THE BIRTH OF CROSSOVER
WESTERN COMPOSERS AND ‘OTHER’ MUSIC
‘One would scarcely believe what marvellous inventions such Bock [a type of bagpipe] players and fiddlers can come up with when they improvise while the dancers are resting. An attentive observer could gather from them enough ideas in eight days to last a lifetime.’
Georg Philipp Telemann on Polish and Hanák folk music (quoted in Johann Mattheson, Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte, Hamburg: 1740)
We have no direct evidence of Haydn’s relationship to popular music. Griesinger reports that the composer’s father played the harp and sang with ‘a fine tenor voice’ and that the melodies of the songs he performed were so deeply impressed on Haydn’s memory that he could still remember them in old age.
Music from ‘other’ traditions has interested and fascinated composers of different eras, who have made use of it in various ways. In the seventeenth century, composers working in the Austrian dominions, such as Schmelzer and
Biber, used it more as a form of divertissement, introducing popular melodies into some of their compositions. This is also the case in the anonymous Sonata Jucunda recorded here, in which the piece, written in the style of Biber, undergoes a ‘popular’ metamorphosis, suddenly presenting Hanák melodies with an ‘oriental’ flavour. In the case of Haydn, we often find folk themes in his minuets and especially their trios, and we can imagine that the nobles who listened to his music at the courts of Eisenstadt and Eszterháza could sometimes recognise the melodies that the peasants sang and played in festive moments or during their everyday lives.
But it is often possible to detect in Haydn’s compositions ‘hidden’ stylistic and rhythmic references to folk music, such as the offbeat chords played forte in the Finale of Symphony no.43, the ‘Merkur’, or a certain attraction for asymmetries in phrase structure that is typical of various popular musical cultures. Another aspect of ‘other’ music was the evocation of an ‘oriental’, ‘Turkish’ or ‘gypsy’ (or supposedly ‘gypsy’) style. Pieces in this category include the second movement of Symphony no.63, headed ‘La Roxolana’, in which the elegance and sinuosity of the melodic lines seem to refer to the traits of the dramatic character of the same name, as well as the ‘orientalising’ Trio of Symphony no.28.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the rediscovery of folk music also became a cause for national identification: in 1920 Béla Bartók was unjustly accused of having supported the hypothesis of a Romanian origin of the music of Transylvania, a region that had been transferred from Hungary to Romania after the First World War, and was therefore reproached with anti-nationalism. Our performance of his famous Romanian Folk Dances employs additional sixteenth and seventeenth-century instruments, such as the Renaissance flute (traversa) and the chalumeau, whose evocative timbres have something in common with their counterparts in the popular culture of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A sort of experiment in the form of a return trip through the ancestral roots of ‘learned’ and ‘popular’ music.