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The Violin in Romanian-Transylvanian Folk Music


by Miamon Miller

[I have also sent a pdf version of this article.  It has the many diacritical marks in the right relation to the letters.  Apparently my word processor can’t handle this. Look for the correct marks for 'vioară', 'ceteră', 'scripcă', 'lăută' , 'higheghe', 'lăutari'., and învârtită.    Stacy]

The violin is Romania's most ubiquitous folk instrument and is found in every region of the country.   The Romanian word for violin is 'vioară' but in the folk context it's typically referred to by a variety of regional folk terms including 'ceteră', 'scripcă', 'lăută' and 'higheghe'.   Although there may be differences in tuning and the occasional use of sympathetic strings, the instrument is- with one regional exception- the standard violin.  It entered Romania in the 18th century and quickly found its way into the hands of village and town musicians.  Indeed, the identification of the violin to folk music is so strong that bands of folk musicians are often called 'lăutari'.

The region of Transylvania constitutes  the northwestern part of Romania and accounts for nearly half its territory.  Population demographics are a clue to its political history and although you can find Jews, Rom (Gypies), Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Slovaks and Germans, by far the largest populations are Hungarians and Romanians.  The cities and larger towns usually have mixed populations, but the smaller towns and villages can be mixed, Romanian or Hungarian.

Although musicians are drawn from all ethnic groups,  most are Rom and traditionally, in terms of gender, men.  A typical Transylvanian band, whether playing Romanian or Hungarian repertoire, is made up of bowed string instruments either in its entirety or as a core unit.  Violins play melody and bowed basses play harmony and rhythm.

What may be unique to Eastern Europe is the use of the violin or viola as a rhythm/chordal instrument, a role taken by the guitar in other traditions. Playing in a range between the treble and bass, the violin or viola is held so the face is perpendicular to the ground with the bow moving vertically.   When used in this manner, the instrument is called "contră".

Transylvanian-Romanian folk dance repertoire includes several couple dances, one of which is called 'învârtită'.  The music is in an asymmetric meter typically notated as 10/16.  The following transcription of învârtită din Luna Turda (meaning “învârtită from Luna Turda) is typical of the genre and illustrates the role of the contră.  An învârtita is a turning couple dance.

I^nva^rtita din Luna Turda.mp3


author bio

Miamon Miller has been playing the folk music of Eastern Europe for 40 years.  His performance credits include the Aman Folk Ensemble in Los Angeles as well as Fuge Imaginea, Bucovina Klezmer and Trei Arcusi.  Miamon initiated the Romanian and Trans-Carpathian music courses at the East European Folklife Center's summer workshops and taught them for nearly 15 years.   He has an MA in ethnomusicology from UCLA and was awarded a 10-month Fulbright scholarship in the mid 70s' to study a Romanian-Transylvanian instrumental genre.

Here is a guide to some Romanian pronunciations that Miamon sent.

A, a       - a as in father
Ă, ă     - a as in around
Â, â       - i as in girl (see Î)
E, e       - e as in let
I, i          - i as in machine
Î, î           - i as in girl
O, o       - o as in note; also o as in gone
U, u       - u as in duke
 
C, c       - c as in cello (ch) when before E or I, otherwise c as in cat
Ch, ch   - ch as in chaos (k)
G, g       - g as in germ (j) when before E or I, otherwise g as in go
Gh, gh  - gh as in ghost (g)
J, j         - z as in azure (zh)
Ş, ş     - s as in sugar
Ţ, ţ      - tz as in quartz (ts)
 
DIPTHONGS AND TRIPTHONGS:
 
The Romanian language has many dipthongs (and tripthongs), which are pronounced separately but in rapid succession. The weaker vowel almost becomes semiconsonantal. Examples are:
 
ai           - ai as in kaiser
au          - au as in sauerkraut
ău       - a as in about combined with u as in flute
ea          - ea as in bread
ei           - ei as in seine
eu          - eu as in feud
ia           - ya as in yacht
ie           - ye as in yes
io           - yo as in yoke
iu           - yu as in yule
îi            - i as in hike
îu           - similar to eu in feud
oa          - wa as in wash
oi           - oi as in spheroid
ou          - ou as in dough
uă         - wu as in wuther
eai         - yi as in yikes
eau        - yow as in yowl
ieu         - ieu as in lieu
 
The letter i at the end of a word is silent unless preceded by another letter i.
 
COMBINATIONS:
 
Ci, ci     - chi as in chief
Ce, ce   - che as in chess
Chi, chi             - chi as in Chianti
Ghe, ghe          - ghe as in ghetto
Ghi, ghi             - gee as in geese
Ge, ge              - ge as in genesis
Gi, gi     - gi as in giraffe




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