Inspired by Drawing Threads 2020, throughout 2021 I made a series of radio shows entitled Highways & By-ways of Europe inspired by the musical traditions, instruments and artists researched. Each show features music from renaissance Spain, the Balkan region around North Macedonia, Ireland, Lithuania, Crete, Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the Maghrebi music of France and the Neapolitan area of Italy. Click on the link above to enjoy hours of selected tracks!
Drawing Threads 2020: Tying Off
This video marks the closure of ‘Drawing Threads 2020’. A year ago the UK and the EU were at the start the transition process, and I was learning the first piece for the project – Alonso de Muddarra’s Fantasia for vihuela, arranged for nyckelharpa. In this short film I describe my journey, make some observations about the situation we UK-based musicians find ourselves in a year later and suggest some positive ways forward as we emerge into a very different cultural landscape. Griselda Sanderson, 31st December 2020
Drawing Threads 2020 Blog
The Project Idea
To mark the UK’s departure from the EU, Griselda Sanderson devised a year long project – Drawing Threads. It was a way of marking the transition, a quest to discover the cultural influence of European music on her own practice. The journey began in January, and month by month she added to her discoveries, recording and posting each piece as the year progressed while exploring the highways and byways of Europe. Throughout the year she followed filaments of music that crossed her path. Cultures, traditions and languages cross borders. These in turn are perpetually drawn and re-drawn, and the idea was that her musical explorations would reflect that fluidity. The year is now up, her explorations over – for now at least. This final blog entry looks at her discoveries.
New Year’s Eve 2020: Looking Back
At the outset, I had no idea where the path would lead. My plan was flexible. Each month I was hoping for a live encounter with musicians from different areas of Europe. I would then research the music’s origins and record a snapshot as a way of documenting our cultural exchange. However, there were some unexpected twists and turns, not least as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a lot less live interaction. Despite this, the musical aspect of the project was utterly joyful. If you simply wish to listen to the music, scroll down to the month-by-month entries to find out more, or skip to my YouTube ‘Drawing Threads 2020’ playlist here. Otherwise, read on!
The Pieces and their Origins
It is harder than you might imagine to list the countries from where my chosen music originated. Cultures, languages, people and their music cross borders. Borders and populations themselves are ever-changing. Loosely speaking, the music I chose came from the following countries: Spain, North Macedonia, Ireland, Lithuania, Crete, Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France & Italy.
The pieces ranged from C16th southern Spain to contemporary France and covered a range of styles and genres. A couple of the pieces were based on traditional songs. There was ‘Verbunk’, a style of recruitment music, ritual and dance music, Irish reels of the diaspora, music composed by a Catholic priest, a north African immigrant and a ‘converso’ Jew. There is Gypsy music, music composed by migrants and fisherfolk, pastoral music of farmers and shepherds, music from cities, homesteads, mountains and quaysides.
I play bowed stringed instruments – violin, viola, nyckelharpa, Hardanger fiddle, viol – and piano. However, I was so intrigued by some of the unusual instruments I discovered that I ended up arranging music originally intended for vihuela (a C16th Spanish precursor of the guitar), bagpipes, lauto (a Cretan lute), cimbalom (a hammered dulcimer favoured by Gypsy musicians), oud (North African lute) and kontra (a three-stringed viola).
As I meandered along the wayside I encountered various musicians, instrument makers, experts and DJs who took an interest in my music or from whom I learned new repertoire and techniques. I would like to thank Petr Doružka and Jiří Plocek from the Czech Republic for their advice on translation and the history of Hromy Bijú from Moravia. For his expert knowledge on the making of the Cretan lyra and Cretan music generally I’d like to thank Nikos Papalexakis. I was extremely lucky before lockdown to have been able to meet and learn from North Macedonians Filip Arilon & Stojan Stojanov. Many thanks to them for their wonderful in-depth knowledge, enthusiasm, dancing skills and vast repertoire of Balkan music.
In these socially distanced times it was a real treat to have the companionship of fellow musicians on some of the pieces. I am indebted to Bruno Spagna, master tambourella maker and percussionist from Naples, who made a fantastic contribution to ‘Lo Guarracino’, giving it an authentic twist with his wonderful percussion performance. Soufian Saihi and Ricardo de Noronha made the Anouar Brahem piece ‘Parfum de Gitane’ come alive. My son and housemate, Louis Bingham, was an ever-present source of inspiration – and accompaniment. I thank you all!
Making the Videos
Being in lockdown allowed for some extra time that would have been spent travelling to performances. It gave me the opportunity to do some original art for the project and put a bit more time into the videos – an unexpected pleasure and learning experience. Due to the lockdown in the early stages, then unpredictable weather in the latter part of the year, I had to be creative when recording the videos. The first, way back in January, was made in our local church, but that was soon closed, and the bell silenced. At the beginning of March I was ill, and it was then I began drawing the fish that eventually became the animation to ‘Lo Guarracino’. From April onwards I tramped around our local countryside, filming on hilltops, in lanes, fields, orchards and next to hedges. I discovered rarely visited corners of the garden, projected onto the wall in the hallway and even painted on my kitchen window.
New Regulations and Information
You have probably gathered by now that I believe we have lost a great deal culturally speaking by no longer being a part of the EU. The UK is no longer in the Erasmus (student exchange) programme, and it will be very difficult for youth groups to participate in cultural exchanges. Conditions for work permits are that the salary must be at least £30,000. This will certainly put off many instrumental teachers looking to the UK for work. There are still many unknowns that will affect the music industry, such as tariffs on merchandise, second-hand instruments and copyright. For UK performers wishing to tour in Europe, an expensive carnet system will now operate. For European musicians wishing to come to the UK visas for will become much more expensive. European musicians already in the UK can apply for settled status, which is free so long as they can prove they were here for six months in five consecutive years.
The Musicians’ Union is encouraging musicians to write to their MPs on the subject with the hope that musicians’ passports can be introduced. You can find out more here: https://musiciansunion.org.uk/all-news-and-features/tell-your-new-mp-about-the-musicians%E2%80%99-passport
But it’s not all doom and gloom. I am starting on a new album of original compositions based on the research I have undertaken this year. I have every intention of carrying on exploring, keeping in contact with my friends overseas whose music has been such an inspiration.
We may be physically distanced, but we shouldn’t become insular. Over the centuries, cultural exchange with our nearest neighbours has provided wonderful opportunities for enrichment, so let’s not lose sight of that!
‘Lo Guarracino’ from Naples
This traditional C18th tarantella has its origins amongst the fisherfolk of Naples bay. Within the nineteen verses of this comic song the names of at least eighty-two species of fish have been ingeniously woven. Its characters are reminiscent of Commedia dell’Arte, and the operatic plot provides a wealth of drama and entertainment.
Twenty one years ago I had just finished my final year studying music at Dartington College of Arts. My friend and classmate Bruno Spagna’s final performance was a series of pieces for Italian frame drums, and it had a lasting effect on me. Bruno is from Naples, and since leaving college has become a master builder of Italian frame drums, the Tamburello. I began thinking about how we could collaborate, and when I came across this traditional ‘canzone Napoletana’, Lo Guarracino, I was inspired to get back in touch. Bruno was a fount of knowledge on the topic, and luckily he was able to participate, recording his own percussion part in Italy, while Louis Bingham and I recorded here in the UK. For more information on Bruno’s drums, visit his website here:
“I was delighted that Griselda wanted to involve me in her project and I was even happier when she chose the folk song ‘Lo Guarracino’. It is a storytelling tarantella that I love very much for the wealth of the lyrics in Neapolitan dialect. I have played this traditional tarantella many times but with Griselda I was sure that something different would come up: a musical journey from ancient music to contemporary improvisation. I joined in playing a mix of traditional tamburello styles and modern technique. It was great fun.”
The Arrangement and video
I am not a singer, so the only way to tell this comic narrative was through images, text, and the music itself. I began sketching the fishy protagonists of this story, and as their personalities developed I thought about how I was going to bring them to life in a video.
