Hungary – The Gipsies

Music! Dancing! These are words of magic to the rich and poor, noblemen and peasant alike, if he be a true Hungarian. There are two kinds of gipsies. The wandering thief, who can not be made to take up any occupation. These are a terribly lawless and immoral people, and there seems to be no way of altering their life and habits, altho much has been written on the subject to improve matters; but the Government has shown itself to be helpless as yet. These people live here and there, in fact everywhere, leading a wandering life in carts, and camp wherever night overtakes them. After some special evildoing they will wander into Rumania or Russia and come back after some years when the deed of crime has been forgotten. Their movements are so quick and silent that they outwit the best detectives of the police force. They speak the gipsy language, but often a half-dozen other languages besides, in their peculiar chanting voice. Their only occupation is stealing, drinking, smoking, and being a nuisance to the country in every way.

The other sort of gipsies consist of those that have squatted down in the villages some hundreds of years ago. They live in a separate part of the village, usually at the end, are dirty and untidy and even an unruly people, but for the most part have taken up some honest occupation. They make the rough, unbaked earth bricks that the peasant cottages are mostly made of, are tinkers and blacksmiths, but they do the lowest kind of work too. Besides these, however, there are the talented ones. The musical gipsy begins to handle his fiddle as soon as he can toddle. The Hungarians brought their love of music with them from Asia. Old parchments have been found which denote that they had their songs and war-chants at the time of the “home-making,” and church and folk-songs from their earliest Christian period. Peasant and nobleman are musical alike—it runs in the race. The gipsies that have settled among them caught up the love of music and are now the best interpreters of the Hungarian songs.

The people have got so used to their “blackies,” as they call them, that no lesser or greater fete day can pass without the gipsy band having ample work to do in the form of playing for the people. Their instruments are the fiddle, ‘cello, viola, clarinet, tarogato (a Hungarian specialty), and, above all, the cymbal. The tarogato looks like a grand piano with the top off. It stands on four legs like a table and has wires drawn across it ; on these wires the player performs with two little sticks, that are padded at the ends with cotton-wool. The sound is wild and weird, but if well played very beautiful indeed. The gipsies seldom compose music. The songs come into life mostly on the spur of the moment. In the olden days war-songs and long ballads were the most usual form of music. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were specially rich in the production of songs that live even now. At that time the greatest gipsy musician was a woman : her name was “Czinka Panna,” and she was called the Gipsy Queen. With the change of times the songs are altered too, and now they are mostly lyric. Csardas is the quick form of music, and tho of different melodies it must always be kept to the same rhythm. This is not much sung to, but is the music for the national dance. The peasants play on a little wooden flute which is called the “Tilinko,” or “Furulya,” and they know hundreds of sad folk-songs and lively Csardas. While living their isolated lives in the great plains they compose many a beautiful song.

It is generally from the peasants and the musical country gentry that the gipsy gets his music. He learns the songs after a single hearing, and plays them exactly according to the singer’s wish. The Hungarian noble when singing with the gipsies is capable of giving the dark-faced boys every penny he has. In this manner many a young nobleman has been ruined, and the gipsies make nothing of it, because they are just like their masters and “spend easily earned money easily,” as the saying goes. Where there is much music there is much dancing. Every Sunday afternoon after church the villages are lively with the sound of the gipsy band, and the young peasant boys and girls dance.

The Slovaks of the north play a kind of bagpipe, which reminds one of the Scotch ones; but the songs of the Slovak have got very much mixed with the Hungarian. The Rumanian music is of a distinct type, but the dances all resemble the Csardas, with the difference that the quick figures in the Slav and Rumanian dances are much more grotesque and verging on acrobatism.