Thursday, 3 March 2011

Folk flock focus

Just now I'm assembling and arranging a short collection of local folk-songs to add to the repertoire of my choir, Les Jeudistes. Local folk-songs are mostly written in a language called Occitan, which has as many dialects as there are valleys to have them in. There's no regular spelling and pronunciation varies widely. So it's not easy.

This is the latest, Lou Boièr, the herdsman or ploughman. I can't decide whether it's a ballad of great beauty, a simple, artless crying from the heart, or hopeless twaddle. It's well within the vein of local folk-song falling into two categories, desolate and mournful or relying on spirited nonsense. (Skip to the translation if you'd prefer.)

Quan lou boièr ven de laoura
Planto soun agulhado,
Troubo sa femno al pè del foc
Touto déscounsoulado.

"Se'n es malaouto, digas 'Oc';
Te faren un poutage
Amb uno rabo, un caoulet,
Uno lauzéto magro."

"Quan sérai morto, rébound me
Al pus priou de la cabo:
Metras mous pes a la pared
Lou cap jous la canelo.

E lous roumious que passaran
Prendran d'aïgo ségnado
E diràn : 'Qual es mòrt aicí ?
Es la paura Bernarda !

Que 'n es anada al Paradís
Al cél, ambe sas cabras.'"

[My translation (if any of the myriad Occitan buffs who come here daily would like to suggest corrections, please go ahead):

When the herdsman returned from ploughing,
He laid down his goad.
He found his wife at the fireside,
Completely disconsolate.

"If you're ill, say 'Yes';
I'll make you a soup
With turnip, cabbage
And a lean lark."

"When I'm dead [she said], bury me
Just inside the cellar [i.e. undercroft for animals]:
Put my feet against the wall,
My head next to the spring.

And the pilgrims that pass
Will take the holy water,
And they will say: 'Who is dead here?
It's poor Bernarda!
May she have gone to Paradise
In the sky, with her goats.'"]


My attitude to folk music is to a large extent summed up in the following delicious story, which I first came across in Charles Rosen's The Classical Style. Haydn's music is supposedly full to overflowing with folk tunes he'd picked up from his earliest childhood in his native Danubian region on the borders of Austria and Hungary.

A certain professor of musicology, trying to prove this theory, reckoned that the most effective way of doing so was through field research. He travelled round the villages of the region singing the best of Haydn's tunes to see if the local peasantry recognised them.

The peasants were given a bigger tip when they claimed to recognise a tune than when they didn't, and it didn't take long for them to adjust their memories in accordance with the depth of the professor's purse. The more enthusiastic the 'recognition', the larger the tip. And to this day, the story goes, the country folk of that region still sing the songs the professor taught them.


It might have been the soup that did for poor Bernarda, of course.


Rosie said...

She led a jolly life. Don't shop at Magro, I say.

Dave said...

Or drinking from polluted water-tables, if they customarily buried bodies next to springs.

Christopher said...

I know, R and D. The whole business is fraught with untold risks.

Vicus Scurra said...

Yet again I am obliged to your for educating me, in so many ways. I was unfamiliar with the use of goad as a noun. I thought you must have meant "goat" or "gonad" for a while.

Z said...

Since he was a herdsman, I also read it as goat. Evidently he was moonlighting as a ploughman. And a lark-catcher.

Sarah said...

Oh..I only popped in for a cup of tea and a biscuit. I'm not sure I have the energy to read all this, and if I did, could I possibly take it all in? says woman with very small brain....did someone say soup?

Rog said...

Did the Professor invent the game of Haydn Seek?

Christopher said...

Can't be easy, catching larks, Z. You have to be up so early, for one thing.

Sah: We've eaten all the chocolate Hobnobs, but I've kept a Rich Tea back for you. Well, most of it: someone's (I suspect someone whose name begins with D) had a surreptitious bite out of it, but the rest of it's all right. I'll hang on to it for you, shall I?

Rog: Clearly the Prof. was going Bach to nature, where the Gounads play.

letouttoplay said...

It must be a simple cry from the heart. It must have been terrible for the herdsman to lose both his wife and her goats to paradise.