We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Railwaymen’s Singing and Music Society, the predecessor of the MÁV Symphony Orchestra.

The following news were published on February 9, 1924, in the 8 o'clock Newspaper:
"A singing celebration of the railwaymen. On Sunday, February 10, at 10 am, the Railwaymen's Singing and Music Society will hold its inaugural meeting in the theatre hall of the MÁV Northern Main Workshop (today's Törekvés Cultural Center - ed.). The inaugural meeting will be followed by a large concert, involving all the railwaymen's choirs and orchestras of Budapest, which will be attended by distinguished Hungarian railwaymen. No entrance fee will be charged and all music and singing enthusiasts are welcome." The inaugural meeting was held, and the taken minutes contained the unanimously adopted deed of foundation. It set out the objectives of the society and the rules by which it should operate. Extracts from the minutes of the inaugural meeting held on February 10, 1924.

Address: Railwaymen's Singing and Music Society. Seat: Budapest.
To cultivate and develop songs and music through joint singing exercises, cultural gatherings and singing and musical evenings. To develop and maintain understanding and fellowship between the members. To create and strengthen the connection between the country's railway singing and other railway cultural institutions. To provide moral support to the
rural railway social clubs, reading groups, choral societies and orchestras. Organising singing and orchestral groups in railway hubs.
In order to achieve the aims of the SOCIETY, to organise singing and musical evenings, concerts, and entertaining and educational lectures. Membership is open to retired or active Hungarian railwaymen living in Budapest or the agglomeration, who have musical ear and adequate voice for singing, or who have musical talent.

After the inaugural meeting held on February 10, 1924, the society immediately began to operate. Within the year of its foundation, the society had three high-profile public appearances. Three months after the inaugural meeting, the society appeared in the Daily News column of the Hungarian Telegraphic Office: "Hungarian railwaymen for children. For the first time this year, the railwaymen set up a tent in front of the Baross statue at the Eastern Railway Station, where the patronage of the collection urns was assumed by the chiefs of the Budapest State Railways and the wives of their noblemen. A concert will be held in front of the tent throughout the day, organised by the Railwaymen’s Singing and Music Society."

The new orchestra played for the first time in May 1925 in the Municipal Theatre (today's Erkel Theatre). The following report was published in the Railway and Transport Gazette of May 9, 1926: "The Railwaymen’s Singing and Music Society, formed by the Budapest management, stood as a rare testimony to the enthusiasm for music culture and hard work. It has barely been a year since its formation, and on the 2nd of this month, at a matinee in the Municipal Theatre, it was able to make its debut to the public. The orchestra demonstrated astonishing musical intelligence and self-assurance.
The distinguished audience in attendance expressed genuine appreciation for the sincere musical experience.

The society's logbooks cover 20 years from 1924 to 1943, containing the exact dates, venues, programs and names of the artists involved. The musicians performed at nearly 50 venues, 35 times in Budapest and 15 times in the countryside. By studying the logbooks, we learn that the activities of the Railwaymen’s Singing and Music Society were closely linked to the social and cultural activities of the Railway, and to the historical and social traditions and events of the time. It indirectly yet vividly captures the mood and general spirit of
Hungary between the two world wars. It is interesting to review the venues of the performances; the rural venues are Kiskunhalas, Szolnok, Vác, Szombathely, Székesfehérvár (three times), Győr (twice), Miskolc, Tatabánya, Tata (three times), Sopron (twice, once in cooperation with GySEV), Balassagyarmat. The most unusual performance was the inauguration of the Déda–Szeretfalva railway line in 1942, restored in Northern Transylvania, which had been reattached to Hungary in 1940.

Among the Budapest venues, the society performed the most (on 12 occasions) at the theatre hall of the Railway and Shipping Club (District VI, Csengery Street 68, later the Torch Club), five times at the Academy of Music, several times at the Vigadó, once at the Municipal Theatre, twice at the headquarters of the National Economic Association of Hungarian Christian Social Railwaymen at Kenyérmező Street, twice at the Bakáts Square Church and twice at the headquarters of the Ferencváros Railwaymen's Singing and Library Association at Péceli Street. Following renovations, this building has become the headquarters of the present MÁV Symphony Orchestra in 2023. In the course of events, the society performed on numerous occasions at "clothing donation evenings" in December (organised for the donation of clothes for the children of poor railwaymen), at the "Concert for the relief of winter poverty" in October 1935 in the church in Bakáts Square, at the inauguration of railway officers and at "patriotic ceremonies". Memorial concerts were held in memory of Franz Liszt, Schubert and Géza Gárdonyi, and they held a "Hungarian Evening" featuring works of Jenő Hubay, Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, Ernő Dohnányi, Leó Weiner and Albert Siklós. The choir's principal conductor was László Seres. Until 1942, the orchestra's artistic director, who conducted the orchestra at major concerts was Emil Ábrányi (1882-1970), composer and conductor, former director of the Royal Hungarian State Opera. From 1942, Jenő Kenessey (1905-1976), later Kossuth Prize-winning composer and conductor fulfilled the role of artistic director.

