Szászcsávás Band

Szászcsávás is a small village located in the Kis-Küküllõ River valley of Transylvania, within the current political borders of Romania. The majority of the villages 900 inhabitants are Hungarians, with 20% Gypsies. Szászcsávás holds a unique place in Hungarian music history. Whereas Hungarian folk singing is always in unison, this is perhaps the only village where polyphonic singing is found. It is a folklorized form of the polyphonic religious singing style which was introduced by protestant theologians at the end of the eighteenth century, upon returning from university in western Europe. According to the researchers, the Szászcsávás choral tradition can be traced back to the Basel school, on the basis of the number of parts and elements of composition. An active five part chorus still exists in the village today. Every Hungarian – from the little children to the elderly – sings; the parts are passed down through the family, from father to son. In addition to performances by the chorus, the people of the village sing in parts during church services, at weddings, at balls and other gatherings. At such celebrations, older popular Hungarian art songs generally dominate, but other popular folksy-songs (known in Hungarian as nóta), traditional folk songs and the traditional songs which accompany dancing are also sung in parts.

Traditionally in Transylvania, the Gypsies – and before WW II. also the Jews – played the instrumental music at weddings and other celebrations. For many generations the Gypsy musicians from Szászcsávás have been famous throughout the region. Though they are not members of the choir, they know the songs and the style of singing. The people of Szászcsávás are a more musically demanding audience than the average, who dont tolerate weak musicians. The Gypsies live on a street on the edge of what is by Transylvanian standards a fairly well off village. They make their living by doing seasonal agricultural work and making bricks in different villages in the area. Given the meagre conditions, the only way to improve their circumstances is by playing music. Amongst the Gypsies, there is an amazing number who play one instrument or another; mostly stringed instruments, and more recently accordion, drums, saxophone and electric organ. There are enough musicians living in the village to make up more than one band. For this CD we have avoided the instruments which dont fit into the traditional sound; here we can hear the stringed instruments, which were standard one generation ago in Transylvanian folk music for dance. Today the use of these instruments and their accompanying repertoire are being replaced more and more by the electric music.
In Szászcsávás, the fiddle-kontra-bass trio composes the fundamental line-up for a string band. The fiddle is the same as the classical violin. The kontra is like the usual Transylvanian kontra, wherein the bridge of a viola is flattened so that the three, A-D1.-G tuned strings, sound at the same time. The E string is missing from the bass and only the A-D-G strings are played on. Twenty or thirty years ago, they used a primkontra instead of a kontra. Mezei Ferenc Csángáló still played such a primkontra when he played his first ball at the age of twelve. A primkontra is made by tuning a violin to A 1 – D 1 – G and flattening the bridge so that all three strings can be played at once. On it they played a harmonic accompaniment to the violin part which was an adapted kontra part based on major triads, or they followed the melody even more closely. Nowadays they dont use the primkontra by itself to accompany the fiddle, instead on occaision it is used along with the kontra as a complementary instrument. As another variation they used to change the D 1 string on the kontra to a D, and this so-called mélyhúros or low-stringed kontra was used to accompany singing, but not for dance accompaniment. The basic three member string band can be filled out by another fiddle and another kontra The core of the Szászcsávás Band is the prímás (lead fiddle) Jámbor István whose nickname is Dumnezu, his brother Csányi Mátyás Mutis on bass and their brother-in-law Mezei Ferenc Csángáló playing kontra. They have been playing together for 29 years. All three of them learned to play from Csángálós grandfather, Horvát Mezei Ferenc; Vén Kránci , who died thirty years ago, but is still remembered as an extraordinary musician. The band is filled out with younger players: Csángálós cousin, Mezei Levente Leves (prímás); Jámbor István and Csányi Mátyáss little brother, Csányi Sándor Cilika (prímás), and Csángálós son Jámbor Ferenc Tocsila who is a prímás but is heard on this recording playing kontra. In addition to their main instruments, most of the musicians also play the other instruments well and are usually outstanding dancers. Most of them make their living by playing music.

The repertoire of the Szászcsávás musicians is unusually large. The reason being that they play for Hungarians, Romanians, and Gypsies. When they were young, Jámbor István, Mezei Ferenc, and Csányi Mátyás also played for Saxon Germans, the majority of which have since emmigrated from Transylvania. Not only do they play in the nearby neighboring communities – the area between Kis-Küküllõ Dicsõszentmárton (Tîîrnaveni) and Balavásár (Balauseri), but also for Hungarians in areas farther away: Magyarózd (Ozd)- Magyarszentbenedek (Sinbenedic), Nyárádmente (Niraj) and the Székelyföld and Balázsfalva (Blaj) areas. They also played for Romanians and Gypsies in all of the above areas as well as Marosludas (Ludus) – Marosújvár (Ocna Mures) area, as well as along the Nagy-Küküllõ (Trnava Mare) River. The repertoire differs according to the ethnic group and the area. In Transylvania when a bride and a groom come from villages which are not close to each other, it is customary to hire bands from both areas to play at the wedding to please both sets of relatives. The Szászcsávás musicians often go to play as far away as the villages of central and eastern Mezõség. Though apart from a few melodies tied to the particular occaision (ie. music for escorting the bride), they only have to play for the dances from their own area.
The traditional cycle of Hungarian dances from the Szászcsávás area are: sûrû verbunk, csárdás, székely verbunk, féloláhos and szökõ. The sûrû verbunk is the local name for the pontozó type, quick tempoed, mens recruiting dance which is typical of the Kis-Küküllõ area. Nowadays not many people dance this dance. The csárdás, a couple dance which is occaisionally danced on the up-beat, has a rather wide tempo range. The szökõ is the faster tempoed version of the csárdás, during which they have recently begun doing figures wherein the man and woman dance together but are not attached one another, in addition to turning as a couple. The unattached figures are quite possibly a result of the influence of the Gypsy dances. The féloláhos is the local version of the forgatós style of dance of the Székelyföld area which is danced on the beat of the music; the székely verbunk also comes from the same area. In the past, the men danced this dance solo, or maybe doing the figures opposite their partner; today they usually dance the csárdás as a couple to this music. The szegényes is a slow, solo, mens dance, which is danced by Hungarians in the nearby Magyarózd area. Also from the same area is the öreges .pontozó, which is a lesser known special version of the pontozó
The dances of the Szászcsávás Gypsy community include the today still well known, sûrû verbunk, csárdás, and szökõ. There is a slower version of the csárdás, the lassú csárdás, which is played for married couples and older people to dance to. The Gypsy székelyverbunk is a solo mens gypsy dance which is danced to a székely verbunk melody.
As the generations pass, the simplification of the traditional dances and a change of taste in music can be observed. In the case of the Hungarians, the folksy, popular, art-songs (Hungarian nóta) heard on the radio are displacing the treasury of traditional melodies. Meanwhile the melodies which have gone out of fashion are taken on, and in this way preserved, by the Gypsies. There are many melodies today known as Gypsy melodies, which the musicians played for the older Hungarians when they were young. Other melodies, for example the sûrû verbunk, and certain csárdás-es can be played for Hungarians, Gypsies and Romanians alike, though there may be differences in performance. The same csárdás melody would be played for example, faster and more richly ornamented for Gypsies than for Hungarians. The table (or listening) songs which today are played and ornamented in an older style for the Gypsies, were at one time, but are no longer, played in the same way for Hungarians.

Translation by Sue Ellen Foy

Translators note: Names of all Hungarian persons have been left in the Hungarian sequence with the family name written before the given name. Most of the musicians have nicknames; their nicknames appear in italics along with their names.