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Bartok: foreign influences in folk music

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Jack Campin 23 Aug 09 - 08:09 AM
GUEST,Tunesmith 23 Aug 09 - 08:24 AM
Fred McCormick 23 Aug 09 - 08:35 AM
Jack Campin 23 Aug 09 - 09:08 AM
WalkaboutsVerse 23 Aug 09 - 09:13 AM
Stringsinger 23 Aug 09 - 09:28 AM
Jim Carroll 23 Aug 09 - 09:51 AM
GUEST,Tunesmith 23 Aug 09 - 02:03 PM
Jim Carroll 23 Aug 09 - 07:18 PM
Art Thieme 24 Aug 09 - 06:56 PM
Owen Woodson 25 Aug 09 - 07:19 AM
WalkaboutsVerse 25 Aug 09 - 09:32 AM
Jack Campin 25 Aug 09 - 10:00 AM
Jack Blandiver 25 Aug 09 - 10:25 AM
Piers Plowman 25 Aug 09 - 01:54 PM
Jamming With Ollie Beak (inactive) 25 Aug 09 - 02:18 PM
elfcape 25 Aug 09 - 04:03 PM
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Subject: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Jack Campin
Date: 23 Aug 09 - 08:09 AM

I have just been reading Lajos Vargjas's Folk Music of the Hungarians (2005 ed) and came across these quotes from Bartok, writing in 1942. They are relevant to a couple of long-running threads here.

Folk music in East Europe can be summed up as follows: as a result of incessant interaction among the folk music of all the peoples, an immense richness of tunes and tune types has arisen. The resulting racial impurity is therefore most beneficial.

Keeping aloof of foreign influences entails stagnation: well-assimilated foreign influences give rise to enrichment.

Contact with foreign material, however, does not merely result in an exchange of tunes but, more importantly, it also stimulates to create new styles. At the same old and less archaic of styles also survives, providing material for the further enrichment of music.

And he quotes this from Bartok's The Hungarian Folk Song, published in English translation in 1981, on the"new style" folk songs that mushroomed in the late 19th century:

The peasantry of Hungary preserved the idiosyncrasies of old native music, but were not hostile to innovation: hence the birth of the new style which is altogether homogeneous, quite different from that of any other peasant music, typical of the race, and closely connected with the no less typical old style. There is, to my knowledge, no other country in which, of late years, a similarly homogeneous new style has cropped up. And the originality - even the existence - of this new Hungarian style is all the more astonishing when one considers that so many alien elements had penetrated into Hungary before this style began to take shape. That these alien influences did not seriously interfere with the national character of Hungarian peasant music at the new stage of evolution is the best possible proof of the independence and the creative power of the Hungarian peasantry.


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 23 Aug 09 - 08:24 AM

Inerestngly, Bartok was very annoyed at Franz Liszt when he, i.e. Liszt, seemed to claim that gypsy music was the true music of Hungary. And, it's true, to this day, that you are more likely to be entertain by a gypsy fiddler in a Budapest resaurant than something that Bartok would recognise as true Hungarian folk music.


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Fred McCormick
Date: 23 Aug 09 - 08:35 AM

The kind of music Liszt was referring to was urban cafe music, and certainly not the music which rural gypsies would have played.

Whether that invalidates it as Hugarian traditional music or not is a moot point. However, Bartok did at least recognise that there was no such thing as ethnically pure traditional music. And this at a time when nationalists all over Europe were trying to claim the reverse.


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Jack Campin
Date: 23 Aug 09 - 09:08 AM

Most research into Hungarian Gypsy folk music (rather than the music of the Gypsy professional musicians) postdates Bartok's time - he couldn't do everything. If you can read Hungarian there's quite a lot of information about it available now, and it's increasingly being rediscovered by the folk revival crowd.

A pretty good book on the range of music played by Gypsies in Hungary is Bálint Sárosi, Gypsy Music, Corvina Press, English translation 1978. There are also a few recordings available, like the Fonó CD Csenyéti Cigányok (2002), documenting the music of a single small Hungarian Gypsy village.


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 23 Aug 09 - 09:13 AM

As I've said here, I think nationalism with conquest is bad; but nationalism with eco-tourism and fair-trade is good for humanity/our multicultural world. Accordingly, I also think that the perform-your-own-culture rule of 50s and 60s English folk clubs, that I've heard about, was a good idea.


