The Romanian Folk Dances is a set of 6 dances originally written for piano in 1915. Bartók himself made a version for small orchestra a couple of years later while some of his friends wrote adaptations or transcriptions for different ensembles: for example, Arthur Willner for string orchestra only and Zoltán Székely for violin and piano.
The music comes from original melodies and tunes from Transylvania which Bartók heard (and recorded) himself played on fiddle or shepherd’s flute.
Bartók had an interest in folk music for most of his life, and a lot of his works turn around it. He made extensive studies, recordings, analytical researches on the subject and was one of the founders of comparative musicology, which later became ethnomusicology.
Béla Bartók in 1927
Bartók emphasized the multi-ethnic origin of his own works in many of his lectures and letters but avoided explicit references to any nationalism. The original title of the Romanian Folk Dances included “from Hungary“: this part was eliminated by Bartók himself when Transylvania became part of Romania in 1920.
A few years later, seeing the original title on the Universal publication of Székely’s transcription, Bartók warned the editor that while such a title would please Hungarians at home, Romanians would probably take offense in the “from Hungary” reference.
The will to maintain and, actually, underline certain key aspects of folk music and their ties to different countries/people comes through in many of Bartók’s papers on the subject. And, naturally, in his compositions.
He rarely used key signatures, though the 1971 edition of these dances does have them. All dances are based on modal scales: Aeolian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, even the Arabic scale is used.
Rumanian Folk Dances n.1
Should you need a score you can find one here.
The melody of the first movement, according to Bartók, came from the village of Mezőszabad in Transylvania, and he first heard it when two gypsy violinists were playing it.
The second violins, violas, cellos, and basses open with a heavy rhythm representing the stomping of feet. 4 bars later 2 clarinets in unison, and the first violins come in with the melody.
The mode of this first dance – centered on the A – moves from Dorian to Aeolian with a variation on the Phrygian cadence at the end of the phrase (a variation as the Phrygian cadence – the one that from a minor scale resolves on a major chord – is usually employed on a first inversion while Bartók here uses it on the root chord).
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