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Hanko Ferenc and Boros Lajos

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Tcha Limberger recovered and digitized a rare and revered recording in the cannon of Magyar Nota so that we may all have the pleasure to hear it. The recording comes from two masters, Hanko Ferenc and Boros Lajos.

Magyar Nota, a type of Hungarian music, is unlike anything else, it is an unrehearsed, intricate, deeply complex music, that is performed without a beat or pulse. In many western styles we are used to a consistent pulse based on subdivisions of notes; it’s something you can snap to, dance to and keep up with. The music changes tempo without hearable warnings. The music will slow down and speed up following only the bow of the first violinist.

Limberger is a polymath, a speaker of 10+ languages, a wealth of cultural knowledge and a master of many genres across many instruments. Limberger is Manouche (a Western European ethnic group of Romani) and is blind. I became aware of this music from Limberger's recount — Limberger first heard first-hand Magyar Nota while playing a concert with his family band “Romani” in Budapest. When seeking a teacher he was informed, “if you want to play this music you have to speak Hungarian” — and he was right. Whereas we might be used to reading music that follows a time signature with noted quavers and rests, Magyar Nota is written to a script.

The melody of any given tune follows the rhythms of the Hungarian language. Stressed syllables become the downbeats, certain notes will hold different lengths akin to how one will stress or elongate certain words of importance in any given phrase.

The Hungarian language has short and long vowels, unlike English where all vowels are relatively the same length (unless changed for emphasis). A Hungarian word might mean two different things depending on how long any given vowel is said.

Limberger recounts the tale of how this recording came to be, “The story goes that this recording happened in someone's home, after a concert. The musicians had been drinking a little and gotten into an argument. Lajos claimed that Ferenc would not be able to "follow him" and " accompany him well, if he couldn't see his bow arm.” Remember that this is a principle of playing this music - since the music does not have a time signature or written rhythm, the band must be able to predict how the lead emphasizes the notes based on the speed and position of the violinist’s bow. “Hanko and Boros stood back to back and played this wonderful music.”

Limberger started his quest to play Magyar Nota when he first heard a very old and distorted version kept by a family friend, Koen De Cauter. Limberger explains that every self-respecting Romani musician in Budapest has a copy of this and no interest in letting their only copies go. Limberger’s copy, as recently digitized, is in the best condition of them all. “It came to me from a collector of Hungarian music, mostly Magyar Nota, Edely Pitios. He got it directly from the man who, thank goodness, had a Revox tape recorder and had the presence of mind to record this music miracle which in its turn, is responsible for making me want to go to Budapest to try to comprehend the mysteries of this style.”

You can listen to that very recording here.

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