We are delighted to share a new review of one of Robert Letellier’s latest books with us, the brilliant Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète: A Parable of Politics, Faith and Transcendence. Please see below for the full review, authored by Robert Gibson, and don’t forget you can grab 60% off Letellier’s The Bible in Music for the duration of January by clicking here. Continue reading
A few weeks ago, we added the English and French versions of Jean-Michel Pennetier’s interview with Robert Letellier to the blog (please click here to read it). We are now delighted to share a Spanish translation for our Spanish followers – please see below to read the interview in full.
Mi interés por Meyerbeer comenzó cuando era muy joven, a mediados de la década del sesenta. Leía sobre Rossini y Wagner y siempre me cruzaba con el nombre de Meyerbeer. Me quedaba perplejo ante los puntos de vista extremos y contradictorios acerca suyo y por la enorme potencia de los sentimientos que su nombre parecía provocar. Ningún otro compositor parecía desencadenar tan intensas reacciones. ¿Por qué? También leí sobre él en una introducción a la ópera para niños y me intrigó particularmente la historia del Ballet de las Monjas en Robert le Diable. Cuando quise escuchar algo de su música, me encontré con que no había prácticamente nada grabado, a no ser por la Marcha de Coronación, ‘Ombre légère’ y ‘O Paradis’, aún cuando todos los otros compositores parecían estar muy bien representados en los catálogos. Pronto descubrí que había casi una prohibición para interpretar su música y una tendencia a restarle importancia, ridiculizarla o a despreciarlo a él como un charlatán o un judío sólo interesado en hacer dinero. Uno siempre leía acerca de las actitudes desdeñosas de Wagner, Schumann, Mendelssohn y el menosprecio de Heine. Aún los libros de texto más leídos de aquella época (como el influyente libro de Donald Grout sobre ópera) era despectivo. Y aún así, Meyerbeer había sido alguna vez sumamente famoso y popular; no es posible ser un compositor representado en todo el mundo por casi un siglo y, a la vez, un proveedor engañoso de bienes de mala calidad.
Después de un tiempo, en 1968 encontré una vieja partitura de Les Huguenots y, al mismo tiempo, el viejo sello Saga lanzó un LP de viejas regrabaciones de la ‘Época Dorada’. Fue a través de los crujidos de estos viejos recitales que escuché a algunos de los legendarios cantantes de ópera entonar melodías de esta otrora famosa partitura. Recién en 1971 pude escuchar Les Huguenots maravillosamente grabada por Decca, con la dirección de Richard Bonynge. La experiencia me resultó abrumadora, “uno de los más grandes momentos de mi vida” (para citar la famosa observación Hans von Bülow).
A medida que yo crecía, escuché sobre la edición de las cartas y diarios de Meyerbeer, y añoraba porder leerlos. Necesitaba saber alemán para hacerlo (mi lengua madre es el inglés, la de la familia de mi padre era el francés), de modo que estudié alemán en la universidad. Los estudios editados por Heinz y Gudrun Becker (me he hecho amigo de ambos) aparecieron muy lentamente, y cuando el profesor Becker se retiró antes de completar su trabajo, quise poder yo mismo hacer algo y pedí una copia del diario manuscrito del compositor de la Staatsbibliothek en Berlín. Para mi sorpresa, me enviaron el material y, los siguientes pocos años, dediqué la mayor parte de mi vida a transcribir y traducir estos documentos primordiales, de modo de poder saber la verdad sobre Meyerbeer a través de sus propios escritos privados.
Pero es la música de Meyerbeer la que debería portar su fama y reputación, y en tanto más óperas suyas fueron puestas a disposición tanto en disco como en producciones en vivo, pude prontamente explorar el contenido artístico en mayor detalle y escribir sobre ellas. Contrariamente a cuanto muchos comentadores, académicos y críticos habían dicho, sus óperas (y las historias de Eugène Scribe) me parecieron ricas y bellas, y llenas de ideas maravillosas y una exploración seria de algunos de los temas más importantes en la vida, estando cada ópera caracterizada por su propio humor, color y simbolismo.
