Faà di Bruno, Giovanni Matteo [Horatio, Orazio] 83

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Faenza Codex

(I-FZc 117). See Sources, MS, §IX, 12, and Sources of keyboard music to 1660, §2(i) and fig.1.


Archipelago of 18 inhabited volcanic islands in the North Sea between Iceland and Scotland with a total area of 1399 square km and a population of about 45,000. Independent linguistic and musical traditions are maintained despite a lengthy history of political domination, first by Norway and then by Denmark (the islands achieved home rule in 1948). Today old and new, indigenous and international music traditions co-exist; all indigenous traditions are vocal and are associated poetry, dance, drama and history. Musical instruments imported from European countries have been present for at least two centuries but Færoese have shown little interest until recently.

1. Ballad-dancing.

(i) Introduction.

The Færoes are renowned for ballad-dancing, a heritage dating back to the Middle Ages. Music and language are interdependent in the Færoes, as reflected in the recitative-like ballad performance practice of kvæđi. Philologist Jens Christian Svabo (1746–1824) documented what he assumed to be dying musical and linguistic traditions by collecting ballad-texts from singers in the Færoese countryside, using materials he gathered to compile a Færoese-Danish-Latin dictionary. Svabo's ballad collection was not published until the 20th century, by which time Færoese had replaced Danish as the official language, and the ballad tradition began to attract attention from abroad.

Færoese balladry comprises three different genres, all performed dramatically as dance-songs in the same style: dancers form rings or chains and respond to the voice and actions of a dance-leader (see Wylie and Margolin, 1981). The ballad-dance usually begins quietly with a few dancers, including the skipari (dance-leader) who calls others to join, often in the first stanza of the ballad. The dancers' arms are linked at shoulder height as their bodies sway rhythmically. As in Provençal chansons de geste, Icelandic rímur and other European narrative forms, each stanza consists of a short recitative-like tune and a more melodic refrain.

Ballad-dance stanzas used to be performed antiphonally, the other dancers responding to the skipari, today, verses and refrains tend to be intoned by the entire group; however, the dance-leader's voice stands out clearly and authoritatively above the ensemble at the beginning of each stanza, a feature that serves a mnemonic purpose while also dictating tempo and mood. In this way the antiphonal structure of older styles, and the authority of the dance-leader is perpetuated. While care is taken to prevent musical and textual changes, dancers are expected to portray emotion through body and facial movements, increasing in intensity as participants lose themselves in their role playing. The creativity of individual actor-dancers resides in this individual dramatic portrayal of the text. Exceptional dance-leaders are renowned for their feats of memory, especially for the verbatim recitation of as many as 400 stanzas.

(ii) Kvæđi.

Kvæđi are lengthy, orally transmitted Færoese-language ballads about human and super-human (usually medieval) heroes and heroines. They make up the largest category of Færoese balladry; many date from the Middle Ages (Conroy, 1978). Music generates excitement during a lengthy performance by singers dividing into two parts at points of climax (‘going higher’) and through lack of concordance between melodic stress and poetic metre; the stressed accents of all three elements (music, metre and dance) produce polyrhythmic structures (see Luihn, 1980, p.91). Kvæđi are lengthier than other ballad genres due to their compound structure of chapters (called tœttir).

Heroic Færoese ballads tell a variety of stories covering many important themes of European balladry and draw from a variety of both aural and written European sources. Most fascinating to European scholars are the ballads about the Frankish king Charlemagne, his sister Olurz and father King Pepin, as well as the Germanic hero Sigurd the Volsung (Færoese, Sjúrđur), slayer of the serpent Fafnir. The Sjúrđarkvæđi consists of nine tættir relating the Færoese version of the Völsunga saga (‘Volsungs' saga’), a prose rendering of the Eddic verse in the Nibelungenlied cycle (from which Wagner drew for his Ring).

(iii) Tættir.

