(1967) Various Artists – Music from Rumania
Recorded in Romania in 1965 and produced by Deben Bhattacharya
never issued on CD in toto, but tracks A4, A5, A6, B4 appear on the CD Music on the Gypsy Route Vol 2 (Fremaux & Associés, 2003)
Maria Rusu – vocals (A1, A2)
Folk orchestra of Palatul Culturii, Brasov, conducted by Dan Moisescu (A1,A2)
Mircea Nîţu – cimbalom (A3)
Ion Dragoi – cimbalom (A4)
Nicolae Netotu – violin (A4)
Folk orchestra of Olteniţa, directed by Constantin Preda (A5, A6)
Constantin Preda – first violin (A5)
Ion Florea – cimbalom (A6)
Laura Lavric – vocals (A7)
Ilie Cazacu – fluier (A8)
Petruţ Tarana – cobza (A8)
Viorel Mîndrilă – bucium (A9)
Maria Popa – vocals (B1, B3)
Gypsy musicians from Lazareni, Transylvania (B1)
Gavril Tent – violin (B2)
Maria Sălăjan– vocals (B3)
Ferenc Antal – violin (B4)
Rudolf Tóni– viola (B4)
Ferenc Berki – double bass (B4)
Emil Bozbici, Ilie Trif, Ioilă Persică – trisca (B5)
Larion Marica – caval (B6), trisca (B5)
Maria Precup – vocals (B7)
Stoica Gheorghe – violin (B8)(B11)
Unnamed musicians (viola, double bass) from Cojocna Transylvania (B8)(B11)
Mihai Lăcătus – tilinca (B9) birchbark whistle (B10)
From Brasov (1)
1 Răsărit-a Găinusa (love song)
2 Inflorit-a rugutu (love song)
From Cimpulung, Muscel (2)
3 Doina (lyric-song)
4 Hora (round dance)
From Radauti, Moldavia (4)
7 Foaie verde foica vita (love song)
From Cimpulung, Moldavia (5)
8 Trilisesti (dance music)
9 Improvisation on bucium
From Lesul Ilvej (8)
5 De-a mină (melody of love-song)
6 Invirtită (dance music)
7 Doina (lyric song)
From Cimpulung, Moldavia (Câmpulung Moldovenesc) (5)
9 Bătută (dance music)
10 Farmer’s Wedding (Carpathian folk tune)
11 Tărăneasca (farmer’s dance)
I wonder how the recordings for this album were made. It was 1965. Ceausescu had just come to power and moves were under way in Romania towards liberalisation and away from dependence on the USSR.
But ‘cultural interaction’ with the non-communist world was still very limited, foreigners were still regarded with considerable suspicion and there was no way Deben Bhattacharya was going to be allowed to wander around the countryside with a tape recorder and no chaperone.
He will have had to apply to the communist authorities for permission to make the field trip, presumably seeking the prior blessing of the leadership at the Romanian Folklore Institute in Bucharest.
Did he apply to them with a specific itinerary in mind or did he place himself in the hands of his hosts? Who knows? But the fact that several of the musicians and singers appearing on this album had previously been recorded by Romanian folk music collectors (as far back as the 1930s) suggests that he may have been nudged into accepting a route decided (at least in part) by the good comrades in Bucharest.
I only mention it because, as far as I can tell, this was the first post-war recording field trip carried out in Romania by a foreigner. Should it be seen as evidence of the cultural thaw under way?
Topic, Folkways and Columbia
True, the UK label Topic had issued an album of field recordings from Romania in 1958 (Rumanian Folk Music, Topic 10T12), but that was a compilation by A. L. Lloyd of pre-recorded tracks handed over to the label by the Romanian Folklore Institute.
Same again for the Folkways 1958 album ‘Romanian Songs and Dances’ (notes by A. L. Lloyd). Pre-recorded tracks from the Institute’s archives, including several by the same performers as appear on the Topic album.
And same again for the early ‘60s Columbia album ‘The Folk Music of Romania’ (Volume XVIII of its World Library of Folk and Primitive Music – it’s no longer available), which was compiled and edited from the Institute’s archives by Lloyd in collaboration with Alan Lomax and the Institute’s Tiberiu Alexandru. Many of the same performers as on the two earlier albums, and in some cases the same tracks.
And same again for all those other Rumanian folk albums that found their way on to record racks and mail order catalogues in Paris, London and New York in the 1950s and early 1960s courtesy of labels like Artia, Supraphon, Period and Bruno.
