The Romany's First Woman Violinist, Panna Cinková

by Josef Drenko

(in Arne B. Mann (Ed), Neznámi Rómovia, p.126. Bratislava: Ister Science press, 1992)

Poets celebrated the Romany virtuoso violinist Panna Cinková (or Cinka Panna, in Hungarian) even during her own lifetime. She was probably born in 1711 in the county of Gemer, which is today the district of Rimavská Sobota, in the southern part of Central Slovakia. She came from a Romany musician family and as early as nine years-old, she enchanted people with her violin. She studied music in Rožňava at the suggestion of the Earl Ján Lányi, who took early notice of her musical talent.

She married very young to a Romany man worked as a musician and blacksmith. After 1725, she, with her husband and brothers-in-law, established a band which she led as the first woman violinist. Wearing military-like men's clothes that she designed for herself and for her musicians and with a pipe in her mouth, she nevertheless was soon famous for her violin playing, as well for her beauty and personal charm. She was invited to concerts by gentlemen from the whole region. She undertook a concert tour in Hungary and the surrounding European countries. She died at the age of 61 was buried in her native Gemer on the 5th of February, 1772. Her grave, however, has not been preserved.

The Panna Cinková's repertoire included folk songs, “table” music and the European dance songs of the period. Her own musical creativity was remarkable, too. Today it is difficult to define which compositions were adopted (e.g. from her grandfather) and which ones she worked out or composed herself, and those which were later ascribed to her. The music critic, Kodály, considered Panna Cinkova to be a co-composer of listening compositions, known as the Hungarian halgato.

After the death of Panna Cinková, many legends, poems, “belle letters” and theatrical plays were written about her. She was said to be “the famous Cinka Panna from here to the stars.” Poets gave her the epithet “the Gypsy Sapho.” To commemorate this famous Romany first woman violist in her native community of Gemer, festivals of music, song and dance have been organized since 1970.