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On continuity in Ethnomusicology in Poland

Piotr Dahlig

Continuity in a scientific discipline used to be regarded as a sign of its maturity. Such continuity refers to the research centres, themes and methods of investigation, as well as to individual approaches. The concept of continuity arises from an organic and cumulative understanding of knowledge. Experiences and achievements are gathered, stratified, and new findings evolve from earlier ones. The idea of continuity is shaken by two tendencies:

  • Each researcher is usually keen on elaboration of her/his own procedure in spite of using common, although continuously redefined, concepts. Opposed insights and unwillingness to assimilate achievements of predecessors used to be a way young minds gained independence. It was perhaps a necessary phase, although successors would notice more similarities than differences. Our predecessors, facing clashes and conflicts in free intellectual work, remind us that only craftsmen can hate each other, whereas followers of the truth help one another.
  • Experiences of natural sciences and technology would suggest that it is rather a rejection of normal ways of thinking that lead to discoveries and real progress. Thus, getting rid of previous achievements seems to be normal.

The idea of continuity serves as a defence strategy for humanities against the norm of technological exchange. The permanence of the results of humanities research can be treated as an attractive feature. Who would wish to study the chemical contributions of Hornbostel or Sokalski? However, their musicological works are still extremely inspiring.

The understanding and appreciation of one's own participation in the continuous process of research tradition is not easy because of the huge literature, numerous collections, language barriers (musical traditions are best preserved in places where English, the modern lingua franca, is not yet generally used in publications). The balance between one's own work and an obligation to read others' articles and books is a difficult task. The acceptance of the continuity of knowledge need not, although it should, stem exclusively from loving one's neighbour. Pragmatically, empathy is like an enzyme which enables a depth and width of historical and cultural contexts to be understood quicker and better than over-criticism does. The same occurs in an interview with a contemporary folk performer. Whoever feels superior and privileged has less chance of explaining properly values and concepts of local culture.

Our century is characterised by co-existence or conflict between more and less open attitudes towards processes of culture changes. Each attitude has its own arguments. The conservative option can be justified by the longevity and verifiability of the tradition. Respect for ceremonies and conventions does not reduce, but rather secures, the individuality of human beings. The conservative mind can be proud of the community spirit and unity with nature. Conservatives are prone to criticise contemporary culture for its parasitism. Mass culture in particular would not contain new ideas or components, but only changeable forms of older ones. Modern culture would destroy symbols which had helped generations of people to survive, for the sake of a passing commercial moment or idle talk in the mass media.

The progressive option can in turn highlight the necessity of accepting fresh challenges which come from democratisation, individualisation or the disappearance of social elites. Progressives can argue that new trends such as globalisation of culture must be organised in a new way, since only isolated societies or highly motivated groups can keep tradition alive. The followers of continuous progress would point to a peculiar habit of conservative idealisation of the past in order to mask the hegemony of privileged groups.

Continuous tension and conflict between conservative and progressive attitudes produced a mismatch of folklore with totalitarian systems. However, comparative musicology at the beginning of the 20th century had nothing in common with political application of folklore. This discipline tended to discover provable laws of music systems with the help of sound recordings and documentation. The leading ideas of early comparative musicology were to rescue vanishing traditional music and limit Euro-centrism.

By the end of the 20th century the fifth generation of musicologists was already active. They shared certain experiences with the ethnomusicologists who used to be educated more by fieldwork than by music schools.

They have been accompanied by steady improvement in technical equipment, although each generation was usually satisfied with its recording device ("the singing wax cylinders").

Each generation experienced a reduction of the unique features of local, regional and ethnic cultures. These specific properties refer not only to musical repertories but also to the ways of performing. The evolution or possible disintegration of the latter seem to be slower and can be well documented by sound recordings made during the last 50-60 years.

This natural process or, according to Béla Bartók, the tragic decline of folk music, is counter-pointed by certain ideas, programmes and initiatives:

  • The idea of the world museum (Weltmuseum of Walter Wiora), which brings ethnomusicology closer to historical studies;
  • Festivals of specialist groups and ensembles which continue, transform or revive musical traditions;
  • Musicological organisations, study groups and conferences with series of publications;
  • Changes in the map of interests.
    • During the last 70 years, the topography of field research in Poland has moved eastwards to more conservative and better preserved ethnic borderlands.
  • Changes of issues and methods.

Ethnomusicologists concentrate less on products which are frequently lacking and more on processes of cultural change, memory and the consciousness of representatives of traditional cultures.

The founder of ethnomusicology in Poland appears to be Helena Windakiewicz-Rogalska (1868-1956). She limited her analyses to sources published by Oskar Kolberg, but used international terminology and European musicological literature. Helena Windakiewicz-Rogalska made a great contribution to the interpretation of the tonality, rhythm and form of Polish folk songs, and suggested an evolutionary scheme of the vocal tradition.

Anna Czekanowska published a study on Opoczynskie songs in the year of Rogalska's death. This work was based not on printed "products", but on living sources -; transcriptions of musical recordings. Phonograms have raised the significance of the "human factor" (Florian Znaniecki), i.e. the performance process and creative act. This first monograph by Anna Czekanowska came to terms with hypotheses of ¸Lucjan Kamienski and Cezaria Jedrzejewiczowa to create bonds between musicology and ethnology.

Adolf Chibinski(1880-1952), a teacher of Anna Czekanowska, promoted systematic field recording from 1910. According to Chybinski, in the folk strata of culture had been gathered elements of old-Polish heritage. As a music historian he started to build musical instrumentology in Poland.

