Every year, Romanian culture is celebrated on January 15th, honoring the birth of Mihai Eminescu, Romanians and Moldavians’ national poet. It is difficult to explain why Eminescu is important for us, but on this day we want to show you few facets of Romanian culture.
Cultural and ethnic diversity
At the crossroads of East and West, Romanian unique identity is the result of ethnical and cultural interferences. Romans and nomadic tribes interfering with Dacians, Slavic people settling around, Greeks and Turks, Hungarians and Germans, Armenians, Jews and Roma – all had their influences on the Romanian language, traditions, architecture or gastronomy.
“A Latin island on a Slavic sea” or a “Latin enclave at the Orient’s gate”, Romania is the only European place where Western traditions meet the Eastern ones, where Romanic, Gothic and Renaissance churches lay in communities together with Byzantine churches, synagogues or mosques. Moldavian style that illustrates our medieval art and Byzantine picture includes Gothic architectural elements coming from the West. While Michelangelo and his disciples painted the Sistine Chapel, anonymous Moldavians painted Voroneț, Arbore or Sucevița monasteries, offering the World similar artistic values. At the end of the 15th century, at the Transylvanian border, near Cluj, a Moldavian ruler built an Orthodox church in a Romanian gothic style, adapted to the location and the locals.
Romania is home for over 20 ethnic minorities, who preserve their language and traditions while living in multi-ethnic communities and enriching thus Romanian culture.
Romanian UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage
The folk dance “Calusul” (the wooden mouthpiece of the horse’s bridle) is performed only by men dancers, and transposes a ritual of the pastoral year in popular Pre-Christian calendar, when summer was governed by the horse as a symbol of light and warmth.
Scholastically defined, “doina” is an anonymous, collective creation, orally spread between generations, which encompass music, poetry and dance separately or all together. The story Grigore Leșe (musician, ethnomusicologist, music PhD and professor at the University of Bucharest) transposes in this Doina is “Miorița”, a pastoral ballad we, Romanians, consider the masterpiece of the folklore.
Craftsmanship of Horezu ceramics is ruled by Horezu red and yellow, and it has specific, easily recognizable, recurrent motifs and elements: roosters, stars, snakes, trees, the double helix, the undulating line, circular strings of folk motives, the tree leaf, the sun, the tree of life. In your journey towards Polovragi Cave, the Transalpina Road or to spend the night in one of the Oltenia culas, it is definitely worthwhile to stop in the small town of Horezu to admire the craftmen works and to buy really special souvenirs for your friends at home.
Men’s group Colindat is a Christmas-time caroling ritual common for Romania and the Republic of Moldova. Young, unmarried men gather on Christmas Eve, stop to every house of the village and perform a festive songs, whose personalized message is adapted to each host’s specific. Of course, a special attention is given to household where unmarried girls live, for they would find a husband in the year to come! This is only one of the many winter traditions we have and we warmly invite you to discover!
On holidays, stage performances or in private events such as weddings, men all over Romania gather in the Lad’s Dance. From 5 to 70 years old, they enjoy performing the dance, which is specific to each ethnicity, community or region.
Romanian folk music played around the world
Do you know what connects French Edith Piaf and Les Yeux Noirs, Americans Les Paul & Mary Ford, Belgian Vaya con Dios, Serbian Zvonko Bogdan, Romanians Bela Chitaristul, M.A.Jr. Ethno Jazz Band, famous soprano Angela Gheorghiu and… gymnastics (Romanians Teodora Ungureanu in 1977 and Emilia Eberle in 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, but also by the American Mary Lou Retton in 1984)? Our 1936 popular song “Jingle Bells Sleigh” (“Sanie cu zurgălăi”)!
Romanian ballade “Little Shepherd with Three Hundred Sheep” (“Ciobănaș cu trei sute de oi”) has been performed in Concert Halls all over the world by the famous soprano Angela Gheorghiu or by Toto Cutugno, but also by the Portuguese fado musician Gonçalo Salgueiro (who also included in his repertoire another well-known folk song).
Last year in Maastricht, Andre Rieu included a Romanian moment is his show, whose stars were Gheorghe Zamfir and his magical pan flute, along with a Folkloric Band and a Pan flute. You tell us if spectators enjoyed it nor not!
In 2007, the couple Andreea Bălan and Petrișor Ruge was the second world best dancers in “Dancing Around the World” Mexico competition, and conquered the audition with an exceptional performance of our Calus.
Music “Made in Romania”
George Enescu is the most famous Romanian musician, who performed as a composer, violinist, pianist and conductor on the most important European and American stages. In his memory, three years after his passing, in 1958, “George Enescu” Festival debuted. For a month every two years, end-August – end-September, our country is the host of the most important classical music festival and classical international competition held in Romania and one of the biggest in Eastern Europe, featuring over 2500 of the most renowned artists and orchestras of the world in each edition (next one: 2017!). Ioan Holender, another famous Romanian personality (the longest-serving general director in the history of the Vienna State Opera, advisor of the Metropolitan Opera New York and the Spring Festival Tokyo), was the Festival’s artistic director for 12 years, until 2015 edition.
Sergiu Celibidache conducted for 50 years major European orchestras in Germany, UK, Sweden, Italy and France; the pianist and composer Dinu Lipatti, tragically dead at 33, gave unique interpretations of Chopin, Mozart and Bach, while Hungarian ethnic Péter Csaba is a highly-appreciated and awarded conductor and violinist, member of the Royal Academy of Sweden, currently Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the MÁV Symphony Orchestra Budapest.
Any waltz lover danced at least once on “Waves of the Danube” theme, locally known under different names; but did you know that it was composed by Ion Ivanovici, a Serbian ethnic Romanian, and performed in world premiere at the 1889 Paris Exposition?
