Folklore as the inspiration for creative output of selected Slav composers of the 19th and 20th centuries Cover Image
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Folklor jako inspiracja twórczości wybranych kompozytorów słowiańskich XIX I XX wieku
Folklore as the inspiration for creative output of selected Slav composers of the 19th and 20th centuries

Author(s): Anna Liszewska
Subject(s): History, Fine Arts / Performing Arts, Cultural history, Music, Ethnohistory
Published by: Łódzkie Towarzystwo Naukowe
Keywords: folklore; Slav composers; music analysis
Summary/Abstract: The subject of research for the author was the influence of folklore on creative output of Slav composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. In order to examine and precisely specify its meaning for the creation of music literature pieces it was assumed that folklore was not only a result of emotional needs, customs, ceremonies and everyday life of simple men, but also the specificity of natural environment (landscape) and the cyclically repeating natural phenomena which are inseparably connected with it. The main thesis here was the influence of these factors on creative output of the composers who were born in the area originally inhabited by Slav people and who used in their compositions the characteristic features of the Eastern and Western Slav and folklore. According to the current political division they are the areas in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Eastern Germany with Lusatia, Western part of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, and partly also Lithuania. While examining the influence of folklore on creative output the author attempted to inquire WHY Slav composers of the 19th and 20th centuries so often and so eagerly used folklore elements, IN WHATWAY they adapted and processed them, and WHAT INFLUENCE this usage had on the interpretation of their music pieces. The analysis of specific forms selected from among the pieces by the following composers: I.J. Paderewski, A. Dvorak, D. Shostakovich and A. Tansman, was used in order to demonstrate and characterize the folklore elements which occur in them and the means used to express it. The selection of composers and their pieces to analyse was caused by an attempt to show the strength of influence of folklore on the Slav culture creators of different origin and nationality. The author also wanted to show compositions differing from each other in terms of genre, form, style and the way how folklore elements were used in them – as a quotation, stylization or synthesis. The text part of the thesis consists of two major chapters divided into subchapters. Chapter 1 is a descriptive and historical presentation of the landscape and cultural background for the general creative output of Slav composers with special attention devoted to the geographical features and traditions and music culture of the described regions. Apart from definitions of key notions of the undertaken research the chapter includes a detailed description of folk melodies and dances from the mentioned regions, as well as a presentation of different ways of using folklore elements by composers. The chapter also presents the scale of the phenomenon of inspiration for creative output of Slav composers of the 19th and 20th centuries by folklore by giving its characteristic features based on specific examples and differentiating it in terms of language circles. The number of examples clearly shows an undeniable influence of folklore on these pieces, and the difference in the meaning of its usage is connected with its regional nature. Russian music inspired by folklore exposes deep, extremely spontaneous, moving and direct emotionality which is close to the sensitivity of people living in that area. Czech and Slovak music based on folklore expresses not so much the drama and “the voice of soul” but practical usability, the fulfilling of social function as a factor supporting the regional identity. Polish music inspired by folklore, even though it usually has a national factor implied, its characteristic feature is special emotionality, romanticism and melancholy, sensitivity, gentleness and subtlety of feeling. An important role in this characteristics is played by the landscape factor which gives the Slav folklore features a special regional atmosphere. Chapter 2 of the thesis has a detailed character and it includes an analysis of the influence of folklore on the creative output of I.J. Paderewski, A. Dvorak, D. Shostakovich and A. Tansman on the basis of four selected compositions; their recordings performed by the thesis author and soloists are enclosed here. The selected pieces were used to show and characterize the rhythmical dance motives included in them, the melodic scales coming from folk music and the way they were used, and also to search for other elements of the Slav folklore spirit, i.e., folk and patriotic themes or romantic moods. The first presented piece is a composition by I.J. Paderewski entitled “Tatra Album” for solo piano. The composer used original quotations from highland melodies and rhythms he learned and became fascinated by during his hike around Podhale in the summer of 1883, which he did for health reasons, accompanied by doctor Tytus Chałbiński, a friend Jan Kleczyński and Bartek Obrochta, a guide throughout the colourful world of the Podhale music. This journey resulted in the cycle of six piano miniatures which are almost a historical and documentary record of the most famous and characteristic music of Podhale enriched only with virtuoso piano elements giving the composition a noble lustre and dash. It is also the first piece in the history of the Polish music literature using the music elements of the highland folklore.Its characteristic features are” the specificity of rhythmics and melodics of highland dances presented in chapter 1, falling