Between Folk and Pianism


Folk Music and Art Music 

From Romanticism’s emphasis on phantasy and fervency followed an interest in the ‘natural’ and folk culture. The first to use the term ‘folk songs’, was Johann Gottfried von Herder, who described ‘folk poetry’ as something fundamentally different to ‘art poetry’ (Herder, 1773, p. 31). Before this, no fiddlers or singers called their music for ‘folk music’, and often they did not even describe the songs they used in work and ceremonies as ‘music’ (Ling, 1989, p. 3).


To delineate ‘folk music’ as an isolated genre is difficult, if not to say impossible: melodies, instruments, that have received the epithet ‘folk music’ are to be found also in art music, in jazz, pop, muzak. So, the isolation of a musical genre is a kind of amputation, since different sorts of music intertwine in several ways. ... Calls in work situations, the dances and songs of the farmers were universally known amongst musicians, intellectuals and the classes of community living in completely different musical environments. Already in the fifteenth century, some peasant songs crept into polyphonic art music (Ling, 1989, p. 1-3, [my translation]).

The idea of music as Art developed through the Renaissance in Europe into what we know today as the Western classical music tradition. As this music has continually borrowed material from folk music, the two traditions have always had a certain amount of interweaving. 

Deep at their root there is no particular difference between folk music and art music; they are different flowers from the same trunk that have grown up differently to serve a similar purpose, even if they are intended for different tables. Originally, they arose from the same part of the human soul: their differences have to do with history and with social and cultural layering. (Lloyd, 1967, cited in Ling, 1989, p. 1 [my translation]).


Folk music has evolved through ‘the oral transfer process’ (Blom, 1993, p. 13). Cecil Sharp described folk music applying three criteria: continuityvariationand selection(Sharp, 1907). Continuity ties the present to the past; variation is based on the individual’s or the group’s creative impulse; and selection is made collectively, determining the forms in which the music will continue into the future (Blom, 1993, p. 13).

In folk music, old material is kept in mind through the gradual transformation that oral transfer makes through generations of improvisational and variation practices. The Western classical music tradition, or art music, has also originated from improvising and variation practices, but it has gradually turned its orientation more towards notation. In Norwegian, the noun ‘tradition’ also has a verb, å tradere; from which we might invent the English equivalent, ‘totradition’. In Norwegian, we say that the performer is traditioningthrough the folk musical oral transfer. In art music, the performers are interpreting musical works written by composers (more about this in the chapter Interpreting and Traditioning).

Slått music is folk music mostly played on the Hardanger fiddle. This instrument spread its way in southern Norway from the eighteenth century. The term slått is also used for playing on the regular fiddle, vocally and on older instruments like the jew’s harp. 

In old Norwegian the word slåttis only known in the genitive form sláttarfrom the old Norwegian bible legend Stjórn:tók hann hørpu sina ok drap strengi til sláttar. The word derives from Old Norse verb slá,meaning strike, to reveal notes, as in slá fidlu (strike the fiddle), slá hørpu (strike the harp), and must without doubt have been used originally for musical pieces played on plucked string instruments (Bjørndal og Alver, 1966, p. 105 [my translation]).


It is through art music that my own instrument, the grand piano, was developed. A Play with Traditions is an artistic project about musical junctions in my playing, between slått and piano music.