Tuesday, April 22, 2008

149. Music of the Great Tradition -- 49:A European Stratigraphy

The relatively "quick and dirty" overview I've been presenting in the last several posts is far from a complete picture, as will be clear to anyone who's done much research on European oral traditions. But it does, I hope, give us some idea of how the musical evidence can be used as an aid in exploring -- and even reconstructing, however speculatively -- at least some part of the complex cultural/historical "stratigraphy" of this remarkably complex and contentious continent. Let's give it a try, limiting ourselves for now to those styles we've already been discussing:

"Old European":
1. Oldest stratum, possibly dating from the earliest "Out of Africa" migration(s) of the Upper Paleolithic, and pervading the continent throughout the Paleolithic and much of the Neolithic: "contrapuntal" polyphony bearing the "African signature" associated with P/B style -- hocket/interlock, stimmtauch, canon, yodel, etc., as exemplified today in vocal polyphony as found in remote, highly "traditional" areas, such as Plekhovo, the Appenzell, Aukštaitija , the Algarve, etc.; certain types of Medieval notated polyphony; and certain types of hocketed instrumental ensemble, e.g., pipes, panpipes, trumpets, horns, bell chimes, etc.

2. Next oldest stratum, possibly a direct development from the above: "heterophonic" vocal polyphony, as a conflation of heterophony and polyphonic counterpoint; possibly with a very wide original distribution throughout Europe -- most commonly found today in the Ukraine and Russia, but also widely distributed throughout certain remote pockets of traditional culture in various parts of southern Europe.

3. Next oldest: harmonizing in parallel intervals (usually either fifths and fourths or thirds and sixths), a practice that may have developed largely in the west; as found today in Iceland, certain types of Medieval polyphony (fifths and fourths) and certain traditional regions of Britain, western and southern Europe (especially Basque country, Spain and Italy), but found also in some Russian and other East European traditions (thirds and sixths). Found also commonly in Africa, where it also appears to be an outgrowth from P/B.

4. Next oldest: various types of so-called "descant" harmonization, possibly a development from the above, but with a certain amount of oblique and/or contrary motion, found roughly in the same areas as above. Also commonly found in Africa.

5. ???????????????? Drone polyphony, possibly a survival from an ancient migration to Europe from Asia at some unknown time; proliferating very commonly today largely in relatively remote enclaves of Eastern and to a lesser extent Southern Europe. Commonly found also in other parts of the world, including Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, etc. This is the only type of vocal polyphony in Europe that does not appear to have roots of any kind in Africa.

Post Indo-european:

6. Next oldest: "Modern European" style, most clearly exemplified by the solo or unison simple strophic ballad and lyric song, with pentatonic or diatonic intervals, medium length phrases, relatively "strict" rhythms, regular meters, little to no embellishment, wide to moderately tense voices, etc., possibly stemming from an early Indo-european migration from Central Asia (where the strophic song is still of great importance); as found widely throughout Europe, most characteristically in the west but frequently in southern and eastern Europe as well.

7. Next oldest: "Elaborate" style, also referred to at times by Lomax as "Bardic" or "semi-Bardic" -- solo singing in both strophic and non-strophic forms (litany, complex strophe, through-composed, etc.), with an emphasis on chromatic intervals and in some cases microtones, longer phrases, relatively free rhythms (rubato), complex meters, moderate to extreme embellishment, tense voices, etc., possibly stemming from a later Indo-european migration, but with elements suggesting other influences from various parts of Asia at various times, including relatively recent Islamic influences as well; as found today almost exclusively in Eastern Europe, southern Spain and southern Italy.

8. ???????????????? Drone polyphony, as an amalgam of pre- and post- Indo-european traditions, combining polyphony with more or less elaborate solo melody, as described in 7, above, and with a somewhat similar European distribution.

My European "stratigraphy" is, of course, hypothetical, speculative and incomplete, omitting certain traditions that are also of great importance, such as, for example, the epic, the lament, various types of vocal and/or instrumental dance music, and important instrumental traditions, associated with, among others, the flute, the fiddle, and perhaps most important, the bagpipe.

What concerns me most in the present context, however, is the fact that it's possible to place every type of polyphonic singing into the sequence, however speculatively, with some degree of confidence -- with the exception of drone, which appears to have at least two possible explanations, neither of which is fully satisfactory, as I will attempt to explain in the following post.

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