Folk Music, Art Music, History of Music

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  • Folk Music, Art Music, History of MusicAuthor(s): Bence SzabolcsiSource: Notes, Second Series, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Autumn, 1964), pp. 503-510Published by: Music Library AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 11:21

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    Those who peruse the principal literary works written in the last hun- dred years on the history of music may note with some astonishment how closely this literature is marked by constant, changing references to folk music. What had seemed natural to the generations of Ambros a hundred years ago became problematic to the generation of Riemann; what was self-evident to Rolland and Coirault has been received with sceptiscism and suspicion by young French scholars; and again, from the studies of Wiora to the volumes of the New Oxford History of Music, it has been proclaimed and confirmed by the documents of recent history that knowledge concerning the great periods of the history of music cannot be complete without being acquainted with the folk music sources on which they fed. The problems presented by the relations of folk music and art music are so multifarious and intricate that even a simple survey is well nigh impossible. In the following pages an attempt is made to seize a few main issues and discuss them in the light of present knowledge.

    1. The fundamental differences between folk music and art music are an old subject in European musicology; however, almost until recent times our science paid much more careful attention to the differences between the two than to the features and fundamental elements which meet or even converge. The development of bourgeois civilization also contributed to the ever wider separation of the villages from the towns, of the life of the people from that of the so-called educated classes, so that in time the distance that yawned between the two appeared to be a virtually insuperable gulf. Folk music, when it was studied with serious attention, was prone to present a phenomenon outside of time, outside of history, or rather an increasingly isolated, withering state as the forgotten, neglected legacy of long past centuries, a sunken relic (de- scended to the depths from the superior social stratum) which, its development having been arrested, was doomed to inevitable extinction.

    What, in fact, were the obvious differences between folk music and art music? They were separated by differences of purpose, function, and social role. Obviously, only the tunes favoured by many for a long time in numerous places may be denoted as folk music, tunes born in a community, spread in a community, and appealing to a community. Art music, on the other hand, derives from an individual, has been invented by a composer, may for a long time be known only to a narrow circle, apparently remaining "the cause of a few." Folk music


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  • is marked by typicalness; it flourishes in similar forms, in groups, unat- tached to any individual personality. It does not aspire to the finality characteristic of individual artistic achievement; moreover, it is known in multitudes of variations in time and space alike, its true life being manifested by these variations. It is preserved by oral tradition and not in writing-being averse to all fixation. A type and variations, with a tendency to permanent anonymousness and ceaseless change: these have been quoted as the decisive factors which set off so sharply the contrast of artistic, professional, individual composition, when compared to folk music, a popular product as regards origin, spread, existence, and fading away.

    In the light of recent research, these contradictions have, however, mostly proved to be superficial and exaggerated. This recognition has been maturing for a long time in musicology; increasing numbers have discovered that, notwithstanding the essential differences between them, folk music and art music are in many respects connected and related with each other. They are related, because the elements accumulated in one are ceaselessly under way to reach the other. Who would believe that in Hungarian folk music, in the Eastern part of Central-Europe, old Central-Asian patterns, Gregorian types, early-mediaeval hymn-tunes, metric forms of the late Renaissance, Viennese Baroque and Rococo, italianising romantic melody-turns have survived up to our present days? Truly, a great part of the cultural history of the people, of the country is to be read here! And in spite of all that, how much more, how infinitely more is the essence of folk music! It is more than a diary of historical adventures, more than a musical geology of various cultural strata, of foreign influences and acclimatisations.

