These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Cinka Panna: the Roma Musician Who Conquered Austro-Hungary

 Photo: Igor Ďurič

Poets called her 'the Gypsy Sappho'. Musicals, plays and novels have been written about her, both in Hungary and Slovakia. The legend of the female Gypsy violinist Cinka Panna, who spellbound people with her magical violin, lives on.

According to Romany custom, women could sing and dance but never play an instrument. Yet, Cinka Panna (or Panna Cinková in Slovak) defied this restriction. By the 18th century, her name had already entered prestigious encyclopaedias. Famous for her exquisite talent as well as her stunning beauty, she was a legend in her own time.

Born around 1711 into a family of musicians in the county of Gemer in the southern part of Central Slovakia, she excelled at an early age. While other kids were still playing with toys, the nine-year-old Cinka Panna was enchanting people with her violin. Earl Ján Lányi took notice of the young Gypsy girl's exceptional talent and encouraged the family to send her to Rožňava to study music.

She married very young to a Romany blacksmith who was also a musician. Around 1725, she established her own band with her husband and brothers-in-law which she led as the first woman violinist. Excelling with her violin and lording over an otherwise all-male Gypsy band, wearing military men's clothes and with a pipe in her mouth, she soon gained fame throughout the Austro-Hungarian empire. Aristocrats all over the region invited her to concerts and she toured in the surrounding European countries. She was not only a performer but also a recognised composer of music, having left a significant musical heritage for generations to come.

Admired and adored wherever she went, earls and counts pined for her, lavishing her with money and jewels. But in spite of the arduous attention she received, she remained faithful to her husband and family. A disappointed would-be lover wrote these lyrics in her honour:

Cinka Panna, you play beautifully
But your heart is made of stone
Heart of stone, lips of fire
Nobody can conquer them
Cinka Panna
Cinka Panna, they say
Your heart is made of stone
And your lips made of ice
They say that love cannot conquer you

Cinka Panna gave birth to four sons and one daughter. Her patrons donated a house to her family where they led a happy family life. She died in 1772. Unfortunately, there is no trace of the grave. She is, however, the only Romany personality in Slovakia to have a commemorative statue erected to her memory, in her native region of Gemer.

- Andrea Chalupa

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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