Dumka (pl. Dumky): An alternately melancholy and gay piece of music, found chiefly in the work of Slavonic composers.


There’s something bipolar about the dumka with its instant swings from deep sadness to manic jollity. It’s tempting to say that it’s to do with the Slavic temperament, except for the fact that the Hungarians – who would definitely be rather miffed to be described as Slavs – also have a rather similar form in the verbunkos/csárdás which starts slowly and gloomily (lassú) and then suddenly goes all frenetic on us (friss). Maybe it’s something to do with the eastern European topography or the area’s (definitely) troubled past?

The dumka, unlike the csárdás, isn’t really a dance at all (though it does show up in Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances); the form, which originates in the Ukraine, is derived from sung epics, from folk ballads and  laments.

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