folk song

also folk·song (fōk'sông', -sŏng')
  1. A song belonging to the folk music of a people or area, often existing in several versions or with regional variations.
  2. A song composed in the style of traditional folk music.

folk song, a song of unknown authorship that has been passed on, preserved, and adapted (often in several versions) in an oral tradition before later being written down or recorded. Folk songs usually have an easily remembered melody and a simple poetic form such as the quatrain. The most prominent categories are the narrative ballad and the lyric love‐song, but the term also covers lullabies, carols, and various songs to accompany working (e.g. the sea shanty), dancing, and drinking.

folk song, music of anonymous composition, transmitted orally. The theory that folk songs were originally group compositions has been modified in recent studies. These assume that the germ of a folk melody is produced by an individual and altered in transmission into a group-fashioned expression. National and ethnic individuality can be seen in folk music, even in the case of songs transplanted from one country to another. There is scarcely any people whose folk song is wholly indigenous, and among notable cases of transplanting is the English ballad found in various parts of the United States. Many of these were collected in the late 19th cent. by Francis Child and in the early 20th cent. by Cecil Sharp. In addition, many American folk songs are of other European or African origin. Americans occasionally consider as folk songs certain songs of traceable authorship, e.g., "Dixie."

Interest in folk music grew during the 19th cent., although there were earlier scholars in the field, such as Thomas Percy whose Reliques, a collection of English ballad texts, appeared in 1765. Sir Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (3 vol., 1803) is a major source on Scottish ballads. Béla Bartók did outstanding work in notating the folk music of central Europe early in the 20th cent., and before him the Russian nationalist composers made use of their country's folk music. Conversely, folk song often shows the influence of formally composed music; this is particularly true of 17th- and 18th-century European folk song.

The collection and transcription of folk music was greatly facilitated by the invention of the phonograph and tape recorder. Using this equipment, John and Alan Lomax gathered many varieties of American folk songs from various cultural traditions throughout much of the 20th cent. Since the early 1950s folk music has become an especially significant influence and source for much popular vocal and instrumental music. Folksingers such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger performed traditional songs and wrote their own songs in the folk idiom, an approach that was later used and modified by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and others.

See also ballad; chantey; spiritual.


See J. A. Lomax and A. Lomax, Folk Songs, U.S.A. (1948); C. Haywood, ed., Folk Songs of the World (1966); W. R. Trask, ed., The Unwritten Song (1966); E. Martinengo-Cesaresco, Essays in the Study of Folksongs (1976); S. L. Forucci, A Folk Song History of America (1984); P. V. Bohlman, The Study of Folk Music in the Modern World (1988); B. Filene, Romancing the Folk: Public Memory & American Roots Music (2000); D. K. Dunaway and M. Beer, Singing Out: An Oral History of America's Folk Music Revivals (2010).

Wikipedia on

Folk Songs (Berio)


Folk Songs is a song cycle by the Italian composer Luciano Berio composed in 1964. It consists of arrangements of folk music from various countries and other songs, forming "a tribute to the extraordinary artistry" of the American singer Cathy Berberian, a specialist in Berio's music. It is scored for voice, flute, clarinet, harp, viola, cello, and percussion.[1] The composer arranged it for a large orchestra in 1973.[2]



Two of the songs in the cycle, "La donna ideale" and "Ballo", were composed in 1947 by Berio during his second year at the Milan Conservatory for voice and piano as part of his Tre canzoni popolari (Three folk songs). It is often claimed that these three songs were written for Cathy Berberian while she was studying in Italy, but this cannot be the case because she did not arrive there until 1949.[2]

The Folk Songs cycle was commissioned by Mills College in California and first performed there by a chamber orchestra directed by Berio in 1964 with Berberian as the soprano soloist. By the time of its first performance, the Berberian-Berio marriage was nearing its end, but their artistic partnership continued; they subsequently collaborated on works such as Sequenza III, Visage and Recital I (for Cathy). Berio had an emotional attachment to folk song: he once declared that "When I work with that music I am always caught by the thrill of discovery." Other later compositions by Berio that incorporated folk songs were Cries of London, Coro and Voci: Folk Songs II.[2]


The first two of the Folk Songs are not actual folk songs. "Black Is the Colour (Of My True Love's Hair)" and "I Wonder as I Wander" were both written by the Kentucky folk singer and composer John Jacob Niles. There is a traditional tune for "Black is the Color ..." but, because his father thought it was "downright terrible", Niles recalled, "I wrote myself a new tune, ending it in a nice modal manner." Berio's suite opens with the viola instructed to play "like a wistful country dance fiddler", free of bar lines and rhythmically independent of the voice.[2] "I Wonder as I Wander" was developed by Niles out of the mere three lines he was able to extract from a revivalist preacher’s daughter, "a tousled, unwashed blond, and very lovely".[2] Harmonics from the viola, cello and harp contribute toward the "hurdy-gurdy sound" Berio wanted to accompany this second song. The extended bird-song postlude for flute and clarinet in Berio’s version seems to have been suggested by the passing reference to the "bird on the wing".[2]

Armenia, the country of Berberian's ancestors, provided the third song, "Loosin yelav", which describes the rising of the moon. In the French song "Rossignolet du bois", accompanied only by the clarinet at first but later by the harp and crotales,[2] a nightingale advises an inquiring lover to sing his serenades two hours after midnight, and identifies the "apples" in his garden as the moon and the sun. A sustained chord colored by the striking of automobile spring coils bridges this song to the next one, the old Sicilian song "A la femminisca", sung by fishermen's wives as they wait at the docks.

Like the first two songs, the sixth, "La Donna Ideale", and the seventh, "Ballo", come not from anonymous folk bards but from Berio himself (see background section above). The old Genoese dialect folk poem "The Ideal Woman" says that if you find a woman at once well-born, well-mannered, well-formed and with a good dowry, for God's sake don't let her get away. "The Ball", another old Italian poem, says that the wisest of men lose their heads over love, but love resists the sun and ice and all else.

"Motettu de tristura" comes from Sardinia and apostrophizes the nightingale: "How you resemble me as I weep for my lover... When they bury me, sing me this song."

The next two songs are also found in Joseph Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne and are in the Occitan language. "Malurous qu'o uno fenno" poses the eternal marital paradox: he with no spouse seeks one, and he with one wishes he had none. A cello echoing the improvisation at the opening of the suite introduces "Lo Fïolairé", in which a girl at her spinning wheel sings of exchanging kisses with a shepherd.

Berberian discovered the last song "Qalalıyam",[citation needed] known in the suite as "Azerbaijan Love Song", on a 78 RPM record from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, sung in the Azerbaijani language except for one verse in Russian, which a Russian-speaking friend told her compared love to a stove. Berberian sang, purely by rote, the sounds she transcribed as best she could from that scratchy old record. She knew not one word of Azerbaijani.


  1. ^ Schwartz, Steve. "CD Review: Recitals for Cathy". Classical Net. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Program notes for performances by the Concertgebouw for 10-11 february 2007" (PDF). Barbican Centre. Retrieved 26 July 2010. These program notes also contain a full set of lyrics with English translations.


  • Backsleeve of 1967 RCA record LSC-3189.

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