Music in Common Life: Volk, Melody and Beautification of the Ordinary

  July 14, 2021   Read time 3 min
Music in Common Life: Volk, Melody and Beautification of the Ordinary
In immediate connection with the story of the perfecting of counterpoint by the Netherlanders should be set a sketch of the informal popular music that developed by its side, sometimes serving merely as a background for it, sometimes touching it with positive impetus.

In the 16th century the expression of life in song and dance began to become influential, with results scattered through all the centuries since. A just estimate of the changes of the roth century is impossible without some sense of the popular tendencies at work.

As far back as we may go in the story of European civilization we find traces of the use of song in common life. The same instinct for musical expression that is universal among uncivilized men persists in civilized conditions. Song springs forth spontaneously as the voice of the ordinary sentiments of domestic and communal life, embodying the feelings belonging to whatever occupies man's interest with intensity.
It beguiles labor and loneliness, and enlivens all social festivity. It gives outlet to exuberant vitality, interacts with all sorts of bodily and mental effort, and brings to light that love for the beautiful and the ideal that is latent in healthy natures. It passes over readily into dancing - the rhythm and motion of the voice fitting closely with expressive movements of the body. It also turns easily to the use of whatever instruments the singer's wit suffices to fashion.
Folk-music tends to associate itself with several lines of effort that in more highly developed conditions are quite distinct from music. Thus it is often mimetic or epic, suggesting incipient stages of the drama or of history. It is always related to rudimentary literature of every kind. It is apt to reflect vividly religious beliefs, superstitions and practices. It belongs to a grade of culture where the many modes of expression are not yet differentiated.
Folk-music has been more notable at certain times than at others and among certain peoples. In the later Middle Ages among such racial groups as the Kelts, the Teutons and some others the interest in popular songs and dances was so widespread that formal music was finally forced to reckon with it. This mediaeval influence became important as the roth century approached and continued potent long afterward.
The various branches of the Keltic stock have always been singularly musical. This influence has been strong in France from the Troubadour time, and to it is to be attributed SOBle part of the French capacity for gay, piquant and brilliant song and dance that has been notable since the 14th century. The Keltic genius is also evident in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Here the interference of formal styles has been so slight or so long delayed that extensive literatures of folk-music have accumulated and have been highly valued. Just what relation this has to the history of English music is not clear, but that it has been a useful factor can hardly be doubted.
Still 1110re important is the gift for folk-music anlong the Germans. The healthy sturdiness of the ancient Teuton - virile, assertive, masterful, yet also tender, reflective and religious - continued for centuries to express itself in every sort of music with an earnestness and grace that have become proverbial. This was the soil in which the Minnesinger flourished.
This gave character to the first German experiments with counterpoint. This determined the form of the music of the Reformation. Even now, in spite of the prevalence everywhere of more artistic forms, the peasantry in many parts of Germany and in Switzerland and the Tyrol continue to cherish songs and dances that are full of artless charm. The value of this to the general art of music cannot be com.. puted. Again and again the standard types of melody, harmony and form have been modified by the impress of these humble styles.
Somewhat similar remarks might be made about the folk-music of Romance countries like Italy and Spain, or of the several Scandinavian countries, or of the vast regions where the Slavs have gradually pushed their way into the circle of modern civilization.

Write your comment