Centres of Polyphony

Lithuania is the biggest out of all three Baltic countries and historically held a leading role in medieval Eastern Europe. Another interesting historical fact is that Lithuania was the last country in Europe to officially adopt Christianity in the 14th century.
Lithuania is particularly well known as a homeland of the unique polyphonic singing style known as sutartines. Although the term sutartines means “agreement”, or “cohesion”, sutartines is well known as the “kingdom of the dissonances”. To be more precise, we need to know that there are a few different styles of sutartines, based on different principles of polyphony (such as unison-heterophonic, canonic and drone types of sutartines). Among all these types of sutartines the most well-known and truly unique type is the so-called “secondal sutartines”. The most important feature of secondal sutartines is the abundance of secondal dissonances. More precisely, in this type of sutartines seconds sound almost constantly:
The technical means to achieve constant singing in seconds is very interesting. Singing in parallel seconds is always challenging for singers. So if you try to sing two parallel melodies with the distance of a major second between the parts all the time, you will soon find out how difficult this is to do.

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Like many other polyphonic traditions of Europe, the Greek tradition of vocal polyphony became known only after the Second World War, during the 1950s. One of the reasons for this could be the fact that Greek music is mostly monophonic. As a matter of fact, together with Romania, Greece could be considered to be one of the most monophonic countries in the Balkans. At the same time, unlike Romania, where the major part of polyphonic tradition seems to be mostly brought there by Macedonian migrants from other parts of the Balkans, Greek polyphonic traditions seem to be an autochthonous survival of the musical culture of the Balkans. style, with a pentatonic structure, involves at least three vocal parts: a melodic line, a fixed drone (ison) sustaining the tonic, and a klostis the song and embroiders the melody with a yodeling voice”. We could add here the predominance of the vertical coordination of the parts on seconds and fourths.
According to the common view of ethnomusicologists, most Greek traditional music is monophonic, both solo and unison. Only in two regions, geographically situated on opposite sides of the country, are vocal forms of traditional polyphony found. These two regions are Epirus (Epir), the Northwestern corner of the country, and the Dodecanese islands (island Rhodes) – the isolated Southeastern island part of the country. Most interestingly, these polyphonic traditions, isolated from each other, retained some important common features.
Mountainous Epirus has traditionally been considered to be the region with the most archaic element of culture and ethnography in Greece, and one of the richest regions in musical traditions. A good description of the three-part polyphonic tradition of Epirus is given in an article by Cowan: “This musical ‘embroiderer”, who alternately leads”.

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Albanian polyphony was very late to come to the attention of European scholars. It was only during the 1950s that Ramadan Sokoli brought southern Albanian part-singing tradition to the attention of scholars. Soon scholars from the then- East Germany, with the help of Ramadan Sokoli, recorded and then published one of the best collections of post-war Europe (Stockmann et al., 1965). Soon it became clear that Albanian polyphony is one of the richest in the Balkans.
Albania is traditionally divided (by the river Shkumbin) into two roughly equal parts – North Albania and South Albania (called respectively Gegs and Tosks). Polyphony is found in both regions, although the distribution is unequal. In northern Albania polyphony is relatively rare, and is mostly found in the western part of northern Albania, among the high mountains. This region is known for the survival of older singing styles, with narrow-range melodies and strained styles of singing, common to most of the singing styles of the central Balkans (Sugarman, 2000:994). The population of this region is known as Malisori. Characterizing northern Albanian music and particularly polyphony, Jane Sugarman wrote: “Though most older styles of women’s singing are monophonic, women in Southwestern Kosova and western Macedonia also sing two-voiced polyphony. Against a narrow-ranged melody sung by a soloist, one or more women sing a lower vocal line that sometimes duplicates pitches of the melody and sometimes strikes a pitch a second or third below it. Men in the same districts in Kosova sing only in unison, but in western Macedonia men have their own polyphonic styles of singing, consisting of a melodic line sung against a drone” (Sugarman, 2000: 995).

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Speaking about Macedonian music we should remember that the ethnic Macedonian territory is divided between several Balkan countries, and only Macedonians living in Yugoslavia have political unity (first within the Yugoslavian Federation and from 1991 as a fully independent country). As the singing traditions of ethnic Macedonians seem to be one of the most polyphonic in the Balkan region, we have already discussed the polyphonic traditions of Macedonians living in Romania and Bulgaria. According to T. Bicevski, different types of polyphony exist in Macedonian traditional songs. The most prominent is the Balkan traditional singing drone-type vocal polyphony (both pedal and rhythmic) with dissonant intervals. When the main melody has several (and often ornamented) pitches, the drone polyphony seems to be “in between” the pedal and rhythmic drone types. The drone can be on one pitch only, or can change (usually by a major second up, although it can move a third and a fourth as well).