direction of melodic line and the so-called rest points at the melodic line ends that consist in detaining long sounds beyond the metre limits. The source of this phenomenon is that the composer wanted to obtain the effect of the sound spreading around, echoing or, in other words, of the mountains’ response. This element causes that after very rhythmical and vivid dance fragments we get an impression of pausing music, rest, falling into a reverie, suspension or a question. We find here a resemblance to rubato which is commonly used in romantic music, however, the context of expression is slightly different. The majority of original fragments quoted can be found in the collections by Adolf Chybiński entitled “From Tatra Mountains to the Baltic Sea” and “The Music of Podhale” by Stanisław Mierczyński, but the oldest original written score of the Podhale melodies can be found in the 12th volume of The Tatra Society Diary from 1888. This publication confirms the authenticity of the melodies quoted by Paderewski in “Tatra Album” op. 12, those melodies are its main music themes. Paderewski’s composition is an example ofa direct influence of folklore and the usage of its elements in a form of quotation. Its natural consequence are highland scales used in the piece as well as the characteristic intervals of fifths in the accompaniment. Therefore, the substance of highland folk music alone had a considerable influence on the form of the composition and, as a consequence, a difficult interpretation for a pianist. A different kind of the folklore influence we can find in the cycle of songs entitled “Gypsy Melodies” by A. Dvorak. The composer, due to his peasant background, grew up surrounded by genuine and vivid Slav folk music, which in time became part of his individual style and music language that was an original stylization of folklore. Folk and fairy-tale themes together with the danceability of rhythm used by the composer as a form-creating substance constitute the basis of his works. Such features can also be found in the presented cycle of songs which is a Slav stylization of the Gypsy folklore themes from Heyduk’s poetry which was the composer’s source of inspiration to express and emphasize the very patriotic national attitude. In his songs Gypsy people sing about the love of freedom not only with the words of the poet but first of all by means of Dvorak’s beautiful and pure Slav music, in which we find its characteristic elements combined with the sound colour imitating the sounds of the Gypsy music instruments(dulcimer) and reflecting the mood and atmosphere of that folklore. In Shostakovich’s pieces, unlike the ones by other composers presented earlier, itis hard to find direct inspiration by folklore. However, these elements are deeply rooted in tradition and music of the Russian national school and they had their continuation in a form of language and style of expression referring to folklore of this composer. In his sonata for cello and piano they can be found as the melodic construction of themes based on modal scales, changes of intonation which is characteristic for Eastern Slav regions, interval leaps (fifths, sixths), and also Shostakovich’s favourite rhythm motif characteristic for old Russian khorovod dances. Thanks to these influences the composition gained a wide emotional scale, which could encompass and express the rather complicated and extreme nature of his personality whose outline we can find in the quoted “Solomon Volkov’s Testimony”, lend credence ideologically and bring the piece closer to the wider audience. The movement and accents coming from folk music and combined with the Slav warmth and lyricism of melodious themes are the basis for constructing contrasts in the interpretation of this piece. Even more different aspect of the Slav folklore influence can be found in works by A. Tansman, a composer of Jewish descent who was born in Poland, in Łódź, but who spent the majority of his life in France. Similarly to Shostakovich’s pieces, also in case of this composer a direct connection between his pieces and folklore cannot be specified, but Shostakovich thought of himself as a continuator of Mussorgsky’s ideas, whereas Tansman found his mission in relation to Chopin’s music. In many of his compositions (e.g. in the Suite-Divertissement analyzed here) there are clear elements of the Polish folklore in a form of mazurka rhythms, specific lyricism and emotional tone of slow parts, and a quotation from a popular folk lullaby from Podlasie “Uśnijżemi, uśnij”. The piece is a great example of synthesis of the Polish folk music spirit present in folk melodies and dances with the ideas of the French neoclassicism showing itself in the formal construction of the suite. Thanks to the usage of specific timbre and sound elements the composer managed to recreate the atmosphere and climate of the country of his childhood – Poland. On the basis of the research on the pieces selected for analysis it can be concluded that folklore inspired creative output of Slav composers of the 19th and 20thcenturies who, through their imagination, originality and talent many times took its advantages the highest levels of aesthetical sensitivity, at the same time expressing the depth of human sub consciousness where, thanks to the memory of experiences and sensations, deepest feelings, emotions and dreams are kept, in other words, everything that moves and touches us, that cannot be understood but felt only. Music can express it to the fullest extent. Despite the differences in terms of nationality and background of the selected composers, as well as their different artistic principles, and also the type of inspiration by folklore, we need to notice the similarity of aptitude for Slavism resulting from their place of birth.

  • E-ISBN-13: 978-83-60655-67-2
  • Page Count: 131
  • Publication Year: 2013
  • Language: Polish