Romanian music

Folklore is not only intimately connected with human life (birth, marriage, burial) and man’s individual trajectory (doinas, love songs, curses), but is linked, at the same time, to the life in a community, in the sense that it also includes ritual songs of initiation, hunting, pastoral, agrarian chants, carols, ballads, dance songs and hollers, spells. The origins of this folklore are not simply pre-Christian: they go back to prehistory. Obviously, in time, some of the songs lost their meaning, and sometimes their apparel, but the backbone still remains, allowing for the origins to be caught a glimpse of. The organisation into bands, the dance morphology, the entwinement of the youth, typical of pagan rituals, not only of the hunters but also of the girls in the hora dance attests their descent from the initiation manifestations of prehistoric communities. The themes and phrases of the songs that accompany such pre-Christian manifestations are further evidence of their ancientness. In the traditional Christmas carols, in (prevalent) use up until the 1970s-80s, there was no mention of the Saviour’s birth. In some carols, through a belated addition, the last two lines reminded one that it was Christmas Eve. But this ancestor, Mos Craciun-Santa Claus, must have been in existence a long time before, with the Dacians’ ancestors, since the pagan invocation of the winter solstice, of hunting, of ancestral customs and remained entrenched in traditions even after the Christianisation of the Daco-Romanians during the first centuries of the first millennium. And they have lasted for one millennium!
Here is a carol from the Land of Făgăras collected on the eve of World War II:

It snows, rains in the mountains,
Ler, yeah (yes) ler Lord! (refrain)
The dew falls in fountains,
Water from the mountains,
With that from the lakes,
They did come together,
Turning into ever
Tine ivy paths,
And the blooming grass,
A deer learned the habit
Ate the ivy avid
Mistaking it for grass,
The young man, unsurpass’d,
He would slay it,
Laddie, laddie,
Do not swagger,
That you’ll pull the dagger,
‘cause I’ll pierce you here,
With my horns, my dear,
I’ll hurl you into canyons,
Across greyish mountains,
Over lofty fir trees,
Where grass knows no blade,
In the denser shade,
Down, by the cold fountains,
Girls come by the thousands,
And you should choose one,
Whichever you want,
And serve me no taunt!
Ler, ler,
Yes the Lord’s ler!
And we always sing,
Carols, ding-a-ling,
To our brothers’ ring.
Or another carol, also from Transylvania:
Hunters of Christmas,
White flowers on isthmus (refrain)
Early on woke up for fame,
And they quickly chased the game,
Late at night right in the crowds,
They looked up at the clouds

Why the pranking, dear judge,
Would you be ready for much?
So we pondered in our search.
Corindeo, corindeo (refrain)
Leave it be, at behest,
All his lovely oak forest.
For I’ve heard,
What said a bird,
That the grass is plenty,
Blades are green and many,
Who should graze in there,
But a herd of deer,
And within its midst,
A stag whom they kiss’d,
In his carrier,
Sturdy arms, merrier,
In his horns,
Silver thorns,
In his lips,
Golden chalice,
May your lads be,
Silver rods, like he,
May you lassies be,
Golden chalices,
May the meals be,
And take this for the best,
Judge, man on the quest,
And do let us cheer,
To our health most pure.

The author of these lines was familiar with the traditional Christmas carols from the Land of Făgăraş (central Romania) and none of these made reference to the birth of the Saviour, or if they did, it was an addition to the end of the carol, unrelated to the theme itself of that carol. This is attested by old collections of folklore. After the communisation of the villages (the 1960s-70s) and the obstruction of religious manifestations by the atheistic communists, a perverse effect occurred, in the sense that the population received the religious carols coming from the theological seminaries, on precise Christian themes, by way of compensation, and gradually relinquished the traditional, archaic, pagan carols, such as the one above, which somehow no longer made sense at Christmas! Just like pastoral manifestations may have preceded agricultural customs by a millennium, hunting customs preceded pastoral customs, and every great conquest/ passage coexisted, in the carols, with the previous one/ ones. Let us quote from Mircea Eliade’s From Zalmoxis to Genghis Khan: “An agricultural custom today might be more archaic, for example, than the cult of Zalmoxis. It is known that certain mythical-ritual scenarios present with the farmers from Central and South Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century preserved mythological pieces and rituals that had disappeared in ancient Greece before Homer.” Let us mention only that the Puritan ecclesiastical authorities (the Synod of Constantinople from 692) attempted to extirpate these pagan customs, but without success, so practical reasons prevailed, assimilating and overlapping Christian rituals upon the pagan manifestations.

The ancientness and diversity of these ritual, initiation songs, related to hunting, pastoral and agrarian activities, engendered the astounding richness of Romanian folk songs, which Bela Bartok regarded as the eighth wonder of the world. Starting from folklore and, above all, from Romanian folklore, he renewed the universal musical lexicon through new works. Bartok was from Sânnicolaul Mare, in the Banat, which was under Hungarian occupation then, as part of the Habsburg Empire. There, in the Banat, among the Romanians, he became interested in their folklore. The fact is that Bela Bartok was enchanted by the magic of Romanian music, by its melodic and rhythmic components, by its harmonic diversity. Bartok visited Transylvania dozens of times, recording thousands of songs, dances and instrumental melodies. “Wallachian songs are the most exotic I have come across,” the composer explained. Romanian folk music dominated his music concerns: in 1909, he collected 325 Romanian and 25 Hungarian songs! Among his compositions explicitly and overwhelmingly based on Romanian folklore are the miniature Romanian Dances, which is a gem of pianistics worldwide, the Sonatina and Romanian Carols for the Piano, two a cappella choral pieces, nine adaptations for voice and piano - the cantata The Nine Miraculous Deer, which was also the result of Romanian folk inspiration. Knowing Romanian, Bartok translated the text of the ballad “The Nine Miraculous Deer” into Hungarian. In 1913, with the support of the Romanian Academy, he published his first book of Romanian Folk Songs collected from Bihor County in Bucharest. One year later, The Musical Dialect of the Romanian People from Hunedoara came out in Budapest. After World War I, Bartok “politically” adapted to the new, revisionist times with ease, and where he previously saw songs adopted from the Romanians, now he saw, conversely, that these songs had been brought over from Asia and adopted by the Romanians... Despite the political pirouettes he performed, he was still interested in Romanian folklore. The collection Volksmusik der Rumänen von Maramureş (Romanian Folk Music from Maramureş) appeared in Munich in 1923. In Vienna, the volume Melodien der rumänischen Colinde (Romanian Carol Melodies) came out in 1935. An anthological synthesis of Romanian folk music in Bartok’s perspective appeared posthumously in The Hague in 1967, in three volumes - Romanian Folk Music. Not all the composer’s works were published. At New York, in the Art Library of Columbia University, there are three volumes of the manuscript entitled Romanian Folk Songs, comprising almost 4,300 notographic texts - a melodic encyclopaedia of the Romanian national universe. Many other Romanian composers, such as Tiberius Brediceanu, Sabin Drăgoi, Al. Flechtenmacher, Constantin Brăiloiu, D. G. Kiriac, Dinu Lipatti, Nicole Bretan, Teodor Bratu, Harry Brauner, Mihail Jora, Paul Constantinescu were inspired by the same source. The ethnomusicologist and composer Constantin Brăiloiu (1893-1958) had great merits in promoting folk music: he founded and led both the Folklore Archives of the Society of Romanian Composers (1928-1943) from Bucharest and the International Folk Music Archives in Geneva (1944-1958). In fact, George Enescu also wrote his masterpieces Romanian Poem, Romanian Rhapsodies, Sonata for Piano and Violin starting from folklore.

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