I had plenty of inspiration for the musical arrangement. There are several brilliant interpretations. I used two very different versions as my main sources. One is by the Neapolitan tenor Marco Beasley with his ensemble Accordone. The other is by Fausto Cigliano with guitarist Mario Gangi. I also love the version by Roberto Murolo, who as well as being a hugely popular singer, was also an Italian high-diving champion. All three singers are great advocates of the vibrant Neapolitan music and song tradition.
The lyrics of ‘Lo Guarracino’
The original lyrics of ‘Lo Guarracino’ are in an archaic Neapolitan dialect with some similarities to Sardinian. Translating (with difficulty) the names of the eighty-two plus fish was a major (and unfinished) task. I then had to find out what they looked like.
The tale of ‘Lo Guarracino’ could have been lifted straight from an Alessandro Scarlatti opera and would indeed make an excellent libretto. The story goes as follows:
Guarracino gets all dressed up in his finest clothes and sets off to seek a bride. He hears Sardella singing a beautiful song from her balcony. He falls in love, and asks her aunt, Vavosa, to pass on a message. At firstSardella is embarrassed by Guarracino’s attentions, but Vavosa eggs her on until Sardella winks at Guarracino – with fateful results. Her nosy neighbour, Patella, sees what’s going on. His best friend, a big ugly tuna called Alletterato, is already betrothed to Sardella.
Patella runs and tells Alletterato what he has seen, which makes Alletterato really, really ANGRY. He gets himself tooled up with a bunch of lethal weapons (including a razor shell) and goes off in a whirlwind to look for Guarracino. Unfortunately for Guarracino, Alletterato soon finds him in the town square and beats him up.
At this point all the fish in the sea take sides and join in the fray, using anything they can lay their hands on to fight with, from rapiers and maces to nougat, spatulas and hazelnuts. A ginormous and pointless fish battle ensues culminating in a rain of bullets and four huge explosions – at which point the narrator declares she has had enough, is thirsty, and wants to finish the song. And that is the end of the story.
Guarracino (chromis chromis or damselfish, probably the most abundant species in the Mediterranean) is the male lead. He is a bit of a dandy, but a lonely one. He dresses up in his finest clothes and swims off to seek a bride.
Sardella is the female lead, a beautiful but shy and naïve sardine, who loves playing music.
Alletterato is a tuna with a love of weapons and anger-management issues. He is supposedly betrothed to Sardella.
Bruno tells me there is a sequel to this tale, in which Guarracino and Sardella get married. It is known as ‘O matrimonio d’ ‘o guarracino’. In this story Guarracino and and Sardella plan to get married, but there is an unexpected event during the wedding, and once more pandemonium ensues.
Historical & Cultural References
At the time ‘Lo Guarracino’ was composed, Italy and the surrounding islands were a network of small kingdoms, states, republics and principalities. At one point Naples was a kingdom in its own right with Spanish monarchical connections. It was certainly a centre for all types of trade and cultural activity, and the song paints a vivid picture of C18th Neapolitan life – its food, fashion, culture, and even weapons technology.
The spingarde, designed by Leonardo da Vinci, was a C15th forerunner of the machine gun, and the colubrina was a type of cannon. Daggers of various types must have been common – flick-knives, stilettos and so on. Crossbows, maces, spears, swords, rapiers, bayonets and muskets are all mentioned in this tale. I found drawing fish with weapons a little disturbing, but of course this is an anthropomorphic tale.
Mentioned in the song are certain regional sweet delicacies such as torrone (turrón, a type of nougat with hazelnuts) and sosamielle, an S-shaped biscuit popular in Naples.
The colascione that Sardella is playing when we first encounter her is a type of long-necked lute. Originating in the late Renaissance period of southern Italy, it had two or three strings and was used for accompanying songs.
Guarracino wears the finest English silk. At the time the song was written English silk clothing designers such as Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690–1763) were becoming famous in Italy for the fine quality of their woven designs.
Sardella wears her hair ‘alla caunizza’. The originator of this ‘pompadour’ hairstyle is thought to be Anton Wenzel, prince of Kaunitz-Reitberg. This dates the song to the 1740s, when Naples was under the rule of the Habsburgs, with empress Maria Theresa of Austria at their head. The prince of Kaunitz-Reitberg was one of her ambassadors in Italy at the time.
Mediterranean Marine Life
Each area of the Mediterranean Sea has its own name, and the one beside Naples is known as the Mare Tirreno or Tyrrhenian Sea. It is clear that when this song was written three hundred years ago fish stocks were extremely abundant. The song even mentions the dugong (or sea ox), a sea mammal that may or may not have lived in the region. The Mediterranean no longer has coral reefs, (though some were recently discovered on the Eastern side of Italy in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Puglia), but it does have its own species of starfish.
MedPAN is an organization that works with the twenty-one countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea to protect its wildlife.
Parfum de Gitane by Anouar Brahem (Tunisie/France)
Ten months into a series of COVID-19 lockdowns I am missing playing live music with my friends, friends with whom I was performing in various ensembles up until the beginning of this year. It was pleasure, therefore, to have the virtual collaboration this month of oud player Soufian Saihi and percussionist Ricardo de Noronha, who lent their time and expertise to perform on this track alongside Louis Bingham on bass. I look forward to playing with them in the flesh in the not-too-distant future.
The source for this track is oud player Anouar Brahem’s 1991 album Barzakh (ECM). The juxtaposition of Tunisian classical modes and the reference to jazz manouche (gypsy jazz) in the title Parfum de Gitane illustrates his perception of the cultural environment of 1980s Paris. Brahem is joined on the album by Bechir Selmi on violin, Lassad Hosni on percussion and Barbarös Erköse on Turkish clarinet. A different version of this composition is included on his 2000 album Astrakan Café.
In Drawing Threads: 2020 I felt compelled to include music by artists who have contributed to cultural life in Europe by introducing musical ideas from farther afield. Anouar Brahem is a Tunisian musician who moved to in Paris in 1981. His background is in classical Arabic music. In 2006 Brahem was interviewed by Ray Cominsky of the Irish Times, from where I gleaned some first-hand knowledge of his musical background and life in Paris.
“The oud is one of the favourite instruments to accompany a singer. But it also has a very strong role in a small ensemble. The oud player is in some way the conductor of the small orchestra.”
Classical Arabic music, Brahem points out, is different from popular music such as châabi and raï, which have their roots in folk music. The classical tradition is the one Brahem studied, and in that music the oud holds a very important position for accompanying, improvising and leading the ensemble. The Arabic classical tradition contains a great deal of vocal music, but there are also instrumental pieces that are played between songs.
In the early to mid 1980s there were musicians from many cultures living in Paris, mainly around the outskirts where their communities had settled. When Brahem arrived there in 1981 he got on well with the jazz musicians from Egypt, Turkey and Iran. He stated, however, that there was not much collaboration between the different groups, the Arab musicians working mainly in cabaret, and the jazz musicians in cellar bars. It must have been a difficult period in Brahem’s life. Record labels wanted to pigeonhole his music into the classical Arabic genre and were not interested in his own compositions. However, exposure to jazz and cinema whilst in Paris influenced his writing for jazz ensemble, theatre and film. He was later signed to ECM, and the many albums he released and collaborated on (with figures such as Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Django Bates and Ustad Shaukat Hussain) are testimony to his huge contribution to modern jazz.
Mahgrebi popular/folk music in France
Since WW2 people from the Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean have come to live, work and study in the country. Maghrebi immigrants gravitated towards cities such as Marseille, Toulouse and Lyon for work opportunities in occupations from coal mining to industrial factories.
From the 1970s to 1990s flourishing music scenes in local cafés emerged. In Lyon, for example, hundreds of short-run cassettes of traditional and popular music were released. In 2014, French label Frémeux et Associés released a three-CD set entitled Maghreb Lyon, that captures the output of the North African musicians who had made Lyon their home.
