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Lăutari in the 19th century

The Romanian word Lăutar (Romanian pronunciation: [ləutar]) denotes a class of traditional musicians. Most often, and by tradition, lăutari are members of a professional clan of Romani musicians (or the local term, Gypsies), also called țigani lăutari (Romanian pronunciation: [tsigani ləutari]). The term is derived from lăută, the Romanian word for lute. Lăutari usually perform in bands, called taraf.


Lăutar, according to the DEX ("Dicționarul Explicativ al Limbii Române" — "The Explanatory Dictionary of the Romanian Language"), is formed from lăută (meaning "lute") and the agent suffix -ar, common for occupational names. A distinction should be made between the generic Romanian-language word lăutar and the Romani clan. Originally, the word was used only for those that played the lăută. The others were named for their instruments, too, e.g.: scripcar (violin player), cobzar (cobza player), and naigiu (nai/panflute player).[1] From the 17th century, the word lăutar was used regardless of the instrument that was played.[2]

Another distinction should be made between the lăutărească music played by lăutari and the Romanian peasant music.[3] A more proper term for someone who plays peasant music, i.e., a folk musician, is rapsod[clarification needed].


The lăutari clan probably stems from other historical Romani clans present in Romania, such as the ursari, lovari and kalderash. Names of Romani clans in Romania are usually Romanian occupational names: Căldărar (bucket-maker, căldare=bucket; -aș replaces -ar regionally), Lingurar (spoon-makers, lingură=spoon), Florar (flower sellers, floare=flower) etc.

The first mention of lăutari is from 1558 when Mircea Ciobanul, the Voivode of Wallachia, gives Ruste lăutarul (Ruste the lăutar) as a gift to the Vornic Dingă from Moldavia.[4] In 1775 the first lăutărească guild (breaslă), was established in Wallachia.

The lăutari were both slave Roma and free Romanians, but the Roma were the majority.[2] They were preferred because they were considered to have better musical abilities.[5] Through time there have also been Jewish and Turkish lăutari.[4]

Before the 19th century, Romani musicians were often employed to provide entertainment in the courts of the Princes and Boyars. In the 19th century, most of these musicians settled in the rural areas where they sought new employment at weddings, funerals, and other traditional Romanian celebrations. They were called țigani vătrași and have the Romanian language as their mother language, or sometimes the Hungarian language.[6] Only a few of them, with ancestors from the kalderash or from the ursari groups, still spoke the Romani language.

The lăutari existed mainly in the Moldavia, Muntenia, Oltenia and Dobruja regions of present-day Romania.[2] In Transylvania, traditional professional musicians didn't exist until the 19th century.[7] For this reason the peasant music of Transylvania remained more "pure". A similar situation was in Banat. Today the Romani lăutari are also predominant in Transylvania.[8]

As performers, lăutari are usually loosely organized into a group known as a taraf, which often consists largely of the males of an extended family. (There are female lăutari, mostly vocalists, but they are far outnumbered by the men.) Each taraf is led by a primaș, a primary soloist.

Traditionally, the lăutari played by ear, but today more and more lăutari have musical studies and can read notes.[9][10]

The lăutari consider themselves to be the elite of the Roma.[8] For this reason the lăutari want their children to marry only other lăutari.

Lăutărească music[edit]

The music of the lăutari is called lăutărească music. There isn't a single music style of the lăutari, the music style varies from region to region, the best known being that from southern Romania.[8] The lăutărească music is complex and elaborated, with dense harmonies and refined ornamentations, and its execution requires a good technique[11][12] The lăutărească music should not be confounded with the Romanian peasant music.[3]

The lăutari drew inspiration from all the musics they had contact with: the pastoral music of Romania, the Byzantine music played in the church, as well as foreign music, most notably Turkish, but also Russian and Western European.[4][13][14] While the lăutari drew inspiration from the local music, they also influenced the Romanian peasant music.[15]

Improvisation is an important part of the lăutărească music. Each time a lăutar plays a melody he re-interprets it.[16] For this reason the lăutărească music has been compared to Jazz music. A lăutar from the Damian Draghici band, who also played Jazz, said that the lăutărească music is a kind of Jazz.[17]

Because of its characteristic of improvising on a certain basic framework the lăutărească music has been compared with other Desi musics such as the Rāg.[18] Yehudi Menuhin considered the music of the lăutari as a necessary step towards India.[19]

The music of the lăutari establishes the structure of the elaborate Romanian peasant weddings, as well as providing entertainment (not only music, but magic tricks, stories, bear training, etc.) during the less eventful parts of the ritual. The lăutari also function as guides through the wedding rituals and moderate any conflicts that may arise during what can be a long, alcohol-fuelled party. Over a period of nearly 48 hours, this can be very physically strenuous.

The repertoire of the lăutari include hora, sârba, brâul (a high tempo hora), doiul, tunes with Turkish derived rhythms (geamparaua, breaza, rustemul, maneaua lăutărească, cadâneasca), doina, de ascultare (roughly "song for listening", it can be considered a more complex form of doina), cântecul bătranesc, călușul, ardeleana, corăgheasca, ardeleana, batuta

In southern Romania, the lăutărească music has a rural stratum and an urban one.[8] The urban lăutărească music is known as Urban folklore or Mahala music.

