Historians of the folk orchestra in Romania trace its origins back to 1939, when the Romanian panpipe player, Fanica Luca represented Romania at the World Exhibition in New York with his taraf. The story told is that the minister of cultural affairs decided that it would be a good idea if a taraf (music group) from Romania performed there. He asked the orchestra of Grigoras Dinicu, the famous violist and concertmaster, to do it and he asked Fanica Luca to play the panflute. Unfortunately Fanica was on tour through Turkey and the minister had to ask Fanica’s wife if he would be able to play in New York. She came with the idea of going with two groups: a salon orchestra directed by Dinicu and a taraf guided by Fanica Luca. The minister agreed with her that would be the best and in 1939 Fanica left with his taraf for New York.
In 1949, Romania’s Institutul de Etnografie și Folclor ‘Constantin Brăiloiu’ was founded in Bucharest and the Institute also hosted classes, taught by Fanica Luca, for teaching musicians to play traditional instruments such as nai, cobza and țambal, as the demand for musicians who could play these instruments in the newly founded orchestras was so great. The Bucharest music schools included the training of musicians of Romanians and Rom backgrounds, and careers in recording folk inspired melodies were given to skilled village musicians.The post war period was difficult for lăutari and members of these orchestras were paid a regular monthly salary giving a secure income. Conductors were appointed to co-ordinate the orchestras, and older village style instruments abandoned by the urban based lăutari were reintroduced such as the nai and cobza. The repertoire of these orchestras was mainly rural melodies, which were played in the style of the urban concert hall.
By 1949 there were approximately ten professional folk orchestras in Bucharest, with each one having between 40 to 100 lăutari. These included the Radiodifuziunea Romana Orchestra de Muzica Populara (founded 1949), the Perenița ensemble orchestra (founded 1949) which had around 100 musicians, the Home Office orchestra (M.A.I.) which had around 60 members, the orchestra of the Defence Department (M.F.A.), and the Army Orchestra Doina Armatei.
Barbu Lăutaru orchestra
In 1950 the Institutului de Folclor din Romania formed a folk orchestra of 80-100 musicians following the Moiseyev model, under the directorship of Victor Predescu. Around four hundred lăutari were auditioned, these being chosen from the best lăutari playing with the urban based tarafuri that existed at that time, together with peasant musicians from various parts of the country.
The conductors of this large orchestra included the talented violin players: Nicu Stanescu, Victor Predescu and Ionel Bodisteanu. The panflute soloist was Fanica Luca, the other panflutists were Ion Malaca and Boitsa, Ion Zlotea played the cobzar batrin (a lute). Popular singers who performed with the Barbu Lăutaru orchestra inlcuded Maria Lataretsu and Emil Gavris.
In 1950 this orchestra made its first tour to Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary, but it was not until 1951-2 when the orchestra made its first tour of the Soviet Union, that the name Barbu Lăutaru orchestra was officially adopted.
In 1953, Barbu Lăutaru orchestra was placed under the Bucharest Philharmonic orchestra George Enescu, followed by the ensemble Ciocârlia under the conductorship of Victor Predescu.
The Barbu Lautaru and Perinitsa orchestras each consisted of about 100 people and the orchestra of the Home Office of about 60 people (M.A.I.). The orchestra of the Department of Defense (M.F.A.) and one other military orchestra received financial aid. These two also had their own dancers. Unfortunately there weren’t enough panflutists to play in all these orchestra’s, so musicians such as Fanica Luca often played in more than one of these orchestras.
During the 1950s regional orchestras were established based on this model, such as Doina Banatului in Caransebeș, Banatul in Timișoara, Doina Moldovei in Iași,Doina Gorjului in Târgu Jiu, Doina Argeșului in Pitești, Cindreul in Sibiu, Miorița in Brașov, etc.
The period of Socialist rule facilitated the organization of these orchestras who undertook foreign tours representing Romania and made many recordings on the state record label Electrecord. Some of the most prolific conductors and arrangers were George Vancu, George Sârbu and Paraschiv Oprea. Many of these recordings have been re-released on CD by Electrecord. It is this music, and especially the panpipe, that the worldwide audiences associate with Romanian traditional music and dance. The negative aspects of this trend are that the music has become set with little spontaneity and the regional styles have become blurred. On the positive side, two old lăutari instruments, the nai and cobza, that had nearly died out were re-introduced into the new Folk Orchestras and Romania has a vast archive of high quality recordings of the traditional songs and dances.