In 1981 private stations were given the go-ahead, and this changed French radio dramatically. A myriad of popular music genres that had hitherto been largely ignored entered the field; hip-hop, techno, and rap were played alongside raï and chaâbi from North Africa, zouk from Guadaloupe, soukous from Congo and mbalax from Senégal. Musicians began blending these different genres, and they became popular well outside the immigrant communities. Here are some more Maghrebi-French musicians to check out…
خالد حاج إبراهيم Khaled was born in Oran in 1960. He moved to France in 1986 where he became a recording star with an international audience after the first ever raï festival in France at Bobigny.
Rachid Taha رشيد طه played raï and chaâbi (street) music. He moved from Tunisia to Lyon at the age of ten where his father was a factory worker. Taha moved to Paris in 1989. He was a proudly working class musician and political activist who used punk-style raï as a vehicle for messages of protest against both the Arabic and French establishments.
Aziz Sahmaoui was born in1962 in Marrakesh. He moved to Paris in the 1990s where he set up the band Orchestre National de Barbes. He has worked with many musicians in the ‘world’ music and jazz scenes including Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul.
Malika Zarra is a Moroccan born singer who studied jazz in Marseille. She is a producer and composer who sings in Berber, Moroccan Arabic and French.
Omar El Maghrebi is Moroccan artist and long-time Lyon resident and one of the key artists on the Maghreb Lyon recordings.
Hromy Bijú (Thunder is Rumbling) from Moravia
There is a thunderstorm,
I am standing under my girlfriend’s window
“Please, open up and let me in before I get completely soaked!”
She answers, “I will not open up because I have other visitors
My girl friends are here”
Stumbling about in the musical traditions of the Czech Republic I discovered vast swathes of traditional music that I have been completely unaware of until now. Made up of many regions, over the centuries the Czech Republic’s borders have changed, like tides ebbing and flowing. For the purposes of this project I settled in the region of Moravia to the south east of Brno. The whole area, with its east-west valleys, has been a melting pot for a myriad different tribes and cultures that have passed through or settled there during the last 1200 years. Moravian culture overlaps with several neighbouring countries, and each region has many distinctive traditions. This is a place where beautiful lyric poetry is sung. Bands of string players (kontra, fiddle and bass) abound, joined by the clarinet and led by a cimbalom.
Thanks to the current vibrant music scene, in which many festivals usually take place, there is a rich seam of recorded music to tap into. Much of the repertoire is vocal, so I was pleased to find amongst the songs this dynamic Verbuňk instrumental by the group CM Jaroslava Čecha, a cimbalom band. The source was the album ‘Antologie moravské lidove hudby Vol. 7 Verbunky a pisne rekrutské.’ I am much obliged to Czech violinist Jiří Plocek who kindly sent me the lyrics for the old love song from which this instrumental comes.
Verbuňk music and dance
Verbuňk music and dance has its origins in the C17th and C18th recruitment drives by the Germans, attracting young men to sign up for military service around Europe on behalf of the Habsburg emperors. It is strange to think that music, song and dance were used for this purpose, and that a whole genre grew out of it. These recruitment drives stopped in the Czech lands around 1780, but the music and dance continues to this day.
A Verbuňk piece is designed to be emotive and rousing. It begins with a song, followed by a slow, passionate section, then a fast, virtuosic passage. The dance would have been performed by professional hussar dancers. The sergeant would begin slowly, then as the music sped up the lower-ranking officers would enter, and finally the athletic youngsters. The music and dance is losing its military connotation and is performed in its own right at festivals and other local cultural events – though probably not this year. The dancing does not have a fixed pattern of steps, but dancers improvise by combining previously learned moves – and there is plenty of scope for gymnastic display. Verbuňk was considered to be of such great significance that it was awarded UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status in 2005, representing as it does a particular cultural identity.
The oral tradition, revival and classical music
During the C19th a Moravian RC priest named František Sušil collected traditional music from Czechia. He notated tunes and songs from 1804 to 1868. His collection was the inspiration for subsequent collectors, the most notable of whom were the Czech classical composers Leos Janáček and František Bartoš, who were at the forefront of a revival in the early part of the C20th. Together they inspired a renewed interest in the oral traditions of the rural peasant communities, and Moravia in particular. Archives of Sušil’s hand-written music, such as a short melodies and their lyrics are preserved to this day, and you can find digitised copies of the original transcriptions here. http://folksong.eu/cs/melody/17732
Janáček himself was born in Moravia, which at the time was part of the Austrian empire. Inspired by Dvorák, another Czech composer, he arranged over 150 traditional tunes.
It is very difficult to represent the oral tradition ‘on the page’. An ongoing fascination with folk music led to many of Janáček’s contemporaries – composers such as Kodály & Bartók (Hungary), Enesco (Romania) and Vaughan Williams (England) to name but a few – incorporating the music into their compositions. However, the results of these experiments often make me think of picking a flowerhead and leaving the living plant behind. Pulsing rhythms, unusual modes and tunings, rich instrumentation, spontaneity, passionate mood changes and sense of occasion can all too easily be replaced by dry scholarship. Taken out of context the music can be reduced to a simple melody, lyrics altered or stripped out. Orchestras or piano accompaniments replace small ensembles or soloists, and the music finds itself in the concert hall or schoolroom. For those unfamiliar with Moravian music this 5-CD set ‘Antologie moravské lidove hudby’ is a great introduction.
Sinfonia (no. 3) de Primi Toni and Seconda Parte (no. 4) for viol consort by Leonora Duarte of Antwerp, Belgium
I came across September’s piece by way of an album entitled ‘The Duarte Circle- Antwerp 1640’ by Belgian group Transports Publics. I was in the middle of researching Speellieden, a type of C18th & C19th troubadour music widespread in the Netherlands. But that music of wandering minstrels will have to wait for another time. The story of Leonora Duarte’s music (at the opposite end of the spectrum to folk music) – her family situation, her life and the circumstances of her death – made a deep impression on me. In addition Leonora, like myself, was one of six musical children, four daughters and two sons. Her music is beautiful, and I felt compelled to learn more.
I tracked down the notation for Leonora Duarte’s Sinfonia de Octavi Toni, discovering that it was not published here in modern times until the late 1990s when an edition was produced by Corda. In my youth I was fascinated by early music, inspired by a concert given by David Munrow in Scotland. My father made a treble viol, which I took with me to music college. There I was lucky to have lessons with the wonderful viol player Alison Crum. Three other students and myself formed a viol consort, and I only wish we had known about Leonora Duarte’s pieces then. Sadly, I have lost my viol-playing skills, and this recording was made with violin and viola.
The Duarte Family
Leonora’s father Gaspar Duarte, a diamond merchant, was probably one of the wealthiest men in Antwerp at the time. He owned paintings by Vermeer, Holbein, Raphael, Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck. He was also a musician with a keen interest in keyboards. He owned and kept in the house harpsichords and virginals made by the finest makers of the day. The family’s situation was complicated though. They were Portuguese Sephardic Jews, and to escape persecution Gaspar had moved the family to the comparatively more liberal Antwerp to join the marrano community there at the end of the C16th. The family were ‘Converso’, publicly Catholic, but privately retaining their Jewish identity. At the time, Antwerp was part of the Duchy of Brabant, the capital of one of the Duchy’s four territories. Leonora was born there in 1610. The whole region was ruled by the Hapsburg King Philip II of Spain, and during the earlier part of Leonora’s life the Dutch Revolt against his rule was taking place.
However, the musical family enjoyed a position at the very centre of cultural life in Antwerp. The elite of the art and music worlds would gather for soirées at the house. Poet, scholar and composer Constantijn Huygens, composers William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle, Nicolas Lanier and painter Gonzales Coques were regular visitors. Even so, the family suffered from social isolation. None of the six children married, and after their deaths the family’s possessions ended up with distant relatives.
