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Tcha Limberger: Gypsy In The Footsteps Of Bela Bartok

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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The Bartók-Kodaly ExpeditionHad it not been for Bartók and Kodaly's musical expeditions around this time and again, around 1911, when he returned to the Carpathian Basin, where he notated Hungarian, Slovakian, and Romanian and Bulgarian folk music until the outbreak of the First World War. In 1908, Bartók's made his first foray into the world of Hungarian folk melodies. This move was inspired by both his own and Kodaly's interest in folk music and by the contemporary resurgence of interest in traditional national culture. So Bartók and Kodaly travelled into the countryside to collect and research old Magyar folk melodies. Their findings came as a surprise: Magyar folk music had previously been categorized as Gypsy music. The classic example of this misconception is Franz Liszt's famous Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano, which were based on popular art-songs performed by Gypsy bands of the time. In contrast, the old Magyar folk melodies discovered by Bartók and Kodaly bore little resemblance to the popular music performed by these Gypsy bands. Instead, they found that many of the folk-songs are based on pentatonic scales similar to those in Oriental folk traditions, such as those of Central Asian and Siberia.

Bartók and Kodaly quickly set about incorporating elements of real Magyar peasant music into their compositions. Both Bartók and Kodaly frequently quoted folk songs verbatim and wrote pieces derived entirely from authentic folk melodies. An example is his two volumes entitled For Children for solo piano containing eighty folk tunes to which he wrote accompaniment. Bartók's style in his art music compositions was a synthesis of folk music, classicism, and modernism. His melodic and harmonic sense was profoundly influenced by the folk music of Hungary, Romania, and many other nations, and he was especially fond of the asymmetrical dance rhythms and pungent harmonies found in Bulgarian music. Most of his early compositions offer a blend of nationalist and late Romanticism elements.

Much of this folk music—certainly folk song, which had been swallowed whole by the hybrid Magyar Nota (Hungarian Song) had already been adopted as art music almost a hundred years earlier, at the beginning of the 19th century. Much of this was composed and played in residences and homes of Hungarian noblemen. Typically they would hire Gypsy musicians to perform the tunes they wrote because they cost less than classical musicians and because of their extreme dexterity with the musical instruments required. Much Gypsy music came to be absorbed into the literature of Hungarian folk music at this time and thanks to Magyar Nota, Gypsy musicians and their orchestras flourished beyond expectations. This music flourished for over two hundred years—even through the harsh repression of the Nazi years and Stalinist Communism. Tragically its popularity began to fade away dramatically in the latter half of the 20th Century, with the advent of MTV culture.

In the Footsteps of Bartók

Magyar Nota, has, however remained prevalent in rural Hungary in a small and shrinking number of fine artists. It was to this endangered group that Tcha Limberger felt drawn, both musically and spiritually as well. Fortunately he found a willing ally in Dave Kelbie, founder and producer of lejazzetal, United Kingdom. Kelbie, a fine, percussive rhythm guitarist who has p[played with the great Fappy Lafertin and Bireli Lagrene has been a champion of Gypsy music for decades, performing with the Angelo Debarre Quartet for several years. Good fortune brought him together with Tcha Limberger. However, to understand the full impact of Limberger's wonderful achievement it pays to review how Limberger's great artistry gained him almost impossible entry into the insular culture of that region.



Becoming a primas or concertmaster of a Gypsy orchestra, playing Magyar Nota in Hungary or Romania is usually a legacy passed on from father to son. Thus, Ratz Bal, a primas from the early 20th Century passed his legacy on to his son, Ratz Laci the 36th who apprenticed with him until ready to wear the mantle of concertmaster of the Gypsy Orchestra. Similarly, Jaroka Sandor Sr.—venerated for his style and timing—handed over the torch to his son, Jaroka Jr. Tcha Limberger had no such legacy. But his playing with Horvath Bela was so staggering and brilliant that he was chosen primas for an orchestra that eventually became the celebrated Budapest Gypsy Orchestra comprising Ruszo Istvan, 2nd violin, Lukacs Csaba, clarinet, Olah Norbert, bracs, Szegfu Karoly, cello, Feher Istvan, cimbalom and Csikos Vilmos, on double-bass.

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