Mudcat Café message #3179622 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #138735   Message #3179622
Posted By: Brian Peters
01-Jul-11 - 06:49 AM
Thread Name: Do purists really exist?
Subject: RE: Do purists really exist?
"Another aspect of Purism is Folk Faith and Folk Belief. In another thread we are being invited to believe that following his untimely death in 1695, certain aspects of the music of Henry Purcell were Folk Processed. The term exists as a Folk / Mudcat Truism - but to the inquisitive outsider [amounts to] ineffable twaddle."

We've been here before of course, Suibhne, but that doesn't make response unnecessary. When I look through dozens of collected variants of an old ballad or song, differing subtly or spectacularly in lyric or melody, I'm staring 'folk process' right in the face. It's true that re-interpretation exists in many forms of music, but widespread dissemination by oral transmission over decades and centuries allows far more fluidity than exists for music defined by a score or a sound recording. I don't know about 'purism', but to deny that kind of process sounds a lot like flat-earth-ism to me.

The Purcell example is slightly different, not least because many village musicians of 200 years ago were musically literate. However, some insight into the absorption of classical music into the repertoire of village musicians can be found in the case of 'Michael Turner's Waltz', derived as it was from Mozart's German Dance #2. Whilst acknowledging that its current popularity in the folk canon owes much to The Sussex Tunebook, Malcolm Douglas wrote in 2005 that "The MS version is a little different, but not much; it looks as if Turner heard it at the local Assembly Rooms or some such, went home and wrote it out from memory; accidentally incorporating a little of the second violin part into the melody line."

Vic Gammon's interesting article on Turner includes the following:

"A musician such as Turner might well have been important in the process of tune dissemination. There are a number of ways a new tune might get into circulation among rural communities, but one that seems quite likely would be where a musician like Turner copied a tune from print and then played it in his community where natural musicians would pick it up."

Both writers are speculating about the details of the process, but again any study of village music manuscripts brings out the essential tension we find in folk music between continuity and evolution. The very tension, in fact, that's at the root of the arguments about stylistic purism of the kind that this thread set out to explore.