Category Archives: Europe

The encyclopaedia of music in Ireland

irish encyclopedia

Edited by Barra Boydell and Harry White, The encyclopaedia of music in Ireland (EMIR; Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2013) is the first comprehensive attempt to chart Irish musical life across recorded history. It also documents Ireland’s musical relations with the world at large, notably in Britain, continental Europe, and North America, and it seeks to identify the agencies through which music has become an enduring expression of Irish political, social, religious, and cultural life.

EMIR is the collective work of 240 contributors whose research has been marshaled by an editorial and advisory board of specialists in the following domains of Irish musical experience: secular and religious music to 1600; art music, 1600–2010; Roman Catholic church music; Protestant church music; popular music; traditional music; organology and iconography; historical musicology; ethnomusicology; the history of recorded sound; music and media; music printing and publishing; and music in Ireland as trade, industry, and profession.

EMIR contains some 2,000 individual entries, which collectively afford an unprecedented survey of the fabric of music in Ireland. It records and evaluates the work of hundreds of individual musicians, performers, composers, teachers, collectors, scholars, ensembles, societies, and institutions throughout Irish musical history, and it comprehends the relationship between music and its political, artistic, religious, educational, and social contexts in Ireland from the early middle ages to the present day.

In its extensive catalogues, discographies, and source materials, EMIR sets in order, often for the first time, the legacy and worklists of performers and composers active in Ireland (or of Irish extraction), notably (but not exclusively) in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It offers to the general reader brief lives of Irish musicians throughout history, and it affords the specialist a detailed retrieval of information on music in Ireland hitherto unavailable or difficult to access.

Below, the nocturne in B flat major by the widely influential John Field, one of the composers covered in the book.

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Una colección de patrimonio musical español

Paciendo el rebaño

The Fons de Música Tradicional at the Institució Milà i Fontanals (CSIC-IMF) in Barcelona has more than 20.000 melodies, copied on paper, collected between 1944 and 1960 throughout Spain; most of them were compiled through the 65 folkloric missions and 62 notebooks presented to competitions organized by the Folklore Section of the former Instituto Español de Musicología of the CSIC, in which 47 researchers participated.

Launched in 2015, Una colección de patrimonio musical español/Una col·lecció de patrimoni musical/A Spanish collection of traditional music heritage is an open-access database comprising digitized materials of the music collected in the competitions and missions of Andalusia, Balearic Islands, Castile-La Mancha, the Castile and León region, Catalunya, Galicia, the Murcia region, and the Valencian community; more materials from these and other Spanish regions will be incorporated later.

The site can be navigated in Spanish, Catalan, or English; searches may be organized by source, location, researcher, informant, genre, or title. Audio files of the melodies will eventually be added.

Above, notation for the instrumental tune Paciendo el rebaño; the full record, which includes other visual materials, is here.

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Ewan MacColl and the BBC

Ewan MacColl

Many aficionados of Scottish traditional music regard Ewan MacColl as one of the foremost singers of his generation; fewer know of his pioneering radio work.

The ballad of John Axon was recorded and broadcast by the BBC in 1958 as the first of a group of programs known collectively as  Radio Ballads. It tells the story of a railway accident in which the driver John Axon died heroically while attempting to avert disaster.

In the program, four actual ballads carry the narrative, supplemented by several self-contained songs that illustrate the story rather than tell it, sections of recitative that provide insight into the minds of Axton and his fellow railwaymen, and the recorded speech of Axon’s widow and workmates. Although MacColl and Charles Parker are often credited jointly with the authorship of the program, strong evidence suggests that MacColl wrote it in response to an idea suggested by Parker, who served as the producer.

This according to “John Axon: Ewan MacColl’s tragic hero?” by Mick Verrier (English dance and song LXI/3 [fall 1999] pp. 2–4).

MacColl would have been 100 today! Below, one of the songs from the show, with Peggy Seeger on the banjo.

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Kulning and cows

kulning 1

In Sweden the herding of livestock is women’s work. Herding music functions chiefly as a means of communication between the women and the animals; it is also used for communication between herders.

The song style known as kulning has an instrumental timbre, a sharp attack, and a piercing, almost vibrato-free sound, often very loud and at an unusually high pitch. A study of the physiological and acoustical characteristics of kulning, including phonation and articulation, shows an unconventional use of the voice that contradicts what is recommended in traditional Western voice training.

This according to “Voice physiology and ethnomusicology: Physiological and acoustical studies of the Swedish herding song” by Anna Johnson (Yearbook for traditional music XVI [1984] pp. 42–66). Below, Maria Misgeld demonstrates.

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Knutsford Royal May Day

SONY DSC

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Knutsford Royal May Day!

On this day in 1864 all of the children in the parish schools marched in procession with flowers and wreaths, along with the Cheshire Rifle Volunteers Band and a cart carrying the May Queen and her ladies-in-waiting. Then, as now, the procession ended on the Heath in the center of town, where the Queen was crowned.