Me encontré también sumamente atraído por toda la historia de la ópera francesa de la primera mitad del siglo XIX, por aquellas maravillosas palabras grand opéra y opéra-comique. Dado que mis ancestros son en parte franceses, tengo un aprecio intuitivo por la elegancia y frescura de este tipo de música. No podía entender por qué la nación francesa misma parecía/parece ignorar la bellísima herencia de su legado lírico hasta 1870. La desatención a Auber me resulta particularmente incomprensible, considerando lo llena de vida y gracia que está su música.
Acerca de Meyerbeer
El destino de la reputación de Meyerbeer, el giro violento de admiración casi universal a total denigración y olvido es uno de los más grandes misterios y desafíos de la historia de la música. También resulta poco normal y ampliamente exagerado, como si Meyerbeer se hubiera convertido en el chivo expiatorio y víctima de muchos de los prejuicios artísticos y asuntos sociales de fines del siglo XIX y del siglo XX. Esto se vincula al hecho de Meyerbeer ser judío, a su riqueza personal y gran éxito, a las compejidades que implican las identitades alemana y francesa, al oprobio acarreado por el criticismo devastador de Wagner (en lo personal y artístico), los cambios en los gustos musicales, la universal y casi fanática adoración por Wagner (tanto en Francia como en otros países) y los cambios en la estética, alejándose de la ópera heroica y de la tradición belcantista. Se ha repudiado a la historia como tema de una ópera, del mismo modo que se han dejado de lado el simbolismo y la naturaleza mismos. El poder visceral del drama en el contexto de escenarios históricos es central para comprender la urgencia estética de Meyerbeer. Esto se refleja en los desarrollos bizarros de la escenificación de ópera a partir de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, cuando los conceptos Meyerhold y Brecht transformaron el Verfremdungseffekt en una característica universal de la escenificación moderna (el llamado Regietheater).
Las óperas de Meyerbeer tratan las grandes realidades de la historia y la religión, la política y los prejuicios, y también la mitología y la naturaleza del valor y la dignidad humanos por encima de la ideología y la tiranía religiosa. Tanto en el tema como en la forma musical, él solía apuntar a estas cuestiones; tanto él como Scribe demostraron ser grandes innovadores y pensadores de la condición humana. La bondad, el amor y el sacrificio importan y tienen el poder de modificar el comportamineto humano. La adaptación por parte de Meyerbeer de las estructuras formales y de las prácticas musicales de su época (tanto en Alemania, como en Italia y Francia) establecieron nuevas direcciones en el género operístico y en la dramaturgia y estilo de la música lírica. El alegato de ‘efectos sin causa’ carece completamente de sentido, dado que toda la ópera y, de hecho, cualquier tipo de música, precisa de ideas de impacto y aún de innovaciones que la sigan haciendo interesante.
Acerca de Les Huguenots:
Esta ópera trata un tema que resulta cada vez más apremiante en nuestros propios tiempos: el lugar de la ideología política y religiosa en las vidas de hombres y mujeres comunes. ¿Importan más los seres humanos que las ideas? Los registros terribles de la Reforma y las Guerras de Religión (1517-1648) deberían haber sido una lección para dar un vuelco a nuestras actitudes en pos de la vida y la tolerancia, pero es una lección que parece no poder ser aprendida jamás.
La música de esta ópera es dramática, altamente melódica, de ricas texturas armónicas y llena de color en la orquesta. Afecta también las emociones y el inconsciente de quien la escucha, y debería, a través del poder de la escena, permitir que ciertos detalles de la música se destaquen. Los bellos jardines de Chenonceau se contrastan con el terror de las calles y callejones oscuros de la terrible Noche de San Bartolomé. La ideología de muchos de los personajes se transforma, a través de acciones y gestos de amor y autosacrificio, en un idealismo compasivo y de perdón. Debe haber poesía y belleza misteriosa en la mise-en-scène, en la evocación de tiempos pasados y en la caracterización de los desafíos intemporales que implica el pasado en tema de política, religión y los errores cometidos por la humanidad.
