Sunday, February 17, 2008

130. Music of the Great Tradition -- 30:Old Europe -- Liguria

A remarkable tradition of contrapuntal vocal polyphony, known as "Trallalero," survives in the mountainous region of northern Italy known as Liguria, situated between the southern Alps, the Appenines, and the Mediterranean Sea. Though Alan Lomax and his Italian collaborator, Diego Carpitella, were the first ethnomusicologists to record Tralalero performances, the tradition has a long and somewhat complicated history, part "folk," part "classical," part "popular." Though fully aware of this history, Lomax was nevertheless convinced of the tradition's roots in antiquity, relating it to "the ancient Slavic drone style," arguing that "polyphony using intervals of thirds and fifths was a folk development of the Alpine regions of Europe, almost certainly antedating its adoption by the fine arts composers in the courts and cities." For more information on this fascinating music, I refer you to the excellent notes by Goffredo Plastino, Edward Neill and Lomax himself, in the CD The Trallaleri of Genoa (from the Alan Lomax collection, produced by Rounder Records).

Here's a clip from the first track of this recording, La Partenza (the parting), and my transcription of the first 11 measures (double click on the score to enlarge it):

While this is clearly in a hybrid style, with elements suggesting classical and/or popular melody and harmony, dating, as Lomax has noted, to certain genres popular since the Renaissance, we must remember that it is being sung by untrained "folk" musicians -- longshoremen, in fact -- who migrated from the surrounding mountains to the city of Genoa in search of work. It's easy to assume such harmonies must be the product of "modern" influences, but this is far from clear, especially given the long and complex history of mutual influence, back and forth, between "folk" and "classical" traditions during all phases of European history, from the Middle Ages to the present. I'll have more to say about this history in future posts.

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