Some say Leonora may have studied composition with John Bull, English composer, choirmaster and organist at Antwerp cathedral. However, there is no evidence to support this, and Bull died when Leonora was eighteen years old. This chamber piece, the Sinfonia de Octavi Toni, seems to be more influenced by the style of Italian composer Frescobaldi, another of her contemporaries. The music is based on one of his ricercar for keyboard. Commonly used in the C16th and C17th, rirecar (from the Italian meaning to seek out or research) is a compositional device in which one or more themes are developed through melodic imitation when writing for several instruments. The music is delightfully contrapuntal, each part only making sense in relation to the whole, perfectly illustrating the joy of playing ‘in consort’.
Female composers of the early to mid-Baroque era
Being a female composer and Jewish meant that Leonora would never be commissioned by any court or church authority, unlike her male counterparts (Bull and Sweelinck, for example). Her compositions were unlikely to receive the exposure they deserved. One advantage to being excluded from mainstream music was that Leonora was able to suit herself and be more adventurous when it came to matters of style and performance. Luckily her father recognised her talent and published her Sinfonia de Octavi Toni himself.
There are around ten other known female composers of her era, most of them nuns who wrote sacred music. One notable exception is Venetian composer and lyric poet Barbara Strozzi. Despite struggling against sex and class discrimination, she wrote and had printed more secular songs than any other composer of her time – man or woman. Another was Italian composer Francesca Caccini, author of the oldest known opera written by a woman, ‘La Liberazione de Riggiero dall’isola d’Alcina’.
Interesting parallels relating to the current COVID-19 situation can be drawn with the time of Leonora Duarte. The shadow of bubonic plague was ever-present. The early C17th in Europe was a time when social gatherings to indulge in the arts were growing. Choral singing and court orchestras developed into larger ensembles, and opera was beginning to gain popularity. As a result, bigger concert halls and opera houses were built. Social music-making would have continued, and compositions like Leonora’s for a consort of viols would have been impossible to realise without several musicians gathering in the home. Antwerp was a busy, international port, people coming and going from all over the world, and clusters of infection sprang up all too frequently. It is believed that Leonora herself and two of her sisters, Catharina and Francisca, died of the plague in 1678.
In England, the playwright William Shakespeare had to contend with self-isolation and regular lockdowns. Apparently, if plague deaths amounted to more than thirty in a week, authorities in London would close the playhouses. This means that from 1600-1610 playhouses must have been closed half the time. Cultural practices relating to the epidemic seeped into his writing. Some episodes were a reflection of life in those times. The deaths of Romeo and Juliet, for example, came about indirectly because of quarantine restrictions. The letter written to Romeo from Juliet saying that her death was fake did not arrive because the messenger, Friar John, had been forced into quarantine. “The searchers of the town, suspecting that we both were in a house where the infectious pestilence did reign, seal’d up the doors, and would not let us forth”. (Romeo & Juliet, Act V, Scene II)
Yet there is a positive message here for us all. If people such as Leonora Duarte and William Shakespeare managed to be so productive, creating music and theatre that can still be performed and listened to four hundred years later, then there is hope for all creative people.
Sadly, due to restrictions still in place it was impossible for me to get together a group of five players to realise an ensemble piece and video it indoors. Instead I chose to multi-track the parts and in doing so came to know intimately all the ins and outs, the counter-melodies, the weaving patterns of the instruments in harmony, the dovetails, tensions and resolutions, the rise and fall of dynamics and so on. My five fingers represent the five voices, moving in real time across a glass windowpane. The paints were earth/oxide pigments, initially the two distinct colours of burnt sienna and ultramarine, gradually darkening as they merged.
‘Sessenta e Oito Passos’, traditional, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal
Arranged and performed by Griselda Sanderson (fiddle & bodhrán) from the uncredited field recording made by Fernando Lopes-Graça & Corsican ethnomusicologist Michel Giacometti entitled Vinte Cinco. The recording was released on an ‘Anthology of Portuguese Music’ on the Smithsonian Folkways label (1962).
Traditional music revival in Portugal
The source for this month’s piece was a recording made by two socialist musicologists. At the time, a revival of traditional music led by Josè Afonso was taking place in Portugal. The country was still under the dictatorship of Salazar (finally ending with the peaceful carnation revolution in 1974), yet Portugal was beginning to open up to influences from other countries, resulting in new song forms. The traditional music revival grew into a movement that, amongst other things, led to a more socially and politically conscious version of fado music, with its iconic accompaniment on Portuguese guitar.
Being neither a singer nor an exponent of Portuguese plucked stringed instruments in all their glorious forms, I was more drawn to the instrumental music of the mountains, finding a connection with the Trás-os-Montes region in the North East of Portugal. The processional aspect of the music reminds me of Scotland’s highland pipe & drum marching bands, and the traditional costumes are similar, with kilt-like linen skirts worn by the men. They also wear black brimmed hats, brightly-coloured shawls, hand-knitted socks with zig-zag patterns and waistcoats. The music, dance and ritual aspects are inseparable, and alongside the pipes and drums a troupe of stick dancers – the Pauliteiros – appear. They perform at pagan-rooted events, as well as the annual Santa Bárbara festa, which begins on the Sunday following August 15th.
The Festa do Chocalheiro, which has become connected with St Esteban, is one of Trás-os-Montes’ most well known festivals, due to the spectacular costumes that are worn.
In Constantim, Miranda do Douro, a warrior stick dance, the Dança dos Pauliteiros, is performed in traditional costume for the winter solstice festival. The musicians and dancers begin parading early in the morning, the pipers waking the villagers by marching through the streets playing the alvorada (meaning ‘dawn’). On this day a strange character named the carocho emerges. He steals the sausages of the villagers with giant pincers. An official known as the mordomo oversees the festivity and looks after the dancers and musicians, providing food and wine at his house.
The traditional instruments of Trás-os-Montes
The gaita-de-fole transmontana is the traditional bagpipe of the region. Possibly due to the area’s remoteness, many older styles of playing and more open-tuned scales have been retained in the piping tradition. The instruments are usually made of Enguelgue or Zelha wood (Acer Monspessulanum, a type of ash) that grows on the cliffs of the Douro. The bore of the chanter is conical. The rings are of horn and the bellows of kid leather.
The fraita, a three-holed flute, is another traditional wind instrument played at the same time as the tamboril by one player, the tambolrileiro. The other drums are the bombo (bass drum) and caixa (side drum).
I must also mention the adufe, a square drum, Moorish in origin, traditionally played by the women of Trás-os-Montes.
Historical and geographical background
This mountainous region is defined by its very remoteness from the economic centres of modern Portugal (Trás-os-Montes meaning ‘beyond the mountains’). It has its own officially recognised language – Mirandés – descended from Astur-Leonese. Galaddum Galandaina is one musical group from the region that sings in Mirandés. A few years ago, whilst visiting friends in Porto, the idea of travelling to Trás-os-Montes was mooted, but in February the snowfall had made the roads impassable. This was a surprise to me, but this mountainous region, famous for vineyards and almond trees, was only relatively recently made more accessible to the lower coastal region of Portugal. Despite road-building schemes in the 1980s and 90s the area can still be cut off in winter.
Because of its border with Spain, Trás-os-Montes has often been the scene of military activity. Mediaeval castles were built to defend the territory that had been subject to invasion from Romans, Visigoths and Moors to French and Spanish. Portugal has had an alliance and military connections with England and Scotland since the late C14th. The countries were linked through fishing, overseas commerce and common enemies. Perhaps some of the music was also shared between the two traditions over the centuries.
Despite its remoteness there is evidence that highly civilised people made their homes amongst the rocky crags of Trás-os-Montes. Many cave paintings have been discovered there, dating back to Paleolithic times –that’s 10,000BC. Iron-age granite stone boars known as berrões that date back to around 500BC dot the landscape.
‘Introduction & Geamparale’ from the playing of Hevesi Farkas Jenő, Hungary
I am pleased to include music from the Roma community, which has contributed so much to the development of a vast range of musical styles within Europe and beyond. This piece was transcribed and arranged for piano from the cimbalom playing of Hevesi Farkas Jenő in a performance by Antal Szalai’s Hungarian Gypsy Band. The group was formed in 1969 and recorded over twenty albums.