Following custom almost certainly dating back at least to the Middle Ages, most lăutari rapidly spend the fees from these wedding ceremonies on extended banquets for their friends and families over the days immediately following the wedding.

Instruments often played by lăutari[edit]

  • pan flute (called "muscal" then "nai" in Romanian) – It probably arrived with the Turks[citation needed] (both "muscal" and "nai" are words of Turkish origin). One of the primary instruments of old lăutari, it is seldom used today.
  • violin – Always popular among lăutari.
  • contra violin[clarification needed]
  • double bass – Though often present in the taraf, the bass didn't receive much attention from the lăutari, because it didn't allow for "mărunt" (virtuosic) playing.
  • cobza/lăuta – An instrument similar with the lute, but probably not directly related. It is either a direct descendant of the oud, brought by Romani musicians, or it is derived from the Ukrainian kobza. Like the kobza, it has a short neck and is used primary for rhythmic accompaniment, but, like the oud, it has no frets. Today it is virtually extinct.
  • cimbalom (called "țambal" in Romanian) – It replaced the cobza/lăuta, having more capabilities.
  • accordion – Very popular in the modern lăutarească music.
  • clarinet – Used especially in southern urban lăutarească music.
  • tárogató ("taragot" in Romanian) – Used especially in Banat, though today the saxophone has largely replaced the tárogató.
  • brass instruments – An Austrian influence, used especially in Moldavia.

The lăutari rarely used the blown instruments used in the peasant music, because of their limited capabilities, but there were some lăutari who used the flute ("fluier") or the bagpipe ("cimpoi")

Today, the lăutari also used a lot of electric, electronic, and electroacoustic instruments: various keyboards (electronic accordions included), electric and electroacoustic guitars and basses, etc.

Influence on George Enescu[edit]

The lăutari and their music had a great influence on the Romanian composer George Enescu.[citation needed] His love for music started when, as a child, he heard a taraf of lăutari while on a trip to Bălțătești with his mother.[20] This has been hard to accept by some Romanian musicologists who tried to induce the idea that it must have been some peasant musicians that Enescu heard on that trip.[21] Enescu received his first musical lessons from a lăutar called Nicolae (Lae) Chioru ("Squinting Nick"), whose real name was Nicolae Filip.[22] Through his life, he befriended many lăutari from whom he learned their music.[citation needed] Unlike Béla Bartók, who avoided the Romani lăutari, searching only the peasant music, Enescu was not interested in this kind of nationalistic authenticity.[20] He got his inspiration from both the peasant and the lăutarească music (both rural and urban).[citation needed] His first and probably most famous compositions, the Poème roumaine and the Romanian Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2, were written by directly citing passages of urban folklore music,[23] which also gave them a strong Turkish/Middle Eastern flavor.[citation needed] So pregnant was this aspect in his music[citation needed] that a German critic wrongly thought that Enescu was Romani himself upon hearing the Romanian Rhapsody.[20]

List of well-known musicians/bands that play lăutari music[edit]

Bands / tarafs[edit]

Most tarafs do not have a specific name, but are built around a person (the primaș) or a family. Most bands that have a name are commercially created. Some of the most famous are:



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Despre vatasia lautarilor
  2. ^ a b c Meseria de lăutar (I)
  3. ^ a b De-a lungul timpului, muzica tradițională a înviat și a murit (Through time, the traditional music has died and came to life again) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "GL_.E2.80.94_taraneasca" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  4. ^ a b c O istorie a lautarilor (A history of the lautari)
  5. ^ Meseria de lăutar (II)
  6. ^ Doinitorul fără pereche
  7. ^ Meseria de lăutar (III) — Ardealul și Banatul
  8. ^ a b c d Cu seriozitate despre muzica lautareasca (Seriously about the lautareasca music) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SR_-_Despre_lautarie" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SR_-_Despre_lautarie" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  9. ^ Ei sunt primii lautari cu atestat european
  10. ^ Pasari calatoare — Intoarcerea la radacini
  11. ^ Confesiune
  12. ^ Lautarii romanilor (The Romanian's lautari)
  13. ^ Barbu Lautaru
  14. ^ Lautarii si compozitiunile lor
  15. ^ Banda lui nea Alită Pițigoi
  16. ^ Official site of George Mihalache, that comes from an old lautari family)
  17. ^ Tradiție veche la timpuri noi (Old tradition at new times)
  18. ^ India — Bharat — Tenjiku: one reality, more perspectives
  19. ^ Simpozionul Enescu 2003 — I. Estetică și stil
  20. ^ a b c Simpozionul International George Enescu 2003 - Selectiuni - ISBN 973-8475-47-3
  21. ^ Dominique Fernandez, Ferrante Ferranti - The Romanian rhapsody: an overlooked corner of Europe
  22. ^ Noel Malcolm, George Enescu: His Life and Music, with a preface by Sir Yehudi Menuhin (Surbiton: Toccata Press, 1990): 30. ISBN 978-0-907689-33-1
  23. ^ Valentina Sandu-Dediu - Modernitatea Muzicii Românești: O Schiță În Perspectivă Istorică

External links[edit]