Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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Of course the effect of art music on folk music is dependent on the existence of a well-developed fine-art tradition in music. Such a tradition evidently did not exist to a large degree before the Middle Ages, and it did not come to Eastern Europe until even later. There are those who believe that the styles of European folk music evolved to a state similar to what it is now before the time (perhaps a thou­sand years ago) when the sophisticated composers first began to in­fluence folklore, that the folk styles are an invaluable remnant of precultivated times, even of prehistoric eras. This belief can be neither substantiated nor negated. But we are probably much safer in believing that the styles of European folk music developed some time in the Middle Ages, and that this happened to some extent un­der the influence of the art music that was also developing at the time. This, after all, might account for the rather considerable degree of homogeneity in European folk music.
The strophic form
The most characteristic trait of European folk songs is their strophic structure. We tend to accept an arrangement in which a tune with several lines is repeated several times, each time with dif­ferent words, as normal. But this kind of arrangement is not so common elsewhere in the world, and it ties the European nations together as a musical unit. The length of a song with stanzas (called "strophic" song in technical terminology) can vary greatly, from a short bit such as that in Example 3-1 to a relatively elaborate piece such as that in Example 3-2.
The special character of the strophic song is derived from a peculiar trait of European poetry—folk poetry as well as that of the sophisticated poets. This is the tendency to arrange poems into units of two, three, four, five, six, or more lines. Such units, called stanzas or strophes, have a form that is repeated; the interrelationship of the lines is repeated, but the words—or at least most of them—are not. The lines may be interrelated by the number of syllables or of poetic feet per line, or, more commonly, by a rime scheme. But in any event, some sort of structure is given to the stanza quite aside from the meaning of the words. The words themselves, of course, progress throughout the poem, telling a story or expressing the poet's feelings

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