For this episode of archival music, we travel a century back in time to discover (or rediscover) various forms of early Romanian folk from different regions of the country.
This episode comprises many recordings from the Folklore Institute of Romania, made by the Romanian composer and ethnomusicologist Constantin Brăiloiu, as well as his pupil and collaborator Tiberiu Alexandru. Some of these recordings got the attention of American record label Ethnic Folkways, a sublabel of the label Smithsonian Folkways, who released several compilations dedicated to folklore of Romania (such as Rumanian Songs And Dances). Also, American folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax curated and presented a compilation on Romanian folklore from his series ”World Library Of Folk And Primitive Music”. In most of the cases, these releases are based mainly on the recordings to be found at the Folklore Institute of Romania, currently The Institute of Ethnography and Folklore Constantin Brăiloiu.
We will also listen to several recordings made by the Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist Bela Bartok and released on Ethnic Folkways, as well as several recordings released at the Romanian record label Electrecord (the two volumes of Antologia Muzicii Populare Românești), as well as a compilation from the French label Ocora.
Folk music is the oldest form of Romanian musical creation, characterised by great strength, energy, complexity and vitality; it is the defining source of the cultured musical creation, both religious and laic. Conservation of Romanian folk music has been supported by a large and enduring audience, also by numerous performers who helped propagate as well as the Romanian record label Electrecord, which had a very solid distribution system, especially for folk music.
When we think of traditional Romanian music, we should also reflect on convergence of sounds similar to Central Europe (especially Hungarian) as well as Balkan traditional music. In Romanian folk music, the emphasis is on melody rather than percussion, with frequent use of the violin for melody and often only the cimbalom for percussion. The melody itself and especially the melodic embellishments are reminiscent of music from further south in the Balkans and of a distant Turkish influence.
One of the most widespread form of Romanian folk music is doina, which represents the lament of the shepherd. But there are also other styles of folk music, such as bocet (a lament for the dead), or traditional epic ballads, literally called "song of the elders". Doina is poetic and often melancholic, being sometimes compared to blues music for that reason. Doinas are often played with a slow, free rhythm melody against a fast accompaniment pattern in fixed tempo, giving an overall feeling of rhythmic tension. Melodies are sometimes repeated in differing songs and typically follow a descending pattern. Considered as belonging to everybody, the doina is “a song of love, a pantheistic poem, a fighting song, or an outcry against injustice or the foreign ruler.”
Keening - the singing of funeral laments - survives vigorously throughout rural Rumania. The laments are sung solo, by close female relatives of the deceased. Professional mourners are unknown. In some regions the laments are improvised on the spot. Elsewhere, notably in the west, the tunes and texts are fixed, known to the mourner beforehand; all she has to do is slightly to adapt the words to suit personal circumstances.
In the Apuseni Mountains there are several communities of women and girls who play the tulnic, a woodwind instrument - similar to the Swiss alphorn - used as a means of communication dating back centuries ago. In Romania, the tulnic is an endangered species, as an instrument. The instrument dates back to the times of the Dacians and the Romans. It was much later that it acquired features and the status of a music instrument, as centuries ago it was used as a means of communication, in order to let the villagers know of any event: a battle, a danger for the community, or simply a gathering of the community. It was also been used for signalling and communication by shepherds in the mountain forests, or in order to guide sheep and dogs. In his notes from the collection released on Ethnic Folkways, English writer and folk music collector A.L. Lloyd notes: ”At least five different kinds of giant alphorn are used in the Rumanian mountains, some of wood, others of galvanized iron, ranging up to nine feet long. The type heard in this record is a tulnic, a gigantic trumpet made from two half-round lengths of firtree, bound by wicker rings. It is local to western Transylvania, and for some reason is used almost exclusively by girls and young women, who signal to each other "for company" across the valleys of an evening. The flourish presented here is a call commonly associated with early springtime. It is played by a 19-year-old girl, Iosana Bud, from the village of Vidra de Mijloc, Huedin district.”
In 2019 we presented a project at Europalia festival comprising a group of several tulnic players from the village Avram Iancu (in Apuseni mountains) together with Belgian electronic music producer Milan W. If you want to find out more about this project and the history of tulnic, check out our website theatticmag.com: we have several articles published, a short documentary film and two live recordings, one from Europalia in Brussels and the other from Outernational in Vaslui.
*photo: Iosif Berman - "Ethnographer Constantin Brăiloiu records a bagpipe player, 1934"
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*This article is part of the project Music & Conversations in the Attic, co-financed by AFCN.