Roma and Sinti musicians are renowned for their virtuosity – Django Reinhardt and Tcha Limberger to name but two. Roma musicians have been present in Hungary since the middle of the C15th. One famous Gypsy violinist was Panna Czinka who led a band from the end of the C18th. Czinka was the daughter of a court orchestral player, and her grandfather is said to have composed the famous Rákóczi March. Born in Hungary she travelled from Poland to the Adriatic performing with her group of musicians in virtuosic style.
There has been a longstanding exchange between Gypsy and classical music, and the musical vocabulary of Gypsy idioms has fed into classical, romantic era and jazz music. The son of Antal Szalai (also named Antal Zalai b. 1981) is a renowned classical violinist. Hungarian classical composer Liszt Ferenc (Franz Liszt) used Gypsy music a great deal in his compositions, sometimes incorporating the cimbalom. Others – Zoltán Kodály, Béla Bartók, and Romanian George Enescu – followed suit. Gypsy bands reciprocated by adopting the tunes of classical composers, such as the first movement of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto and Alla Turca from Mozart’s Piano Sonata no. 11. The theme for Italian composer Vittorio Monti’s famous ‘Monti’s Czárdás’ (1904) was inspired by a Gypsy melody. The piece went full circle, and his version is still a favourite with Gypsy bands, as are works by another Italian, the violinist Paganini.
I am grateful to my mother Judith Sanderson for starting me off on the piano aged five years – probably the very same piano I have recorded this piece on. I am also indebted to two Hungarian musicians I encountered in my youth for their input into my musical development. Béla Simandi was my piano teacher for three years at the RSAMD in Glasgow – a great advocate of the music of Béla Bartók. The second was László Heltay, inspirational choir director, who visited Dartington College of Arts to work with the Community Choir.
Arranging the Music
The piece is in the style of a czardas, with its slow introduction followed by a fast section. However, the faster section in this instance is a Geamparale, a 7/8 rhythm from neighbouring Romania. A czárdás is in 2-time.
The challenge of transcribing a cimbalom piece for piano was an interesting one. It was simple enough to notate, but making the piano sound like a cimbalom is trickier, and the playing techniques cannot be exactly replicated. Although there are many similarities between the cimbalom and piano there are some big differences. While the piano is played with ten fingers on the keyboard, the cimbalom strings are struck directly with two light hammers, one held in each hand. Accordingly, the layout of the strings is different to facilitate these techniques. Long chromatic scales, arpeggios and broken chords of all types are common in cimbalom music and easy to play on the piano. However, fast, repeating notes that are a feature of cimbalom playing are far easier with two hammers than with the fingers.
I also wanted to represent the contrasting ‘sustained’ and ‘damped’ sounds of the cimbalom. Pedalling works the opposite way round on each instrument. The default arrangement on a piano is that the strings are damped unless the sustain pedal is used, whereas on the cimbalom it is the reverse. The default is a sustained sound, and the pedal is there to damp the strings if desired.
Displaying the mechanism of the piano was important for me. Having the hammers and strings exposed shows the similarities and differences between the piano and cimbalom. The volume is increased, and it is great fun to play an upright piano in that way, when the result of your actions on the keyboard can immediately be seen and heard. The piece was recorded with the assistance of Louis Bingham.
The modern ‘concert’ cimbalom (pictured above) was developed by József Schunda in Budapest in 1874. Prior to that a portable cimbalom (with a strap around the neck) had been around in Hungary for at least three hundred years. The new fully chromatic Schunda ‘concert’ version is similar to a small piano in range and volume with a heavier frame enabling more stability and dynamic power. Extra courses of strings were added and the range extended. It also included a pedal for damping the strings. Soon after its emergence it became the national instrument of Hungary, and many hotels and cafés had cimbaloms installed in readiness for visiting Gypsy bands.
My Bechstein piano
I played the piece on a Bechstein upright piano that has been in my family for four generations, most likely manufactured between 1874 and 1876. This model III concert piano is said to be one of the best upright pianos ever produced, with a “superb balance between the registers” according to Bechstein’s own publicity. As a child I often fell asleep to its sound as my mother accompanied my father on the violin playing pieces such as Monti’s Czárdás.
The piano probably needs a complete overhaul at this point, but I am extremely grateful to my brother Joel and his piano tuning skills, for keeping it playable over the years, despite living five hundred miles away.
Carl Bechstein pianos
Carl Bechstein founded his own piano-making workshop in Berlin in 1853. Hungarian composer Franz Lizst praised the quality of the instruments, which boosted Bechstein’s reputation as a piano maker. The Bechstein piano sound has had a lasting influence on the development of classical music, many well known compositions of the romantic era having been written on it. It is interesting to note that the modern piano was still developing as late as the 1860s (Liszt died in 1886). Sustain pedalling, for example only became popular in the latter part of the C19th.
In 1885 Carl Bechstein opened the largest showroom in Europe alongside the Bechstein Hall in Wigmore St., London. He also produced instruments there, and from1901 to 1914 the London base became one Bechstein’s largest dealerships in Europe. However, because of WW1, in 1916 the Trading with the Enemy Amendment Act came into force in Great Britain, and the London branch folded in June of that year. All property – the concert hall and the showroom containing 137 pianos – was confiscated. The hall had to be sold, reopening in 1917 as the Wigmore Hall. The modern company is now based in Seifhennersdorf, Saxony.
Sadly, during Bechstein’s lifetime many endangered natural materials were plundered for the manufacture of pianos. Today piano makers are more aware of ethically sourcing the materials they use. Ivorite, a type of plastic was developed by Yamaha to replace real ivory, the trade of which is now banned of course. Similarly, trade in certain hardwoods is now illegal. Cases for pianos were often made from Rosewood, which is sourced from any number of ‘ornamental’ tropical tree species from Honduras to Madagascar. CITES (Convention on International Trade in endangered species) didn’t exist until 1975, but now works towards legislating against international trade in endangered woods, which affects musical instrument makers and dealers a great deal.
However, my piano is greatly loved. Watching its mechanism as I play and listening to the huge range of timbres and dynamics filling the house is a joy.
‘Springleik’ from the playing of Ragnvald Bolme, Norway
The long summer evenings of June here in the Northern hemisphere have drawn me northwards for this month’s music, and once again I have stepped just outside the boundaries of the EU, this time into Norway. The piece of music I have chosen is from the repertoire of a farmer and hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle) player, Ragnvald Bolme (1927-2000). Bolme’s home, Holum farm, is located near Storås in Orkland, Trøndelag county, where each night during this month of the summer solstice there are only a couple of hours of real darkness. Trondheim is the nearest city.
The piece is a Springleik, a tune for a couple dance in three-time. In the South-West Hardanger region the springleik is known as springar or springdans, in other areas pols, polsdans or polsk. It has some similarities to a Swedish polska. This does not mean there is any one homogenous tune type – far from it! Players would pass tunes on to one another at the big markets, and in that way they would wend their way from fjord to fjord and town to village, gaining rhythmic variations along the way. Other tune types for dance are Gangar, Rull and Halling, a gymnastic solo dance for men.
This springar from the repertoire of Ragnvald Bolme comes via one of his esteemed students, Hardanger fiddle master Sturla Eide, who transcribed and recorded Bolme’s core repertoire in three volumes – Slåtter Volumes 1-3 – from 2010-12. Many thanks are due to him to him for this fantastic resource.
The Hardingfele playing style
Hardanger fiddle music is rhythmically complex and highly ornamented, with a great deal of double-stopping and improvisation. Glorious harmonic progressions are produced in this way. Because of the flat bridge it is even possible to play three notes at once. Long, smooth sweeping bows draw out the melody, and to keep in time the players tap or stamp their feet while playing. This was banned in recording sessions until recently, but luckily came back into fashion. It certainly helps players and dancers find the beat! The repertoire for this instrument – mainly from the South Western counties of Norway – is vast and varied. Each region and player has their own distinctive style. Contests are widespread in Norway. It could be said that they are a good way of keeping the tradition alive. It was not until the 1980s that women were included in the judging of these contests, but now there are many renowned female exponents, such as Annbjørg Lien. Check out these famous hardingfele tunes The Devil’s Tune and Nordafjells to get a feel for the music.