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Stringsinger
Date: 23 Aug 09 - 09:28 AM

Bartok recorded over a thousand examples of folk fiddling from Hungary. I think a lot
of examples were from Transylvania and Rumania but he would have been interested
in their musical value, rather than their ethnographic areas.

There is a wonderful Bartok museum in Budapest that I visited when I was there that
showed examples of the fiddle tunes he collected and early composition scores.

I think that a true musician can't be reigned in to rigid parameters when it comes to music.
They can retain an integral style that may be culture-based but as they move toward
development in that style they must accept other influences. They evolve.

Nationalism is in the eye of the beholder. There was a move to make the Square Dance
the national music of the US and a bill even went before congress. It was defeated.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 23 Aug 09 - 09:51 AM

Bert Lloyd once gave an hour+ talk on the subject of Bartok and folkmusic entitled 'The savage in the Concert Hall - well worth looking for
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 23 Aug 09 - 02:03 PM

I admire Bartok a lot, but I'm not a fan of his music.


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 23 Aug 09 - 07:18 PM

"I admire Bartok a lot, but I'm not a fan of his music."
Agreed.
Some Bartok was played at Bert Lloyd's funeral service and someone remarked "Bert did a lot for folk music, but he la a lousy taste in classical music".
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Art Thieme
Date: 24 Aug 09 - 06:56 PM

...And the collector/composer's wife used to tell tales in many pubs of the town---so many in fact that she was known as the belle o' bar talk.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Owen Woodson
Date: 25 Aug 09 - 07:19 AM

Curiously enough, it was Bartok who first got me interested in A.L. Lloyd, and Lloyd who first got me interested in Eastern European folkmusic. An old schoolmaster of mine once loaned me an LP of two of the Bartok string quartets. 2 and 4, if I recall. They were part of a 3 disc set and, in the days of autochangers, were pressed so that you could listen to all six quartets in sequence, only having to turn all three LPs over together.

I was dazzled by the exotic tapestry of tone and melody and rhythm and went on to explore the rest of Bartok's output; the other four quartets, the piano concertos, the Miraculous Mandarin, the violin sonatas, the sonata for two pianos and percussion. I also went on to explore many of the other great composers of the twentieth century. Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Debussy, Messiaen, Janacek.

When my University's Music Department advertised a lecture called Bartok as a Folklorist I went along and spent an enthralled hour and a half listening to Bert talking about Bartok's compositional techniques, his collecting work, his nationalism, his identification with peasant peoples, and his public anti-fascism. That last one went down very big with me even then. I knew of course that Bartok had collected folk songs and that they'd been a big influence on his work. But among orthodox scholars, these things get swept aside as unimportant side issues. It became plain to me that night that, if there had been no Hungarian peasantry and no Hungarian peasant music, there would have been no Bartok. At any rate, not as we know him.

I remember Bert made great play of the Cantata Profana, and the story of the nine splendid stags, a work which I hadn't previously heard. As short as it is, I now consider it to be one of Bartok's greatest masterpieces.

I was immensely impressed by Bert's erudition and his ability to communicate complicated theories simply. Talking to him afterwards, I learned more in five minutes about Indian music than I'd been able to fathom before or since, and I've since come to regard him as one of the great intellects of the twentieth century. Those were the days when he used to broadcast lectures on BBC radio. I particularly recall The Savage in the Concert Hall, about the influence which so called primitive music was exerting on various avant-garde composers, and I was struck by the parallels Bert was proposing with similar movements in European art.

I've always been puzzled though by popular conceptions of Bartok as a 'difficult' composer. For example, I recently heard a member of a string quartet apologise to an audience for presenting them with a work (Bartok's 5th quartet) which they might need to persevere with! It's true that Bartok uses a lot of strange devices and his Hungarian folk music influences may make his work sound unfamiliar. But as with learning to enjoy the work of any great artist, a little persistence can reap vast rewards.


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 25 Aug 09 - 09:32 AM

Interesting Owen; and there have, of course, been several other classically-trained musicians/composers very keen on folk - but can you tell me who (along with yourself, it seems) there is currently?...


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Jack Campin
Date: 25 Aug 09 - 10:00 AM

What I want played at my funeral is Bartok's Second Violin Sonata, which somebody I know not who said was the greatest work in the entire literature of music and they weren't far wrong.

