Transylvanian Dances was commissioned by The Jade String Quartet (Miranda Adams, William Hanfling, Robert Ashworth, Claudia Price) for their Arts on Tour series of concerts, October 5-28, 2007. The piece was funded as part of the composer’s work at the University of Otago.
Transylvanian Dances is based on two folk tunes that appear on the album The Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania (HNCD 1373), by the Hungarian group Muzsikas. These folk tunes were well known to Jewish communities in Transylavania before the Second World War but were lost following the holocaust. In the 1990s, Muzsikas combined forces with two old Gypsy players who could still remember the tunes. Together they reconstructed the items in full, bringing to life music that had been silent for 50 years.
In Transylvanian Dances the tunes are transcribed and arranged for string quartet, and also developed into original passages of music, in an improvisational manner. Most motifs are derived from the folk music, but some additions are made, particularly in the harmonies. Some of the timbres in the quartet are designed to mimic the sound of the cimbalom, a Hungarian percussion instrument. The low-pitched, chugging chords on viola and cello also conjure up a familiar sound from Transylvanian folk bands.
The composer gratefully acknowledges permission from Muzsikas to use these two folk tunes in Transylvanian Dances.