More Fascinating Folk Music: Sutartinės of Lithuania

Well, now I have Lithuania to add to the list of countries whose folk music to be obsessed with. In a discussion with my teaching colleague Arkadi Serper about what folk music traditions might have influenced Stravinsky’s ear in his youth, I brought up the amazing vocal music of the Caucasus region, particularly Georgian table songs.  Arkadi agreed, and then went on to alert me to several others from within Russia and the former Soviet Union, including Lithuanian sutartinės.Read this post

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Bulgarian Rhythms

Roger Bourland recently linked to a video of the Bulgarian State Women’s Chorus, which reminded me of my latent obsession with Bulgarian folk music. Check it out, (and read the comments for your daily dose of surrealism).

Years ago, during a very short stint as the vocal director of a folk ensemble, I had the pleasure of preparing that first song in the video, which is called “Ergen Deda”. The rhythm of the piece is a fast 7/8 Šopska dance (from the Šop region of Bulgaria; Šopska is also a tasty salad).

These 7/8 dances are so fast that the notion of “7/8” fails to really capture it. It’s really just a matter of “short-short-long”. In Bulgarian (and Greek and other Balkan) music all kinds of interesting combinations of “short” and “long” are used, and we’re forced to notate them with awkward 11’s and 13’s.

See if you can figure this one out:Read this post

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Loituma: Things of Beauty

It was mentioned in my previous post that I’ve been spending a lot of time with folk music lately. Regarding that, I recently discovered something new, because someone sent me this. (There’s audio.) Don’t spend more than 20 seconds with it, because it’s just an endless loop.

This little cartoon is one of those goofy things that quickly propogate all over the world because people have too much free time. But fortunately, for me, it led to my discovery of the wonderful Finnish folk ensemble Loituma. My curiosity about the music on that silly animation quickly led me on a path through Google, Wikipedia and iTunes, resulting in a spontaneous purchase of their 1995 album Things of Beauty.Read this post

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Mexico's Bartók

Last night I encountered for the first time the music of Silvestre Revueltas. I liked what I heard, and will be seeking out more of his work. (How have I come this far without knowing his music? As I’ve mentioned previously, I live under a rock.)

I say “Mexico’s Bartók” because, like Bartók, he infused his music with folkloric musical elements from his country, creating an original “Mexican” style of music. The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra treated us to two short works: a chamber version of the Orchestral work Sensamayá, and the “Duelo” movement from Homonaje a Federico Garcia Lorca.

In both works, the Stravinsky influence is more apparent to me than the folkloric influence. (I’m not that familiar with Mexican folk music.) Sensamayá is a wonderful series of polyrhythmic ostinatos underpinning layered melodic fragments. To my ear, there’s also a strong influence of Edgard Varèse in his choices of instrumental sonorities. Something about the blends of muted brass and woodwinds.

Here is some more information on Revueltas with links to some audio excerpts, including one of Sensamayá.

Also on this program was a very enjoyable piece, Altar de Neón by contemporary Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz Torres. This was one of those edge-of-your-seat pieces, also largely based on ostinatos and exciting rhythms, culminating a hair-raising percussion cadenza, making the most out of the four percussionists on the stage.

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Enthralling Music From Georgia (the Country, Not the State)

This weekend, while going through some poorly tagged items in my music library, I came across a recording I’d dug up on the internet years ago of a trio of men singing a traditional Georgian folk song. This song, called Mival Guriashi, is something I first encountered in 1998 when I had a brief stint as vocal director for a folk ensemble. At that time, I had the surreal opportunity to prepare this fascinating music based on some unknown person’s (mostly accurate) transcription, and sing one of the parts.

This particular song is what’s known as a “table song”, characterized by three vocal lines, mostly homophonic. In this tradition, the melodic direction of the independent vocal lines has no concern for their resulting harmonies, flying in the face of everything we learned from our counterpoint books. So, what we have is impeccable voice leading with a harmonic mixed bag: sometimes they’re swooningly gorgeous, and sometimes they clash like crazy. You never know what you’re going to get from beat to beat.

Go on, give a listen ….

Meanwhile, in reading up on Georgian music, I came across the web site of Village Harmony , where more examples of this amazing music can be sampled.

Here’s an example called Khasanbegura: a feast of surprises for your Western-trained ears. Also, poke around on the Village Harmony site for more examples of wonderful stuff.

Georgian Voices, by the Rustavi Choir, is perhaps one of the best known (and perhaps best) recordings of Georgian choral music. You can hear a lot more excerpts on the page for this recording (including another version of Mival Guriashi).

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