Centres of Polyphony


Austria represents one of the most important vocal polyphonic cultures of Central Europe. As Goertzen and Larkey wrote, “No country in Europe has folk music more thoroughly wedded to the diatonic major mode and the fleshing out of harmony than Austria” (2000:671).
In popular imagination Austria is the country of the yodel, an extraordinary style of singing with wide melodic jumps, when the singer rapidly changes his voice back and forth from the usual (chest) voice to the falsetto (head) voice. Of course, the Tyrolean yodel is by no means a unique singing tradition throughout the world, but perhaps because of its location in the centre of Europe, the Austrian yodel is the best known. The popularity of the yodel ousted the polyphonic singing style of Austrian Tyrolean Alps. Therefore, not everyone realizes that the yodel-singing style is primarily connected to the group polyphonic singing tradition in the Alps region.
All styles of Tyrolean yodel and particularly the supporting harmonies bear the obvious influence of European professional major-minor harmony (Haid, 2005). I am not aware of any Tyrolean yodeling examples that are not based on the T-S-D harmonic system. Maybe that’s why “It is difficult to distinguish between older yodeling styles and several recent waves of commercial yodels”.
Although the polyphonic style and the tradition of the yodel are best known from the mountainous central and western parts of Austria, these traditions exist throughout most of the country (including the vicinity of the capital city – east and north of Vienna).
Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart – is part of the spectacular mountainous region, together with the Salzkammergut region, famous for its lakes, Styria and part of Upper Austria. They are all stylistically close. These spectacular regions are the home of very rich polyphonic traditions and yodel: “Its most typical forms of vocal music respond to this geography. There are three- and four-part homophonic yodels, other multi-part mountain pasture songs, and the Almschroa, a solo dairymaid’s yodel” (Goertzen & Larkey, 2000:673).
According to Messner, one of the most famous styles of Austrian Alps was in Carinthia in southern Austria. Five part male singing still exists in this area, although the original hexachordal polyphonic character changed into more usual late 19th century harmonic style. Three-part singing is characteristic for women’s singing style, and mixed four- and five-part singing style also exists.
Different bordering regions of Austria feature singing styles of the bordering countries as well. Besides, part of the Tyrol with its characteristic singing style is found in neighbouring northern Italy as well.

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