Cinková Panna (Cinka Panna)

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".

Text based on

Ševčíková, Hana (1992) The Romani Band Leader Panna Cinková. In: Mann, Arne B. (ed.) Neznámí Rómovia. Bratislava, pp. 117-126.
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Panna Cinková (1712-1771)
"Panna Cinková". A picture by Roma children from Jarovnice (Slovakia), 1995