Instrumental ensembles, taraf, with professional musicians, lăutari, have been playing for dancing in Romania for some 300 years. In the past these were small formations with regionally distinguishable sounds and line ups.
The term lăutar is derived from lăută, a lute type of stringed instrument, the musician that plays this is a lăutar. This term my originate from the middle-ages popularity of the lute through European courts. The term has extended to include all musicians of a popular music taraf, and those who sing popular songs with the taraf. In Romania, most musicians playing popular music in tarafuri are now gypsies, hence gypsy musicians are known as lăutari, although historically the term refers to a profession rather than an ethnic background. A small formation of musicians playing popular music is known as a taraf. The members of a taraf are normally lăutari, but need not be gypsy musicians.
The nobility of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia employed gypsies musicians to play in the fashionable styles of the time. Hence, in Transylvania we have the central European string ensemble, in Wallachia and Moldavia we have more Turkish influences in the instrumentation, the Cobza, Tambal, Nai, but even here the European violin dominated.
When gypsies were given freedom from the landlords (mid-19th century) they moved to the edges of villages and took over playing the village repertoire, but using the musical arrangements of the fashion music, leading to the Transylvanian with string band ensemble, and the southern Romanian nai and tambal. The last of these village music groups are still in existence, some being popularised more recently by the world music phenomenon.
There is a range in musical style and construction between villages, in some villages the musicians have incorporated more complex harmonies, playing in thirds, adapted more recent popular melodies. In others the musicians may be are not so adaptable or musically adept and the music has a "roughness" in quality. This leads to some village "traditions" being maintained giving us an insight to the older form of the music, but it would be incorrect to then assume this former music was also played in the same "rustic" style, the musicians of that time could be expected to be equal in technique to the best of today.
Following WW2 the lăutari who were playing in the city restaurants joined to form larger ensembles. At first these did not have a conductor, the repertoire was that from the restaurants and cafes, and the number of musicians was not planned. The success of these led to the formation of the Folk Orchestra with a conductor, new arrangements based on traditional melodies and a distinctive new sound. Continues in the section on ensembles >>>>
Alexandru, T (1980), Romanian folk music, Musical publishing house, Bucharest
Alexandru, T, sleeves note on monitor MFS377
DEX Dictionalul Explicativ al Limbii Romane