Panna Cinková, or Cinka Panna as they would call her in Hungarian [The music of the Roma in Hungary],
was an extraordinary Roma folk artist, composer and violin virtuoso who was
the leader of her own Roma band in the eighteenth century. She was already
recognised and admired during her lifetime. After her death, she became a
legend, the heroine of a number of stories, novels, poems and plays, as well as
a subject for Czech and Slovak painters.
She was born – probably in 1711 – to a musical family in the village
of Gemer, which today lies in the Rimavská Sobota district. Before Panna
Cinková’s birth, her father, Sándor (Alexander) Cinka was court musician to
Francis II Rákóczy in Rožňava. As early as her ninth year, she amazed her
family and neighbours with her beautiful violin playing and attracted the
attention of the aristocratic provincial head of the Gemer region, Ján Lányi,
who became her generous patron.
As a child, Panna learned music in Rožňava with the local Gypsy
musicians. She was very young – probably 14 – when she married a Roma
blacksmith-musician. Happily married, they raised their four sons and a
daughter in Gemer. First together with her husband and brothers-in-law, later
with her sons, she founded and led her own Gypsy band. She designed a costume
reminiscent of a military uniform for her band members. In paintings, she is
usually depicted in this uniform. Soon, thanks not only to her virtuoso violin
playing but also to her feminine charm, she became a successful and very
sought-after musician among the Hungarian nobility and in surrounding lands.
She and her band even played for Maria Teresa. Her life’s pilgrimage ended in
1772, when she died at the age of 61. She was buried on February 5th 1772, in
her birthplace, Gemer.
Panna Cinková’s repertoire included not only folk and dance music of
the time, but also her own compositions. However, today it is difficult to
differentiate between those she actually composed herself, and those she adapted
from other authors or whose authorship she was credited with in succeeding
centuries. Musicologist and bandmaster J. Káldy claims that Panna created her
most successful compositions in 1735. He believes she was also co-author of
short musical pieces known as Hungarian hallgató (songs for listening). Since 1970, there has been a
yearly folk festival of song, dance and music in the birthplace of this
celebrated performer, composer, and legendary band leader. In her honour, the
organisers have named it the "Cinka Panna Festival".