Hungarian and Gypsy Fiddle: The Complexity of Violins

Violins are quite a popular instrument in gypsy fiddle music. They are challenging to learn just like playing the viola.  

But what is a gypsy fiddle? Gypsy violin music, also known as Hungarian gypsies, has a tradition of violin playing that goes back centuries to the Middle Ages and beyond. The gypsies were itinerant people who traveled with their families and pets from place to place. They would be welcomed by many villages and given food and shelter while they had some fun on the sidelines of village life or just played for pleasure within their own community.

Hungarian fiddle playing is known around the world. People think it has a lot of passion, romance, and virtuosity. It is associated with campfires, open roads, and gypsies. Hungarian fiddle music is gypsy music. But many people in Hungary feel that it should not be called gypsy because it is Hungarian and not just gypsy. Gypsies do like to play music, but other people also do. And there has been a revival of folk music in Hungary, and most of that has not been from the gypsies.

In 1859, a Hungarian pianist and composer, Franz Liszt, wrote a book about the music of gypsies. It was called The Gypsies and Their Music in Hungary. He was already famous for his appreciation of gypsy music and had written a book about it before this one called Hungarian Rhapsodies. People were angry with him because he said that Hungarian village music was not as good as gypsy orchestra music. He thinks it is more perfect and daring. This subject is not to be taken lightly. There is no more patriotic nation than the Hungarians, and during the 19th century, there was a lot of national emotion as Hungary tried and failed to free itself from the Hapsburg Empire. Music is an essential part of our nationalism, and it has been for many years. Music was played mainly by gypsy orchestras, which were popular from the 1760s on. Some people say that without the gypsies, Hungarian music would be nothing. Other people say that although they might not think it is as good as different types of music, what these people play is still Hungarian. Kodaly wrote in 1960 that Hungarian folk music is not the creation of gypsies. This is because Franz Liszt made a mistake and said it was. They would also point out that Liszt did not speak Hungarian, spent most of his life abroad, and was not well placed to comment accurately on what comprised Hungarian folk music.

Quick Picks: Hungarian and Gypsy Fiddle

Product Name

Product image

Check Price

Janos Bihari

Mark Rozsavolgyi

Magyar Nota

Bartok and Kodaly

The Beginnings of the Gypsy Violin

The gypsies have been around since the 15th century. In 1423, King permitted them to travel freely. That was important because they could escape from the Turks who invaded in the 17th century. After that, Hungary opened up to western and church influences, which is how they learned about harmony. For musicians in Hungarian villages, the Reformation meant that they were not allowed to play music and dance. Fiddlers were at the top of the Wanted posters. One preacher in 1681 said he would have all violins found in towns, villages and cut them in two. Violin players who play dances will be hung up by their legs. This threat may have scared the Hungarians who were religious, but the gypsies would not be scared. They gradually began to provide music to people and replaced some Hungarian people. In 1683, a Hungarian writer said that a gypsy fiddler was an important part of any nobleman's entourage.

The first gypsy violinist that we know of was Mihaly Barna, who led a quartet with second violin, harp, and bass. He was also a composer. He is credited with the famous Rakoczy Song, which celebrates the exploits of Prince Francis Rakoczi, who was an 18th-century soldier. They are said to have fought together and been exiled together in Turkey. It became famous for aristocrats to hire their own gypsy orchestra. The one led by a violinist (the primas) was rarely a bagpipe. During this time, the violin had become the most popular instrument in Hungary, and it replaced the bagpipe as an instrument that people played at parties. People usually pass down their profession to their children, and it is not always the son who gets the fiddle. Panna Czinka (1711-1772) was the granddaughter of Mihaly Barna. She became a violinist at 15 years old, and she dressed just like other members of her band. She was famous for both her very dark skin and her brilliance as a violin player. People said that she could make the stones shake because of how good she was. There are many stories about the close relationship between gypsy musicians and Hungary. Some people say that it may not be true. One person said that Panna Czinka's grandfather Mihaly Barna was made up, and there were no gypsies in Rakoczi's retinue. Who do you believe?

Hungarians had a great up-welling of nationalism in the 1760s. The gypsy orchestras were able to take advantage of this by playing sentimental old folk songs and composing new ones. In a short time, there were gypsy musicians everywhere. Music was played during military recruitment drives. Soldiers would go to villages and show their strength and virility with the music of a gypsy band. Young men of the village were sometimes carried away by patriotic music, alcohol, and testosterone. After a while, they would find themselves in the army. The new kind of music that fits with these occasions was called Verbunkos. There were lots of different kinds in it-Hungarian, Turkish, Vienna, but they all had one thing in common-they start off slowly and end up fast. There are two ways to view this. Some say it is about how people in Hungary are gloomy, but then they are carefree when they have fun. Others think that this is about the two emotions when you go away or battle with someone. This music has many different types of harmonies. One is called the "Hungarian Gypsy Scale," which can be played on a guitar. This scale was brought to Hungary from Turkey.

