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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga

East of Vienna




Part 2



Summer 1929


To civilized people music has lost a great deal of its magical fire and we listen unmoved, for our pleasure becomes intellectual as we analyse the structure of the piece as though it were a piece of architecture. But to the primitive Gypsy mind music is much stranger. when a wandering minstrel plays a dance tune he associates it with stories, legends and ballades, and as he plays he sees before his inner eye a picture. I have heard Gypsies weave fantastic stories around certain melodies as if music irresistibly called up in their mind forms and pictures. The essence of the Gypsy art is to stimulate through the wild, untamed nomadic spirit which the race has preserved down the ages... the Magyar nature needs the Gypsy to stimulate his senses at certain periods and raise him to a pitch of intoxication, but we should remember that wine, lights, perfumes play their part as well as music in the Hungarian orgy. Music is by far the most important of the elements because it is the most suggestive, and I remember a Magyar peasant saying to me: 'Give a Magyar a glass of water and a Gypsy, and you'll see him become completely drunk' ...

... Magyari Imre was away at the other end of the [restaurant's] verandah playing to the face of a lady who was sitting alone ['playing to the face' - a traditional Gypsy custom, still practised, going back to at least Beethoven's time: the 'way into the lady's heart [being] into her cavalier's pocket']. Each time that he began a fresh tune she would take a rose out of a bundle of flowers that lay beside her and throw it to him. The waiters were evidently in awe of her, for they hastened to her side every few minutes with liqueurs which she would toss off with an arrogant gesture. She was a decidedly pretty girl with auburn hair, pale waxen complexion and green eyes. Her face was virginal and innocent, but her violent red dress and her carmine lips gave her the appearance of a maiden turned vampire. Magyari Imre stood by her table and played to her for a long time. The girl then started to sing in a soft voice that echoed through the moonlit garden and held the people spellbound. Her singing was the essence of Magyar folklore: it had a desolate sadness, a sense of restless, unsatisfied seeking as she passed from one melody to another, always followed by Magyari Imre and his band. Her voice was like a dazzling bird of paradise winging its way in the clear air, and when weariness would descend and her wings would refuse to bear her up, then the violin and the cimbalon would revive her spirit and help her to soar again. All around them was ghostly silence and the sounds of the city faded away into the distance. The heavy scents of the trees mounted to us from the garden that stretched down to the Danube, and through the leaves the moon worked fantastic patterns. Such is the final memory that remains with me of my meeting with Magyari Imre, the Gypsy Violin King, under the trees on the moonlit night on Margaret's Island.

- Walter Starkie, Raggle-Taggle (London March 1933)


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