Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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88 EASTERN EUROPE
and of the wars against the Tartars which took place for the next two hundred yearsJ Of course there are literary motifs that are found in many nations: for instance, the poor and neglected prince who becomes a hero, found in all European folklore but perhaps without historical foundation. The practice of singing by liny seems to have reached a peak of artistic perfection in the seventeenth cen­tury, when it was—as was the epic tradition of Western Europe in the Middle Ages—penetrated by professional minstrels. The Ukrainian version of the epic is a body of songs called Dumy, dealing largely with the struggles of the Ukrainians against the Tartars and Poles in the late Middle Ages.
The most accessible body of epic singing today, however, is that of the Yugoslavs (mainly the Serbs, but also the Croatians, Montenegrins, Bulgarians, and Albanians). Their songs deal mainly with the struggles against the Turks from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Some of the epics are told from the Christian point of view, but others, from the Muslim. The songs deal mainly with the rulers and the leaders in war. That the tradition is still alive is attested by the mention of modern appliances such as the telephone, and by the existence of an epic about the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo at the beginning of World War I. That it is also ancient is proved by its musical structure. There have been attempts to link the Yugoslav tradition to that of the Greek Homeric epics, and certainly we can learn a great deal about what may have been the genesis of the Iliad and Odyssey and about the way in which these great epics must have been performed from the structure and cultural context of the Yugoslav epics.
The Yugoslav epics last from less than one to perhaps ten hours, they are performed by semiprofessional minstrels in cafes, and they are sung only by men. They are accompanied on the giisla or gusle (which the singer himself plays), a simple fiddle with one string made of a strand of horsehair, a belly of stretched skin, and a crude bow. The gusle usually plays a more ornamented version of the singer's melody, or it performs a drone and plays ornaments between the singer's lines.
It would be surprising if songs of such length were sung exactly the same way by any two singers, or even twice by the same one. To some extent they must be improvised, re-created each time. Thus the process of creation and performance are to a degree united.







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