    Nearly a quarter of a century ago Zoltan Kodaly gave an excellent summary of these relationships in his study entitled "Folk Music and Art Music" (1941). "In folk music" he says "strictly speaking a new transcription, a variation is produced by the lips of the singer on every occasion. This operative power of unconditional ownership has been emphasized many times as an essential trait of the folk song. It used to exist also in higher art." (Here Kodaly alluded to Shakespeare, Bach, Handel, and the great classic of Hungarian poetry, Janos Arany.) "Ap- parently, the mode of production is entirely different: here it is a process of individual creation, there the slow variation of the existing gradually leads to a new work through the links of tiny changes. But let us look more closely at the history of music: does composition of so much indi- vidual character, showing no likeness to anything in existence, spring from the heads of composers as did Minerva from the head of Jupiter? The early works of even the greatest masters are also mere imitations, often scarcely differing from the compositions of their predecessors. Their originality, their individual tones develop only step by step. The influence of others can be discovered even in their most original works. No one


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  • could have guessed the composer of Tristan from Wagner's first operas. He was doubtful about himself at the age of thirty, because he found so much imitation, so many foreign influences in his own works. This was natural. The artist does not live in a vacuum, but in the company of other people; he feels and thinks like millions of other people; only he can express himself in a better way . . .In the history of art, schools, groups, and hosts of followers mean the same as does the variation in folk music . . . A new type of song is developed from existing forms by slow variation, always growing more different, but hardly at a slower pace than that discernible in art music. There, too, the appearance of a new style has been found to act like a revelation. However, the history of music can in most instances demonstrate its gradual preparation by a long line of forgotten works."

    Concerning the argument that folk music is an unwritten, oral tradition while art music lives in a written, fixed form, Kodaly remarks "In the European art music of our days there are elements which can be perpet- uated only by living tradition . . . An artist does not always play a piece in the same manner." Kodaly draws the final conclusion: "Taking an over-all view it may be stated that there is no essential difference between the two. They are the varying manifestations of the same human function. The differences have been caused by historical, national, social and cultural stratification. The most precious manifestations are equiva- lent. Estimation of the rest depends on artistic value. Hence folk music and art music do not follow paths so wide apart as to preclude influence on each other. At the development of great, classical periods, folk music or popular music is thus always found to be present as a stimulation and a model in endeavours towards simplicity."

    What is summed up by Kodaly with such exemplary lucidity is the fundamental perception of the whole of contemporary musicology. The rigid differentiation of individual and common achievement, of popular and professional composition can be abandoned without any qualm, to be replaced by new, more convincing, more vital definitions. Dissemination by word of mouth or in a fixed written shape, a final or changing form, individual invention or variant, original or non-original composi- tion, all these have failed to establish decisively defining, differentiating criteria. What is common to both is much more important. Their common ground and starting point is a certain colloquial convention: the "tongue of the village" or the "style of the age," according to your preference. Their common road of development leads from the primitive type to the production of a work of superior type; the finest form of the ballad of Lasz16 Feher, of True Thomas, or Lindenschmidt's ballad, or the most brilliantly constructed Vienna opera which happens to bear the title of The Magic Flute.

    This parallelism having been established beyond any doubt, it seems natural that unconscious kindred endeavours should have exerted the


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  • strongest influence on one another in past epochs, with the benefit of mutual enrichment. The periods where new styles of art music were born from the effect of folk music appear to our eyes in colours that differ from those which mark the times when folk musics took over and back elements from the works produced by art music. "The artist does not live in a vacuum"; nor do musical cultures and musical styles unfold in a vacuum. They are created, carried on, and shaped by the human

    community which lives in a thousand ways, entertains a thousand kinds of relationships, in struggle and in alliance.

    2. But what is the people, what is the folk song, and what is the folky-popular style? Were not the citizen, the petty bourgeois, the worker of the mediaeval town, in a certain sense, the "folk" of those times? A certain law that governs the movement of styles is evident also in this field. The great periods in the European history of music, when rich cultures of art music sprang from folk music styles, indicated an appearance, an invasion, a rise or at least an increased advance of the often hardly visible masses, of the submerged and deep layers of the population. This is what happened in the 16th century, at the time of the Reformation, when the choral art of Europe was reborn under the influence of folk song forms; in the 18th century, on the eve of the French revolution, when the Italian and French comic opera and minor

    popular forms of music brought about a decisively significant change of style which finally led to "grand classicism"; and in the 19th and 20th centuries, at the time when the various movements of national independ- ence came to fruition, and in numerous parts of Europe new, universally important musical styles of national character developed under folk music's influence.

