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Fiddling From Northern Transylvania – A Tune From Maramures

January 2010 4 Comments

by Miamon Miller   

Romanian Transylvania has many sub-regions each with its unique folkloric flavor and traditions and the northern county of Maramureş is no exception. Indeed, each valley can be said to have distinct characteristics.   

While most Transylvanian folk bands rely on bowed strings for both melody and accompaniment, Maramureş musicians have gone down a different path. For over a century, they’ve used a version of the guitar (called ‘zongora’) to play rhythm and harmony. When Béla Bartók recorded musicians during a 14-day research trip in 1913, he wrote that a 2-string guitar (tuned in 5ths) often accompanied the violin playing an unchanging harmonic and rhythmic pattern.  

As the years rolled by, more strings were added to the guitar and the accompaniment patterns, both rhythmically and harmonically, became more complex. Sonora musicians do not finger pick; typically the player uses a heavy plectrum to strum all strings simultaneously.   

Maramureş dance melodies can be different from those played in other regions of Transylvania. Instead of repetitive phrases (4-bars, 6-bars, etc.), that one finds in songs, the music tends to be motivic. One or two-measure motifs are repeated until the player feels ready to move to the next. Perhaps it’ s precisely because of this unpredictability that there is just one melody player- the violinist.   

Although a band may include the bass drum (with or without cymbal) and now the bass, accordion or electric keyboard, the core musical unit is the sonogram and the violin, known regionally as ‘cetera’.   

As evidence of the natural evolution of folk music, Bartók noted that the violin and guitar replaced the Hungarian-style bagpipe in the 1890s. It’s likely the 21st century will bring more changes to the Maramureş band.  

The transcription is a notation of a dance melody called ‘bătrânesc”. When looking at it, keep in mind the following: those measures within repeat signs should be repeated AT LEAST once before moving onto the next section; at the DC, the melody can be repeated as indicated in the same sequence, or a different one can be chosen; and finally, the guitar accompaniment can be entirely in D major or shift to A major for only those measures indicated with an ‘A’ in parentheses. The guitarist should avoid striking the two lowest-pitched strings.   

The sound file is from a recording I played on and produced in 1979. It includes a vocal style of shouting called ‘strigaturi’.  

Miller4 Batrinesc.mp3 | PDF

   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) 


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. 


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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  • Sherrie said:

    Is there an MP3 of this available?

  • Stacy Phillips said:

    See the link just above the music notation in this article.

  • Sigit said:

    That “Strigaturi” thing seems strange to me… gezz

  • Реальный заработок для всех said:

    Реальный заработок для всех…

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