Bela Bartok (fourth, from left) using a gramaphone to record Czech folk songs, 1907
The Romani people began their migration westward from the Indian subcontinent almost 1,000 years ago. As they traveled, their music and culture adopted Persian, Turkic, and Middle-Eastern characteristics. Centuries later, European composers heard a Romani musical language filled with previously unimagined scales and an improvisational melodic style.
For Haydn, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and others, the Romani influence allowed them to broaden their own musical vocabularies and glimpse a way of life that treasured freedom beyond all European restrictions. Romani music and culture also had a significant impact on French jazz, as well as on Spanish flamenco music and dance.
Saul Lilienstein delves into the European journeys of the Romani, revealing through recordings and rare film footage their profound influence on the music we hear today.
9:30–10:45 a.m. Romani Music Enters the Classical Tradition
Haydn grew up in the villages of western Hungary, loving the sounds of Romani violins. Schubert, a man who understood all too well a life of rejection, incorporates his pain—and theirs—into many songs and music for piano.
11 a.m.–12 p.m. Into the Mid-19th Century
Berlioz and his Rakoczy March are followed by Brahms, who reveled in Romani influences in an early piano quartet, his Hungarian Dances, and his later Quintet for Clarinet and Strings.
12:15–1:15 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:15–2:15 p.m. The Hungarians Reclaim Their Tradition
Liszt’s rhapsodies, Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, and Bartok’s forays into ethnomusicology reflect an evolving understanding of Romani culture.
2:30–4:15 p.m. Across the Continent
The infectious rhythms and song of the Romani resounded in Russia (in a Tchaikovsky violin concerto and Rachmaninov’s early opera Aleko), in Germany and France, where Django Reinhardt re-imagined American jazz as European swing, and in the flamenco music of the cave-dwelling Gitanos, still heard today in Andalusian Spain.
Lilienstein, a scholar of classical music and opera, has produced more than 90 CDs for Washington National Opera in which he analyzes the works in the company’s repertoire.