The earliest known hardingfele was found in Hardanger (hence the name) and dates back to 1651. However, there is a high probability that an older bowed stringed instrument existed prior to the popular violin-shaped design that arrived in Norway in the C17th.
The Hardingfele is quite different to a violin, though they have similarities. It generally has four playing strings and three, four or five sympathetic strings that run below the playing strings. The neck is shorter, but with a double-length peg box to accommodate the pegs for the sympathetic strings it appears long. The bow is long.
The profile of the table (the top of the instrument) is very different from a violin, being flat on top. The f-holes are distinctive in that they are longer, and the wings are carved so that they appear below the flat upper level. Think of it like this: a violin f-hole is two-dimensional, and a hardingfele f-hole is three-dimensional.
The bridge is much flatter to facilitate double-stopping, and is on two levels to allow the sympathetic strings to pass through.
The ‘scroll’ of the fiddle is usually carved into the head of a figure such as a dragon or a woman. Since the mid C19th, more often than not, it is the lion of Norway that is represented. This national symbol is based on the sculptures of two lions set outside the Stortingsbygningen, the seat of the parliament in central Oslo.
There are many variations of tunings depending on the repertoire and the player’s preferences. My first close encounter with the Hardanger fiddle was in 2001 at the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention in Aberdeen. There I met a group of Norwegian musicians who played Hardanger fiddles (or Hardingfele) for dancing, as well as giving a few recitals and workshops. Steinar Rygg from Voss and Håkon Hogamo were two of these players, both well-known teachers in Norway. They explained about their fiddles and taught a group of us fiddlers a couple of Hardanger tunes at the Maritime museum down at Aberdeen harbour. Steinar generally tuned his fiddle (from bottom to top) B,E,B,F#, and his sympathetic strings C#,E,F#,G#,B. One of my favourite Hardanger tunes, Nordafjells, is played in a variety of different tunings. One version by Gunnar Stubseid has a low F at the bottom, then D,A,E. For the Springleik mentioned here, Ragnvald Bolme used the tuning Bb, E, Bb, F#, which is very common. In my version I used Bb,F,Bb F for the playing strings and FGBb C for the sympathetics. Steinar Rygg explained that he retunes his sympathetic strings with a minor 3rd if he is playing a tune in a minor key.
The instruments are usually decorated with mother-of-pearl or bone inlay around the edges and on the fingerboard and tailpiece. The body is decorated in a style known as rosemåling. Steinar explained that the designs are done in black ink featuring traditional patterns of the district, or ones that represent the personality of the maker.
It wasn’t until fifteen years after meeting Håkon and Steinar that I finally acquired a hardingfele of my own at the instigation of theatre music composer Johnny Flynn. He was writing the score for a production of As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2015 that I was to be playing in, and he wanted a Scandinavian element in the music. It was a good enough reason for me to get a Hardanger, and a couple of instruments happened to be for sale nearby. It is nothing special. Instruments by renowned makers sell for thousands of pounds. When I acquired the fiddle it was unvarnished and free of decoration. What a temptation! In great trepidation I took it upon myself to do the deed, and this is how it turned out…
‘Χαραυγή (Dawn)’: from the laouto playing of Giórgos Nkompákis, Crete
The source for Dawn is a solo lauto performance by Giórgos Nkompákis released in 1976 on the compilation album Tragoudia tis Kritis – Songs of Crete (Columbia Records). The melody in this version is arranged for violin and viola, with accompaniment on cittern and percussion by Louis Bingham.
The Music & Instruments
“The Cretan lyra (ΚρητικήΛύρα), an upright fiddle, is central to the traditional music of Crete (Κρήτη) and other islands in the Dodecanese and Aegean Archipelagos. Following a trail of lyra music led me to discover this piece from the large, mountainous island of Crete. Its slow introduction and faster movement with tumbling phrases immediately appealed to me. Set in the Phrygian mode it has a distinctly Middle-Eastern flavour. Crete’s music echoes the cultural influences produced by waves of invasion over the centuries. In the C9th the island was conquered and ruled by Muslim exiles from al-Andalus, led by Abu Hafs. Later it was part of the Byzantine world and was a province of the Roman and Ottoman empires. It became a part of Greece in 1913.”
The lyra and laouto (λαουτο), the Cretan lute, go hand in hand. Where one is found, the other is often there to add colour. Traditionally, the lyra is known as a singers’ instrument for accompanying the voice, the laouto providing rhythmic and harmonic support. In this instance the piece is an instrumental for solo laouto. The music is transcribed from the playing of Giórgos Nkompákis. The introduction is arranged for viola, matching the range of the laouto. The violin plays the faster passage. Louis Bingham added percussion and a cittern accompaniment, reflecting the lauto/lyra combination.
“The viola and violin I play were made by my father, Derick Milton Sanderson, luthier in central Scotland from the mid 1960s through to the late 1980s. The violin is a Guaneri model.”
Making the Video
The title of this piece, Dawn, provided inspiration for the video. With the increasing day length the sun takes on extra significance in May, the first of the summer months in the northern hemisphere. Dawn is measured in three stages before sunrise, each 6° degrees apart i.e. when the sun is 18° (astronomical dawn), 12° (nautical dawn) and 6° (civil dawn) below the horizon.
“I opted for nautical dawn (rising at 3:50 BST) to allow time to walk to the video location, though on awakening a faint light was already discernible – enough to see where I was going. A beautiful half moon hung in the South-East.
“I had made my calculations as to timing and direction, but they were slightly skewed by the fact that from my chosen location the point of sunrise happened to coincide with the highest landmark in the area. This meant the sun took longer to rise than I had anticipated, and when it finally did it was obscured by cloud. Nonetheless, it was an interesting experience, if a bit cold and windy.”
“Life in lockdown continues for the majority of people around the world. My deepest sympathies go out to all those who have lost loved ones. My admiration is unbounded for all those battling to help the sick in hospitals, care homes, refugee camps and war zones around the world. Here’s hoping this chaos will ultimately lead to a more peaceful place. I hope my music brings a bit of cheer in these troubled times.”
‘Two Doves’ & ‘Pa Žaliu Užuolèiu’ (Under the Green Oak): trad. Lithuania (Lietuva)
This month I have arranged and recorded two traditional Lithuanian songs. The style is not traditional, but is intended to evoke a landscape brimming with the mythical beasts, peasants, magicians and nobility that populated the old tales of Lithuania’s forested landscape and coastline.
The first melody, Two Doves, was used as incidental music in a storytelling, puppetry and music show on which I was working this time last year based on a traditional Lithuanian folk tale, The Hedgehog Bride.
The second song, Pa Žaliu Užuolèiu (Under the Green Oak), was sourced from the album of Lithuanian vocal ensemble Obelije Grupe sent by band member Eglè Česnakavičiūtè. Eglè made juostos – traditional hand-woven sashes – for our production’s costumes. The lyrics for this song, though not used in my version, are:
Under the green oak I thresh the barley And the straws fly away high above the oak By the great Dunaj River there sits a girl She brushes her hair, her yellow braid: “Oh you my braid, my braid, the golden one, Who shall you go to my dear? Will it be a poor soldier or a captain? Neither to the poor soldier nor to the captain You, my braid, went to a foolish drunkard He dried you out, just like a linden.”
The Music and Instruments
Working on music for the aforementioned theatre show last year, Louis Bingham and I decided to make instruments to create a unique sound world. Inspired by the sound of the kankles (a traditional Lithuanian folk instrument) Louis made a lyre using materials to hand – a wooden wine box fitted with guitar strings and harp pins.
