Centres of Polyphony


According to the Garland Encyclopedia article written by the expert of the Portugal traditional music and polyphony, Castelo-Branco (2000), vocal polyphonic singing occurs in few isolated pockets of northern and southern Portugal. In the mountainous north part of Portugal these are the districts of Viana do Castelo, Braga and Aveiro. In the central part of the north of Portugal there is the district of Viseu, and in central-east Portugal the district of Castelo-Branco. Another important region of traditional polyphony is in the district of Beja in the southern part of Portugal.
The polyphonic traditions are mostly connected to the European major-minor harmonic system. Two-, three- and four-part singing in Portugal is based on European triadic harmonies and parallel thirds.
The scales are mostly European major and minor, but in the Beja and Castelo-Branco districts older scale systems are also used. The melodies in the central, eastern and south Portugal polyphonic traditions use melismatic ornaments (but not in the Northwestern districts). In most of the polyphonic regions women sing polyphonic songs. Only in southern Portugal (district Beja in Alentejo) is polyphony primarily a part of the male repertoire.

Vocal monophony with oriental ornaments and the brilliant tradition of flamenco is so dominating in Spanish musicology that Garland’s article on the music of Spain fails to mention the presence of vocal polyphony in the traditional music of any of the regions of Spain.
According to available information, the tradition of vocal polyphony is still present in several regions of Spain: Valencia, Balears, Catalonia Aragon, Murcia, Navarra, and particularly among the Basques. According to Ayats and Martinez, “In these regions, oral polyphony was sung in the non-religious repertoire (i.e. ballads) but above all, it was related to religious brotherhoods; they were sung during processions to praise the patron saint through the ‘goigs’ [chant to a patron saint]”. The musical language of the polyphonic traditions of most of these regions is heavily influenced by the late European harmonic style.
The tradition of vocal polyphony in the province Albacete in eastern Spain features totally different characteristics: a long pedal drone, a richly ornamented melodic line with descending undulating melody, development in free rhythm, and scales using chromatic elements.

The oldest inhabitants of Spain (and arguably the whole of Western Europe), the Basques speak their own unique pre-Indo-European language and demonstrate tremendous historical and musical continuity. For example, the ancient, 22.000-year-old bird-bone flute with three holes, found in the city of Izturitz in France, a part of the Basque country, demonstrates quite clear connections with txistu – the contemporary three-hole flute of the Basques (Laborde, 2000: 314, 316).
In the notes to “The World Collection of Recorded Folk Music” (1984) Constantine Brailoiu mentions the predilection of Basques for singing in two parts (in thirds) as a widely known fact. A special article on Basque music at the Garland Encyclopedia fails to mention this fact, and only the presence of a CD “Polyphonies Basques” in “Audiovisual Resources” gives the reader an idea about this fact. Two-part singing among the Basques, as in most other Spanish regional styles of vocal polyphony, does have obvious traces of the influence of the European major-minor system. Parallel thirds and sixths are prevalent here. The music flow is strictly organized metro-rhythmically and the major scales dominate:

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