La realidad de la terrible historia relatada necesita ser confrontada como un hecho histórico y como una recurrencia eterna de la condición humana. Meyerbeer, como judío y como alguien ajeno tanto a Berlín como a París, fue agudamente consciente de los temas que luego asumirían tamaña ferocidad, con devastadoras consecuencias, en el siglo XX. Él observa a católicos y protestantes con igual distancia y con el mismo interés, pudiendo conjurar los temas y modos de expresión de cada cual de modo maravilloso. Es por ello que su música resulta profética y la razón por la cual (con Halévy en La Juive) presenta actitudes de libertad y responsabilidad, de apertura y tolerancia que, aparecidas con la Revolución Francesa y las Guerras Napoleónicas, resultan de tanta actualidad. La música de Meyerbeer es dramáticamente poderosa, a la vez que fiel a la tradición de belleza expresada en melodías melifluas y en el espectro encantador de sus colores orquestales. Y nos habla de los más importantes desafíos de la historia y de la vida misma.
Robert Letellier is Cambridge Scholars’ most prolific author, with over a hundred books on opera and religion to his name. We are delighted to share a new review of Robert’s works on French Grand Opera, expertly authored by Robert Gibson. Please continue reading for the full survey below. Gibson has also produced a fantastic timeline of events influencing the themes addressed in the Books on French Grand Opera by Robert Letellier – you can read and download the timeline for free by clicking here.
Religio-Political Concerns and Literary Symbolism in French Grand Opera
Robert Letellier’s books on Meyerbeer’s grand operas are carefully researched and illustrated. Apart from the historical backgrounds and composition histories, keywords such as Faith, Power, Love, Death and Myth which are explored by him in the operatic works of composers Meyerbeer and Halévy and librettist Scribe. Their principal operas Robert le Diable, La Juive, Les Huguenots, Le Prophète and L’Africaine, all opened at the Paris Opéra.
Letellier observes that historically they explore the unified Christian faith of the Middle Ages as it progresses through the 15th C of dissent, the 16th C of division, the 17th C of conflict and the 18th C of new scientific, philosophical and political solutions, to the very different sceptical secular world of contemporary 19th century Europe. Thus they are written by perceptive men from the perspective of the political turmoil of 19th C France. A timeline is included at the end of this review.
Despite the secular opinions of revolutionary France, Gautier noted the centrality of religious themes to Meyerbeer, while Letellier opines that ‘Meyerbeer’s historical operas are not simply operas on historical subjects, but operas taking the historical process itself as their subject, with this finding focus particularly in thematic concerns relating to religion and the symbolism of the Bible’. Nevertheless, when one considers that in 1793, revolutionary Paris held the Festival of Reason to celebrate the death of God, it is surprising that issues of religious faith are recurring operatic themes in 19th C French Grand Operas. The fact that Christian theology in particular is so knowledgably addressed is even odder, considering only Scribe was Christian.
These operas however are not evangelical. Letellier notes that the negative issues of faith are examined such as intolerance, antisemitism, dogmatism, dissent and miscegenation. Nevertheless, influenced by the Romantic Movement, there is a yearning for a pastoral past of unity, peace and fulfilment, rather than forwards to the utopia of the idealists. Sadly, the brutality of the past, such as the Inquisition, the Reformation, and slavery contribute to the dramas. No doubt this would resonate with an audience familiar with the brutality of 19th century revolutionary Europe. Meyerbeer, the faithful German Jew, was well aware of the danger of Prussian militarism and his works can be seen as a foreboding of 19th century nihilism. Nevertheless, juxtaposed with brutality is the power of human sacrificial love that lasts through eternity, but also filial relationships of the now.
Robert le Diable: This is set in medieval Sicily. It is based on the German myth of Faust and explores the struggle between the forces of light and darkness, a Manichean theme of good versus evil; the unified faith versus the devil. Letellier devotes an essay to developing comparisons with Goethe’s Faust.
