Patchwork Europe

Early Recordings 1911-1954

Wergo SM 1626 2
Ireland - Cashin, Cawley & Ford: Bashful Bachelor + Sunshine Hornpipe
Scotland - William Hannah's Band: Scottish or Foursome Reel
England - Jack Armstrong and his Northumbrian Barnstormers: Morpeth Rant
France - Jean Pradal et Martin Cayla: Polka Piquée
Portugal - Ermelinda Vitória: Fado da Minha Aldeia
Spain - La Niña de los Peines: Sevillanas
Mallorca - Agrupación Folklórica de Valldemossa: Parado de Valldemossa
Norway - Gjermund Haugen: Markensmandagen
Denmark - Folkedanseorkestret: Hattemageren
Germany - Münchner Original-Terzett Georg Weinschütz: Tegernseer Landler
Switzerland - Urnäscher Streichmusik & Jodler Quartett: Alpufzug
Austria - Volkssänger-Familie Simboeck: Innviertler Landler
Italy - Nullo Romani: Buon principio d'anno
Sardinia - Efisio Melis: Mediana in re maggiore
Sicily - I Quattro Siciliani: Camporeale Bello
Finland - Erik Kivi: Punaliivi
Belarus - Gregory Matusewitch: Yiddisher Wulach
Poland - Eduard Mika i Tadeusz Zadroga: Staropolski kujawiak
Czech Republic/Slovakia - Sió Aladár és Zenekara: Mindenféle Szerelemnek
Hungary - Olah Lajos: Biró uram és sárga cserebogár
Serbia/Croatia - Verni's Troubadours Tamburica Orchestra: Micika Polka
Albania - Riza Hakdin Me Shoket: Çelni ju moj lule çelni
Greece - Georgia Mittaki & Laikis Orchistras: Tha horepseis gero
Romania - Orhestra Traian Lascut: Doina si Ardeleana de la Sibiu
Ukraine - Ukrainska Orchestra Pawla Humeniuk: Zaporozec Polka
Russia - Sisters Fiodorov: Kukushka.
Cover picture

The first thing which has to be said of this 26-track pan-European compilation is that every single track is interesting - and that at least 20 of them are really enjoyable listening.  As can be seen from the above tracklist, pretty well every country with a definable local style has been included, and I'm fairly sure that most of the offerings will be new to almost all readers.

Mind you, if Reg Hall didn't quite manage a full musical picture of these islands in the 20 CDs of Voice of the People, then just a single track from each country can hardly be said to be representative.  However, that's obviously not the intention here and one might imagine that tracks have been chosen specifically to underline the differences between the European traditions ... more about this later.  It's also worth noting that the majority of the recordings were made in the USA.  The Notes state that the music of emigré communities were closer to the old traditions than those developing in the home countries.  While this may sometimes have been true (think about Irish music and dancing in England in the early-to-mid- 20th century), I have my doubts that this applies to the same extent in the US.  Andrea Kirkby, reviewing a CD of Balkan music, much of which was recorded in the US, commented:

The American recording industry was key in preserving the Balkan music traditions.  But was it a tradition that had changed because of the changed context?  We hear only a single bagpipe piece, and one piece each on fjell and kaval - instruments which, still much used in Bulgaria, didn't fit the dance band culture of the metropolis.  There's much more clarinet - an instrument admirably adapted for band performance.
I think that, as elsewhere in the booklet, a somewhat blinkered view is taken, and a broader, less tendentious approach would get us closer to the real truth of the situation.

It is, of course, impossible to say something about every one of the 26 tracks, and also to know whether my favourites after just a few listenings will remain so, but I offer my first impressions as follows.  Track 1, from Ireland (but a 1929 Chicago recording) - Cashin, Cawley & Ford: Bashful Bachelor + Sunshine Hornpipe inadvertently shows us how similar - not different! - Irish music was to its English counterpart in this period.  play Sound ClipIndeed, some friends and I were playing the second tune (as the un-dotted Alexander's Hornpipe) only last night in the pub!  Scotland is represented by William Hannah's Band on track 2 with a very characteristic Scottish or Foursome Reel, and England has Jack Armstrong and his Northumbrian Barnstormers with an interestingly different version of Morpeth Rant to that which is usually played these days. (sound clip)

play Sound ClipThe selections then move down the European western seaboard, and thence eastward through most of the continent, ending in Russia.  This final track - the Fiodorov Sisters, singing Kukushka is quite extraordinary; aside from the smoother vocal tone you could easily imagine that you were listening to some mondine - rice girls from the Po valley in northern Italy! (sound clip)  Along the journey from here to there we meet Jean Pradal and Martin Cayla with a splendid Auvergne accordion/cabrette Polka Piquée, and some first rate Lisbon fado - Ermelinda Vitória: Fado da Minha Aldeia.

