Bartók generally viewed his music as falling into two categories – either settings of existing folk music, or completely original compositions that nonetheless took their inspiration and melodic nature from folk music. It seems that he found this a fertile combination, the authentic folk material standing as a yardstick beside his own inventions as well as permeating the spirit of the latter. His six Rumanian Folk Dances
of 1915 are one of the clearest examples of the first category, folk tunes set initially for piano in a manner simple enough for competent children to play. Székely, doubtless sensing that some of them were in the first place fiddle tunes, made the present transcription in 1925, with Bartók’s full approval. He may also have had Bartók’s collaboration, for the transcription includes a few changes of key from Bartók’s piano setting, as well as embellished repetitions and elaborated textures. Bartók accompanied this version himself on several occasions, and recorded it with Szigeti in 1930.
The nature and sequence of the dances are of some interest, and most information about them comes from Bartók’s students. The first piece is a stick dance, the sticks garlanded with flowers; according to different accounts it is danced by either boys (who kick towards the ceiling) or by older men (who bang the floor). The second dance features sashes or waistbands, and the third, to a flute melody, is danced on the one spot. The remaining three are probably gypsy fiddle melodies, identified respectively by a place name, as a Rumanian polka, and as a dance that takes small or short steps. Some of Bartók’s pupils recount a further thread to the sequence, as scenes from a country wedding. In particular the flautist of the third dance is the shepherd bridegroom himself, the singer of the fourth (rather than violinist) is the bride-to-be, the Rumanian polka is danced by the men only, and the final dance is a general rejoicing.
from notes by Roy Howat © 1990