Robert Letellier interviewed by Jean Michel Pennetier in Forumopera

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


Book review: Traditional Songs and Music of the Korçë Region of Albania

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.

Book review: Music Glocalization: Heritage and Innovation in a Digital Age

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.

Giacomo Meyerbeer: A Critical Life and Iconography

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.

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Book Announcement: The Orient in Music – Music of the Orient

The Orient in Music – Music of the Orient now available from Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Hardback, pp239, £61.99 / $99.95

Cambridge Scholars Publishing is pleased to announce the publication of The Orient in Music – Music of the Orient, edited by Małgorzata Grajter.

“OM”, a fundamental meditation sound present in the cultures of Buddhism, is a syllable full of philosophical and transcendental meanings. The category of the Orient, as contrasted, antithetical and complementary to the Occident (West) and its culture, appears to be one of the most interesting and long-lasting issues discussed in the humanities. European fascination with Oriental cultures has found multifaceted manifestations in science, art, fashion and beliefs. Continue reading

Book Announcement: Richard Genée’s The Royal Middy (Der Seekadett)

Richard Genée’s The Royal Middy (Der Seekadett) now available from Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Hardback, pp624, £80.99 / $137.95

Cambridge Scholars Publishing is pleased to announce the publication of Richard Genée’s The Royal Middy (Der Seekadett), edited by Dario Salvi.

In 1876, Richard Genée, the busiest and arguably best Viennese operetta librettist collaborated, this time as a composer, with Camillo Walzel on a new masterpiece; Der Seekadett. The final result was one of the best Viennese operettas of all time. The work was performed across the world for 80 years, before the advent of films and lighter musical theatre made it, and many other works belonging to the same tradition, obsolete. Continue reading