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The Melodic form of Polish Ballads

Zbigniew Jerzy Przerembski

Ballad is a type of song that in Polish folklore has not as yet been thoroughly examined. Hence the difficulty we face in classifying them. This concerns first of all the melody for studies in the text are far more advanced and characteristic features of the ballad text have already been settled. Consequently, great collections of songs, that is regional monographs have been elaborated in Poland in which ballads are classified into a separate group only in respect of the text 1.

The purpose of this article is to present some stylistic features of the ballad melody, particularly with regard to melodic form in the general meaning of the term. The problem will be dealt with on three levels, each of them penetrating deeper into the structure of melody, that is

  1. from the point of view of melodic climax;
  2. interrelations of melodic verses in sound space;
  3. melodic shape of these verses.

Because of the limited volume of the article only the most frequent and typical phenomena of the Polish folk ballad will be discussed. Hence in the successive approximations the scope of the research area will be gradually limited; we begin with all the Polish songs to proceed to the most common and characteristic melodic forms of Polish folk ballads.

The results of the so far studies in Polish folk songs have proved that melodic climax is of significance for both the classification and typology of songs in view of their melodics 2. Particularly important is the place of its first appearance. No less important is the fact whether it is the only climax in the song, or it reappears in the course of melody. The factor's changeability varies according to ethnographic regions on the one hand and kinds of songs on the other. To conclude, melodic climax is said to be a significant characteristics of the melodic style of songs.

Diagram 1 presents a general course or the melodic climax (of its first appearance) in Polish folk songs 3. For comparative reasons the standardization by means of the 12-step scale was made with marked points of the melodic climax to appear for the first time — horizontal axis. In other words, each analyzed melody (its time course from the beginning to the end) was divided into 12 sections and the section where the melodic climax appears for the first time was marked on the scale. Numbers of songs (in percent) reaching their climax on particular steps of the scale can be read in the vertical axis.

It is seen in the diagram that Polish folk songs culminate most often in the beginning — the farther from the beginning the rarer are the first climaxes. More then half of the songs (52,8%) culminate on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd step of the scale; in the case of the songs composed of four melodic verses (majority of songs) the climax appears in the first verse. 81,7% of the songs reach their climax till the 6th step of the scale inclusive, that is in the first half of the song.

The process of separating various melodic kinds can also be read in the diagram, namely the most frequent ones culminating initially or incipitally, less frequent in the second melodic verse (mostly in its central part), and even less frequent kinds reaching their climax in the third verse, only a small number of songs culminate in the fourth verse. Two basic reasons account for the above differentiation: regional variability and that of the type implying the place where the melodic climax appears for the first time. When moving from the Eastern parts of Poland to the West and from the South to the North, the zone of the most frequent climaxes is observed to shift from the beginning of the melody; a number of songs reaching their climax in the third or fourth melodic verse is noted to increase. The tendency correlates with the regional variability of the ambitus, which is the smallest in the songs of the Southern and Eastern Slavs and becomes greater as we move to the North and the West, reaching its greatest volume among the West Slavs; in Poland the ambitus of folk melodies increases when we move from the East to the West and from the South to the North 4. In the context of type the differentiation in the diagram 1 and separation of song groups have to do with the general division of folk songs into ritual songs, "couplets", and popular songs. In view of the examined aspect both ritual songs and "couplets" are largely homogenous for they are characterized by initial climaxes. Diagram 2 shows the course of melodic climaxes in ritual songs from the Kujawy region (the plain in Central Poland) — 88,5% of the songs culminate in the first melodic verse (1st, 2nd or 3rd step of the scale)5. Diagram 3 presents the problem with regard to the "couplets" from the same region — 77,8% of the songs reach their climax in the first melodic verse6 . Diagram 4 shows the "couplets" from Orawa (the mountainous region of Southern Poland) with 77,0% of the songs culminating in the first melodic verse7 .

Popular songs with ballads forming one of the main subgroups are stylistically differentiated, which is also reflected in the discussed problem. Diagram 5 presents the course of melodic climaxes in the popular songs from the Kujawy region 8. Its distinct irregularity (a few apices of the curve) proves that we have to do with various melodic kinds. Generally, in comparison with ritual songs and "couplets", the zone of the most frequent climaxes is shifted to the second melodic verse of the song where 50,2% of the songs culminate. Climaxes appearing in the first verse are less frequent (34,8%), more infrequent are those occurring in the third or fourth verses (respectively 12,0% and 3,0%); still there are more of them than in the case of ritual songs and "couplets".. As far as the frequency of climaxes is concerned the preference for the 2nd, 5th, and 8th step of the scale results from the melodic course for the steps correspond with the centers of melodic verses.

