Folk Music in The United States


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The use of folk music by the composers of cultivated or art music has been an important factor in the history of music. Composers have usually felt closer to and more familiar with folk music than have the historians of cultivated music, and, indeed, virtually all of our knowledge of folk music before the nineteenth century comes directly from sources of cultivated music rather than from theoretical and historical writing. In the early epochs of Western history folk and cultivated music were probably more similar in style and more clearly related in function than they are today. There was evidently a time in European culture when there was no essential distinction between the two types; the increasing degree of diflFerentiation may have come about simply through the growing professionalism and specialization among the composers.

It is not the purpose of this chapter to cite the multitude of instances in which sophisticated composers have used folk music. I wish only to show some of the important types of relationship between traditional and cultivated music as shown in the works of these composers. The examples were chosen somewhat arbitrarily, for hundreds of others could have illustrated the points equally well; those given here are among the best known. Moreover, a complete survey of the compositions in which folk material appears is an impossibility, for the identification of this material is itself a difficult and problematic matter. Finally, I do not desire to evaluate the uses of folk music by cultivated com-


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