It is generally not well understood how Gypsies
came to play a most significant role in European music-making. Though despised
and persecuted as a people and traditionally traded as slaves, the wandering
Roma seem to have managed in most cases to maintain some cultural continuity
with their ancestors, who are believed to have migrated to Persia from
northern India from around 420 BC when 10,000 Luri (a caste of musicians
and dancers) were brought at the request of the King. On the move with
the Turkish army who used them as professional musicians, the Roma dispersed
throughout Europe from the 15th century, living on the fringes of society
as tinkers, craftsmen and horsetraders, as well as entertainers. Whether
dancing with trained bears or playing for a village wedding, Gypsies in
the Austro-Hungarian empire made themselves indispensible as performers
to villages of various ethnicities (Saxons, Vlachs, Magyar and Moldavians,
etc., to name just the groups of Transylvania).
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Gypsy
musicians and bands were beginning to enjoy the patronage of the middle
classes and especially the aristocracy, who increasingly regarded their
lives and performances as exemplifying an idealized Romantic "freedom".
Violinists usually dominated these small bands, which could include viola
and cello, or even cimbalom (hammered zither)or various wind instruments.
In the Austro-Hungarian court of Esterháza, where the great Joseph
Haydn wore servant's livery in his role as royal composer, Gypsy bands
played in the courtyard and from 1715 also travelled from village to village
accompanying the "strong" dancing of soldiers who recruited continuously
for Nicolas the Magnificent's military operations. The style of this verbunkos
(the so-called "recruiting" music), -- a deliberate fusion of earlier Gypsy
music (such as the 16th century works preserved in organ tablature) and
elements of the western European tradition, -- influenced Haydn and other
classical composers because it was favored by public taste. As a national
fashion this style remained popular through the 19th century with composers
such as Beethoven, Hummel, Schubert, Brahms, von Weber, Doppler and especially
Liszt writing in a "style Hongrois" influenced by the jagged rhythms
and fantastic cadences of the verbunkos style.
Of the many "Hungarian dance" composers from this
period, only János Bihari (1764-1827) a virtuoso bandleader, is
known to have been of Gypsy origin. Antal Czermak, celebrated as a virtuoso
violinist, worked (as did Bihari) in the national opera. From around 1810,
when the Rakóczi War of Independence (a military uprising) had failed,
the performance of commemorative Hungarian music (like the Rakóczi
settings of Matray and Lugasi) acquired nationalist fervor. The settings
of Hungarian dances played in the large (up to 6000 capacity) music halls
of Vienna by the renowned fortepiano virtuoso Johan Nepomuk Hummel
are accurate and enjoyable ethnographic transcriptions, while Rozsavölgyi's
"Hungarian" dances show greater influence from the Romantic salon.
The piano trios of Joseph Haydn present vivid imaginative
worlds through the cooperation and contrast of of treble and bass instruments
whose parts seem to arise from within the virtuoso keyboard part. It is
recognized that the years of stability and artistic freedom Haydn enjoyed
under the patronage of the Esterháza court supported his numerous
path-breaking formal and textural experiments. In these works, spacious
lyrical melodies contrast with brilliant final movements influenced by
folk dances, including of course the dazzling tunes and rhythms of the
popular rondo "in the Gypsies' style". Here as in other "Hungarian Gypsy"
works, the fortepiano variously suggests a cimbalom, drones
in the manner of the ancient folk hurdy-gurdy, or simply alternates bass
notes and chords in the style of Polka music.