    The movements of society loomed in the background of all these renewals. The rise of a new layer or group or of a new community may be noticed in every instance, in transient or permanent alliance with the masses of people heaving behind or beneath them-hence the ever renewed inroads of folk music in all of these eras. We are still far from seeing clearly as regards the birth of new styles. It is becoming increasingly obvious, however, that in this sphere as well as elsewhere the path of progress is marked by accumulation and by break-through: old relations are disrupted and new connections are begun. Illustrative examples are presented by the accumulation of German Protestant choral material before Bach and its rise to perfection in the art of Bach; or the concen- tration of popular forms of Italian song around Verdi and their triumph in his art; by the rise of Hungarian recruiting music to Erkel and Liszt, of the Russian folk song to Glinka and Mussorgsky, and of the Hungarian folk song in the art of Bartok and Kodaly.

    The relevant examples afforded by the history of music also furnish evidence that such an accumulation and break-through rarely proceed easily, free of resistance or tension, even crisis. The victory whereby the


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  • new Italian realistic comic opera came to occupy the stage around 1730 with the art of Pergolesi was preceded by decades of collection and inquiry in dismembered Italy languishing under various yokes. To Haydn, the great master who built up the monumental world of classical Viennese music from materal and spirit of the South German-Austrian folk song, it cost several decades of hard struggle to achieve this marvel- ously clear and popular simplicity. The approach of the simplicity of the folk song presented a problem and a test of strength also to Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. (In connection with folk songs a Hungarian poet in 1789 declared: "I wish I could write such a song.") As with every other creative artist, the decisive question with these composers was: what does an age, a generation, a creative genius see in folk music, or, more accurately, in the musical material and musical language recog- nized as the music of the people, of the largest community?

    3. Research in Eastern European and Asian folk music of the last few years has in many respects shed light on the transitional elements which lead from the popular practice of music to professional interpretation of music. Transitions of personal performance, level, intonation and form which build a direct bridge between folk music and art music, between communal and individual, instinctive and conscious works of art, have been subjected to study. It was particularly illuminating to watch inter- preters-for instance in Mongolia-who, as representatives of an ancient popular tradition, came forward as individual poets with semiconscious aspiration to individual poetry.

    The problem presented by the renewal of the folk song also belongs to this sphere, and so does the investigation of major popular forms which has offered opportunities for important conclusions and for indi- cating important analogies applicable to the development of European musical forms in the 16th to 18th centuries, from rondo and concerto to serenade and opera. Inquiry into improvisation and the use of flourishes has proved to be increasingly important. It should be remembered that for several centuries, virtually to the present day, improvised ornaments were the "open door" of great European music through which alteration and refashioning, i.e. the fundamental elements and principles of popular creative achievement, remained alive in art music. In these problems the history of Hungarian literature and music again and again recognized its own essential historical issues. In Hungary, as in every European country, the appearance of consciously or unconsciously popular elements was and has remained an important matter, particularly in periods witnessing the renewal of language, of literature, of music, and conse- quently of national education.

    4. In conclusion I should like to draw attention to a fundamental prin- ciple which prevails in both popular and artistic musical composition, and which may be regarded not only as a connecting bridge between the two, but also as their common axis. This principle is: thinking


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  • follows a type, the life of type and variation-the phenomenon which I am inclined to denote as the makam principle. We know that the Arabic term of makam may be applied here only with reservations, for in the oriential practice much is embraced by it which is disregarded here. If, however, we consider the balance between constraint and licence, the permanent model and improvised execution, community and individuality, retentive constancy and creative moments, the balance which characterizes the life of the makam or the raga in the Orient, I think we may accept the term for our own purpose to denote our own similar concept. If makam is interpreted in this sense it becomes evident that the life of every kind of folk music is only the continuous application of the makam prin- ciple.