Tiny sounds magnified are a good theatrical device, so I brought in a musical box to add some magic. A few years ago I was introduced to this type, which allows you to create your own music by punching holes in a card. I arranged the melody for Two Doves, and spent several happy hours preparing it, note by tinkly note. The scene with the musical box was to illustrate the appearance of the nobility to the peasant, a woodcutter, and his mythical companion, a talking hedgehog. It also symbolised the love story that was to evolve. I have used the original musical box with its hand-cranked mechanism (and resulting slight inconsistencies in tempo) and added lyre, nyckelharpa and percussion to create my arrangement.
These two traditional songs have simple melodies. However, when repeated, one changed note in an otherwise identical phrase provides scope for some interesting harmonies. The second song Under the Green Oak involves more composition based on the asymmetrical timing of this song. The original melody is a vocal piece with two interlocking parts over a slow seven-beat pattern. Two nyckelharpa parts replace the vocals.
Because of the lockdown it was not possible to record in an alternative location, so this is a studio recording. However, I did manage to find a suitable green oak in the corner of a local field under which to record the video.
Lithuanian Folk Art & Culture
Historically, with access to seaports, trade in amber, silver, grain, flax, oxen, fur and lumber provided Lithuania with a strong economy. It was the last country in Europe to adopt Christianity in the C14th. However, this small Baltic state has had its trials. In the C15th the Duchy of Lithuania was the largest state in Europe in union with neighbouring Poland, but at the end of the C18th it disappeared from the map for over one hundred and twenty years. The country’s economy remained largely agricultural until the start of the C19th, and to this day Lithuania boasts a number of forested national parks. Lithuania has been partitioned or occupied for much of its existence, but became independent in 1991, joing the EU in 2004. Today its main exports are refined oil, chemicals, plastics and farm machinery, but it still has the rural economy at its heart. Its current government is a coalition led by LVŽS, the conservative ‘Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union’.
It is not surprising, therefore, that folk arts remain an important part of Lithuanian identity with a strong oral tradition rooted in the rural community. Ceramics and metalwork took place in and around homesteads. Beautiful woodcarvings adorned the gables of cottages; richly patterned weavings were part of traditional costumes; ornate Karpiniai (papercuts) and Vilniaus verbos (woven patterns of dried flowers and grain stalks) were displayed in the windows of houses.
Despite the influence of Poland, its larger neighbour, Lithuania’s language has remained distinct. Suppression of Lithuanian culture may have had an effect on literature, but oral transmission has kept the various traditions alive. It is only recently that traditional folk tales and music have been written down. Most feature a striking contrast between the peasantry and nobility, as in The Hedgehog Bride, the tale on which our show last year was based. Eglè Česnakavičiūtè (who wove the traditional sashes for our show’s costumes) along with members of her band Obelije Grupe, has been researching the vocal tradition of their region, seeking out women of the older generations who remember the songs to record, learn and perform them – then pass them on. Their aim is to keep this oral tradition alive for future generations.
“The year moves on, but not as we had anticipated. I’m sorry that sadly for many of us life has drastically altered its course in the most unexpected of ways. I myself was ill at the beginning of March. I am extremely thankful to have been able to participate in events that happened at the start of the year, especially the Balkan music and dance weekend (See February’s blog), and a surprise guest appearance with Spanish musician Efren Lopez alongside Meridianum Ensemble band mates Louis Bingham and Steve Tyler at Halsway Manor in Somerset. These happenings gave me a boost of inspiration that will keep me going for some months. May we all continue to support one another in these strange times. I wish you all the best, wherever you are.”
‘Galbally Lasses Set’, Traditional Irish Reels
“In these socially restrictive times I have been missing our regular Irish music pub sessions, so March seems as good a time as any to celebrate my connection with Ireland. Luckily I am in isolation with my son Louis Bingham, to whom I am extremely grateful for his accompaniment on guitar & bodhrán, and who helped with the arrangement and recording – a pleasure as always!”
“Ireland, its music, culture and political events have been in my consciousness as long as I remember. Growing up in Scotland, Northern Ireland was our closest neighbour, and my father made regular trip across to Belfast delivering the violins he made. As young teenagers his apprentice introduced my brother and I to Irish music via the record player in our dad’s workshop. While we messed around with tools and half-finished instruments amongst the wood shavings, music from Dick Gaughan’s early group Five Hand Reel, Planxty, Boys of the Lough and the Bothy Band drifted over us. We both soon started playing Irish fiddle music in a wave of enthusiasm. Then came Arty McGlynn and Nollaig Casey, Donal Lunny’s duo with Andy Irvine followed by his groups Moving Hearts with Davy Spillane and Coolfin. A glut of field recordings was there for anyone who wanted it – and so it continued to this day. Deep gratitude also goes to all my Irish friends who have dragged me along with so many others in their enthusiasm for their traditional music.”
“Over the last few years I have played regularly for traditional social dances (Scottish country dancing and ceilidhs). In a three-hour dance evening we do about twelve dances, each with three or four tunes – that’s about forty-two tunes in an evening. The rural country dances of Ireland at the end of the C19th might possibly have gone on a lot longer. Musicians’ repertoires must have been vast. Tunes were notated as an aide-memoire, but mostly they were played from memory. The repertoire would frequently be added to with new compositions, and older tunes adapted with individual and local variations.”
“There are hundreds of thousands of Irish dance tunes, so selecting some was not easy. For this project I decided to go back to a source I have used a great deal over the years – O’Neill’s Music of Ireland published in 1903. The tunes would all have been collected from Irish emigrants in the US round about the turn of the C19th & 20th. I have several of his books, and though many tunes are picked up by ear it’s always interesting to go back to an earlier source. It is a joy to leaf through those pages, seeking out those less well-known tunes and different versions of popular ones. I’ve always enjoyed the way reels race along – so uplifting for dancing – so I’ve chosen three to make a set for this month’s piece.”
“The first tune in my set of reels is The Mills are Grinding, also known as Tuttle’s (Lúnasa) or The Custom Gap (The Chieftains). “Next up is Galbally Lasses, a 3-part fiddle tune. It was collected from Edward Dennis Cronin (1838-1918), a fiddler living in Chicago at the time who recorded many tunes for chief O’Neill on wax cylinder and was the original editor of O’Neills 1001 dance tunes. Cronin was from Limerick Junction, Co. Tipperary, just twenty miles from Galbally near Tipperary in the province of Munster. The final tune is Thompson’s Reel, which has not been recorded much, though it has been circulating in the US. Flatpicker Eric Thompson (no relation) recorded a version of it. I have altered the key of The Mills are Grinding and added my own variations to Thompson’s.”
Listen to Edward Cronins’s original wax cylinder recordings here:
Irish Dance Tune Titles
“The names of Irish dance tunes are how players remember them and are a constant source of amusement and a great topic for discussion/argument. Even though the melodies have no lyrics, naming them is not a problem, though remembering the title often is. This is probably one reason why tunes often have several titles. Nothing is unsuitable as a title for a tune. Topics range from an occupation such as The Flax Dresser, or the Butcher’s March. Renowned players get tunes named after them, such as Lucy Farr’s, Jimmy Ward’s or Tobin’s Favourite. Events great and small are also commemorated: Condon’s Frolics, The Races at Carrick, The Tailor’s Wedding or The Little Pig Laments the Empty Trough. Any object, no matter how mundane, may be immortalised in a tune title – The Bag of Spuds, The Cup of Tea, the Yellow Wattle. Random names such as Fasten the Leg in Her and I have no Money are memorable enough to keep a melody in mind. Then there are place names. Simply add the name of an Irish city, town or village to one of the following prefixes; The Humours of…, The Lasses of …, The Lads of …., The Maids of…, The Rakes of…., The Road to/from… – you get my drift.”
Irish Road Trip Tune Map
“I know of no other country that has had its geography charted so thoroughly through its music. To illustrate this I have put together the above map of tunes that follow the routes I took on two trips to Ireland – the first when I was seventeen years old. It was a long and winding road, and for every tune named after a place there are probably twenty others – plus all the towns I missed in between.”
