Tcha Limberger: Gypsy In The Footsteps Of Béla Bartók

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    Tcha-Limberger-Guitar-WMRA year later, Tcha Limberger returned to make another significant album with one of his biggest musical influences, Flemish multi-instrumentalist, composer and thinker, Koen de Cauter. The album was Terug (MAP Records, 1999), and was a songbook that relocated the poetic works of the 19th Century Catholic priest, mystic and bard, Guido Gezelle (1830-1899). Of course the record was ignored by all but a few segments of the cognoscenti. It simply did not have the flash and package that modern marketers desire for bin-sales—especially across the Atlantic, in North America. However, the album bristles with genius. Father Gezelle is considered one of the most important Dutch poets of his era. His work is considered as important as that of Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo and Edgar Allan Poe, but the musical interpretation by Koen de Cauter—who also plays soprano saxophone, guitar and sings the program—his sons, Dajo on double-bass (an arco genius) and the unbridled talent of Myrddin on clarinet and guitar, and of course, Tcha Limberger on violin and alto violin.

    Tcha-Limberger-Guido-Gezelle-WMRThis album may very possibly have been the turning point in Tcha Limberger’s artistic life. Firstly, Koen de Cauter played a big part in mentoring the young Limberger—from where Herman Schamp left off—at this critical point in his career. Although he may not have compelled him to pursuing deeper studies in gypsy music, he certainly helped fire up the young and restlessly probing mind of Tcha Limberger. He would have to wait a considerable time longer before he could dive into the world that beckoned from Hungary, but his studies with de Cauter continued and Tcha was taught great lessons in tone and other jazz styles—typically the music of New Orleans. An album, Ombre et Lumiere (Munich Records, 2004), with Koen de Cauter’s Waso Quartet, was the resutlt. This was one of the last albums that featured Tcha Limberger on guitar, and his playing is outstanding throughout. Egged on by the splendid, wail of de Cauter’s soprano, punctuated by percussive rhythm guitar, courtesy another fine Gypsy musician, Xavier Bronchart, and Dajo de Cauter’s swinging bass playing, Tcha Limberger’s pensive style rises to new heights of technical excellence and expressive dynamics.

    On both Terug and Ombre et Lumiere Limberger brought the considerable wealth of learning and tutelage that he had earlier on in his career from the classical composer, Dick Vanderharst, with whom he had worked in the celebrated theatre company Het Muzeik Lod, playing in seven theatre productions from his teenage years until he was 22. It was Vanderharst, more than anyone else, who opened Limberger’s mind to the myriad tonal colors heard in his music today. The composer also gave him the first lessons in jazz phrasing. Koen de Cauter then fueled this fire in Limberger while he worked with the De Cauter family on various projects until he toured Hungary, a country that beckoned him not just for the music but for the soul.

    The Bartók-Kodaly Expedition

    In Budapest with Koen de Cauter, Tcha Limberger—who once dreamed of becoming a flamenco guitarist—decided to return to Hungary to study the roots of Gypsy music. He began by studying also studied Gypsy melody under Kallai Zsolt in Belgium; then, at twenty-three years of age, he began to study Hungarian and became a pupil of the great Horvath Bela, remaining under his tutelage for a year Tcha-Limberger-Koen-De-Cauter-2-WMRand a half. Perhaps he did not know then, but this was a path last seriously trod by Bela Bartók, with his friend, Zoltan Kodaly around 1908. Had 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.

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