    Another question is: to what extent does the popular singer know the type of song he wishes to interpret? Marius Schneider has pointed out that the Egyptian, Negro or Indian popular singer is still seeking a tune when he begins his performance. It is to himself, then, that he "clears" the melody which is thus created as it is performed. In their records of 1901 the collectors Markov, Maslov and Bogoslavsky remarked about the performers of Russian rhymed chronicles collected in the province of Archangelsk that first '. . they evoke the contents of the legend," "pick and choose among the melodies," and a definite tune ". . takes

    shape only in the second or third verse," ". .. to be repeated with mild variations."

    There are scholars who make a difference between conscious and unconscious makam, between the process of clarifying conception and mechanical lingual compulsion that piles up formulas. Be that as it

    may: this form of interpretation is the form of popular creation. A verse or tune does not live in the mind of a popular creator or a popular interpreter, in a single, imperative or best form. It is always pregnant with various possibilities, it carries a Janus' or Hecate's head with many faces, never a form of one shape only.

    The work and the efforts of the conscious artist who strives for the one, best, irrefutable and final form to express his thoughts, would seem to show exactly the contrary pattern.

    Yet the mnakam spirit is not alien to the life of art music either. In this connection we should like to draw attention to three circumstances. First, high cultures of melody have always and everywhere favoured the flowering of types. In such golden ages there are always many kinds of one form, the plentiful crop appearing in clusters; since every kind is offered in various forms, public taste accepts one instead of another. In the centuries of bel canto the art of improvisation was taught by multitudes of schools, and every artist of rank interpreted his bravura

    pieces in a different manner night after night; in a different manner, yet similarly, within the bounds of general taste and common language, freely, in the makam spirit. We know about the aria variations of a


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  • Farinelli, a Marchesi who gave six, eight, ten, fourteen ornamental variants of the same melody. How near these artists came to our rural singers!

    The second circumstance to be taken into account is that the idea of variation has never been remote from the European composer. On the contrary, there have been periods when the concept absorbed the best part of his energies, when it was the principal ambition of western

    composers to build up new forms from variations on given themes. The

    psychological background of the phenomenon is, in fact, simple enough and well-known. It may be traced to the ancient or, perhaps clearer, childish joy of hide and seek, of concealing and recovering, of finding and recognizing, which prevails in the recurring refrain of a verse-tale as forcibly as in the symphonic poems of Liszt and the disguised varia- tions of motives in Wagner's musical dramas. Several centuries passed without any mediaeval musician hitting on the idea of going beyond the diverse decorative colouring and transcription of Gregorian chant. Early instrumental music received a decisive impetus from the series of varia- tions on dance tunes, forming the so-called suite of variations. Protestant

    religious music reached the summit with the flowering of the monumental forms developed from the variations of the Lutheran chorale, the choral cantata, the choral fantasy, and the choral passion. It would seem to be more significant than any other argument that the greatest builders and

    composers of European classicism, Bach and Beethoven, were the most versatile and accomplished masters of variation.

    The third circumstance is the following. The conscious European artist is also vworking with permanent or recurring tune models, whether he is aware of it or not, whether he wants to or not. All around him definite types of thinking and expression, turns, formulas, and possibilities assert themselves in the taste of the period and in the style of the time. He who avoids them denies his age and renounces idiomatic intelligibility. Indeed, he cannot avoid them: were he capable of doing so, he would not be the son, the worker, or the innovator of his century. The artist "does not live in a vacuum" and does not create out of nothing. Renewal itself, whether cautious or revolutionary, consists of the gradual exchange of these idiomatic turns, models and makams, seizing the best and freshest while discarding the feeble and worn, a process again requiring search and selection. The itinerant themes of the age thus gained ever renewed life from the hands of Shakespeare or Moliere, Handel or Mozart, since public opinion expected beautiful execution and not original ideas from the poet or musician of older times. As pointed out by Kodaly, Palestrina and Lasso, Bach and Hlandel employed countless borrowed themes, while 80 per cent of Mozart's tunes also occurred in the music of his contem- poraries. As a matter of fact, some of his youthful compositions are practically indistinguishable from the works of Johann Christian Bach and Paisiello. It is a particularly attractive spectacle when great artists return to a self-chosen fundamental theme at various stages of their lives. There