These movements of the bass often cause the appearance of more seconds. Heterophony is another type of polyphony among Macedonians. According to Tim Rice: “polyphonic singing occurs in three zones. Female singers in the east employ a two-part melody-and-drone style similar to eastern Serbian and Southwestern Bulgarian styles… Male and female singers in the Northwest sing an accompanying part that moves in relation to the melody to emphasize the interval of a second. Macedonians from the areas around the town of Kostur (in Greek, Kastoria) near the Greek-Albanian border sing in two- and three-part styles resembling southern Albanian singing”. The melody range of polyphonic songs is narrow. Part of the polyphonic songs are non-metrical, and the other part (particularly those that accompany dances) has a precise metre. Together with the symmetrical simple metres (like 2/4) there are some of the well-known Balkan asymmetrical “limping” metres as well (like 7/8). The tradition of contemporary polyphony, based on the use of parallel thirds, is popular throughout Macedonia. On the other hand, major part of the tradition of the old drone singing with dissonant seconds disappeared between the 1950s and the 1980s. State politics, declaring the old traditions and traditional singing style old-fashioned and backward in the 1950s, played an important role in this process.

Polyphonic singing is an important feature of this country, which consists mainly of forest-covered mountains. A few regional styles are distinguished in Slovenia. As in most of the other Balkan people’s musical traditions, older and more contemporary styles of traditional polyphony are present here as well. The tradition of contemporary polyphonic singing is spread wider than the tradition of the older style. The reg rt singing with a drone. Tharing and is being replaced l of a second, with some thirds and fourths and unison cadences”. This style is an interesting combination of the earlier singing style (singing in seconds) combined with the later polyphonic style (singing in thirds and the cadences in fifths or unisons).

Most of the polyphonic songs are performed in two groups, as an antiphon, sometimes with an interesting overlapping of both groups in different harmonies as in the following example: Contemporary style polyphony is based on the European classical musical language and traditional European four-part arrangements. This style is taking over the older style of drone polyphony. According to Omerzel-Terlep there are several styles of contemporary polyphonic styles in Slovenia, ranging from two-part singing up to five-part singing. The most popular style of contemporary polyphony among young people is three-part singing with the main melody in the middle.

Older style polyphony (Czekanowska, 1983:148, #77) he reason for this long survival is well known for countries communities retaineda d on the local traditions of polyphony with narrow-interval scales. Ex. The tradition of a specific “shaking” (throat thrill) style is characteristic, for example, for the district of Sinj: “the initial singer ‘drives’ (goni) the opening syllabic recitation and ‘sing voj’ (voika – “holds a long note”), while the second voice ‘shakes’ (trese – ‘performs a glottal ornament’)” (Bezic, 1967-1968, cited from Forry, 2000:926). Another Croatian polyphonic style, widely distributed in other areas of the Balkans, is a more contemporary singing style “na bas”. In this style (which is believed to had been introduced to Croatia from Slovenia) the melody range is wider (often a sixth), the accompanying part often moves in parallel thirds with the main melody, and in the cadences goes a fourth down in a final sound of the fifths. Another element of polyphonic music in this region is the abundance of polyphonic aerophones (double flutes and ree ds). The music played on them is closely connected to the vocal singing style. Another interesting region is the Istrian Peninsula and a few islands (including the island K rk).

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The Bosnian and Herzegovian rural areas were mostly isolated from the major developments of social and economical infrastructure and retained a big part of their traditio
nal culture. Their culture represents a mixture of the elements of the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods. As a result of the efforts of visiting Czech folklorist Ludvik Kuba (in 1889) and native scholars (particularly Cvjetko Rihtman few decades later) the tradition of vocal polyphony was brought to the attention of European ethnomusicologists relatively early. Polyphonic singing is widespread throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main type of polyphony is drone. The drone is usually performed by a group of singers, and the main melody is performed by a soloist. The melody usually has a small range (third or fourth). Two-part singing dominates, although a three-part singing tradition has also been documented. In eastern Herzegovina the melodic line often uses special techniques: shaking of the voice (“potresanie”) and exclamations on “oi” (“oikanie”). These techniques are used in table songs, which survived despite the hostile attitude towards the table (and drinking) traditions of the official Moslem religion. The drone often consists of two components: the so-called “straight voice” (the pedal drone) and the ornamented drone with added small ornaments. This added ornamented drone is traditionally mentioned as a “sobbing” (jekanie) or “cutting” (sjecanie) voice. Melodies develop in a specific manner as a “crawling” across often the half-tone intervals. The range of each part is often very narrow (minor third).