Angela Gheorghiu is the most renowned Romanian soprano, successfully following the steps of her famous predecessors: Hariclea Darclée (coming from a Greek family), who was the first Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca in January 1900; Ileana Cotrubas (retired in 1990); Mariana Nicolesco (UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2005, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and initiator of “Hariclea Darclée International Voice Competition” held since 1995 every two years in Brăila, the birthplace of Hariclea Darclée).
Since Eurovision Song Contest debut in 1994, Romanian musicians never missed. Although only Luminița Anghel & Sistem in 2005, Mihai Trăistariu in 2006 and Paula Seling & Ovi in 2010 performances ranked in top 4, Cezar’s show in 2013 was really special!
Of course, we must not forget about Inna, Alexandra Stan, Antonia, Akcent or Morandi known in clubs all around the globe, and a constant presence in tops, and neither Amadeus Quartet, an all female ensemble comprising 4 highly trained musicians performing and making known Romania for 15 years over three continents.
Johnny Răducanu (Roma ethnic) and Harry Tavitian (Armenian ethnic) are the most representative jazz performers, while Nightlosers is a blues-ethno-rock band gathering Romanian, German, Hungarian and Roma ethnics.
Inspired by a well-known folk ballad, Josef Kappl (a German ethnic) composed the first Romanian Rock Opera “Mesterul Manole”, which had its world premiere in Timișoara end 2013.
Dance “Made in Romania”
After Kiev Ballet and The Royal Ballet, since end 2013 Alina Cojocaru is English National Ballet’s Leading Principal Dancer, and a regular guest artist with companies worldwide. In 2010, Stars of the 21st Century International Ballet Gala in Moscow hosted Ballerina of the Decade award ceremony, where our Alina was one of the four prima ballerinas grabbing the Grand Prix. Some say she is the best Giselle ever!
Art “Made in Romania”
The most important sculptor of the twentieth century is the Romanian Constantin Brâncuși (although he chose to live in France and become a French citizen). His works in marble, stone, bronze, wood, and metal are an outstanding reflection of myths, folklore, and “primitive” cultures. You may miss to visit the many famous museums around the world that exhibit his works, but coming to Târgu Jiu you will see one of the great works of 20th century outdoor sculpture: the Sculptural Ensemble comprising the Endless Column, the Table of Silence and the Gate of the Kiss, an homage to Romanian soldiers fallen in WW1.
Ion Jalea’s sculptures in bronze, plaster, marble and other natural stone (allegorical scenes, mythological sketches, legends, folklore, peasant figures, nudes, portraits) are very special, and not only because he lost his left arm in WW1, when he was in his late 20s. A bronze copy of his work “Archer at rest” was donated by Romanian Stat to the European Court of Justice. While visiting Constanța, you may take some time to visit Ion Jalea Sculpture Museum statue to admire a 3-4 meters high statue depicting Queen Elizabeth and a rare value Madonna’s head statue.
Nicolae Grigorescu’s paintings reflect in a serene and kind approach mostly rural Romania sceneries and portraits. One can admire his paintings and murals at Căldărușani, Zamfira and Agapia Monasteries. As frontline painter in the 1877 Romanian War of Independence (part of the Russo-Turkish War), Grigorescu reflected this experience in masterpieces such as “The Attack of Smârdan”, considered the most important war painting, “The Spy”, “The Trumpeter”. When you will be in Romania, don’t forget to look on the 10 lei banknote: you will see Nicolae Grigorescu’s portrait and on reverse one of his paintings having as model a Romanian peasant girl, Rodica.
Literature “Made in Romania”
Mircea Eliade is known mostly as historian and phenomenologist of religion (he acted as editor-in-chief of Macmillan’s Encyclopedia of Religion). He was one of the most influential scholars of religion of the 20th century and one of the world’s foremost interpreters of religious symbolism and myth, but also a prolific fiction writer and scholar.
Avant-gardists such as Urmuz (influential for the development of Dadaism and the Theatre of the Absurd) and Eugène Ionesco (a foremost figure of the French Avant-garde theatre) played a major role in the emergence of avant-garde rebellion throughout Europe, and in particular to the rise of Romania’s own modernist scene.
Contemporary poet, novelist and essayist Mircea Cărtărescu is a prolific author, translated in over 20 languages, and highly awarded worldwide (e.g.: his “Blinding” won the 2015 Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding).
Movies with “Made in Romania” touch
We all remember Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, but did you know that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was performed by a Romanian actress, Maia Morgenstern?
Or that our Marcel Iureș starred in movies such as “The Pacemaker”, “Layer Cake”, “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” or “Mission: Impossible”?
Or that “The Lonely Shepherd” on “Kill Bill” soundtrack is composed and performed by Gheorghe Zamfir?
Or that lately young actors such as Sebastian Stan starred in “Captain America: The First Avenger” and beautiful Mădălina Ghenea starred in “Dom Hemingway” and “Youth”, while talented directors such as Cristian Mungiu, Cristi Puiu, Nae Caranfil or Radu Jude brought home notable awards in international competitions?
… And we have a Romanian (how else?) surprise for you: Iris hard rock band and the soprano Felicia Filip (“Filipissima”, as named by French press after a remarkable “Traviata” performance in Lieges, the only opera soloist in the world who has been awarded all Mozart Singing Competitions) performing the symphonic rock “De vei pleca” (“If You Went Away”). Let us know on our Facebook page if you liked it or not, and do not think twice before deciding to join one of our tours to see the roots that gave wings to these admirable ambassadors of Romanian true spirit and feeling!