According to the documents in our possession, the number of performances per year indicates that the orchestra was not a professional orchestra with regular rehearsals; however, the complexity of the works performed and the fact that the artists who performed at the concerts were nationally renowned singers, instrumental soloists, ballet artists
and conductors, suggest that the ensemble was made up of well-trained musicians who had prepared for the performances with a series of serious rehearsals.

On the invitations and flyers, in the list of contributors we can find phrases like "50-member MÁV Orchestra" or "Symphony Orchestra of the Máv“. The concert held on March 4, 1934, in the Esterházy Miklós Secondary School in Tata was announced as follows: Concert of the BUDAPEST MÁV SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND CHOIR. Program: Erkel: Hunyadi László Overture; Schubert: Symphony No. 8. in B minor (Unfinished); Bizet: L’Arlésienne Suite; Beethoven: Egmont Overture. Conductor: Emil Ábrányi. Artists performing at the concerts: Magda Lászlóffy, Lilly Herz, Magda Vásárhelyi (piano), Ferenc Albert, István Szemlér, Wanda Luzzato (violin), Miklós Zsámboky, Jenő Kerpely (cello, professors of the Academy of Music), Karola Szalai, Zoltán Sallai, Gyula Harangozó (ballet), Anna Báthy, Júlia Osváth, Mária Gyurkovics, Paula Takács, Margit Szilvássy, Mária Basilides, György Losonczy, Oszkár Maleczky, Tibor Udvardy, János Fodor, Imre Hámori, János Sárdi, Endre Koréh, József Járay (vocals). All of the singers were leading singers of the Hungarian State Opera for many years after the war, several of them Kossuth Prize winners, Distinguished and Meritorious Artists.


The financial situation of the Society was not bright then either. The minutes of the general meeting held on June 30, 1930, contains the following extract: "Our only income, the membership fees, have been received rather irregularly, with delays or not at all, for reasons beyond our control, and this has had a strong
effect on the financial management of the Society. In addition, the the Metropolitan Transport Authority PLC no longer offers discounted tram tickets granted in previous years, which particularly affected our working members travelling to rehearsals. We petitioned for the discount to be reinstated on the basis of the reasons we had given. We have not yet received a definitive reply from the management of the PLC. In our straitened situation, it was
particularly gratifying to receive donations from our superiors and benevolent friends during the year. The MÁV Board donated 500 Hungarian pengo, the National Home for Train Passengers 500 Hungarian pengo and the Railway and Shipping Club 100 Hungarian pengo, for which we have expressed our deepest gratitude.“ Two excerpts from the rich press coverage of the Society's concerts in 1931:
"The musical work and public performances of the Budapest Railwaymen's Singing and Music Society is always a major artistic event, not only for the Hungarian railway, but also for Hungarian musical life. This year, on January 25, the first concert was held in the Vigadó. This society has been developing enormously every year, and its performances are always a source of pride for the Hungarian railway. The highlight of this program was Emil Ábrányi's
symphonic poem in three movements entitled "Trianon", debuting at this concert. The musical expression of the tragedy, faith and hope of our nation, this composition is of great value, and its excellent performance is also the merit of Ábrányi, the conductor. In the other pieces of the program, the choir made a major impression as well, conducted by László Seres. Homonnay, Koudela, Moskovszky, Mascagni, Wagner pieces were performed; the opera arias were sung with great artistry and beautiful voice by opera singer Lenke Sz. Zsögön."

