by Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
This evening's concert presents a panoramic overview of folk music from around the world in well-crafted choral arrangements.
In 1895 Edward Elgar launched his successful career with the publication of a set of six songs entitled Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands. These songs were written during three vacations spent with his wife Alice in Garmich Partenkirchen, Bavaria. Alice, in striking artistic collaboration with her husband, provided English translations redolent of the spirit of the original Bavarian folk poetry. The songs reflect the heartiness and warmth of these mountaineers. The Dance, set in Sonnenbishel north of Garmish and in sight of the majestic Zugspitze, immediately draws us into the jollity of the peasant dancers.
From his earliest years, Johannes Brahms exhibited a strong interest in early art music and German folksong. In his study of both these art forms he was wide-ranging and systematic. Between the late 1840's and the mid- 1890's Brahms produced over two hundred folksong arrangements, generally for unaccompanied voices or for voice(s) and piano. His most numerous arrangements arose in the late 1850's and 1860's due to the need to provide music for those choirs he conducted in the vicinity of his native Hamburg.
The six folksongs presented tonight provide an excellent variety of approach to the demands of the texts, here sung in English for their more immediate enjoyment. They serve this evening as a modest contribution to the commemorative centenary of Brahms' death, April 3, 1897.
In 1948 Arnold Schoenberg reworked his previous Op. 29 Three Folk Songs, of which "Es gingen zwei Gespielen gut" (Two Comely Maidens) was the most elaborate. In the 1948 Op. 49 he modified its earlier setting of complex variations on the theme with a less intricate one, allowing the original melody to emerge in a more general texture of variation.
The Wedding Ring is one of nine Moravian songs set by Dvorak in 1876. It depicts a happy wedding party sailing on the Danube toward the wedding ceremony. The groom has forgotten to bring the wedding ring, but the day is saved when mother produces one.
Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote his exquisite The Turtle Dove for male solo and unaccompanied mixed chorus probably in 1924. In the exceedingly productive period between 1919 and 1934 he contributed an immense variety of works in all areas of composition except chamber music. Folksongs and church music, such as his great G Minor Mass, found themselves side by side with some of his most penetrating masterpieces such as A Pastoral Symphony, his Fourth Symphony, and the opera Riders to the Sea. Vaughan Williams is regarded as one of the great pioneer collectors of English folk songs.
Gustav Holst always encouraged aspiring composers, musicians and singers, often regardless of demonstrated talent, and through his unorthodox teaching methods. For several years, while he composed his famed The Planets, one of his annual projects up to 1918 was to hold informal music festivals for three days in the Church of Thaxted in Essex, where he welcomed anyone who came to play or sing. Probably in 1916, for one of these festivals, he composed the Cornish song I Love My Love. His deep love of folksongs influenced and transformed his method of setting English words to music. Like Vaughan Williams, he was a pioneer collector.
Aaron Copland collected, edited and adapted two sets of Old American Songs in 1950 and 1952. Some of these songs reach back to their origins in the 1830's, such as the minstrel song Ching-a-Ring Chaw. Long Time Ago, a ballad, sets forth with exquisite melody a lament for a lost beloved. Some, such as Zion's Walls and The Boatman's Dance, were composed by J.G. McGarry (1842) and D. Emmett (1843) respectively. All of these Songs have received excellent arrangements from Copland's colleagues.
The Slovakian Kde Sú Krdvy Moje exhibits that typical rhythmic and dynamic contrast and vitality inherent in Slavic song. This fine example depicts a cowgirl awakened from her nap only to search for her strayed cows, Tchernooshe, Belusha and Strakoosha.
Alexander Sveshnikov earned an international reputation as Director of the Academic Choir of Russian Folksong, a position he assumed in 1941. His artistic arrangements and work earned for him the titles "People's Artist" and "Hero of Socialist Labor."
There are three basic groups of folk music in Nigeria reflecting the three cultures prevalent there, the Hausa, the Yoruba and the southwestern Igbo. In the coastal regions where large towns existed, Western influences resulted in a number of hybrid musical forms and styles. The Igbo, moreover, encouraged their amateur musicians to specialize in either vocal or instrumental music. Both the Yoruba and Igbo manifest in the folk music integration with religious occasions, traditional or Christian.
Due to the numerous and diverse cultural influences bearing on the Iberian Peninsula since ancient times, Spanish folk music is regionally varied and very extensive. Folk music generated by the tasks and recreations of daily life with their accompanying annual festivals, survived longer in Spain than in other European countries. Moreover, folk music and art music from the Middle Ages through every century to the present exerted strong mutual influence. This interaction is seen in the famed Cantigas of the Castilian King Alfonso the Wise in the early 14th century. The process has continued to attract Spanish composers to the present.
