Centres of Polyphony


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.

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