IT HAS often been said that music is an international language. Proof of this is the folk music of the world. Enjoyment of it is not confined to the land of its origin. People can and often do enjoy hearing the music of lands other than their own. Getting acquainted with the music of other lands can be a delightful experience.
If you were to travel to every section of our earth you would find that each nation or group of people has its own characteristic songs and dances. Each one has contributed its own â€œaccentâ€ to the â€œlanguageâ€ of music. And this â€œaccentâ€ is generally so distinctive that a person can identify the land in which a certain song or dance originated, in much the same way that he can tell a foreignerâ€™s nationality by his accent.
Most folk music was not composed by professional composers. Some of it has existed for thousands of years. In early times tunes were made up by musically inclined persons and these were handed down from generation to generation. The words of songs dealt with love, peace, war, drinking, fictional characters and amusing incidents. And people danced to the tunes, each group developing its own style.
So when people got together on social occasions in village marketplaces, in homes or around campfires, they sang and danced to music that had been handed down from their forefathers. Of course, the topography and climate of their land as well as their history, language, customs and temperament helped to mold their songs and dances. And these are the things that give each groupâ€™s folk music that peculiar â€œaccentâ€ that identifies it as belonging to them.
The Music of Europe
Much of the greatest music of the Western world was produced in Europe. From the seventeenth century onward a number of outstanding musical composers wrote a great quantity of music both for instruments and the voice. Their orchestral music called for many stringed instruments, as well as the wind and percussion types. Their beautiful concertos featured a solo instrument with an orchestra for accompaniment. And there were moving works that called for a large chorus of voices along with an orchestra.
Europe is known for its operas. As the play is acted out on a stage, with sets and costumes, the presentation is made more moving because the words are usually sung rather than spoken. An orchestra accompanying the singers adds dramatic effect. Operettas, like operas, have plots, but they are lighter and the music is gay.
Oratorios began in this part of the world. These compositions usually deal with Bible history. No stage props and costumes are used. Soloists sing the various parts, and a chorus and orchestra are employed. G. F. Handel wrote great Biblical oratorios dealing with Joseph and his brothers, Israelâ€™s deliverance from Egypt, Joshua, Deborah, Jephthah, Samson, Saul, Solomon, Athaliah, Belshazzar and the fall of Babylon, Esther and the Messiah. In many of these thrilling masterpieces the divine name Jehovah appears.
At times these composers dug into the treasury of European folk music. They would either use a folk tune outright or would compose a melody having the distinctive characteristics of a nationâ€™s folk music. At the beginning of their composition they often indicated that it was in the style of the music of a certain land.
As for the folk music of Europe, the most distinctive is that of Spain. The Moorish occupation of this land from the eighth to the fifteenth century C.E., as well as Gypsies, left their imprint on Spainâ€™s music. Perhaps no other people have as many different kinds of dances as do the Spanish, yet that Spanish â€œaccentâ€ of vitality is evident in all of them. Adding to this â€œaccentâ€ are the instruments used by their folk musicians, namely, the guitar, the tambourine and the castanets with their clacking sound.
The Western music of Europe might be said to find a basic representative in the German. It stresses the bright-sounding major scale and is rich in harmony. Italian music is generally more melodious than is German, and is much lighter. The folk music of the French is also very melodious; however, the emphasis in their music is usually more on rhythm.
The Oriental flavor in European music is especially apparent in that of Russia. This could well be due to the Mongols who overran that country in the thirteenth century. Also, the deprivation of the people under the despotic czars no doubt helped to give Russian music its minor, sad strain. Further, the long, bleak winters there contributed to this melancholy â€œaccent.â€
Scandinavian music might be said to lie somewhere between that of the Germans and that of the Russians. Finnish music seems to have an Oriental tinge about it. However, many folk tunes of Denmark and Holland are quite similar to German folk music. Polish folk music shows both Russian and French influences.
Today it is usually the Europeans living in the country who do not merely listen but sing and dance their folk music. Those living in the cities are more inclined to go to concert halls and to listen to music on the radio.
That Latin-American â€œAccentâ€
Latin-American music is a combination of Spanish, African and, depending on the country, native Indian music. In this music the African influence is especially noticeable in the greater use of drums, the strong stress on rhythm and on variety in rhythm. Examples of these characteristics are found in such dances as the conga, the rumba, the samba and the beguine. In these dances, as well as others, the rhythm is sharply defined, being highlighted by drums and other percussive instruments. It is this quality that makes this music so catchy and moves one to want to dance to it.
Among Latin Americans there are many who like to have music all the timeâ€”and loud. So it is not unusual for them to have music on the radio all day long and frequently far into the night, with the volume turned up full blast. CafÃ©s with jukeboxes and shops with radios add to the sound that can be heard by a good part of the neighborhood. At social affairs a band may be hired, or a phonograph turned up to full volume may provide the music. Of course, preferences vary. In some sections, people will pick up a guitar or accordion and provide their own music, singing or dancing together.