Romanian Folk Dances BB 76

Béla Bartók
Composed 1917

The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók ranks alongside the likes of Debussy, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg as one of the most original and influential composers of the twentieth century. His viscerally compelling musical language drew from a wide range of influences, from Bach and Beethoven to his own contemporaries and even American jazz. But the most distinctive and arguably most consequential aspect of Bartók’s art is his interest in, and avid championship of, Central European folk music. Generally regarded as history’s first ethnomusicologist, Bartók traveled extensively throughout the Central European countryside, listening to and recording Hungarian, Romanian, and Slovak peasant music; his deep study of this music was the most important influence on his own work. His absorption of peasant music and his integration of it into his scores truly distinguish his musical language and have established Bartók as the central figure of modern Hungarian music.

The Romanian Folk Dances, composed in 1915 and orchestrated in 1917, are as clear a demonstration of the influence of Central European folk music on Bartók’s oeuvre as anything he composed. They are the most popular works completed during a fruitful “Romanian year,” which also saw piano settings of Romanian Christmas Songs and a Sonatina later transcribed as the orchestral Erdélyi táncok (Transylvanian Dances). Though Bartók typically simulated the character of folk music in his pieces, rather than appropriating actual folk melodies, these six dances derive directly from fiddle tunes that he heard and recorded on his musicological travels. The first movement, Jocul cu Bata (Stick Dance), takes its theme from a tune introduced to Bartók by a gypsy violinist in Transylvania. The following two movements come from the eastern Slovak village of Egreš: the Brâul, or Sash Dance, is named for the waistband that would traditionally have been worn by the dancer; perhaps the most exotic-sounding of the dances is the third of the set, Pe Loc (In One Spot). Following the slow Buciumeana (Hornpipe Dance) and a vigorous Romanian Polka, the set concludes with a thrilling Maruntel (Fast Dance).

Patrick Castillo ©2014

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