Gypsy music – cigányzene

"Gypsy music" generally denotes folk-like or popular music played by professional Roma musicians primarily for non-Roma (Gadže). More specifically, the term refers to that kind of folk-like Hungarian music which, originating in the 18th century, assumed its final shape in the mid-19th century. Professional Roma musicians with their special interpretation had a formative influence on the distinctive style of "gypsy music" (Hungarian: cigányzene), spreading its fame far beyond the borders of its country of origin (for details on the history of this development see The music of the Roma in Hungary).

The instrumentation of "gypsy bands" includes violin (prim; primáš), viola (or 2nd violin: kontra), clarinet, cimbalom and double-bass. Their characteristic repertory comprises melodies of so-called popular art songs (Hungarian magyar nóta – "Hungarian song") as well as dances; usually, a slow tune "for listening" in tempo rubato (Hungarian hallgató) is followed by a csárdás in tight duple time. [audio illustration: hallgató – csárdás] Popular melodies from opera and operetta, virtuoso instrumental pieces, hits or contemporary popular music are played as well.

The style of delivery typical of "gypsy music" ensembles is marked by ornamentation, variation and a spontaneity which nevertheless follows traditional stylistic rules; in the resultant "heterophonic "counterpointing"" the melody is interpreted simultaneously but differently by the principal violin as well as the clarinet or the cimbalom, which play a subordinate part with other figures and ornaments (Sárosi 1978). Such improvisation, together with specific scales ("gypsy scales" with augmented seconds), harmonisations and cadences, makes up the characteristic ensemble sound of this kind of music.

"Gypsy bands" – professional musicians of Ungrika Roma as well as Servika Roma (in the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and members of Burgenland-Roma (in Austria) – (used to) play in restaurants and cafés, for an urban middle-class audience, or at inns and celebrations (weddings etc.) in the country. Their repertory and style significantly influenced the internal music culture of their Roma groups. [Music of the Roma in Bohemia and Moravia]


Sárosi, Bálint (1977) Zigeunermusik. Zürich / Freiburg i. Br.
Sárosi, Bálint (1997) Hungarian Gypsy Music – Whose Heritage? (= In: The Hungarian Quarterly Vol. 38 / No. 147, pp. 45-47.
Sárosi, Bálint (1997) Zigeunermusikanten und ungarische Musiktradition. In: Winkler, Gerhard J. (ed.) Musik der Roma im Burgenland. Referate des Internationalen Workshop-Symposiums Eisenstadt, 5.-6. Oktober 2001 (= Wissenschaftliche Arbeiten aus dem Burgenland 108), Eisenstadt, pp. 33-39.
Sárosi, Bálint (1999) Sackpfeifer, Zigeunermusikanten – Die instrumentale ungarische Volksmusik. Budapest.
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Image "hallgató – csárdás"