Czardas by Vittorio Monti
Most people, when hearing the expression “Gypsy music”, would imagine a fiery Hungarian or Romanian violinist. At least, that’s what I imagine. For me, the free, improvisational, virtuoso violin playing is at the very heart of Gypsy music. That style came from Hungary.
Historically, life was safer for Gypsies in Hungary than almost anywhere else. They came there as early as in the 15th century, and soon thereafter the Court chronicles mentioned the first professional Gypsy musician – a lute player. Gradually, more and more Gypsies became professional musicians: first one in a hundred, then one of fifty, and, at its peak, about hundred years ago – every one in fifteen!
The Gypsies were serious about their chosen profession. Every little boy was given a tiny violin at the age of 5 or 6, and began scraping on it. An observer wrote that it was considered shameful for a boy “not to exert himself fully, not to put all his heart into learning violin...” The boys often competed amongst themselves, and the winner raised the social status of the whole family. They had incentives to play well, and play well they did!
When, in the 18th century, Hungary began a liberation war with Austria, Gypsies were invited to play during recruitment, to attract more people to join the army. The fiery dances they played were called Verbunkos, from the German word Werben, which means “to recruit”. Later these dances were developed into the Czardas: a dance that begins slow, then gradually becomes faster and more vigorous.
Many renowned musicians – Liszt, Brahms, Sarasate, Tchaikovski, Strauss – used the Czardas style in their compositions. The best one, though, was written by an otherwise unknown composer: Vittorio Monti. His “Czardas” is the only piece he is famous for – but rightly so! Although not Hungarian himself, Monti was able to convey the spirit of this dance as no one else could.
The original piece was composed for violin. I made my own solo piano arrangement, quite improvisational and free – as befits the Gypsy music...
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This story is just a tidbit from Alexander's "Songs of Exiles" concert program. To hear the full story, together with Alexander's virtuoso performance, come see him at his next concert! To buy this track, or the full CD of the music from "Songs of Exiles", follow the link on the left.