The scale is used in old, rural music. Kodály was not happy with it and said, "Gypsies falsify the folk music they play by including the augmented intervals of this scale, which peasants never use." Bartók said that Hungarian scales are not in Hungarian folk music. You'll never see two augmented seconds in one tune.

There is a common use of the interval of a fourth in military trumpet signals.

Verbunkos quickly became a symbol of romanticism, national rebirth, and all things Hungarian. Everyone from the peasantry to the aristocracy loved Verbunkos. During this time, Hungarian gypsy groups played with success in other European capitals. It was reported that there was a group of German musicians who were playing at the same ball. The gypsies played for almost 2 hours, and they did very well. But when the Germans saw this, they became angry and started to play their music too.

Janos Bihari

Janos Bihari was one of the leading writers and performers of verbunkos. He is credited with over 80 works in that genre, including the Rakoczi March. The Rakoczi March has been played by composers such as Liszt and Berlioz. It is still played at dance parties today as a traditional closing number for a party. Liszt was so impressed with Bihari's violin playing that he wrote, "like drops of some fiery spirit essence, the music of this magic violin came to our ears."

Another composer and performer was a violinist, Mark Rozsavolgyi. He wrote the first czardas. It is from a new type of music that came from verbunkos. The genre of czardas became popular, and every band leader needed to write a song in that style. Like every new pop phenomenon, czardas had their detractors.

Mark Rozsavolgyi

Rozsavolgyi was a credible personality of another new musical movement-popular Hungarian song known as Magyar nota. It is called a Hungarian song because it is from Hungary. But he wasn't born in Hungary; he was born Mordchele Rosenthal. He and his whole group were Jews, not gypsies. In the 19th century, many violin dynasties were established in Hungary. Balint Sarosi wrote a book called "Gypsy Music," and he listed the following: The Berkes's, Berkis, Kozáks, Kóczés, Munczis, Rácz's, Radics's and Magyars. The best musicians made a lot of money and had a luxurious lifestyle. But the other musicians had it hard, and many were not able to find other work to supplement their income. The territory was fiercely defended. A band of Gyulas went to Arad, and they were beaten up by the people in Arad who lived there.

Meanwhile, people continued to argue about what is considered real Hungarian music. It was more than just idle talk; this was the time of Hungarian nationalist feelings and also when Viennese classical music reached its peak. The Hungarian middle class desperately wanted to have their own music, at least as good as Austria.

Magyar Nota

Nota is like today's pop song. Kodaly defined it as "something for a man who has grown out of folk culture, but has not yet reached a higher cultural level." Nota songs are often related to western art music, so they are easy to harmonize. The nota song usually starts with piano accompaniment. Verbunkos is different because it makes songs into instrumentals but nota do the opposite and uses established tunes for songs. The song "Quietly flows the River Maros" is based on a czardas. Pista Danko was one of the first successful gypsy musicians to write nota. Among his compositions is One Kitten, Two Kittens. This song was so popular that when the band played it for two days at Hungaria Restaurant in Szeged, they had to play it continuously.

By this time, there were many songs that urban gypsy music had. This group of songs has not changed greatly in a hundred years. Many of these are sweet, sentimental numbers with titles like "My violin is broken." A bird sings happily on the branch of a leafy tree. My little house is made of hay and straw. The swallow cries loudly, but why? Verbunkos and czardas tunes are popular music, but they have Hungarian themes too. Brahms' Hungarian Dances and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody are art music compositions that include both Hungarian themes as well as gypsy folk styles. Light operas like Lehar's The Merry Widow or Kalman's The Gypsy Princess were often played. An Italian composer named Vittorio Monti wrote a czardas in 1904. He was famous for that piece of music, but it was not his only one. That czarda is still the most famous of all the czardas. The Romanian composer Dinicu contributed two numbers that quickly became gypsy standards. They are the hora staccato and ciocarlia. The hora is renowned for its section of bird noises played on the top end of the fiddle.