The second genre of ballads also uses Færoese texts. However, these are concerned with ordinary individuals and topical subject matter. Tættir, satirical ballads, should not be confused with the term for kvæđi chapters mentioned above. New tættir were composed throughout most of the 20th century, and the genre frequently functioned as a punitive device; traditionally, those who committed anti-social acts could be punished by being forced to participate in a ring of dancers publicizing their transgression in a lengthy ballad performance; sometimes the victims retaliated with similar musical lampoons. By far the most famous táttur (sing.), due to its influence on Danish-Færoese relations, is Fuglakvæđi (‘Ballad of the Birds’) by the 18th-century poet, seaman and political activist Nólsoyar-Páll (1766–1809). It is a satirical treatment of corruption by unscrupulous Færoese shipping merchants who collaborated with officials of the Royal Danish Monopoly, who are depicted as birds of prey, while Páll's comrades are portrayed as small birds.

Páll composed other politically inspired tættir, and ballad scholars have described his thorough background in Færoese ballad-dancing when explaining the influence and perseverance of his Battle of the Birds (Andreassen, 1986; Galvin, 1989). Today the satirical genre has largely yielded it function to newer forms of dissemination (see E. Andreassen in Nostalgi og sensasjoner, ed. T. Selberg, Turku, 1995, pp.223–45).

(iv) Kempuvísa (also vísa).

Kempuvísa means ‘giant song’, and these ballads, like kvæđi, concern heroic and extra-human exploits. However, their Danish texts are transmitted through written sources committed to memory, many from known songbooks. Kempuvísur (pl.) are unlike contemporary Danish ballads; they are considered an important Færoese form. Musical characteristics that set kempuvísur apart from kvæđi include more melodic (less chant-like) tunes and the rhythmic concordance of texts, melodies and dance-steps (unlike typical polyrhythmic structures of kvæđi). In addition, dancers usually step on each syllable. Kempuvísur are not composites of sections and are therefore generally shorter in length. On the other hand, the verses are characterized by alliteration, unlike the Danish idiom, but similar to Færoese and Icelandic style (Luihn, 1980; Andreassen, 1991; Nolsøe, 1985.

2. Psalm-singing.

The Færoese Lutheran state concerned itself closely with the form and style of religious music, as elsewhere in Scandinavia. Luther's strong convictions on the importance of congregational singing resulted in a strict regulation of song style and musical instruments, with the goal of full participation and strict adherence to a printed musical text; hymns from the Bishop Gradual (Kingotoner) were by far the most often used, and keyboard instruments, especially the organ, were introduced into church services. However, the imposition of musical order did not wipe out time-honoured improvisatory traditions of psalm-singing in homes. The Kingo hymn tunes introduced a new, un-ballad-like style that was modestly melismatic and did not proceed by scale steps. They became a challenging vehicle for microtonal embellishment and free-flowing rhythms when families gathered in homes for weekly or daily worship. The musical significance of this influence was noted by Sunleif Rasmussen, the first academically-trained Færoese composer. Rasmussen credited the ballad-dance tradition and his grandmother's improvisations on Kingo tunes as his formative influences.

3. Choral tradition.

The persistence of psalmic improvisation over many years explains a relative lack of composed anthems. In 1987, a Færoese delegate to a Nordic choral music seminar held in Finland described Færoese choral music as conservative in style (Sjøen, 1987). Choral music became prominent after the turn of the 20th century with compositions by Joen Waagstein (1879–1949) and Hans Jacob Højgaard (1904–92).

Outdoor revivalist meetings are common in the Færoes and always involve singing accompanied by electronic instruments. The choirs of the Plymouth Brethren sing anthems from partbooks and gospel solos, visiting each other's churches and participating in periodic festivals.

4. Instrumental music.

There is evidence that musical instruments have been available in the Færoes for over 200 years, and there is no reason to believe that seagoing Færoese were unaware of them although they seem to have displayed little interest in playing. Instruments are mentioned in their ancient ballads, e.g. the term harpen referring to a generic string instrument. However, until recently, instrumental playing was largely practised by immigrants such as the Dane Georg Caspar Hansen (1844–1924). Hansen was a baker who also played and taught most symphonic instruments and founded choral and instrumental groups, including the popular brass band tradition. There were also some native-born players, such as the physician and ballad collector Napoleon Nolsøe, who became Tórshavn's first organist in 1831.

