A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #50 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
Jelly d’Arányi was a Hungarian violinist that lived a colorful life. Grand niece of legendary violinist Joseph Joachim, her own playing inspired works by Bartok, Holst, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. She hobnobbed with the likes of W.B. Yeats and a number of other European spiritualists, and supposedly discovered Schumann’s “lost” violin concerto when he spoke to her during a seance. But she’s probably best remembered as having commissioned one of Maurice Ravel’s most famous works, “Tzigane.”
Tzigane is a French word for gypsy. Don’t be fooled though, d’Arányi was no gypsy and I’m told that Ravel’s piece resembles traditional Romani music about as much as the soundtrack to an old western resembles traditional Native American music. No matter, the psuedo-folksy spirit of the thing still has power.
The first half is for solo violin, labeled a “quasi cadenza” by Ravel. I’ve heard it played as a bit of a slow burner before, but on our recording here at Thomas Ford, Zino Francescatti plays all out—passionate, technically challenging playing with a sharp, biting tone. It’s the perfect build-up to the second half of the piece, in which the violin states a series of beautiful melodies while the orchestra provides a patchwork of varied accompaniment from spritely pizzicato modernism, to whispy ambient undercurrents, to full-blown barrages of brass. Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic on our particular version, and is able to emphasize that variety of mood more than most conductors without ever losing the coherence of the piece. The overall effect is magical and transporting.
Sadly, though Jelly d’Arányi was the first to perform the “Tzigane” in her adopted home of London in 1924, there are no recordings of her playing the piece. The clip above is a performance of Jelly playing Brahms’ Hungarian Dance no.8. I think you can hear in her playing some of the qualities that might have inspired Ravel’s music.
Review by Matthew