The earlier forerunners of the violin such as the rebec, Slavic gusle or eastern kemene are found in all Romania's Balkan neighbours, but not in the existing folk music of Romania.
It is probably that early violins were used in the courts and during the 15th to 16th centuries Serbian musicians were playing the Slavic guzla at Romanian courts. The first documentation of the violin in Romania is from the 17th century by an Italian monk regarding the violini music of Moldavia. This is unlikely to be the modern violin which developed less than a century early in western Europe. A later 17th century painting by Graz Codex shows a fiddler playing a rectangular bodied four string instrument.
The modern violin arrived in Romania in the 18th century and is know by a variety of names; cetera - Transylvania, scripcar - Moldavia, lăuta - Banat & Hunedoara. In Oltenia and Muntenia many different tuning systems were originally used for certain dance tunes, but these have mostly now been abandoned.
Adaptations to the standard violin can be found in several areas:
- In Oas the bridge is moved up to the fingerboard to give a shrill penetrating sound.
- In Vrancea resonance strings are strung under the main strings. This adaptation is possibly based on the Viola d'amore or Kerman which was played in the courts during Ottoman rule. The Csango of Gyimes insert a single "echo" string into their violins.
Second harmony violin - Contră
In a few areas of west Transylvania a second standard violin is used rhythmic harmonic accompaniment. This is though of as the "old style" compared with the developments in central Transylvania.
The second violin in the Transylvanian counties of Mureş, Bistriţa, and Cluj has only three strings (two G strings and one D string), strung across a flat bridge, tuned to G-D1-A so that chords can be played. Known as contră or braci this was found by Bela Bartok (1914) and included in his written works in 1934. It is most probable that this development came about through the gypsy musicians of the central Transylvania taraf
Typically, two consecutive chords are played from a single stroke of the bow by using a slight movement of the wrist to pulse the note, this style is known as "românesc". The style of playing just the off-beat chords is know as "nemţesc" (German).
The gyspy taraf play for both the Hungarian and Romanian communities in these regions. Many of the villages also have mixed population Hence this style of string ensemble with the contră is equally representative of both the Romanian and Hungarian tradition in this region.
Alexandru, T (1980), Romanian folk music, Musical publishing house, Bucharest
Alexandru, Tiberiu record notes on ST-EPE 01438, EPE03319