The new style of vocal polyphony (called na bas), influenced by European professional polyphony, has been documented in Bosnia and Herzegovina from the beginning of the 20th century. This style is based on parallel thirds and specific cadencial fifths. Interesting examples of the mixture of old and new polyphonic styles has been also documented: “Older versions of Bosnian na bas singing sometimes use seconds in alternation with thirds” (Petrovich, 2000:964)

Montenegro, a small mountainous country, is a part of Serbia and Montenegro state unity. The Montenegrins still mostly live in predominantly agricultural societies and retain many elements of their traditional culture. Unfortunately, although scholars of a few other countries did a series of fieldwork and publications, due to the lack of a national school of ethnomusicology, the traditional music of Montenegro is possibly the least studied among the Balkan peoples. Ethnomusicologists note the existence of four regiona g to the available incomp an countries, the Montenegro singing tradition is mostly monophonic (solo). The tradition of vocal polyph l musical styles in Montenegro (Petrovich, 2000:957). Acordinlete information from Montenegro, unlike most of the Balk ony has been documented only in the Southwestern part of Montenegro, on the border with Herzegovina. Here on both sides of the border the same “Balkan” style of polyphony is documented, based on the wide use of drone and the coordination of parts in major seconds. This kind of polyphony, according to Petrovich, “occurs in shepherds’ and wedding songs of the Southwest region of Montenegro” (Petrovich, 2000:958). Interestingly, Albanian migrants from the mountainous area of Malesi (the Montenegro-Albanian border), the so-called “Malisori”, also sing polyphonically in Montenegro. Here is a rare published example of Montenegro two-part singing with almost constant sounding seconds:

Unlike the Bulgarian traditions of vocal polyphony that are spread through only the Southwestern part of the country, a big part of Serbian ethnic territory is quite homogenous in terms of the distribution of the tradition of vocal polyphony. The only region where vocal polyphony has not been documented is Southwest Serbia and Kosovo (where Serbs actually represent the minority. Forry, 2000a:953). onal styles of vocal polyphony can be distinguished in Serbia: eastern into a drone-like section with the sharp second. The scale system is very specific for this region. Two main regi and western. The difference between them is mostly expressed in the position of the main melody and the accompanying part. The eastern Serbian polyphonic style (or more precisely, the Southeastern style) is quite close to the Bulgarian and Macedonian styles, with the drone in the lower part and the predominance of sharp secondal dissonances. Only two-part singing has been documented here. Songs are always performed by the soloist and a group of basses. Soloist always starts the song and the group ( drone) joins the soloist with a drone. The lead melody usually has a small range (third or fourth). The drone is often pedal (sung on “a”). The rhythm is free (rubato). Serbs sing with open voice, with a tense sound, emphasizing and obviously enjoying dissonant intervals. Unlike the Southeastern style of Serbian polyphony, according to Forry, the western style positions the accompanying part higher than the main melody (Forry, 2000a:942-943).

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Bulgarian traditional polyphony is one of the best known in the world, reaching the commercial music market in the 1980s and involving popular mega-star artists and producers (like George Harrison). Of course, it was mostly the superb arrangements of Bulgarian composers that became extremely popular (and not the original unarranged traditio al songs), but the Bulgarian traditional singing style with dissonant seconds and the cutting open style of singing was the crucial element and the real star in the great success of Bulgarian traditional polyphony in the 1980s. spite the international success and the status of a national musical symbol, the tradition of vocal polyphony is spread through only a relative estern quarter of the country. Thereforen Bulgarian polyphony is one of the best studied in the world by several generations of Bulgarian ethnomusicologists. Starting from the end of the 19th century, when the traditions of vocal polyphony were brought to the attention by Angel Bukoreshtliev, and then in 1925, when Vasil Stoin wrote about the possible Bulgarian origins of two-part singing in Europe (at that time almost none of the other Balkan polyphonic traditions were known) Bulgarian ethnomusicology went a long way and rightfully boasts an array of important works on Bulgarian traditional polyphony (Kaufman, 1963, 1968; Katzarova-Kukudova, 1962; Kaufman, Todorov, 1967, Stoin, E., 1970. Earlier part of Bulgarian scholarship was reviewed by Barbara Krader (1969). Heavily supported during the Communist regime in Bulgaria, the polyphonic singing style with dissonant seconds became a symbol of national music in Bulgaria, although in recent “post-communist” years the popularity of other genres (for example, wedding instrumental ensembles) has increased and the popularity of choral polyphonic singing, devoid of state support, somehow dropped (Rice, 1994). One of the possible reasons for this could be the fact, that de ly small part of Bulgaria – in the Southw 107 the tradition of polyphonic singing does not represent the majority of the population of Bulgaria.

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