Lucjan Kamienskis artistic inclinations led him to a domain of folk music practice (tempo rubato, polyphony, heterophony) and creative processes. Kamienski searched for the then current issue of the origin of "Polishness" which he found in western Poland. He created music archives and introduced a detailed analysis of transcribed musical sources. His research aimed at discovering the rules of a "biology of folk singing", and he emphasised the issue of changeability of folklore. As a composer he offered precious arrangements of folk songs to popular choirs. He used, perhaps for the first time in Europe, the term "ethnomusicology" (1934-39).

The first generation of musicologists, born in 1880-1890, participated actively in musical life. Their interests covered the general history of music, but their monographs and articles dealt mostly with Polish music. Only Bronislawa Wójcik-Keuprulian wrote also on music of oriental cultures. The writing style of these pioneers remains inspiring and the discipline of musicology has been developed.

The second generation represented by Jadwiga Pietruszyzska-Sobieska (1909-95), Marian Sobieski (1908-67), Julian Pulikowski (1909-44), Tadeusz Grabowski (1909-40), Bozena Czyzykowska and Adolf Dygacz (b. 1913) continued field research, and reconstructed and enlarged regional and general phonographic collections within the framework of institutions. Self-sufficient ethno-musicological specialisation evolved in the activities of Jadwiga Pietruszyzska-Sobieska, Marian Sobieski and Tadeusz Grabowski. Only recently we found out that Tadeusz Grabowski, a very promising Warsaw ethnomusicologist, was shot by the Germans in Palmiry on June 21, 1940.

After WWII, political isolation and a need to rebuild the collections lost limited methodological reflection and reinforced ethnocentrism. The second generation basically gave up music composition. Instead, ethnomusicologists influenced the practice and repertories of folk music ensembles and co-operated extensively with broadcasting. Their activities contributed to cultivation of older kinds of musical repertoire by groups of peasant singers and instrumentalists. The 19th-century links binding ballet, opera, theatre and choirs to folklore had disappeared fast. The older forms of folk music have become to some extent an independent, although usually staged, current of culture.

Anna Czekanowska, Ludwik Bielawski, Jan Steszewski, Jaroslaw Lisakowski, Antoni Pawlak, Barbara Krzyzaniak, Zofia Steszewska, Boguslaw Linette, Boleslaw Bartkowski and Alojzy Kopoczek belong to the most influential third generation. It is characterised by a development of methodology. The plurality of directions and methods, and the specificity of ethnomusicology, was widely accepted and deepened. Researchers focused on the relationships of music with cultural contexts. Since the 1970s the assimilation of the achievements of German musicology and especially of the Anglo-Saxon and American anthropology of music has become visible.

Anna Czekanowska established the Slavic speciality within ethnomusicology in Poland and pushed forward Asian topics. The research on non-European musical cultures carried out by Anna Czekanowska and her students have opened up new theoretical and methodological perspectives. Polish ethnomusicologists have thus become part of international discussion on current research issues. A competent use of possibilities of co-operation with ethnomusicologists and folklorists from the former Soviet Union created a unique opportunity for Polish ethnomusicologists to do field research in regions of Asia inaccessible at those times for researchers from the West.

Jan Steszewski introduced interdisciplinary and axiological perspectives and inspired an investigation of religious songs in an oral tradition at the Catholic University in Lublin.

Ludwik Bielawski created a music theory based on natural concepts of time and space. He also produced detailed and excellent regional monographs with his collaborators from Poznan, Antoni Pawlak, Barbara Krzyzaniak and Jaroslaw Lisakowski, and from Warsaw, Aurelia Mioduchowska. The third generation developed broad international co-operation which proved to be of great benefit too to younger musicologists.

The students taught by the representatives of the third ethnomusicological generation have produced more than one hundred M. A.s, i.e. 10-15% of all musicological M. A.s at Polish universities.

The representatives of the third generation did not eliminate their own regional Polish roots. Their thinking and writing styles seem to be connected with their respect for their eastern, western and northern regions of birth.

The third generation preserves simultaneously the properties of its predecessors, for instance in the realm of aesthetic attitudes. These ethnomusicologists, born in 1920-30, are able, like the second generation, to recognise the most traditional elements in musical culture and define the concept of "authenticity" in musical performance. Although they usually prefer older styles, they are receptive towards new trends in folk music. For example, Anna Czekanowska wrote about the revival of traditional music idiom among youth groups.

The more recent generations have not always been ready to combine a study in depth of a particular culture with a broad geographical range. Disregard for local historical knowledge in order to cover larger territories seems to be uninspiring. A better understanding of one's own tradition used to be gained through comparative studies of neighbouring and other cultures. A reassembling of knowledge already accumulated with the help of multimedia is certainly not sufficient.

The world of symbols, imagination, old and stable concepts and aesthetic experiences is a great treasure-store for humanity. A study of this world, even through a mystical journey, may evoke admiration which may rescue a human being. Even if we try to remove all subjective concepts derived from aesthetic and emotional impressions, the imperative of searching for the truth should overcome chance curiosity, a motive that "something is interesting".

The axiology of humanities includes musicology. Not musicology itself but particular souls of musicologists can be saved. Even disastrous events might be reinterpreted as a positive humanitarian force. We want to believe that the tragic deaths of Tadeusz Grabowski in 1940 and of Alan Merriam in 1980 were not in vain.

The future generations of students who will see the trends sketched above as a 20th century tradition will certainly also appreciate moral standards in research work.


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