Prior to Bhattacharya’s field trip, every album of ‘authentic’ Rumanian folk released to the English-speaking ethnic music market had been mediated by the state-sponsored Romanian folklore behemoth, the Institute, which had its own (Marxist) perspective on the theory and practice of folk music, old and new.
Does it matter?
Does it matter that many of the performers on those albums were, despite Lloyd’s careful description of them as ex-loggers or workers on collective farms, almost certainly semi-professionals or members of state-sponsored folk ensembles and orchestras set up in Romania in forced imitation of the Soviet folkloric model?
Does it matter that some of the songs they sang weren’t traditional, but examples of Romania’s ‘new folk’ – contemporary creations reflecting ‘the social consciousness of the Romanian people’?
Does it matter that the style of some of the recorded ensembles was already standardising away from the local/regional towards some kind of ideology-driven national hybrid?
Well, from this distance, yes and no. But those issues certainly mattered at the time.
Romania’s ‘new advanced forms of folk music’
The issues were discussed at some length, for example, when the great and good of the folk world gathered in the posh, leafy suburbs of Bucharest in August 1959 for the annual conference of the International Folk Music Council
Imagine the horror from some of those attending when the Romanian Folk Institute’s Mihai Pop told the conference that ‘the idealisation of outdated forms (of folk music) with acceptance of their absolute value’ was getting in the way of making ‘new advanced forms’ of folk music.
Imagine the consternation from others when the Institute’s Sabin Dragoi (whose brother Ion appears on one of the tracks on this album) briefed the conference about the appearance in Romania of “a rich production of the new type of melodies which have begun to edge their way into the folklore circuit, and in various parts of the country even to exert an influence upon the melodic patterns of the songs”.
According to Pop: “…the representative popular character of folklore is an historically determined aesthetic-ideological category expressing the essential and progressive interests of the popular masses at a given time…Contemporary folklore reflects a collective feeling based upon a community of interests and aspirations, binding town dwellers to villagers and peasant to worker in a common effort to build up socialism.”
Maud Karpeles, a stalwart of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, told the conference that a distinction had to made between music made by the people and music made for the people; folk songs in a class society did not necessarily reflect the struggle against the ruling classes, she insisted.
Image distorted, tracks dropped
Of course there was no happy resolution to the differences of opinion (over half a century later they’re still a live topic on folk music internet boards), but it’s worth noting here that when Rounder re-issued the Columbia World Library album on CD in 2001, five of the original tracks were dropped.
“Triumphalist, artificial, predictable, and conforming to official aesthetic criteria….they gave a distorted image of musical life in Romania,” said editor and compiler Esperanţa Radulescu in her liner notes.
She suggested that the Communist authorities may have imposed those pieces on the Institute’s Alexandru and that Lloyd and Lomax would have had little choice but to accept. But would Lloyd and Lomax have been that bothered?
In his defence of Romanian ‘new folk’ to the 1959 Conference, Lloyd (an apostle of the links between folk music and the masses’ struggle) said that social influences had been helping to shape folk music since the dawn of musical history and suggested a new definition of folk music was called for, with anonymity no longer being a sine qua non.
Song of the Five Year Plan
A quick aside: to get an idea of the kinds of shenanigans the comrades from the Romanian Folklore Institute occasionally got up to when out collecting and cataloguing ‘new-folk’ songs in the 1950s, check out this article by Florinela Popa.
‘Song of the Five Year Plan’, ‘On the collective farm when I hear the doina’, ‘I sing to Stalin the great’. They’re all there. Plus a brief assessment of the creative socialist development of the ubiquitous Barbu Lautaru Traditional Orchestra, who appear on all three of the A.L. Lloyd-curated albums (discussed above) and on many more besides.
So what has all this got to do with Deben Bhattacharya’s recordings made in 1965 and issued on this Argo album? Well, if nothing else, it raises questions about just what it is you’re listening to and how it ended up on the record.
At least one contemporary reviewer thought he smelt a rat, and complained that there was “more commonplace professional band music than we would like” on the disc, particularly on Side A (check track 2 and see what you think).
“It is not just the fact that professional Gypsy bands are included which disappoints us; it is rather that these bands are partly those of the local ‘culture institutes’ whose style seems to have been taken from that of the large radio ‘folk orchestras’ of Bucharest.”
In a review for the Gramophone magazine, W. A. Chislett had a different opinion of the ‘gypsy-style music’ on the album: “…more often than not we in this country hear it either in idealised or adulterated form. It is good to have it in its raw authenticity”.
My guess is that the ‘commonplace, professional’ tracks that caused offence to the reviewer may have been the price Bhattacharya had to pay to keep his hosts sweet. To my ears a lot of the rest of the album sounds ‘raw and authentic’, but I’m no expert.