Robert is a knight born of a demonic father, personifying hell, but his half-sister Alice who clings to the Cross through the patronage of Mary, personifies the heavenly through her pastoral image of light and love. Alice and Robert’s dead mother, constituents of the Body of Christ, pray for Robert’s soul. Thus, ultimately, this opera is about God’s grace, determinative, all-pervasive and freely bestowed on Robert to provide metaphysical redemption. Faith is affirmed, paradise regained and religion is triumphant. Letellier concludes there is an almost scholastic adherence to orthodoxy. This is a medieval work that George Sand described as a Catholic opera and Gautier as an opera of faith.
Les Huguenots: This depicts 16th C division as the unitary faith disintegrates, following the century of dissent. Letellier observes that the medieval assurance in supernatural reality had been replaced by the renaissance and human reason. Faith still existed but rational man now selects. Rational man, unlike God, was the product of his time, race, class and society. Thus in this opera history is viewed as a collective social process following the philosophical ideas of its time. It is a work of the Renaissance that George Sands describes as a Protestant opera.
The Reformation had degenerated into the French wars of religion and France entered into religious and political turmoil. In Les Huguenots the unified faith is no longer fighting the external evil, but rather the internal evil of the fellow Christian. France had become polarised into Catholics and Huguenots, the former portrayed as arrogant and ruthless, the latter as brave individuals, one of whom manifests Calvinistic honour and probity that reflect the old fashioned knightly code. Set at the time of the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, it is about the forbidden love of a Huguenot man, Raoul, for a Catholic woman, Valentine. This tragically results in the deaths of both. Notably, Valentine’s death was through self-sacrificing love. Raoul’s religious zealot servant Marcel is so moved that he responds by blessing Valentine from his heart. Thus the conditioning of race, class and society is overcome by the enlightened humanity of Marcel and Valentine. Courageous love that offers itself is greater than the principles of family and faith and endures unto and beyond death, to contribute to the new world order. Thus Letellier writes that it demonstrates that man is not slave to determinism, be it of birth, class, nation or creed. In contrast, Valentine’s father, an unyielding spirit, epitomises pride, prejudice and bigotry, obedient only to country and religion and thus presages the implementation of militaristic ‘final solutions’. Meyerbeer raises the question: when both parties uphold a gospel of love and forgiveness, yet are prepared to kill, what is the role of faith? Gautier suggests that this is an opera of examination.
Meyerbeer constructively identifies the positives of both Calvinist and Catholic Christian faiths. Thus, while condemning priests, blessing weapons or Protestants drowning out the Marian litany, the Catholic noble Comte de Nevers is depicted as a hero prepared to die for truth that puts people before ideas. His wedding depicts the pastoral images of marriage, dancing and festivity as a counter image to religious hatred.
Intriguingly, Letellier notes that there is a parent child relationship with Valentine and her father, to complement the mother son relationship in Robert le Diable.
Le Prophéte: This opera further explores the century of division. The setting is the Anabaptist revolt 1534-35. The Hussites, a millenarian religious sect, seek to attack the oppressive nobility who have brought about social malaise. Unfortunately, this sect, despite their Latin prayers and preaching on social justice, are manipulated by men who use faith and idealism for their self-aggrandizement. Thus religion is entirely discredited. It is without substance as it is about power, greed and treachery. Nevertheless, charismatic John of Leyden who has real faith and concern for social justice becomes an Anabaptist leader in the belief that he is the Chosen one, the Son of God. Using Old Testament imagery of militaristic triumphalism, he resorts to the uses of terror to bring about the chiliastic revolution. However, prior to his assault on Münster, he reflects on the lost pastoral paradise. The salvation emerges when John is told that he is to be betrayed by the very militarism of which he was a leader. Totally disillusioned by militarism and religious fanaticism, John seeks to regain the pastoral through new spiritual means. This is an example of Meyerbeer’s use of counter image.