"The Hungarian Railway and Shipping Club's artists' evening.
The Hungarian Railway and Shipping Club held its usual winter artists' evening on February 18 with a large audience, including many leading figures of the Hungarian transport scene. In line with the usual standard at the Club, the program was of very high artistic standard. The first part began with the Overture of Wéber's "The Enchanted Hunter“, played by the 60-member symphony orchestra of the MÁV. It was followed by Ilonka Szabó, the excellent young coloratura singer of the State Opera, followed by the violinist Tamás Magyar, who performed Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with great success. Finally, Mihály Székely, the excellent bassist
of the State Opera, sang opera arias and songs with his usual great artistry. In the second part, Adam's little opera "The Nuremberg Doll", translated by MÁV Secretary Lajos Boldogh, was sung by Ilonka Szabó, MD Viktor Dalnoky, Béla Csóka and Gyula Toronyi Jr., accompanied by the MÁV Symphony Orchestra. The audience welcomed the humorous performance of the singer and here male partners with warm appreciation, as well as the excellent and outstanding performance of the orchestra conducted by Emil Ábrányi."
Echoes of a guest performance on the countryside (1934):
The staff of the Győr-Sopron-Ebenfurt railway, with the assistance of the ‚Railwaymen’s Singing and Music Society‘, formed by the management of the MÁV Budapest, and conducted by Emil Ábrányi, gave a superior concert in Sopron on the 17th of this month. The concert was a distinguished social event of the town of Sopron and was a great success. By donating the concert to the "Széchenyi Museum“ under construction, the Győr-Sopron-Ebenfurt railway continued the noble work that Károly Haich, the General Manager of the railway and Court Councillor, has been doing for years to serve the Széchenyi cult.“
Another event with a big social impact
Székesfehérvár, April 5
"On Sunday evening, the Budapest Railwaymen's Singing and Music Society organised a memorial concert in the Szent István Hall in Székesfehérvár to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Bishop Ottokár Prohászka, in favor of the Prohászka Memorial Church. The orchestra was conducted by Emil Ábrányi, and the choir by László Seres. István Szemlér, violinist and director of the Székesfehérvár music school, also performed. /MTI/„
In 1940, László Varga business director (as it was called at the time)
became the President of the Society. After the outbreak of the war, the situation of the Society became increasingly difficult.
Extract from the minutes of the 1941 General Assembly of the Society.
"Recorded at the Annual General Meeting of the „Railwaymen's Singing and Music Society" held in Budapest, on May 29, 1941, in the Council Chamber of the Budapest-Eastern Railway Station.
President: László Varga, Hungarian Royal Counsellor to the Government. Announces that he reorganises and puts into operation again the Symphony Orchestra in September of the current year. In this regard, he requests the General Assembly to authorise him to hire new conductors and, with respect to the organisation of the orchestra, in order to obtain instruments and musical scores and to repair existing instruments, he requests a special loan of 2,000 Hungarian pengo outside the budget, and in order to organise any concerts, a special loan of 1,000 Hungarian pengo, also outside the budget. The General Assembly adopted the Society’s amended articles of incorporation, which was approved by the Minister of Trade and Transport of the Royal Hungarian Government by decree of December 15, 1942. The seal (circular stamp) referred to in Section 1 of the Articles of Incorporation is still kept among the valuables of the MÁV Symphony Orchestra (in its safe). The badge referred to in the same section (winged wheel with lyric) became the first logo of
the MÁV Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1945.

The last two performances of the Railwaymen’s Singing and Music Society were connected to the celebration of Governor Miklós Horthy's name day: on December 8, 1943, at the Academy of Music and on December 10, 1943, at the Erzsébet Sanatorium in Balatonfüred. The latter included performances by Mária Gyurkovics and János Sárdy, private singers of the Hungarian State Opera. Due to the war, which soon reached Hungary, the Society's performances ceased. In the spring of 1945, the Interior Minister dissolved the society, the official announcement of which appeared in the February issue of the Hungarian Gazette in 1946. By this time, the MÁV SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA had already been in existence for 10 months, and its deed of foundation was signed by the same László Varga, President and General Director of the Hungarian State Railways (MÁV), who had been the last president of the predecessor society. Viktor Papp, one of the best-known and most authoritative music writers of the time, was the author of several popular books on music. An important part of his book Hungarian Musical Almanac, published in the early 1940s, is about the Hungarian Singing Associations as prominent representatives of community music culture. Among the members of these associations is the Railwaymen’s Singing and Music Society, whose activities are described in a very appreciative manner, and the list of both the Choir and the Symphony Orchestra is published, broken down into sections and instrument groups. The orchestra's roster includes the names of Ferenc Eperjes in the first violin section, János Honti in the horn section and József Sulyok in the trumpet section. The three of them were founding members of the MÁV Symphony Orchestra, which was established on May 1, 1945. János Honti was the orchestra's secretary, and Ferenc Eperjes was the orchestra's managing director until 1983, for almost 40 years. Their personalities and their employment status may be one of the proofs that the MÁV Symphony Orchestra is a direct continuation of the activities of the Railwaymen’s Singing and Music Society, founded 100 years ago in 1924.


Written by: Gábor Fenyő

Special thanks to Lajos Horváth, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Hungarian Railway History Foundation, whose research was an indispensable help in learning about the predecessor of the MÁV Symphony Orchestra.