Today the tradition is augmented with several dances, both as part of the procession and as displays before and after the crowning; morris, hornpipe, and sword dances are among the perennial favorites. Maypole dances round out the proceedings.

This according to “Royal May Day!” by Derek Schofield (English dance and song LXXVI/1 [spring 2014] pp. 32–35). Below, selections from the 145th celebration.

BONUS UPDATE: The 2017 celebration.

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Bert Jansch’s legacy

Bert-Jansch-2010

The guitarists’ guitarist and the songwriters’ songwriter, Bert Jansch (1943–2011) influenced musicians as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Paul Simon, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, Donovan, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, Bernard Butler, Beth Orton, and Laura Marling.

Unassuming, enigmatic, and completely focused on his music until his untimely death, he remained singularly resilient to the vagaries of fashion, being rediscovered and revered by new generations of artists every few years.

Born in Edinburgh, Jansch became an inspirational and pioneering figure during Britain’s folk revival of the 1960s. In 1967 he formed the folk/jazz fusion band Pentangle with John Renbourn and enjoyed international success; when they split in 1973 he returned to his solo career, securing his standing as one of the true originals of British music.

This according to Dazzling stranger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival by Colin Harper (London: Bloomsbury, 2000, 2nd ed. 2006).

Jansch would have turned 70 today! Above, Jansch a year before his death, when he was touring with Neil Young; below, his classic version of Black waterside.

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Molly dancing redux

molly dancing

In 18th-century East Anglia, agricultural workers often performed in the streets disguised in blackface and women’s clothing in exchange for largesse; this practice became known as Molly dancing. The dancers, who were often drunk, disreputable, and destructive, were regarded as degenerate by preservationists, and the practice died out in the 1930s.

Four decades later an expansion of the English folk revival fostered an interest in obscure traditions, and a resurrection of Molly dancing ensued. Its new incarnation is marked by a completely different cultural context, improved status of the dancers, and an emphasis on creativity.

This according to “Molly dancing: A study of discontinuity and change” by Elaine Bradtke, an essay included in Step change: New views on traditional dance (London: Francis Boutle, 2001, pp. 60–85). Above, Gog Magog Molly; below, the Ouse Washes Molly Dancers.

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Coco-nut intellectual property

Britannia Coco-nut Dancers

When Maud Karpeles set out to document the tradition of the Britannia Coco-nut Dancers of Bacup in 1929, she was regarded with considerable wariness.

The dancers insisted on drawing up an agreement with the English Folk Dance Society that allowed documentation only—teaching of the dances or their unique tune, Tip top polka, were forbidden—in return for active support from the society. While the mass media have brought them national notoriety since then, the dancers point to the 1929 agreement as the cornerstone of their continuing ability to thrive.

This according to “’In a word, we are unique’: Ownership and control in an English dance system” by Theresa Buckland, an essay included in Step change: New views on traditional dance (London: Francis Boutle, 2001, pp. 48–59). Below, the Nutters perform their signature Tip top polka.

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The twelve days of Christmas

12 days of christmas

While the popular carol The twelve days of Christmas is well known for its unusual cumulative structure, few carollers know that the lyrics’ original meaning involves an elaborate symbolic code.

The encoding of political messages in songs was frequent in Protestant England: examples include Rock-a-bye, baby, on the demise of King Henry VIII, and Ring around a rosy, on the plague of 1665. From at least the 1600s, Catholics in England disseminated their faith and politics in similarly encrypted form in catechism songs such as Green grow the rushes, O, and Go where I send thee.

Though first published only in 1909, The twelve days of Christmas is such a catechism song, and likely originated much earlier. The “true love” of the song is God, who bestows cumulative gifts. Each of the twelve gifts represents a particular image of Catholic faith. The ever-repeating “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus: In English folklore the partridge feigns injury to lure predators from its young, and is thus willing to sacrifice itself to save those for whom it is responsible.

This according to “The twelve days of Christmas” by Hugh D. McKellar (The hymn: A journal of congregational song XLV/4 [October 1994] pp. 30–32). Below, a performance by the University of Washington Choral Program (with a little help from their friends).

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Zoltán Kodály, ethnomusicologist

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The arc of Kodály’s career as an ethnomusicologist appears to have been a consciously, even artistically, designed path.

In the early 20th century he traveled the Hungarian countryside along with Béla Bartók to document and research Hungarian musical traditions; both composers were influenced tremendously by this pursuit.

After World War II, the focus of Kodály’s ethnomusicological activities was the publication of A magyar népzene tára/Corpus musicae popularis Hungaricae, the critical edition of all Hungarian traditional music. For this undertaking he established the first scientific research group for ethnomusicology in Hungary, the Népzenekutató Csoport, which served as a workshop for the modern Hungarian school of ethnomusicologists.

This according to Kodály, a népzenekutató és tudományos műhelye by Olga Szalay (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2004).

Today is Kodály’s 130th birthday! Below, a flash mob performance of his setting of Esti dal, a traditional song that he collected in northern Hungary in 1922.

Related article: Kodály and somatic eruption

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