You might have heard musicians talk about “early world music” referring to groups like Constantinople or instrumentalist like Ross Daly. But is there an exact definition of this particular musical trend and why should you, as an early music enthusiast or a world music lover, be interested?
Please listen to a beautiful Swedish ‘folkkoral’, Du livsens bród, while we try to come up with an answer
Early music is commonly defined as European classical music from the Middle Ages up to the Classical period.
Definition from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_music
The term World music includes traditional music of any culture that are created and played by indigenous musicians or that are closely informed or guided by indigenous music of the regions of their origin.
World music includes: Other non-Western music, including non-Western popular music and non-Western classical music.
World music does not include: Western Art music (i.e. European classical music)
Definition from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_music
To judge from the above mentioned definitions we’re apparently dealing with two genres with very little, if anything, in common. But is it really so? These two genre definitions are probably made by music professionals trying to incircle their respective domains. To pin down a musical genre is a common and even useful task, but we often tend to forget that a genre definition is highly depending on the context, i.e. the time and place in which it’s defined. Classical music was not always ‘classical’.
Instead of focusing on the intersection of the two genres, what if we took a look at the union. Would that make sense? It would indeed. Combinations of western art music and non-western music, as well as combinations of western art music and popular folk music from all over the world, have been practiced throughout history, at least from the 8th century up till the present, and maybe even before. Just to mention a few examples:
- Persian art music, 10th to 12th century
- Cantigas de Santa Maria (songs from the court of the Spanish
king Alfonso X, 13th century
- Muwashahat from Al-andaluz, 8th century to 15th
- Turkish classical music, 18th century
- Swedish folkkoral, 16th century to 20th century
- Latin-American baroque music, 18th century
- Cuban dance music, 19th century
… rather a perfect match
Western and non-western music seem to combine perfectly, as do classical and popular music, and that is even more true if we focus on the period that defines Early music, i.e. from medieval times up to the classical period.
Are we talking about music for museums? No, A great part of the music from the mentioned period was never written down, primarily because the composer and interpreter was one and the same person. The music was rather created applying a large set of modal and rhythmic formulas. The skill of the musician/composer lied in the ability to combine and personalize the modal expressions, i.e. to build upon a modal tradition. Any music, even contemporary, which still applies modal traditions and techniques could reasonably be classified as “early”.
Let therefore the term Early world music cover the entire register of musical expression involved in this early modal tradition, that combine western and non-western art music with popular music from anywhere in the world.
Music from the musical plane extended by the axes of time and cultural propagation, so to speak
El mundo es un pañuelo – “the world is a handkerchief”, as the Spaniards wisely put it. All we need to do is to enjoy it!