October 11, 2010

How Gypsy Music came to influence Classical Music

Gypsy music has had a tremendous influence on popular culture from the time of Brahms and Bartok to this year’s smash number one hit by pop icon Shakira. From their early roots in Northern India to the high mountain ranges of Hungary and Romania to the plains of Spain and the invention of Flamenco, Roma culture is visible everywhere if you know where to look.

Original Romani folk songs not derived from the countries where the Romani live are relatively rare.  The music of this nomadic people is instead most often an expansion on the many cultures and peoples of the regions they inhabited, taking the folk music of the region and adding additional complexity and form.  The complexity of Gypsy music made Gypsy orchestras and Gypsy jazz ensembles wildly popular throughout Western Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  [SEE A PERFORMANCE]

At different times and in different countries Roma have mastered the lute, harp, balalaika, accordion, drums, and many other instruments. However, hardly anyone would object to the statement that the instruments most characteristic of Eastern European Romani are guitar [LISTEN] and violin [WATCH].  And like most folk and popular music, most Gypsy music is meant for dancing [WATCH].

So taken were Bela Bartok and his fellow Hungarian ethnomusicologist & composer Zoltan Kodaly that they traveled the Hungarian countryside repeatedly from 1904 to 1912 and recorded the folk and Gypsy music they discovered on wax cylinders.  Many of these recordings later become the basis for their own compositions.  Take a listen to this interesting recording that pairs their original wax folk recordings with the classical compositions they created based on them.  [LISTEN HERE]

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