László Végh

From Unearthing The Music

László Végh in 1968. Photo courtesy of Emese Kurti

Dr. László Végh was a well-known Hungarian intellectual in the underground circles in 1960s’ Budapest. A radiologist and composer with a nonconformist attitude, he organized informal meetings in his parent’s apartment and in other places, at which he presented avant-garde and experimental works of music, gave lectures, and arranged readings and debates.

Dr. László Végh was born in Budapest in 1931. His parents were doctors from Transylvania. After his years at the church high school, he started to visit the Music Academy, but as the organ department dissolved he left and continued his studies at the medical university. Upon receiving his diploma in 1956, he started to work as a radiologist. He also played the organ in several catholic churches, and he began to compose music. In addition to running his radiology practice, he composed the first concrete and electronic musical works in Hungary. He both composed and performed modernist, experimental music, which was outside the canon of official culture. He held presentations in different subcultural spaces, typically in private apartments. He organized gatherings (he called them soirées), at which people listened to music, read, had discussions, held costume-balls, or engaged in other performance events. The mood at these gatherings was similar to the atmosphere of house parties, as the number of participants usually necessitated the maximal utilization of the given space.

László Végh in 1969. Photo courtesy of Emese Kurti

With the help of his extended contacts and his tape recorder, he constructed an archive, which became an unmatched collection of experimental music and event-related documents. As the channels of official culture provided only limited access to the cultural products of “Western” modernism, personal ways of sharing knowledge within the private sphere and the exchange of information during the informally organized gatherings were important methods of knowledge-transfer in Hungary in the 1960s. Through his continuously broadening archive, Dr. Végh provided access to information that was not easily available in a format related to community experiences. The utilization of a tape recorder, which was an item in short supply at the time, had a strategic significance also, as sound-recording was not legally classified as copying, so it was not an indictable offence.

Another biographical fact offers a distinctive perspective on his cultural activity: at the age of 20 he was blackmailed by the authorities, and for more than ten years he served as an agent for the secret surveillance, primarily on parochial and medical affairs, but for a shorter period on cultural connections as well. However, due to a conflict with authorities realated to a subculture event and his radical refusal of cooperation with secret services, finally he had been closed out from the network. This turn in his politiced life coincided with the period when his activity as a cultural mediator really started. The private gatherings initiated on some occasions by the secret services illustrate the special conditions of his activity, and the interferences of the underground with the official sphere. As a continous inspirator of the emerging generation of the neo-avantgarde, he represented the ambitious intellectual of the sixties aiming to reconsider the old cultural patterns dominantly with a Western perspective. The complex nature of this phenomenon is captured by Emese Kürti in her reflections on the observations of Ferenc Hammer: “by sharing his archive socially, Dr. Végh performed a double function: he provided the continuity of a ‘Western’ type of modernism and he created the illusion of democratic publicity” for his transgenerational audiences.