Bartok and Kodaly

People in the city like to listen to music with more complicated ideas. Some people think that the music in the city is too much and it does not sound like what they want. Other people believe that this type of music is suitable because it is different from what they usually hear. Bela Bartok heard a song from a singing maid. The red apple fell in the mud. He thought it was a folk song, and he became interested in collecting songs from the Hungarian countryside. People in the so-called "cultured urban circles" did not know about the rich treasure of folk music. No one knew there was this kind of music. This man used an Edison cylinder recording machine to make recordings of 10,000 songs. Many of the music was collected from the Hungarian-speaking areas beyond the present borders. Bartok copied many of these themes and forms into his compositions. His music was both modern and had a sense of ancient Hungary. They work together. They divide up the countries and other Hungarian-speaking places. They also reopened the Liszt controversy, rejecting that gypsy music is linked to Hungarian music. When Bartok and Kodaly collected tunes, they tried to find ones that the Roma did not influence. They felt it was a sin for people who were not Roma to play Roma folk music. These tunes had more recent urban songs instead of authentic folk culture. The Hungarian aristocracy did not like this view because they saw themselves as the noble people overall in charge of the music. To think that Hungarian culture lies with peasants is a very disturbing idea. It is also revolutionary, which would be dangerous to them.

Peasant folk song always has words. But modern csardas and magyar nota can be instrumental. Béla Bartók wrote in 1947, "In the folksong, text, and music created an indivisible unity. Gypsy performance abolishes this unity because it transforms, without exception, the vocal pieces into purely instrumental ones." This is enough to prove that gypsy performances are not authentic.

After the war, in 1946, it was clear that there was a revolution happening. After this communist takeover, there were folk ensembles in the country. But unlike other countries, gypsies were allowed to continue working because they made music. Support for gypsy children also came from the Young Communists League. The most successful school is the Rajco School in Budapest. Gyla Farcas founded it in 1952. Today there is also a Rajco Ensemble made up of graduates who perform professionally. The Hungarian State Folk Ensemble still has two bands that alternate once during a show. One plays romantic gypsy music, while the other plays real village music. The ensemble was founded in 1951 and, unlike many other groups that were created during communist times, it wanted to keep the traditions of music and dance alive. The group didn't want to create fakelore like so many other groups did.

Janos Bihari's heritage is carried on through the Lakatos family. Sandor Lakatos (1924-94) was a gypsy, and he was a 5th generation descendant of Janos Bihari. He was an educated man and led one of the best classical urban gypsy orchestras. Today his nephew Roby Lakatos, born in 1965, brings gypsy music into the 21st century. A great musician taught him, and now he can play many different kinds of music.

Dance House Movement

During the 1970s, traditional music entered a new era. It was called the Tanchaz or Dance House movement. This occurred because people felt like folk music had been taken away from them by the state and wanted to reclaim it. Either classically trained musicians or gypsies played the music. But when Sandor Timar wanted some authentic live music for an avant-garde production, he was not satisfied with either of these choices. Instead, he turned to Bela Halmos and Ferenc Sebo, who were young and played an instrument. They could experiment with different things in music, like folk music. A Hungarian folk dancer, Martin Gyorgi (1932-83), proved that music with odd bar lengths and asymmetric structures is an integral part of traditional Hungarian music. The duo and Timar established a dance house where people could come to listen to Hungarian village music, learn traditional dances. The idea caught on very quickly, and a lot of people went to the dance house because they wanted to learn how to do these things. There were many bands and music. The key to this was that everyone wanted to be involved. The state no longer controlled this.

One of the most famous "source" bands is the Bogyiszlo Orchestra from Hungary. It was in 1983 when Sebo first recorded them for the state Hungaroton label. Many of the songs they sing are from before the vebunkos and czardas. One song is called a jumping dance or ugro, which is from before the Middle Ages. This song has a pentatonic scale that repeats five notes lower. This structure can be traced back to when people first came to Hungary for Turkic lands in Siberia.

The most successful of the new bands were Muzsicas. They have a reputation for recreating authentic village music. This happened by going into the villages and recording old songs and playing techniques. The band is composed ofMihaly Sipos and Laszlo Porteleki on violins, Peter Eri on kontra, Daniel Hamar on bass, and Marta Sebestyen on vocals. One of their most exciting projects today is "The Bartok Album." This album has recordings based both on original recordings by Bartok as well as contemporary recordings in traditional village style.


The Roma people (gypsies, tziganes, zigeuners) started in North Central India, and then they went to North-Western India and then Persia and then Europe. They were called gypsies because they thought they came from Egypt. For a long time, they have been on the margins of society. They don't farm, but they do other things to make money, like metalworking and horse-dealing. For them, musicians have the highest status. There are different tribes of gypsies. Some came to Hungary in the 15th century and made up most "restaurant" musicians. They are called Romungro gypsies. The second group of Gypsies arrived in the 19th century. They are called the Vlach or Olah family. This group is different because they played music for themselves, and it was all vocal and percussion instruments.

European nobles, particularly in countries like Russia and Hungary, have always been fascinated with gypsies. They would pay for them to play music. Even the Hungarian landed gentry had gypsy orchestras.