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  • are composers whose life-work is found to display a veritable "thematic unity" from this aspect. The predominance of a central idea in the lives of artists has been known for a long time and recorded in the history of literature and art. Bergson said this about philosophers, but it would seem to apply to all creative talents, they vary a fundamental idea through a whole life-span. "Every culture element is essentially a range of varia- tions" says Ralph Linton (The Tree of Culture, New York, 1955).

    This folk music and art music, the rustic musician familiar only with variations, and the composer intent only on finding the final form, are more closely related than one would suppose at first sight. In the last analysis the free creation of the artist also rests on selection. He chooses from variations, as does the singer of the people; like the latter, he is backed by the style traditions and lingual conventions, the freedom and restrictions of a generation and a period. His consciousness and efforts can but help him to find himself, to synthesize and to advance. The two apparently contradictory forms of existence are determined by the balancing interplay of identical forces, those of change and permanence. Actually, the number of fundamental ideas is remarkably small; there is always abundance only in variations, i.e. in momentary forms. And here it seems as if the historian of music had stumbled on a law of nature: the root is modest, the foliage is profuse. The root, though scarcely visible, endures; the foliage that we admire falls to the ground, there to be renewed.


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    Article Contentsp. 503p. 504p. 505p. 506p. 507p. 508p. 509p. 510

    Issue Table of ContentsNotes, Second Series, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Autumn, 1964), pp. 475-654Front Matter [pp. 475-502]Folk Music, Art Music, History of Music [pp. 503-510]The American Music Center [pp. 511-512]The 1965 Annual Meeting of the Music Library Association [pp. 513-514]Notes for NOTES [pp. 515-527]Current Catalogs from the Music World [pp. 528-530]Book ReviewsReview: untitled [pp. 531-540]Review: untitled [pp. 541-542]Review: untitled [pp. 543-544]Review: untitled [pp. 544-546]Review: untitled [p. 546]Review: untitled [pp. 546-547]

    Other Publications [pp. 547-570]Index of Record Reviews: With Symbols Indicating Opinions of Reviewers [pp. 571-603]Music ReviewsReview: untitled [pp. 604-605]Review: untitled [pp. 605-607]Review: untitled [pp. 607-608]Review: untitled [pp. 608-609]Review: untitled [pp. 609-610]Review: untitled [pp. 610-611]Review: untitled [pp. 611-612]Review: untitled [pp. 612-614]Chamber MusicReview: untitled [p. 614]Review: untitled [pp. 614-615]Review: untitled [p. 615]Review: untitled [p. 615]Review: untitled [p. 615]Review: untitled [pp. 615-616]Review: untitled [p. 616]Review: untitled [pp. 616-617]Review: untitled [p. 617]Review: untitled [p. 617]Review: untitled [pp. 617-618]

    Choral MusicReview: untitled [p. 618]Review: untitled [pp. 618-619]Review: untitled [p. 619]Review: untitled [p. 619]Review: untitled [pp. 619-620]Review: untitled [p. 620]Review: untitled [p. 620]Review: untitled [p. 620]

    Keyboard MusicReview: untitled [p. 620]Review: untitled [pp. 620-621]Review: untitled [p. 621]Review: untitled [pp. 621-624]

    Orchestral MusicReview: untitled [p. 624]Review: untitled [pp. 624-625]Review: untitled [p. 625]

    Recorder Music [pp. 625-631]Music for Wind InstrumentsReview: untitled [pp. 631-632]Review: untitled [pp. 632-633]Review: untitled [pp. 633-634]Review: untitled [pp. 634-636]Review: untitled [pp. 636-637]Review: untitled [p. 637]Review: untitled [pp. 637-638]

    Selected Current Show and Film Music [p. 638]Publications Received [pp. 639-648]Back Matter [pp. 649-654]


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