One art above all others belongs to the
gipsies. They are born musicians, and the violin is their
instrument; even the smallest boy will be able to make it sing. Some
are musicians by profession. In groups of three and four they will
wander from village to village, always where music is needed,
patiently, tirelessly playing for hours and hours, in sun or rain,
night or day, at marriages, funerals, or on feast-days.
When in bands these wandering minstrels have other instruments
besides violins. Strange-shaped lutes, well known in Rumanian
literature as the "cobsa," and a flute composed of several reeds,
the classical flute used in ages past by old father Pan.
Mostly they are bronze-coloured old vagrants with melancholy eyes
and bent backs, who are accustomed to cringe, and whose lean brown
hands are accustomed to beg. Discarding their picturesque rags,
these wandering minstrels have adopted hideous old clothes that
others have cast off. Infinitely more mean-looking are they in this
accoutrement; they have lost that indefinite charm that generally
surrounds them; they are naught but sad old men clothed in ugly
tatters, and are no more a delight to the eyes. Welcome they are,
nevertheless, for their music is both sweet and melancholy, strident
and weird ; there is a strange longing in every note, and the gayer
the tunes become the more is one inclined to weep!
An inexplicable cry of yearning lies in their every melody—is it a
remembrance of far-off lands that once were theirs, and that they
have never seen? Or is it only an expression of the eternal
nostalgia that drives them restlessly from place to place?
One summer's evening I met a gipsy youth, coming towards me from out
of the dust of the road. Seated with bare, dangling legs on the back
of a donkey, his violin under his chin, regardless of all else, he
was playing . . . playing to the sky above, to the stars that were
coming out one by one, peeping down with pale wonder upon this
lonely vagabond to whom all the road belonged. . . . Playing because
it was his nature to play . . . playing to his heart that had not
yet awakened . . . playing to his soul that he could not fathom.