In this opera we see the intertwining of ideology and religion, idealism and fanaticism. It highlights the dangers of excess in reform and posits the helplessness of the individual determined by the socio political realities. If the sure faith of Robert Diable was divided and dishonoured in Les Huguenots, in Le Prophète it was swept away by the rejection of creedal faith and dogmatic politics. The world is becoming secular, and the mystique of history is de-glamourized, so that kings and nobility are replaced by the lives of ordinary men and women. Nevertheless, if religion has been discredited, the reality and nobility of human love has not been. Thus Gautier calls Le Prophéte an opera of illumination.
L’Africaine: This final opera by Meyerbeer, although based on the fictional events of the voyage in 1497-99 to India by Vasco da Gama, navigator and man of the renaissance, is like Les Huegenots a depiction of history. However it is also based on the Lusiads, a Portuguese mythical poem about the meeting of old and new worlds. Thus like Robert Le Diable, it is also influenced by myth. It is, as Letellier states, a mixture of human actions and the supernatural, of ancient certainties and puzzling new discovery, effectively capturing the fusion of Portuguese history and exotic invention. Mann opines that it reflects Meyerbeer’s exploratory ego, but sadly Meyerbeer died before it was performed.
Sélika an African queen who had been sold into captivity by slavers is rescued by Vasco and falls in love with him. They go back to Portugal but Vasco falls foul of the Inquisition. Sélika enables him to escape and he sails again for India. A storm wrecks the ship and although most of the survivors get massacred by natives, Sélika saves him by marrying him on an island paradise with a Hindu temple. Tragically Vasco loves Inez and Sélika, though heartbroken, in a sacrifice of love she forgives and lets Vasco and Inez leave, and then she dies.
This opera is an exploration of opposing worlds of religion, culture and politics. There are issues such as colonialism, slavery, miscegenation, but there are also the recurring Meyerbeer themes of human forgiveness and sacrificial love. Vasco in his love for Inez sacrifices life in the pastoral idyll.
Letellier writes that a Hegelian dialectic can be applied to Meyerbeer’s four great operas. This starts from a unified medieval world view in Robert le Diable, moving through antithetical divisive partisan questioning in Les Huegenots, to the synthetic attainment of a freedom of the spirit in self-sacrifice and transcendence in Le Prophète. This culminates in the exploration of the historical politics of colonialism and the mythical pursuit of spiritual liberty in L’Africaine. However, one can also detect an account of the medieval certainties of hierarchical power and also faith as they move through questioning, to conflict and brutal tragedy. But at the end we encounter the irrational that is love.
La Juive: Though Scribe was still the librettist the composer was Fromental Halévy. It was set in Constance where in 1414-18 a Council of the Church was taking place. The plot is about a wealthy Jewish shopkeeper, Eleazor, who has a beautiful daughter, Rachel. They are threatened by a mob, but a cardinal saves them. There is a complex deceptive love plot the outcome of which is that innocent and self-sacrificing Rachel and her father are condemned to death by burning in a cauldron of burning oil. The cardinal offers Eleazor his life for baptism, but he refuses. Eleazor, before he dies, tells the cardinal that Rachel, who has just been killed, was his long lost daughter.
This opera examines the place of Jews in society, the nature of political power and religious freedom at a time when the determinism of birthright shaped our freedom of choice in society. Evident are the themes of power, faith and retribution. Intriguingly, Letellier identifies references to all seven Sacraments, Baptism, Eucharist, Ordination, Marriage, Reconciliation, Confirmation and Anointing of the sick.
Letellier’s description of Scribe suggests a thoughtful man of tolerance who recognised the dignity of mankind and the need for society to safeguard this. ‘Today more than ever, the essential role played by Scribe in making grand opera a successful medium for the communication of ideas to the thinking man is understood. It is recognized that he had liberal, Voltairean beliefs, supported a political centre‑ground and the concept of le juste milieu, and opposed the repressive censorship of the reactionary reigns of the Restoration monarchs Louis XVIII and Charles X. In all the genres of his work, he regarded the theatre as a medium for the promotion of social change, even for the betterment or transformation of society. He defended the right to make controversial and provocative statements, free of government restraint and interference. He also has to be seen fully in the context of the Romantic movement, as one alert to the forces of political idealism, informed by a sense of historical scholarship (in the manner of Sir Walter Scott), but also responsive to nature and the pictorial influence of the plastic arts.’