The question whether the content classification of popular songs is also reflected in musical features of melody poses an interesting yet not thoroughly examined problem. In the context of melodics, and precisely those features of melodics that the climax reflects, the answers may be different. Neither do we have a simple answer in the case of ballads. The next diagrams presenting the course of climaxes in ballads from the whole of Poland (diagram 6) and from several regions of this country (diagrams 7, 8 and 9) prove that texts of ballads may occur together with various types of melodies9. Nonetheless, distinct domination of climaxes on the 5th step is visible in all the cases. The preference to reach climax on that step of ballad songs is confirmed by the analysis of Slovakian, Moravian, Lemko and Ukrainian ballads (see diagram 10)10 . Therefore, the melodic climax on the 5th step may be assumed to be a characteristic feature of ballads from the above regions.

The second problem to be dealt with in the present article is the interrelation of musical verses in sound space. These relations were examined by comparing the highest sounds of particular verses. In more detailed comparisons tonal character, rhythmic values of the highest sounds of the verses and pitch relations of other sounds were examined.

In Polish folklore we have to do with ballads formed of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 melodic verses, the 4-verse songs being the most common 11. From among the latter the most typical are the ballads of the melodic climax reached in the second or third melodic verse. Table 1 presents the spatial schemes of the verses of such ballads and their frequency in view of the collection of songs from all the regions of Poland12. A considerable differentiation can be noted in this respect. Most frequent are the schemes 1, 2, 3, and 4 with the scheme No. 1 to be predominant. Similar is the case of regional collections as well as Slovakian, Moravian, Lemko, and Ukrainian ballads.

Now I would like to proceed to the third and last of the problems mentioned in the introductory part of the article, that is the shape of melodic verses most typical of Polish ballads. In view of the melodic content verses are greatly differentiated, though their frequency may be varied. Table 2 presents formal schemes in ballads composed of four musical verses with the melodic climax in the second or third verse; it also shows percentage of particular kinds in view of the collection of songs from all the regions of Poland 13. The scheme ABCD is seen to be dominant. Particular verses consist of two bars, whereas verses of a different length (1, 3, 4 bars) are rare. Attention should be paid to melodies with a rondo structure (AABA, ABAA, ABBA, ABCA) which together are the second as for their frequency. Although specific for Polish ballads, they are not so frequent as the form ABCD. Particularly interesting among them is the form ABBA and ABCA, most often found in the verse scheme No. 1 (table 1). They often occur with the 7-syllable distich developed into a 4-verse form by repetitions. In these forms the extreme melodic verses are 3-bar and are characterized by rhythmical augmentation (most frequently: whereas central musical verses are shorter consisting of 2 bars and distinguished by rhythmical diminution, which together with a higher level of the verses (in relation to the extreme ones), ascending movement of the melody and the melodic climax cause the rise of the tension 14.

Table 3 shows the schemes of melodic lines in particular melodic verses of the discussed kinds of ballads and numbers (in percent) of each type of the scheme against the collection of songs from all the regions of Poland 15. It is easy to note that particular types of schemes occur in particular verses with different frequency. The melodic line of verses is most often sinuous, less frequent are various types of arcs, whereas the least common are straight lines (shaped similarly to the scale). At the bottom of table 3 total numbers of the schemes of descending, ascending, and neutral character (the first and last sounds of the musical verse on the same level) are additionally given. It is seen that the verses 1 and 2 are more frequently ascending than descending or neutral (particularly in the verse scheme No. 1 — according to table 1), whereas the verses 3 and 4 are most often descending.

The ambitus of the discussed ballads (4-verse with the climax on the second or third verse) is relatively large, being most often the octave or ninth (perfect octave — 29,6%, minor ninth — 6,3%, major ninth — 28,5% of all the songs16 ). With regard to tonal character it is pentachords and hexachords with sub-tonal course (descending below the key-note) that are predominant. Hence the melodic climax occurs most often on the 5th or 6th step of the tonal scale (except for the space scheme of the verses No. 2 — see table No. 1 — where most of the melodies reach their climax on the 8th step; in this step, however, it is the full major scale that is the most frequent).

The last diagrams (A, B, C, and D) present typical courses of the four most frequent melodic forms in sound space. The horizontal axis represents the song's time course with the most frequent initial, final, and highest sounds of particular verses on it. The pitch of the sounds (in semitones, measured from the key-note upwards and downwards) can be read on the vertical axis. Each of the forms is accompanied by musical examples (a, b, c, and d)17 .


