báthory was accompanied by Polish and Turkish pipers at the reception of the bride. Peter Apor reported that the nuptial procession consisted of the ’pipers, trumpetiers and drummers, followed by wedding guests’.

300 years ago a most outstanding event in the Hungarian struggle for independence and freedom took place under the leadership of Ferenc Rákóczi II. (1703 – 1711). This was peculiarly accompanied by the tárogató shawm. During battles it was used as an aid giving the various signals on the field, whereas the ’kuruc’ people (soldiers) used it for entertainment in the war-camps to accompany singing and dancing.

Pictures: ’kuruc’ rider playing the tárogató shawm, sword-dance and a tárogató shawm player.
Following the defeat of that war of independence tárogató shawms became hardly audible. The more time passes since the event, the more the tárogató shawm became the symbol of that period. Descriptions deriving from the 18th century make it clear that at events or celebrations where the national ideas were stressed, tárogató shawms could be heard more and more often. In 1790 in Buda, on the occasion of a parliamentary session the cavalry troops of Tolna, Zala and Szabolcs Counties were led by shawmplayers.
In Bratislava (historicly the city of Pozsony) at the coronation of Leopold I, when the Sacred Crown was carried on the bridge, the music of the tárogató shawm could be heard. In 1848, during the uprising and war of independence of that century, soldiers were fired with enthusiasm again with the sound of the tárogató shawm.
The deliberate collection of the still existing items started in the 1850-ies, when the need for them to once again be the musical instrument of everyday entertainment became apparent. There were also several attempts for the renewal and modernisation of the tarogató shawm. Finally, by the end of the 19th century, two tárogató-making companies named Schunda and Stowasser, reformed the instrument and by this, the tárogató of our times was born.

The Reformed Tárogató

( Pictures: a tárogató by Schunda and one by Stowasser )
Vencel József Schunda and János Stowasser handed in their patent descriptions as for the renewal of the tárogató shawm to the National Patent Office nearly in parallel. The attempts used the original, ancient form as a basis for the process. The makers found it essential to lengthen the corpus of the instrument as a start, and in the interest to achieve an easier play, a few keys were installed. The original tárogató shawms were double reed instruments, and it was only at a later stage when they decided to implement the single reed clarinet-like mouthpiece to it. However, these changes brought along the change in the tone of the voice of the tárogató. The sounding changed to softer and gentler, more mellow than before.

The innovations are describe by Vencel József Schunda himself like this:
 „…. In 1894-96 I reformed the tárogató shawm. The traditional tárogató was blown with a reed like that of the oboe and there were very few stops on it; I applied a mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet and applied as many keys as to make it easy to play all the chromatic sounds with ease. The instrument itself became larger and bulgier than before. Now it is almost like a combination of three instruments: oboe ,clarinet and bassoon…’’

József Vencel Schunda

However, making the tárogató more perfect and improving the intonation security is attached by the Stowasser company.

There are three major types of the tárogató:

1. There are two rings at the right hand and there are none at the left.
2. There are two rings at the right hand and also two at the left.
3. Automatic, shift-system, with 4-5 rings in general.
The most wide-spread instruments are pitched B-flat, also there are C, A and bass tárogató-s. Besides Schunda and Stowasser there were some 4-5 other companies making tárogató-s at that time.
As from 1895 tárogató-s were made until the end of the 2nd World War, when all companies were closed down and apart from some experienced individuals (Ferenc Péczi and János Eisenhoffer) who were able to make new instruments, there were some others in Transylvania, Temesvár made, but then it all came to an end. In Germany, Burgau several tárogatós have been made by the Hammerscmidt Instrument Factory.
New tárogató-s: in June 2009, three new makers came up with their brand new instruments, on the National Tárogató Meeting.
Béla Agócs (Sávoly), Pál Gregus (Baja), József Tóth - János Barcza (Budapest).
All national and international meetings provide the opportunity for introducing and trying new tárogató-s. The next such event will take place in July 2010, on the Tárogató World Congress III.