The other operas of Meyerbeer: In addition to the thematic discussions on the French Grand Operas, Letellier alludes to themes developed in Meyerbeer’s other operas in German and Italian as well as French.
Jephthas Gelübde: This is a German opera based on Judges 11 and is based on Old Testament biblical themes.
Crociato in Egitto: This is an Italian opera that takes place at the time of 6th Crusade 1228. It is an exploration of two opposed cultures, Christianity and Islam which Meyerbeer also did with L’Africaine. In doing so Old Testament teachings on election, providence, right belief, commitment, steadfastness and martyrdom are examined.
Margherita d’Anjou: This is an Italian opera that Meyerbeer wrote with Romani . It is based on legends surrounding the War of the Roses, later adopted by Shakespeare. The heroine is Queen Margaret of Anjou, the widow of King Henry VI, whom Richard Duke of Gloucester had murdered after Margaret had been defeated at the Battle of Tewkesbury. The role of Margaret is unusual for a female role as she had a reputation for aggression and ruthlessness. This enables the development of themes associated with Italian Opera such as social division, exile, and the confusion of transgendered enterprise.
L’Etoile du Nord: This is set about 1700 and is a military opera. It relates the love of Peter the Great for Catherine. The romance succeeds, but Catherine must disguise herself as a soldier and serve in the Russian camp, thus transgender issues emerge. As counter image to the military there is an idyllic pastoral backdrop.
Le Pardon de Ploërmel: This is based on a gentle pastoral Breton folktale. It considers the interplay of romance and realism, of faith and superstition. Thus it has a resonance with Robert le Diable. In addition, like Robert le Diable, it is also a parable of redemption
Letellier’s books examine how these Grand Operas reflect the political, social and religious changes since the Middle Ages. In many ways they reflect tragedies of power, in all its forms, but always we can detect the self-sacrificing love of an individual. Calvin stated love has to flow out and I think these operas demonstrate this grace. Thus the self-sacrificing person becomes a saint and enters eternity. As most of these are females a Marian dimension can be detected. Thus the secular revolutionary republican 19th C is juxtaposed to the supernatural medieval. These operas, written nearly 200 years ago, despite their plots being based on historical tragic events, are ultimately about faith, hope and above all love. These books have a potential readership in excess of what their titles might suggest.
Authored by RF Gibson
Robert Letellier, author and editor of numerous books with Cambridge Scholars, has been interviewed by the online magazine Forumopera (in French).
To read the interview, please click here, and Robert has very kindly provided an English translation of his responses, which can be read in full below. His latest book with Cambridge Scholars, Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète: A Parable of Politics, Faith and Transcendence, is out now. To purchase a copy please click here. Continue reading
When I visited Albania for the first time, I was surprised when I heard wonderful Greek bouzouki rebetiko songs renowned in Greece, from a pair of heavy loudspeakers in the central square of Korce – an Albanian street seller had put them on. It was only after reading Eno Koço’s book that I realised how far back the Albanian people’s love of the Greek bouzouki went. In one of my later journeys to Albania in around 2000 and afterwards, I was struck by the way Albanian people in the little towns of Southern Albania enjoyed a waltz and tango dance inside local restaurants or at family feasts. A thriving cosmopolitan social life from the past unfolded before my eyes. This small-scale cosmopolitanism was apparently uninterrupted by the years of political isolation – or, rather, the persistence of this cosmopolitanism lasted through political isolation.
The little town of Korçë, or the legendary “Korytsa” in Greek, or “Kortšauă” for the Vlachs, a place where the mutual affiliation of the Greek Epirots with the Southern Albanian people affirmed their common past, was a thriving small city where cosmopolitanism, tradition and education met each other in the way unfolded in the narrative of this book. Korçë is a town that, despite the contradictions of the final formation of the Albanian borders in the Balkan Wars and World War I, embraced its Greek Epirot communities and welcomed the Greek Army in World War II. They did so with a shared enthusiasm, honoring the triumphs against Mussolini’s fascist attacks in the Balkans.
