Magyar and Romani melancholy

In 2018 a group of Hungarian musicians got together to give a concert in the Grand Hall of Budapest’s Liszt Academy. Guitarist Ferenc Snétberger was joined by bassist Gyula Lázár, and by the Keller Quartet, an ensemble that includes violinists András Keller and Zsófia Környei, violist Gábor Homoki, and cellist László Fenyő.

The goal was to record live for ecm records Hallgató, an album to included music by Snétberger himself, Dimitri Shostakovich, Samuel Barber, and John Dowland. ECM has just released the recording, available  on various platforms, and the results are superb.

Guitarist Ferenc Snétberger is also an accomplished composer of music that straddles both the classical and the jazz and blues worlds. In this instance the highlight of the album is In Memory of My People, a concerto for guitar and orchestra arranged for Snétberger’s guitar and the Keller Quartet by Béla Szakcsi Lakatos.

The music of Snétberger‘s In Memory of My People is infused with the spirit of the composer‘s own Romani background. Snétberger’s intensely emotional composition depicts in three movements the harrowing, moving and ultimately  inspiring journey of the Roma people, whose valiant struggles, heroic survival, and noble triumph throughout centuries of persecution are relived in music at times blunt and fretful, at others profoundly sad , and all throughout melodically tonal, harmonically inventive, and open to the asperities of atonality without fully embracing that sonic world. Above all this is music that moves the listener as it reminds one of the vicissitudes of Snétberger’s paternal and maternal ancestors.

The album is filled with elegant music, some of it by the English lutenist John Dowland – Flow my Teares and I saw my lady weep, some from the mid-to-late 20th century: the neo-Romantic Serenade for Strings of Samuel Barber, and the 20th century modern:  Dimitri Shostakovich’s anguished String Quartet No. 8 in C minor

Two more of Snétberger’s compositions – the utterly melodic and melancholy Rhapsody I for Guitar and Orchestra in a version for guitar and string quintet arranged by Béla Szakcsi Lakatos, and the bluesyYour Smile complete the remainder of the album.

Throughout the album Snétberger and his musical companions play with their hearts on their sleeves and with flawless technical command of their instruments, providing an hour of unalloyed musical pleasures.

Is there a melancholy trait in the soul of the Hungarian and Romani people? Hungarian author László F. Földényi asserts a positive answer to the question, and many others of Hungarian or Roma lineage also claim there is something to the Magyar and to the Romani characters that permeates the music of their peoples with a sad melancholy.

In Ferenc Snétberger’s artistry there is a strongly compelling quality – call it Romani melancholy if one must – that touches deeply the hearts of listeners. If the reader doubts my words just sit and listen to Your Smile, Snétberger’s musical musing on love.

Here’s a teaser:

Rafael de Acha         ALL ABOUT THE ARTS