“I will strive to put versions of these tunes in my Drawing Threads Byways playlist on Youtube. If you would like to check out my meanderings have a look at my channel here:”
‘Staro Oro’, a traditional Macedonian Dance
“Staro Oro was introduced to me this month during an intensive four-day Balkan music and dance programme with musicians Filip Arilon & Stojan Stojanov from North Macedonia. They visited the UK as part of an international Balkan dance event. Music and song are frequently intertwined in the Balkans, but Staro Oro is an instrumental piece. The source for the notation was Macedonian Singing Dialects 2 from a series of books compiled by Filip & Stojan and published by the Balkan Music Centre, Macedonia.
“The main source recording is from the album Macedonian Dances: Play with Us (Македонски танци: Играјте со нас) By Pece Atanasovski (1927-1996), recorded in the 1950s and released after Atanasovski’s tour of North America. In this version, Louis Bingham and I have stripped down the arrangement from Atanasovski’s ‘folk orchestra’ to just two instruments, violin and tambura.
“I have gone slightly off-piste in my plan to spend the year learning music from EU countries. North Macedonia is not yet in the EU, but is in the process of acceding to it. Historically, Macedonia incorporated several modern Balkan countries. Over the centuries borders have changed frequently and populations shifted around the region. North Macedonia is now a landlocked country bordering Bulgaria and Greece (both EU member states). North Macedonia could be considered a crossroads for many cultural styles. Repertoire flowed across the borders, not only from Bulgaria and Greece but also from North Macedonia’s other neighbours; Albania, Serbia & Kosovo. Roma music features strongly too. The terms ‘alla Franca’ and ‘alla Turka’ reflect influences from even further afield – from Western Europe during the 18thand 19thcenturies and from Turkey and the East. As a result the music, song and dance repertoire is vastly rich and diverse, offering everyone in the community something with which they can identify, whatever their origin. If a well-known tune is played everyone will participate, dancing or singing.”
Preface to the Macedonian Singing Dialects series:
“Centuries-old traditional folk music gives the Macedonian people a strong cultural identity. Folk dances and songs have a spiritual element along with the costumes, each identified by its differences – a continuing tradition that cannot be erased. On the opposite side of art music is folk, passed on from knee to knee, verbally. These express life, work and customs of the people who live it. It has its own national characteristics and also the wider area. In it we find Greek and Roman influences (such as Rusalii and Gevgelija), Byzantine (in the spiritual music) oriental (chalgii & zurli) and western European (songs from old cities). The pieces in performance are ritualistic & spiritual (dodolski, koledarski, rusaliski) or worldly, referencing battles, weddings, harvesting, humour, love etc. The same pieces can have different names in different areas depending on the dance and the place.“
Macedonian traditional music
In 1950s Macedonia there was a renewed interest in traditional music, song, costume and dance. Pece Atanasovski was a key figure in this resurgence, having danced in and led various ensembles such as the state folk dance group Tanec, which played for radio shows and backed famous singers on recordings. From 1960 Atanasovski directed the Orchestra of Folk Instruments of Radio-Televizia-Skopje. The national ‘folk anthem’ is Makedonsko Devojče, composed in 1964 by another Tanec member, Jonče Hristovski. The previous year Hristovski’s wife had been killed in an earthquake in Skopje, leaving him with his two young daughters, so the song has an added poignancy.
The new folk orchestras that had begun to appear combined instruments that would not traditionally be played together: zurna (similar to a shawm with origins in Turkey), gajda (bagpipes), šupelka (шупелка – a flute similar to a kaval), kemane (similar to a Greek lyra), tambura (a long-necked lute, variants of which exist in several Balkan countries) and tapan. This led to some interesting developments. As Filip Arilon explained, gajda players in these larger folk ensembles needed surla (chanters) in three keys so that more of the repertoire could include gajda. In previous eras shepherds, such as the young Atanasovski, would probably have had just one chanter at the pitch in which it happened to have been made.
Not so long ago, Čalgija was a sub-genre of older urban traditional folk repertoire, following a direct line from a living tradition. Nowaday s Čalgija groups represent a new form of folk-pop music that is popular in Macedonia. If a famous artist records an old folk tune it is guaranteed exposure on TV, radio and online.
The arrangement process
“On the source recording I used of Staro Oro, the instrumentation is šupelka, kemane, tambura and tapan. Pece Atanasovski leads the group on the gajda. As a fiddler I often feel drawn to bagpipe music. I’m attracted by the restrictions of only being able to play a single line plus a drone. Bagpipe ornamentation from each region is highly developed, having evolved through a combination of what is physically possible, regional ‘dialect’ and individual taste. The ornamentation I used in this interpretation is developed partly in imitation of the bagpipes. Each section has its own character, designed to give a lift to the dancers. Fiddle sections are contrasted with melody lines from Louis’ tambura in a pattern of call and response interspersed with short solo passages.”
It is lovely to see text in different languages. The titles of the pieces presented to the participating musicians on the Balkan music course mentioned above were written in English and Macedonian, which uses the beautiful Cyrillic alphabet.
‘Fantasia, Which Imitates the Harp of Ludovico’ ( Fantasia X ) by Alonso de Mudarra publ. 1546
Alonso de Mudarra (1510-1580) was born in Guadalajara, Spain. He spent the latter part of his musical life directing music at the cathedral in Seville after spending some time in Italy. This piece is in his book Tres libros de musica en sifra para vihuela, published in 1546. Mudarra played the Vihuela, (the precursor to the Spanish guitar). It had six double courses of strings, each pair tuned in unison. Unusually, this piece imitates the style of a famous contemporary harpist of the time named Ludovico. Griselda’s interpretation, therefore, is the nyckelharpa imitating the vihuela imitating a harp.
This era was the golden age for merchants in Seville as the Americas had recently been ‘discovered’. By the time of Mudarra’s death he was a wealthy man, and his fortune is said to have been distributed amongst the poor of the city
“To arrange this fantasia for nyckelharpa (37 keys in 3 rows, tuned from bottom to top DGDA) I changed the key from the source notation (in The Renaissance Guitar transcribed by Frederick Noad, 1974) to get as many open strings as possible, ensuring the sympathetic strings would resonate in their best ‘alla-harpa’ style. I wanted each arpeggio in the first section to begin loud, but fade even as each note was added. The dynamics in this section are therefore quite unlike contemporary Spanish guitar versions.
“The opening arpeggiated passages and string-crossing section later on suit the nyckelharpa, but other parts presented some difficulties. At one point in the manuscript Mudarra’s notes state “from here to near the end there are some discords, if played well they do not sound bad”. In this section some notes had to be missed out. This was because the tuning and arrangement of keys on the nyckelharpa meant certain passages couldn’t be played on adjacent strings as required, e.g. the section with the rising bass line. I did my best to maintain the essence of the music.
“The recording technician for this piece was Louis Bingham and the recording location was St Mary’s Church, Berry Pomeroy. The church was built in the 1490’s by Sir Richard de Pomeroy. Its foundation stone would have been laid at about the same time that Columbus made his first journey to America and just fifty years before this piece by Mudarra was published, so it seemed like an appropriate location for the recording.
“The panels of the mediaeval rood screen depict ‘apostles, saints and doctors of the church’.
The images are believed to have been defaced during the English Civil War, around 1640 by Oliver Cromwell’s Roundhead Troops.
” By chance I chose Mudarra’s piece for January, and there is an important connection between the UK and Seville during this month – marmalade. Bitter oranges were originally native to southeastern Asia and had been growing wild for centuries. They were introduced to Spain by the Moors in the C10th when the Taifa of Seville was an Arabic kingdom. In the C12th a cross between a pomelo and mandarin began to be cultivated in Seville. These fruits became known as Seville oranges and were imported to England and Scotland from the late C15th onwards. In England sweets made of orange peel and sugar brought from Britain’s colonies in the C17th developed into the manufacture of marmalade. In December and January the fruits appear, and almost all those from Seville’s 31,000 trees are now exported to the UK for marmalade making. Interestingly, in Iberia the conserve is made from quinces (marmelos), not oranges, and the name marmalade derives from that fruit, not oranges. “