After many years of no formal relations between Greece and Albania due to the dictatorship that governed the country, this book reveals the musical culture of a place that used to be a great cultural center in Southern Albania. In the pages of the book a small-scale cosmopolitanism is described that does not deny tradition, but which simultaneously keeps an eye on new trends and adapts what is familiar, personal and characteristic to form new ideas. The people of Korçë experienced their own shared community life and time. It is a small town that keeps its provincial traditions while adopting new music and this was a characteristic of many towns of the 20th century, or many towns of the Ottoman Empire. These towns continued to thrive and develop a long-lasting small-scale cosmopolitanism from their Byzantine past, sometimes in difficult circumstances.
In order to reveal this process of small-scale musical cosmopolitanism in such a provincial urban center, Koço uses three different methodologies. The first is a methodology performed in ethnomusicology including fieldwork and interviews with the families of distinguished personalities that contributed to the musical life of the town of Korçë in Albania or abroad. The second is historical musicological research, looking at different historical sources including bibliographies, archives, newspapers and other data such as musical scores, early recordings or photographic material. All this data is found in the chapters of this book.
Last but not least is musical analysis. Koço reveals the different transformations of musical characteristics hidden in the different stages of the musical life of the little town, showing the ways historical processes are depicted inside musical form. While dipping into the historical past of the town of Korçë and its musical life as well as the musical compositions found in scores or recordings, Koço classifies the urban musical creation of the town of Korçë into three main categories:
The first is what he calls “The Urban Song Tradition of Korçë”. This is an urban tradition that is based, on the one hand, on the pentatonic provincial Epirot tradition which in some cases becomes bilingual (both Albanian and Greek), while on the other hand it assimilates maqam traditions that derive from the Ottoman Courts (in Jannina for example). But as Koço notes, these urban songs, which in many cases are love songs and are widespread in many towns or present similarities from town to town, are not direct products of Middle Eastern influences. Most of them have commonalities with Eastern elements, although in an Epirotic singing tradition, some Western elements are also found due to the influence of Greek Kefallonian songs. The local carriers of traditions assimilated the Eastern maqam to make a personal musical mood which is at once local and cosmopolitan.
Another important contribution to the formation of the Korçë urban tradition and 20th century urban music in Albania was the instrumental bands called Saze. This might refer to the kind of instruments involved, but essentially it meant the semi-professional wandering musicians who were flexible and could experience and transfer different styles to the areas they moved to and from. At the same time they kept the polyphonic tradition of the provinces in a more urban way. These instrumental groups developed the pure provincial vocal experiential style in a semi-professional way. A similar phenomenon in Greece was the instrumental Koumpaneia.
The third category is the “Urban Lyric Song”. The main characteristic of this category is the training of musicians and singers in notated music. The “Urban Lyric Song” is part of an educational musical song style which intervenes in small towns, inspiring their experiential powers. It keeps some traditional Eastern or local Epirot characteristics but it orientates simultaneously to Europeanization.
These three urban traditions along with the Kefallonitika and the Kantadha of the Greek Ionian islands are major factors in the creation of what is called “Korçare distinctive song”. These last two styles (Kefallonitika and Kantadha) affect the Korçë song because of the affiliation of the local Albanian population with the Greek musical styles developed in the Ionian Islands. These traditions brought the mantolinata to Korçë and later bouzouki style instruments. They were blended again with local traditions, and due to the experiential cultural and social life in the sokaks (the stone made pedestrian routes of the town) of Korçë and the Pareas (“company” in Greek) they developed as a special local musical style.
The next chapter of the book is dedicated to the distinguished though neglected personality of Thoma Nassi and his contribution to the popularization of the Korçare distinctive song with his Vatra band: his compositions were widespread in both Albania and America. His music again pays tribute to the local pentatonic style or to the Eastern style as well as to Western traditions freely elaborated with various harmonies and orchestration.
