excerpt from 'Music and manners; personal reminiscences and sketches of character' pp. 125-27 (672 words)

excerpt from 'Music and manners; personal reminiscences and sketches of character' pp. 125-27 (672 words)

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Music and manners; personal reminiscences and sketches of character

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I had enjoyed many opportunities of becoming well acquainted with Roumanian music and minstrelsy... Of the many roaming minstrel-bands with which it was my good fortune to foregather in the course of my own successive wanderings...between the years 1865 and 1875, the " brotherhood " submitted to the sway of Nick the Moldavian, was in every respect the most remarkable. It consisted of eight performers, each of whom could play more than one instrument, and with really extraordinary ability, whilst one and all were tuneful and passionate singers. I first came upon them, very late at night, in a summer-garden, the abode of vociferous frogs, myriads in number, and never weary of croaking batrachian part-songs in every vocal register, from the gruffest of basses to the shrillest of trebles. Thither some of my Boyar friends conveyed me, to sup under the dark blue canopy of a Roumanian midnight sky, and to hear the best minstrelsy in all the land. As we were sitting in a bosky nook, dimly lighted by one stearine candle, defended from the breezes by a crystal sheath, we became aware of dusky faces peering in upon us from among the rustling green leaves. It struck me, I remember, that if the owners of such ominous physiognomies earned their daily bread by honest means, Dame Nature must have done them a cruel wrong. The situation seemed precarious; suddenly the frog-choruses themselves, to my ear, acquired an intolerably menacing vehemence. Whilst I was anxiously scanning those dingy visages, in the faint hope of detecting a ray of mansuetude in at least one gleaming eye, they all broke out into meriy smiles; off went a fiddle with a humorous flourish ; tink-a-tank twangled the double-necked guitar under the deft fingers of Niko Moldoveanûl ; a fiutey tooting revealed the presence of Pandean pipes, uncommonly mellow in quality ; and Nicolai Terranul (Nicholas the Peasant), a slender young Tsigan, with crisply curled black hair, and eyes like dark brown opals, stepped forward, bowing with all the grace and ease, of a practised courtier, and sang one of the gayest predatory ballads of his repertoire in a throstle-throated, truly admirable manner. The "Peasant" and the "Moldavian" could both fiddle distractingly well, besides singing in such sort as to stir the heart and charm the ear, and playing the ciombolanû — a sort of upright zither, plucked at with a plectrum — quite inimitably. To either of them a page of printed notes would have been about as intelligible as a chronological brick from Mesopotamia. Of their comrades, one in particular — a withered gipsy, exactly the colour of an ancient copper kettle, with revolving wild eyes — was the original genius of the "brotherhood." His instrument was the fiddle, upon which he could imitate exactly the tones of the flute, Paudcans, and three-holed reed — the genuine Dacian peasant's solace and only musical " familiar." This incomparable sound-mimic was, moreover, a composer and improvisatore, extravagantly proud of his compositions, which seemed to me the ravings of insane tonality, though there was unquestionably " method in their madness." When he extemporised, his "brothers" accompanied him by ear and intuition, hitting off the just harmonies with a surprising prescience of the most improbable melodic transitions. In all his rhapsodies there were real tunes, cast in the oddest of rhythms, but correct in form and intelligible enough to a quick musical ear. The copper- coloured, wizened Tsigan had queer ways of his own. His ordinary attitude in the company was retiring, not to say furtive ; but when he detected appreciativeness in his audience he would edge his way through his fellows to their front, jerk his chin down upon his fiddle like some extremely aged and supematurally wily bird, roll his eyes, wink, and grin a saffron grin. Then, dropping his bow lightly on the strings, he would conjure there- from, with the supplest of wrists and most exterous of fingers, such weird sounds as I, for one, have never before or since heard produced from any combination of wood, catgut, and horsehair. 

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excerpt from 'Music and manners; personal reminiscences and sketches of character' pp. 125-27 (672 words)


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