play Sound ClipThere's some lovely Hardanger fiddling from Gjermund Haugen, with Markensmandagen on track 8, on track 12 there's the extraordinary Austrian Volkssänger-Familie Simboeck with Innviertler Landler (sound clip), whilst on track 14 we hear Sardinia's greatest launeddas maestro Efisio Melis with a Mediana in re maggiore.  Lots more good things abound, but I don't see the need to list them all here - buy the record yourself!

The booklet text by Christoph Wagner is well up to the standards we expect form this writer/producer, and tells us as much as we could reasonably expect about the performers, in a two-language booklet which will still fit (just) into a CD jewel case.  Sadly (in my opinion) he follows the modern trend of concentrating on the performers and omitting much information about the music being played.  I agree that this is better than the old way, which saw the performers as secondary (and often not worth mentioning at all), but I would like to know a little more than we get here.  Maybe a bigger booklet in a DVD case is the answer?

But his Introduction, titled The Thicket of Diversity, contains a couple of assertions with which I take issue.  Firstly - and least problematic - is his leading statement:

European folk music has not one sound but many.  There are countless sound-scapes between Sardinia and Norway, and from the Atlantic coast to the Urals. Each one is distinct.  All have their own character.  Europe means polyphony, a thicket of diversity where for millennia cultures have been flowing together and drifting apart, creating a musical patchwork.
On the surface, this sounds plausible - but as a lifelong musican who has followed with interest, and has actually played music from several European countries, I find that the most remarkable thing is how similar it all is.  True, at first hearing, foreign music does sound foreign - but it doesn't take long before it begins to fall into place, and you realise that you could probably play along with most of it in a way which, although it wouldn't contribute much, certainly wouldn't detract from the result.

No, my real problem comes when he rehearses the now old argument about the stability of the tradition:

Traditional music?  The term suggests constancy and permanence: familiar tunes and homely songs.  The melodies of the past seem to offer stability, in contrast to the ever faster innovations of the present.

However, this nostalgia is an illusion, a false idyll.  Many of the musical styles we now perceive as traditional were originally radical and modern.  They resulted from dramatic changes which shook the 19th century European world and turned it upside down.  The industrial revolution triggered technical innovations and social change on a massive scale ...

Everywhere folk musicians grabbed what was new: modern instruments, newly evolved dances such as the Polka, Mazurka and Bolero, the latest hits - all were incorporated into traditional styles.  If you made your living from music, you had to keep pace with current trends.

He's certainly correct to say that much of what we used to consider 'traditional' is actually quite modern, but it's a mistake to assume that what pertained in this period of 'dramatic changes which shook the 19th century European world and turned it upside down' applied to earlier periods, too.  The truth is that we really do not know much at all about traditional music making in Europe prior to the late 19th century - and it's a mistake to pretend that we do.  We might also consider the relevence to this argument of an ethnomusicological and anthropological concept called sociocultural inertia, which is defined as follows: a tendency on the part of any human group to retain the most deeply ingrained and highly valued elements of its lifestyle until acted upon by some powerful outside force.

I also feel that his confusion between 'traditional' music and 'folk' music (see above) undermines most of his contentions: 'traditional' and 'folk' are not necessarily the same thing!  Certainly some 'folk' musicians became international stars, played in the poshest concert halls around Europe, made several hundred records, or learned technique from classical masters (as did some of the players on this CD), but I would argue that in doing so they ceased to be 'traditional' musicians.  Personally, I don't believe that one can be a professional musician and remain a truly traditional one; 'He who pays the piper calls the tune'.

Mercifully, none of that detracts one iota from the splendid music on this CD - which is distributed by Harmonia Mundi in the UK, and is available from Klang Records at:

Rod Stradling - 8.3.06

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