Finally, Koço refers to the personality of Neço Muko, an extraordinary musician, and his contribution to the elaboration of the local polyphonic style of the Himara region. Professionalism as a kind of urbanisation of these styles was part of their popularity and rewarded them with even more popularity by means of certain personalities of the musical life of the provincial towns of Southern Albania. The main texts of the chapters are accompanied by 39 (thirty nine) notated examples representative of the different categories of the musical repertory.
In summary, Eno Koço’s book is a space-specific ethnomusicological and historical musicological approach, a work that clarifies the process of an experiential musical creativity over time, in an historical long-lived urban center of the Southern Balkans.
Reviewed by Athina Katsanevaki
Traditional Songs and Music of the Korçë Region of Albania is available to purchase directly from Cambridge Scholars by clicking here.
The aim of Music Glocalization is to provide an international readership with a collection of chapters authored by scholars on the subject of globalization, localization, and music. Globalization and localization, two opposite processes of change, can be accommodated within the framework of musical development in diverse social, technological, cultural, and national contexts. This book offers a critical study of the undertheorized concept of glocalization, intertwining the “global” and the “local” forces between music and society, both past and present. Though glocalization has received much theoretical and empirical attention in sociology and other disciplines, a grounded explication of the glocal concept is lacking in the music discipline. This book has filled that gap with its focus on international music scholarship and communication of glocalization.
The editors and their colleagues developed this book from various conferences to show how glocalization operates and what, if anything, we as listeners, consumers, performers, or composers, have to do with it from a variety of theoretical perspectives. The scope of the book is broad, ranging from theoretical reflections to more concrete opinions given by the international academic community, as well as case studies on glocalization and music. It includes 15 chapters, with relevant introductory and concluding chapters. Ranging from an array of more than ten different countries, including Australia, Japan, Indonesia, the U.S., Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, the Czech Republic, and other European nations, the book provides a fresh amalgam of perspectives that address music-related subjects. It also covers diverse topics from theoretical perspectives on local and global identities of music, art music composition in the digital age, glocalized music beyond Europe, and glocalized music professions. Contributors to the book explored interactions between music and various social phenomena in more detail to help give a better understanding of the role of music in connection with musical practices and technologies. This relationship is perceived as a dynamic interaction with new musical experiences.
This book is the first comprehensive account of how the notion of “glocalization” may be useful in rethinking nationality in music and the use of local musical traditions that serve as a means for global strategies. It reconstructs the emergence of music in the global context and provides an innovative framework for studying how glocalization transforms aesthetic hierarchies and cultural transmissions, thus breaking new ground for musicology and the sociology of music. The chapters that dig deeply into both the social phenomena and music are more balanced, in that they explore the dynamics that enable or hinder cross-cultural communication through music, as well as challenge the relationships between the producers and the consumers of music culture with a much more complicated approach to the music world.
In addition to the aforementioned contributions of this book, the concluding chapter manages to discuss the challenges of globalization from historicism and presentism. One of the major strengthens of Music Glocalization is that it clarifies and explains the varied literature circulating around the key word—music glocalization—to broaden our understanding and analysis of a wide variety of music issues. To summarize, this is an indispensable book, and I highly recommend Music Globalization for researchers, students, and libraries with a strong interest in the processes of globalization and localization, musicology, ethnomusicology, cultural studies, cultural sociology, sociology, and communication. It will also be of great interest to those in the field of international, transnational, and cosmopolitan studies.
Reviewed by Wai-Chung Ho, Hong Kong Baptist University
Music Glocalization is out now, and can be purchased directly from Cambridge Scholars by clicking here.
This reviewer suspects that most Meyerbeer ‘opera buffs’, will be familiar with a basic outline of his life and the dating of the openings of his main grand operas. The author goes further and embraces much of Meyerbeer’s less well known music. But there is so much more in this very fine biography, whose scholarship is immediately apparent from Letellier’s consideration of his sources. This is a Critical Life, which has to take account of the music for which he dedicated his life, but also the man.