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.
Tcha Limberger returned the priceless favor handsomely. “About the music I intend to lay,” he said, “to start off with, this music deserves to be re-appreciated in its essential form and for that reason I don’t intend to create a new style immediately. It should again be played by musicians who really want to play it. Of course, we will not try to sound like a Gypsy band out of 1920, but also we will not play current versions either. I would like to bring these elements together that made me want to study this music that still inspires me, even when it seems to be dead already.”
And then Tcha Limberger proceeded to bring all this Magyar Nota back to life. In his glorious high and lonesome slow, andante passages, he recalled the elemental sadness of a lonely life and in the brisk passages played at a giddying pace, his prima violin captures the bright excitement and dance of a people with a robust yen for living in the glory of the sun.