 NOTES

1. I have in mind volumes of the series Polska piesn i muzyka ludowa. Zrodla i materialy. [Polish Folk Song and Music. Sources and Materials]. Editor: Ludwik Bielawski.

2. See Zbigniew Jerzy Przerembski Style i formy melodyczne polskich piesni ludowych. [Melodic Styles and Melodic Forms of Polish Folk Songs]. Warszawa 1994.

3. The subject of the investigation is a collection of 3897 songs drawn from 43 published collections representing the folk music of 21 regions of Poland.

4. See Kazimierz Moszynski Kultura ludowa Slowian. Kultura duchowa. [Folk Culture of Slavs. Internal Culture] Part II, Vol. 2. Warszawa 1968 pp. 421-430 (Krakow 11938).

5. The subject of the investigation is a collection of 52 songs from: Barbara Krzyzaniak, Aleksander Pawlak, JarosΩaw Lisakowski Kujawy. [Kujawy Region] Part II. (Volume 1 of the series Polska piesn i muzyka ludowa. Zrodla i materialy. [Polish Folk Song and Music. Sources and Materials.] Editor: Ludwik Bielawski, Krakow 1975.

6. The subject of the investigation is a collection of 135 songs from: Barbara Krzyzaniak, Aleksander Pawlak, JarosΩaw Lisakowski Kujawy...

7. The subject of the investigation is a collection of 109 songs from: Emil Mika, Adolf Chybinski Piesni orawskie. [Songs from Orawa Region] Kraków 1957.

8. The subject of the investigation is a collection of 167 songs from: Barbara Krzyzaniak, Aleksander Pawlak, JarosΩaw Lisakowski Kujawy...

9. Diagram 6 — collection of 412 songs from all the regions of Poland (Oskar Kolberg Piesni ludu polskiego. [Songs of the Polish Folk] Warszawa 1961 11857). Diagram 7 — collection of 191 songs from Slask region (Jan Stanislaw Bystron Piesni ludowe z polskiego Slaska. [Folk Songs from Polish Slask Region.] Vol. 1, Krakow 1927; Jozef Ligeza, Stefan Marian Stoinski Piesni ludowe z polskiego Slaska. [Folk Songs from Polish Slask Region.] Vol. 2, Krakow 1938). Diagram 8 — collection of 192 songs from Warmia and Mazury region (Barbara Krzyzaniak, Aleksander Pawlak Warmia i Mazury. [Warmia and Mazury Region.] Part II {Volume 3 of the series: Polska piesn i muzyka ludowa. Zrodla i materialy. [Polish Folk Song and Music. Sources and Materials.] Editor: Ludwik Bielawski — in course of issue}). Diagram 9 — collection of 167 songs from Kaszuby region (Ludwik Bielawski, Aurelia Mioduchowska Kaszuby. [Kaszuby (Cassubia) Region.] Part II {Volume 2 of the series: Polska piesn i muzyka ludowa. Zrodla i materialy. [Polish Folk Song and Music. Sources and Materials.] Editor: Ludwik Bielawski, Warszawa 1998.

10. The subject of the investigation is a collection of 155 songs from: Orest Zilynskyj Slovenská ludova balada v interetnickom kontexte. Bratislava 1978. (In this collection are also Polish ballads).

11. In collection: Oskar Kolberg Piesni ludu polskiego... — 67,1% ballads formed of 4 melodic verses, 13,2% ballads formed of 3 melodic verses, 12,4% ballads formed of 6 melodic verses, 4,3% ballads formed of 5 melodic verses, 2,4% ballads formed of 2 melodic verses, 0,2% ballads formed of 1 melodic verse, 0,2% ballads formed of 7 melodic verses, 0,2% ballads formed of 8 melodic verses.

12. Oskar Kolberg Piesni ludu polskiego...

13. Oskar Kolberg Piesni ludu polskiego...

14. See Alicja Olszewska-Trojanowicz "Z badan nad formà muzycznà piesni balladowej w Polsce". ["Research into the Music Form of Ballads in Poland".] Muzyka 1970, No. 2. pp. 36-57.

15. Oskar Kolberg Piesni ludu polskiego...

16. In view of the collection of songs from all the regions of Poland (Oskar Kolberg Piesni ludu polskiego...).

17. Musical examples from: Oskar Kolberg Piesni ludu polskiego..., p. 13 No. 3(a), p. 197 No. 16(e), p. 193 No. 15(l), p. 66 No. 5(uu).


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