The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #109312   Message #2285511
Posted By: Grab
11-Mar-08 - 02:40 PM
Thread Name: Complex arrangments of traditional music
Subject: RE: Complex arrangments of traditional music
Diane's absolutely right that we can't get back to where we were.

But where does that leave us with other older songs which the "tradition" forgot? o'Carolan was known to be a mediocre harpist; it's only because someone wrote his music down that we've got it now, when all the work from the better harpists of the day has long since vanished. Paganini (possibly the greatest folk musician ever) was famous for his virtuoso improvisation - but all that survives of his work is one little theme from one tune, preserved by the classical music system. So the problem of survival of the work of mediocre musicians isn't a new one, and it was created by the invention of the printing press, not the invention of vinyl records or the internet.

It's a bit like the herd of Pere David's deer at Woburn - ideally we'd like them to all be out in the wild, but if someone hadn't found themselves a few to keep locked up then they'd now be extinct for good. And locking them up for a while means that now they can be released into the wild again. Which makes the point that having stuff available behind locked doors (or in a locked CD cabinet) doesn't make it alive in the wild; it *survives*, yes, but it doesn't really *live* unless someone plays it.

If we look at the people most associated with the "tradition" from the Second Revival, Martin Carthy and others at the time built their reputations on arranging and performing broadsheet songs which were in the archives but hadn't been sung for centuries, songs which couldn't have been revived unless they'd been recorded. It's safe to say that Scarborough Fair wouldn't be in the oral tradition today unless Martin Carthy had put together that complex guitar arrangement to it, for example. And because these broadsheet songs hadn't been sung for so long, any modern version can only be an approximation of what the rediscoverer thinks it should sound like.

In fact we're actually better off now we've got *everything* archived, because we no longer risk losing material from our generation of Paganinis. Not only will the material survive, but future generations can hear the original singers performing it. The next generation can reinterpret it for their environment, sure, but the original versions will remain - unlike historical folk tunes where Grainger and co had to try and guess at how original versions might have sounded, based on the distorted mirrors of multiple different modern versions.