Beggars' song


We have written several times about the curious coincidences which link together with mysterious threads Spain and Hungary, these two fines terrae of old Europe. As one more recent example, the Hungarian and Spanish press published the same week that, thanks to the crisis and the astonishingly similar political climate, from both countries five hundred thousand people went abroad in search of work. Which of course means a different proportion in Hungary than in Spain, with a five times greater population.

It is even more astonishing that those leaving Spain in the past hundred years have said goodbye to their homeland and have remembered it abroad with the song of the Hungarian beggars.


José Serrano, Canción húngara, sung by José Carreras

The song is the last aria of the traditional zarzuela – piece of folk theatre – Alma de Dios, in which the Hungarian beggars, popping up as a colorful side episode, sing about their homesickness. Perhaps even the Hungarian and his bear sung this while wandering in the villages of the Pyrenees. The piece, written in 1907 by José Serrano, author of the Hymn of Valencia, was made extremely popular throughout Spain by this song. As Wang Wei recalls it:

In the 10s and 20s of the 20th century, with the success of the zarzuela (especially in the society of Madrid, from where the fashion spread throughout the country), this song became quite known and hummed by all kinds of people in Spain. My grandmother sung it with such a feeling as if she were an exiled Hungarian. I think an important reason of this was that in those years many people emigrated from Spain to America. The father of my grandmother moved right at that time to Havana to seek work. He returned home with more or less the same money as he left, but after long years of separation from his family, and, of course, older and more disillusioned.

Others also recall that their great-grandfather always sung this song while working in the fields. And it might be no accident that in recent years it has gained new popularity, performed by masters such as José Carreras, Alfredo Kraus and Plácido Domingo.

Canta, mendigo errante,
cantos de tu niñez,
ya que nunca tu patria
volverás a ver.

Hungría de mis amores,
patria querida,
llenan de luz tus canciones,
mi triste vida.
Vida de inquieto
y eterno andar,
que alegro solo
con mi cantar.

Canta vagabundo,
tus miserias por el mundo,
que tu canción quizá
el viento llevará
hasta la aldea
donde tu amor está.

Es caminar siempre errante
mi triste sino,
sin encontrar un descanso
en mi camino.
Ave perdida,
nunca he de hallar
un nido amante
donde cantar.
Sing, wandering beggar
the songs of your childhood
once you will not see
your homeland any more.

Hungary of my love,
my beloved country,
your songs fill with light
my sad life.
My restless life
and eternal wandering
which I can cheer up
only by singing.

Sing, you tramp,
your misery to the world,
maybe your song
will be taken by the wind
to the far away village
where your love lives.

An eternal wandering
is my sad fate,
without finding
a break on my way.
A lost bird,
I cannot ever find
a loving nest
where to sing.