It is the most significant type of song in the traditional repertoire of settled Hungarian and Slovak Roma (including those living in Bohemia): a slow protracted song. From the thematic point of view, hallgató songs belong to several areas: čorikane gil'a (songs about abandonment and poverty), žalosno gil'a (piteous laments), hareštantska giľa (bertenošika giľa) (songs about imprisonment), muľatošna giľa (drunkards' songs, connected with feasting, drinking, singing and dancing). A great majority of the texts in the specified thematic areas are sung to hallgató tunes; exceptionally, there are also quick dance melodies.

The Hungarian nóta is considered to be the historic predecessor of the song-type hallgató (Sárosi 1977). The oldest text record of a song of this type, still sung today, ("Marel o Del marel") was noted down by Kopernicky at the beginning of the 20th century. The first significant collection of transcriptions of the music was made by the Csenki brothers in Hungary, based on their field collections in the 1930’s. The oldest sound recordings only date from the end of the1950’s (the Csenki brothers in Hungary, E. Davidová in Bohemia and Slovakia). [ The music of the Roma in Hungary ]

Characteristic Features:

Songs of the hallgató type are strophic, with four-line stanzas. The number of syllables in each line of a verse of one song is fixed, but it can differ in individual songs, where there may be six, eight, or twelve syllables. Every verse has one characteristic melodic phrase, more or less clearly divided from the following phrase; a break between the second and third phrases is distinctive. The second phrase most often ends on the dominant, the concluding phrase always on the tonic, which is – as a rule – preceded by an augmented seventh sung as a grace note. The most common mode is Aeolian minor (with augmented seventh before the conclusion). The songs usually span a wide range, often with large interval jumps and elaborate chordic progressions.

Stanzas predominantly constitute the building units of the text (exceptionally the verses do), they are the carriers of the thought and mood. The order of the stanzas or their sequence is not quite fixed. The most common topics are loneliness, orphaned children, death, hunger, imprisonment, the relationship between a man and a woman or between parents and children.

A slow tempo is characteristic for the interpretation of hallgató songs, corresponding to the sad or tragic contents of the texts, and the rubato agogic style which underlines the individuality of the testimony (the performer is singing as if about his or her personal fate, regardless of the fact that the text consists of set standard phrases or even whole stanzas). The songs are sung with tremendous emotional involvement, enhanced by inserted interjections (jaj, ejde, etc.)

Women have traditionally been the predominant interpreters of songs of the hallgató type. Despite the fact that solo interpretation strongly prevails, one can exceptionally meet a multi-voiced rendition; the melody is carried in the highest voice.

A certain measure of improvisation is characteristic for interpretation – in both the musical and textual parts; for a single interpreter, the improvisation (changing the melody) can vary from one stanza to the next, and from one performance to the next, and also – even more – for various interpreters. This style captures the place and function of this particular song-type in Roma culture: the invariant part of the song embodies the collective experience that is modified by an interpreter in his or her own musical-textual expression.

Thanks to this existential connection with life, new text variants of the hallgató song-type appear even today; they reflect the realities of life in recent decades (the migration of the Slovak Roma to Bohemia, their work in the Ostrava mines, the social situation, etc.). [Cinka Panna / Pista Dankó]


Davidová, Eva / Žižka, Jan (1991) A letelepedett cigányság népzenéje Csehszlovákiában (= Európai cigánx népzene / Gypsy folk music of Europe 2). Budapest.
Holý, Dušan / Nečas, Ctibor (1993) Žalující píseň. Strážnice.
Sárosi, Bálint (1977) Zigeunermusik. Zürich / Freiburg i. Br.
Víg, Rudolf (1974) Gypsy Folk Songs from the Béla Bartok and Zoltán Kodály Collections. In: Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 16, pp. 89–131.

Sound Recordings

Bari, Karoly (ed.) (1996) Anthology of Gypsy Folk Songs I-IV. Hungary and Romania (4 CDs with Booklet), Budapest (EMI Quintana QUI 903095).
Bari, Karoly (ed.) (1999) Gypsy Folklore I-X: Hungary and Romania. Collected by Károly Bari (10 CDs with Booklet [English, Romani]), Budapest (Private Publishing).
Davidová, Eva / Gelnar, Jaromir (eds.) (1971) Romane giľa. Antologie autentického cikánského písňového folklóru (LP), Praha (Supraphon).
Víg, Rudolf (ed.) (1976) Gypsy Folk Songs from Hungary (CD). Budapest (Hungaroton HCD 18028-29).
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