January 10, 2005
Early meets world

DanteTroubadours.jpgRecently I bought a very cheap, very second-hand copy of this CD. It had a slightly exotic sound about it, even slightly Indian. The singing style in particular was more Indian classical than Western classical. Early music meets world music.

This CD, which was made in 1982, would suggest that for some time now classical musicians of the early sort been learning from traditional musicians of other parts of the world how early western music might have been done. The trouble with the West, from the early music point of view, is that it is so dynamic that past traditions just get steamrollered, in art as in everything else, and if you depend on social continuity and there are no important physical relics involved, then nothing survives. With music, the only physical relics are the instruments, or pictures of them and descriptions of them. The sound of the music itself is lost.

Less dynamic parts of the world may oblige their people to remain stuck in poverty, but they do offer indirect evidence, in the form of surviving musical traditions, of how the Western music of long ago used to sound. Certainly Martin Best, the man in charge of this CD, seems to have made use of such knowledge. That, at any rate, is how it sounds to me.

And then last Saturday, on the BBC Radio 3 Early Music Show, they broadcast some medieval music from Santiago de Compostela, in north western Spain. This time, the "world" connection was made explicit, because in one of the pieces they played, a traditional Arabic orchestra (Fes Abdelkrim Rais Andalusian Orchestra) was brought in to help. I think I have that right.

I'm outside my core musical competence here, but I find this coming together of "early" and "world" musics to be most interesting.

My impression is that early music has not always been like this, despite that Martin Best CD. Early music has mostly been quiet and precious. And world music has been a world away. Yet the connection ought to be obvious.

Even more interesting is the way that early music and world music are both now converging on being less authentic (the authentic thing having now been recorded) and more entertaining. Again, that's just a casual impression.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:18 AM
Category: Music miscellaneous