5. Recent developments.

Today's increasing interest in a variety of national and international musical idioms has been stimulated by the promotional activities and enthusiasm of another Danish immigrant-musician, who, like Hansen, settled permanently in the Færoes. Kristian Blak (b 1947), a jazz pianist who studied musicology in Copenhagen at the Royal Danish Conservatory, emigrated in 1974 and founded a number of institutions that promoted a variety of musical idioms: the pan-Nordic chamber group Yggdrasil, the folk music group Spælimenninir i Høydolum (‘Høydolum players’), the Havnar Jazzfelag (Tórshavn jazz club), TUTL, the only Færoese record company which produces three series (jazz and rock, folk, and classical), and two international festivals, the Tórshavn Jazz, Folk and Blue Fest and Summartónar (a festival of classical and contemporary music). Among Blak's compositions, his ballet Harra Pætur og Elinborg dramatizes an ancient Færoese ballad theme, and had its première at Tórshavn's Nordic Cultural Centre in 1989, performed by musicians and dancers from several Nordic countries.

The native Færoese composer Sunleif Rasmussen combines acoustic and electronic instruments. In Sum hin gylta sól (1993) a gradual shift from acoustic to electronic sounds occurs as the composition progresses through three movements.

A recent development is the variety of musical styles played by youths, including funk, hard rock, rap, folk rock, new music and jazz. The guitarist Leivar Thomsen, also a jazz composer, performs with Plúmm, a group that has experimented with most of these idioms. Beginning in the 1960s, early rock bands such as the Faroe Boys imitated North American groups; some continue to use names evocative of American protest, such as Black Panthers and Hate Speech. Bands such as Moirae, Rock Men, Lokum, Frændur, Devon and the winner of the 1995 Prix Føroyar, Mark No Limits, have developed independent styles; some have begun to use Færoese lyrics.


H. Thuren: Folkesangen paa Færøerne (Copenhagen, 1908)

H. Thuren and H. Gruner-Nielsen: Faerøske melodier til danske kæmpeviser (Copenhagen, 1923)

N. Djurhus and others, eds.: Føroya Kvæđi: Corpus Carminum Færoensium (Copenhagen, 1941)

T. Knudsen: ‘Ornamental Hymn-Psalm Singing in Denmark, the Faroe Islands and the Hebrides’, DFS Information (1968), no.2

W. O'Neil: ‘The Oral-Formulaic Structure of the Faroese kvæđi’, Fróđskaparrit, xviii (1970), 59–68

E. Bakka: ‘The Faroese Dance’, Faroe Islands Review, ii/2 (1977), 26–9

P. Conroy: ‘Sniolvs kvæđi: the Growth of a Ballad Cycle’, Fróđskaparrit, xxvi (1978), 33–53

M. Johannesen: Taettir (Tórshavn, 1978)

P. Conroy: ‘Ballad Composition in Faroese Heroic Tradition: the Case of Hernilds kvaedi’, Fróđskaparrit, xxvii (1979), 27, 73–101

A. Luihn: Føroyskur Dansur: studier i sangdanstradisjonen på Færoyene (Trondheim, 1980)

J. Wylie and D. Margolin: The Ring of Dancers: Images of Faroese Culture (Philadelphia, 1981)

M. Nolsøe: ‘The Heroic Ballad in Faroese Tradition’, The Heroic Process: Form, Function and Fantasy in Folk Epic (Dublin, 1985)

E. Andreassen: Úr søgn og søgu (Tórshavn, 1986)

G. Sjøen: ‘Nordic Choirmasters Review the State of the Art’, Nordic Sounds (1987), no.3, pp.8–9

S. Galvin: The Many Faces of Satiric Ballads in the Faroe Islands: Identity Formation, National Pride and Charter for Everyday Life (diss., Indiana U., 1989)

K. Ketting: ‘Two Ballets, Two kinds of Music, One Composer’, Nordic Sounds (1989), no.2, pp.6–7

S. Lindholm: ‘Music in the Faroes’, Musical Denmark, xliii/2 (1990), 2–7

E. Andreassen: ‘Strofeformer, rytme og metrum i balladediktningen’, Nordatlantiske foredrag: Tórshavn 1990, ed. J.P. Joensen, R. Johansen and J. Klovstad (Tórshavn, 1991), 125–33

K. Blak and others: Alfagurt ljóđar mín tunga (Tórshavn, 1995)


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