There are many different types of gypsy music. Django Reinhardt plays gypsy jazz. Flamenco is from Spain but can also be found in other countries. Taraf de Haiduks is a type of Hungarian gypsy music that is more vocal and percussive than some different styles. There are also styles of music that are played only by gypsies for themselves, which are very improvisational and vocal-based.

A common feature these people have is that they are good musicians. They adopt a professional attitude, learn the local music, and make it better. As travelers, gypsies have been a force in the spread of music. They have a knowledge of other regions and countries and can introduce new techniques and flavors that seem mysterious.

A fiddler feels that the style of Eastern Europe is exciting and challenging. It is one of the few areas where it is an advantage for a classical technique to be used instead of a benefit for folk music.

Techniques Used by the Gypsie Fiddler

It's not accurate to say that there is only one style of playing for gypsies. Bartok said, " the simple rural gypsy plays in a manner entirely distinct from his urban cousins." The rural style is raw, lively, and lacking in polish. However, we are most familiar with the "gypsy orchestra" style. It is a classical style but has many improvisational parts. Features include:

  1. Use of higher positions, up to the top of the neck
  2. Use of harmonics, either "true" or "false."
  3. Pizzicato using the left hand, sometimes simultaneous with bowing
  4. Spiccato and detache bowing techniques
  5. Wide vibrato, used in a controlled and more efficient way to display emotion
  6. Frequent use of double stops and arpeggios to emphasize chords
  7. Frequent changes of tempo, shifting gear often from prolonged, rubato sections to dizzying speeds.
  8. Improvisation using all the above techniques.

Gypsies almost never use written music when they are performing. This is one of the things that made they're playing impressive and mysterious to people in London, Paris, or Vienna who would see them for the first time in the 18th or 19th century. Gypsies think that printed music is a wall. Balint Sarosi said, "The printed music assumes the nature of a dividing wall between musician and listener which would end the feeling of direct contact between them." This makes people feel like they can't get close to musicians when they are playing.

To a gypsy player, the performance and how it will make people feel is very important. They want to move people with music and bring them to ecstasy. To do this, they use different musical devices that can whip up your emotions.

You can visit this site to learn more about gypsy fiddle.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Gypsy Fiddle

What is a gypsy fiddle?

Gypsy fiddlers are really good at playing the violin. They play high to low. Sometimes they use arpeggios, chromatic runs, harmonics, pizzicato, and exaggerated vibrato.

What is gypsy music called?

The Romani people's music is simply called Romani music. It comes from India, but now they live mainly in Europe. This music draws its themes from Hungary, Romania, Russia, and other places.

Are fiddles violins?

In the United States, most people know a fiddle as a violin. Violin players sometimes call the violin their "fiddle" because it is their workmate and companion. Fiddles are used in Irish-Scottish-French traditional music and all of itMar 31, 2021

What musical instruments do Gypsies play?

The term "Gypsy style" refers to the way that East European music is played. It can be played in coffee shops or restaurants, parties, and sometimes on-stage. It is usually played by strings, but in the Romanian variant, it is mainly played with panflutes.

What makes Romany special?

Romani music has vocals that are usually soulful and declamatory. This music often includes slides between notes.

Do Gypsies play the violin?

Gypsies and their musicians have a great tradition of violin playing. They play with music that is not just simple. Sometimes they add decoration to the music.

What language does the gypsy speak?

Romani is a language that 5-6 million Roma people speak. The most prominent groups of these people live in Turkey, Spain, and Romania. In English, they are often called Gypsies.

Are there any famous Gypsy actors?

Cinema and theater: Charlie Chaplin is an English comic actor. Bob Hoskins is an English actor. Tony Gatlif is a French film director. Manoush is a French actress. Óscar Jaenada is Spanish actor. Joaquín Cortés is Spanish ballet and flamenco dancer. Leonor Teles is Portuguese film director, Ștefan Bănică Sr is Romanian actor.

What language is Romani closest to?

Romani is an exciting language that comes from India. It is in the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family, which means it's related to languages like Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and Sanskrit.

Is the fiddle Irish?

The violin came from Ireland. The first reports of bowed instruments similar to the violin were in the Book of Leinster, about 1,000 years ago. The violin became common in Ireland by around 1700.

How much do fiddles cost?

Most fiddle models are made from solid wood. The cheapest ones are $80. The most expensive, made with high-quality wood like maple and walnut, can be as much as $300.

Why is it called a fiddle?

The word fiddle is not known for sure where it came from. It probably came from the word "fidula," which is the Latin word for violin, but it may have come from Germanic. The name of the instrument sounds similar to "Fiðla" in Icelandic and "fiðele" in Old English.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}