I suppose this ending up recording who got put in front of your microphone by the authorities went with the territory, especially if the territory was part of the Soviet empire. Bhattacharya seemed to have the same problem when he visited Uzbekistan in 1970 and ended up recording the National Folk Music Orchestra instead of ‘true folk musicians’.
“It’s kind of like the difference between the stylized “folk music” (as a genre) by the Kingston Trio, vs. the real, and emotionally haunting power of, say, Clarence Ashley or Dock Boggs at their best. It’s two different worlds,” says a review of Bhattacharya’s Uzbek stuff on Amazon. Quite like the Kingston Trio myself.
Focusing on the ideology-driven aspect of folk music collection in post-war Romania only tells part of a long story that began in the 19th century when Brahms and Liszt were into Romanian folk music. After that, of course, there was Bela Bartok, who famously collected in Transylvania before the First World War and probably did more to familiarise the world with the country’s folk melodies than anyone else (even Taraf de Haidouks).
Serious collecting began with Constantin Brailoiu (pictured on the right recording in Dragus in 1929), the father of Romanian ethnomusicology (A. L. Lloyd was a big fan), who made recordings throughout the inter-war period for the folk archives of the Society of Romanian Composers.
The Society released a large number of recordings before the war through domestic labels such as Lifa and Cristal (which later became Electrecord) and a variety of foreign ones including Odeon, Columbia and HMV. There was even a recording made – with the collaboration of the English Folk Song and Dance Society – in Decca’s London studios in 1935 during an international folklore festival.
Brailoiu went into self-imposed exile in 1944 in Switzerland (where he had been working as a cultural attaché) and founded the International Archives of Folk Music (Archives Internationales de Musique Populaire, AIMP). He’d taken some of his field recordings with him when he left Rumania and came up with a plan – “to collect in Geneva, in a laboratory equipped for the purpose, materials that would be in sufficient numbers and quality to allow the study and confrontation of original melodies from all regions of the world”.
In the 13 years before his death in 1958, the AIMP collected some 250 wax cylinders and over 1,300 78 rpm records of music from all over the world, plus several hundred hours of recorded tapes, with written documentation. With backing from the International Council of Music and UNESCO, a 40-volume set of records entitled World Collection was issued between 1951 and 1958 – the first set of records of its type ever published. Romania was represented in the anthology by four 78s.
Back in Rumania
Meanwhile, back in Romania (as in all the other Soviet satellite states) folk music had become a massive state enterprise, promoted by the state-run media, driven locally by centrally-controlled cultural associations and supported by the state-run recording monopoly Electrecord.
Brailoiu, officially at least, was a non-person (if not a traitor) and the recordings he left behind were subsumed into the archive of the Romanian Folklore Institute set up by the communist authorities in 1949.
Tainted it may have been by a slavish following of Marxist folkloric theory (what were they going to do? say no?), but the Institute added significantly to the pre-war archives and issued important traditional and ‘new folk’ recordings, works of scholarship and print anthologies, with former colleagues of Brailoiu like A. L. Lloyd’s collaborator Tiberiu Alexandru playing a leading role. By 1961 the Institute was said to have over 70,000 recordings in its archive and was planning to transfer those most at risk on to tape.
There’s an interesting article on the Romanian recording industry around the time this record came out here.
For a comprehensive account of the recordings made under the auspices of the Romanian Folklore Institute – currently known as The ‘Constantin Brailoiu’ Institute of Ethnography and Folklore (he was rehabilitated – as far as I can tell, in the late ‘sixties) – click here.
When Brailoiu died in Switzerland in 1958, the AIMP stopped functioning. His life’s work was left abandoned in a store room of the Museum of Ethnography in Geneva: dozens of metal tins and old cardboard boxes filled with 78 rpm records and wax cylinders, a vast number of dusty paper bundles, barely tied with string, all of which were moved around the building periodically to provide space for documents which were deemed more important.
Rumania Gobbles Yank Music?
Can it really be true that in 1947, two years into the glorious liberation of Romania by the Red Army, the nation’s favourite music was American? That’s what a dispatch from Bucharest in the US music magazine Billboard said in May 1947.
“Music picture here adds up to one solid ‘Sold – American’ and this holds true not only in the pop and jazz departments, but among the longhairs as well,” the dispatch said.
Despite exorbitant prices, discs by Sinatra, Crosby, Shaw and Goodman were selling out in a single day; most Romanian dance bands were chiefly playing American tunes; and “concerts featuring records by top American jazzmen draw crowds which are compared better than favourably with the number of cats who dig live concerts in the US”.
Read more here.