This isn't fair:

he would have been interested in their musical value, rather than their ethnographic areas

for two reasons - firstly, he was a first-rate scholar and knew how important it was to document everything he could possibly find out about what he was recording (we know who all of his singers were, and quite a lot about their lives). Secondly, he wasn't behaving like a beekeeper emptying a hive, he cared about the people who created the music, and knew that preserving the music was an act of celebration of its creators. (If there was ever any folksong collector who simply treated their sources as bins in a record shop, I can't think who it might have been - it's a line of work that only appeals to people who are interested in and empathetic with their fellow human beings).


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 25 Aug 09 - 10:25 AM

Been listening a lot to my old Peter Maxwell Davies / Fires of London albums of late - any amount of Folk influences in there! Eight Songs for a Mad King, Renaissance Scottish Dances, Hymn to Saint Magnus, Psalm 124, Ave Maris Stella, Vesalii Icones etc.


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Piers Plowman
Date: 25 Aug 09 - 01:54 PM

Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Jack Campin - PM
Date: 25 Aug 09 - 10:00 AM

"(If there was ever any folksong collector who simply treated their sources as bins in a record shop, I can't think who it might have been - it's a line of work that only appeals to people who are interested in and empathetic with their fellow human beings)."

I wish I could agree with you about this, but I've recently read some rather uncomplimentary things about a some folksong collectors. I don't know enough about it to judge whether they were true or not.

I do believe that in most cases the people who supplied the songs were mostly forgotten when it came to copyright assignments and they didn't get any royalties when songs were printed or recordings were made.

There's a thread going on about a reprint of Bronson's tunes to the Child ballads (which I'd love to buy, but can't currently afford). In the introduction, he says some interesting things on the topic of copyrighting folksongs. (He's against the practice.)

It's not quite the same thing, but recently, there was a whole program on the radio here in Germany ("Radio Globo" with Klaus Frederking) about the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", which was written by a South African composer and musician. He sold the song outright for something like $2.50 or maybe $10, I don't remember. Okay, so maybe he should have known better. Just one of a thousand stories of musicians getting taken advantage of.

After being around academia in one way or another for a long time, I am very far from taking it on faith that the motives of any scholars or scientists are as pure as the driven snow, and that includes folksong collectors.


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: Jamming With Ollie Beak (inactive)
Date: 25 Aug 09 - 02:18 PM

"As I've said here, I think nationalism with conquest is bad; but nationalism with eco-tourism and fair-trade is good for humanity/our multicultural world. Accordingly, I also think that the perform-your-own-culture rule of 50s and 60s English folk clubs, that I've heard about, was a good idea"
-WalkaboutsVerse

Curiously this posting has absolutely nothing to do with anything, still I didn't expect it would, what the hell "fair-trade" and "eco-tourism"(a very over-used and abused term) have to do with music is quite beyond me.

" I also think that the perform-your-own-culture rule of 50s and 60s English folk clubs, that I've heard about, was a good idea."
-WalkaboutsVerse

Sorry couldn't find this one in the The Disco Folk Rule Book (edited by Mike Harding, 1st English edition) and, no it wasn't a good idea then and isn't a good idea now.

Charlotte Olivia Robertson (Ms)

(a Canadian, playing English music on an American guitar)


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Subject: RE: Bartok: foreign influences in folk music
From: elfcape
Date: 25 Aug 09 - 04:03 PM

In retrospect we will figure out that the 20th century had only a few truely outstanding composers. Bartok Bela will unmistakably be considered one of them. He was meticulous in his collecting and transcribing, and thought deeply about the ethics of what he was doing - not just the collecting but also how he reworked what he collected into what he composed. His powerfully deep wrenching love of his people is audible in both his scholarship and composition.

Bert understood that clearly, and presented his understanding with the most amazing competence - actually driving his poor cassette player to produce the examples he wanted without a slip. Incredible preparation, that. I had the pleasure of watching him do it at probably the most conservative music department in the US (Harvard) and his performance masquerading as a lecture brooked no contest.

If you don't yet get Bartok, listen to the 5th quartet and the Miraculous Mandarin and read something about them. Study up a little on the horrors of HItler and eastern Europe and think about how you would feel if you had to leave your mother behind and flee for your life, knowing that if you ever returned everything you'd spent the last 20 years studying would be obliterated by physically and culturally.

And listen to some Shostakovich while you're at it.


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