Japanese folk music, resting on traditions of courtship, winter and spring festivals, agricultural rites, cloth bleaching, rice pounding, grain grinding and sake brewing, dates back to the 8th century, although some 4500 such songs reach into the 4th century. These have survived, and selections are performed every year at the Imperial New Year song party.
Modern Japanese folk songs were composed between 1603 and 1868, influenced by Japanese theatrical genres such as Kabuki. Urbanization has served to make some songs popular while others, in view of changed social conditions such as diminished agriculture, have receded in folk memory.
The delicate Korean folksong Ahrirang depicts a lover and his beloved in a joyous hike over the mountains of Ahrirang.
Mack Wilberg has achieved distinction in recent years at Brigham Young University for his excellent choral arrangements. He excerpted this lovely Latvian melody from Leonhard Deutsch's Treasures of the World's Finest Folksongs, providing it with a haunting arrangement dedicated to the USC Chamber Singers and their then director Rodney Eichenberger.
The folk music of Israel demonstrates its multiple sources derivative from Arab culture, the songs brought by the late 19th century Jewish settlers, and the cultures rooted in the Ashkanazy and Sephardic origins of immigrants, especially after Israel achieved independence in 1948. Local composers after 1918 created new songs combining Oriental and Western traditions. These songs subsequently emerged as popular "melting pot" folk music, often giving expression to the longing for or rejoicing in the Jewish homeland.
In recent years, due to the musical efforts of various prominent singers, songs from the Auvergne have emerged into artistic popularity. The Auvergne is a largely agricultural area in south central France occupied by an ancient Gallic people, much given to folk festivals. La Baylére, a shepherds song, depicts guardian shepherds calling to each other across the valley.
Described as "an old French Canadian folksong," Alouette may have indeed been born in France. The alouette was a gentle bird and the song may have been sung while women plucked fowl. It may also have served as a voyageur's canoe song, providing a heavy beat for the paddles.
An Irish lass, Miss J. Ross, collected the famed Londonderry Air from that northern Irish county. It was first printed in the 1855 book The Petrie Collection of Ancient Music of Ireland. It has been fitted with numerous lyrics the most famous of which, "Danny Boy," appeared in 1913. This evening's setting is entitled "Emer's Farewell," a poem of Alfred Graves (1846-1931).
Before 1680 fewer than 7000 French immigrants came to settle in Canada. Nevertheless by 1950 some 20,000 French songs, many dating from the 17th century, had been recorded and catalogued in the Canadian National archives. These French immigrants preserved thousands of songs subsequently lost in France (Cf. above Alouette). They underwent, in whole or in part, modifications through the influence of different social contexts. The earliest French Canadian folksongs were those of the voyageurs, canoe-paddling explorers and fur traders who roamed the rivers of North America to the Pacific Ocean. Other sources of French Canadian folk music are found in the St. Lawrence River basin, Cape Breton, Arcadia and Gaspesie, each exhibiting specific musical characteristics.
The rollicking song Feller from Fortune (or Lots of Fish in Bonavist' Harbor) achieved wide popularity since it was first collected in 1955 by Gerald Doyle of St. John's, Newfoundland, and published in his Old Time Songs of Newfoundland. The present arrangement was produced for the famed Canadian ensemble, the Elmer Eisler Singers. Fishing, dancing and jollity bring hapless Sally to seek the "Feller from Fortune."
African American Spirituals emerged from the songs of the beleaguered slaves and form the largest body of American folksong surviving into the 20th century. Continuing scholarly research disputes whether the Black Spirituals found their origins in European sources emanating from the numerous published 18th and 19th century hymnals such as that of the famed Isaac Watts (1674-1748), or from purely African origins. In all likelihood, exchanges between Black and White traditions were considerable. The Black Spiritual served as a source of strength, consolation and vision, both during slavery and after abolition. William Levi Dawson, whose long period as Director of the Tuskegee Institute Choir accounted for his superior and idiomatic arrangements of Spirituals, is one of the foremost practitioners of this art.
Harlan County, Kentucky, provided George Mead with the tune for his vastly popular arrangement of the folksong Down in the Valley. It elicits a true American flavor of longing for and delight in the Beloved through the lyrical refinement of the male chorus.
Folk song and folk dance have always gone hand in hand. In America its most popular form was the Square Dance, derived from English patterns and originating with farmers at various seasonal work occasions such as husking bees, which took place in barns and grange halls. Accompanied by fiddles, accordions and other instruments, it was led by a caller who sang forth the calls for the dance patterns. Cindy, one of the best-liked square dance tunes, describes a winsomely attractive well-meaning girl who, with exuberance, enlivened the dancers.