Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

The folk & traditional music of Europe, Africa & the Americas explored.

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common, but each country—in some cases each region, each district, and each community—has its own music and its own style. In this chapter we would like to devote ourselves to exploring the unity of European folk music. In Chapters 4, 5, and 6 we will try to discuss the special characteristics of regions and countries.
We have pointed out that it is very hard to state concretely just how much difference there is between one kind or style of music and another. One way of telling that a musical style is similar to another one, the second of which you already recognize, is if the first of the styles also appeals to you. If this is true, and a person who is acquainted with British folk music finds Russian folk song more appealing than the music of Polynesia, then Russian and English folk song are indeed more similar to each other than are the English and the Polynesian. If we use this only very moderately reliable measur­ing device, we must admit that most of the European styles are rather similar to each other. And, on the whole, those that are geo­graphically close to each other are also the most closely related in terms of musical style. There are a number of characteristics which we find to be present throughout Europe—with the usual pockets of exception, of course—and throughout that part of the world in­habited by descendants of Europeans.
We really know very little about the history of European folk song. We have little evidence as to the age of individual songs, al­though some idea can be gained from the notations of folk songs made by composers ever since the Renaissance. But in such cases we don't know whether a song was really part of the folk tradition, or whether it was an art or popular song that later moved into the realm of folklore—or vice versa. We also know little about the age of the various styles of folk music in Europe. Still, we are sure that for centuries there has been a close relationship between the art music of the continent and its folk music. How could it be other­wise? Neither villages nor cities live without some mutual contact. In the early Middle Ages, wandering minstrels carried their tunes from court to village and from country to country. The villagers of the Middle Ages attended church and heard Gregorian chant. The composer at the court of a minor duke in seventeenth-century Ger­many drew his performers from the village musicians living on his lord's estate. We have ample evidence for assuming a constant rela­tionship between the folk musician and his sophisticated counterpart.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III