Lesson 1: Eastern Europe and the Baltics–Genres of Music

Eastern Europe and the Baltics form a particularly intense part of the world–musically an otherwise–where the grand jumble of passionate and invigorating genres find their inspiration in ancient, culturally rich musical traditions of the Turks, the Slavs, the Magyars, the Romani and the Jews. While some Eastern European music developed in staid church settings, much literally began in the village square during weddings, festivals and other community celebrations where music was public, joyful and intended to make everybody dance. From the playful, often-mournful Indian-originated music of the Romani to awe-inspiring Balkan Brass, from tongue-in-cheek klezmer to rapid-fire, accordion-rific polka, from trance-like Bulgarian vocal ensembles to Islam-influenced Bosnian sevdalinkas, some Eastern European genres are just plain moving, while others are so rhythmically engaging that when you hear them, your body can’t help but move.

Today, while Eastern European artists create in every contemporary genre, whenever popular Eastern European musicians use traditional regional music as an inspiration (such as Ukrainian Eurovision champion Ruslana whose most popular music has drawn on her Western Ukrainian/Hutsul origins [though perhaps she did take the liberty of adding a few extra dancing pirates]), whether they know it or not they’re following in the tradition of Western classical composers like the Hungarian Bela Bartók. Throughout his early 20th century career, Bartók scoured the countryside as an ethnomusicologist looking for folk music to weave into his own compositions. When political strife in the era after World War I era closed off parts of Eastern Europe that had once been fruitful places for music research, Bartók became an outspoken, and controversial, proponent of a multi-enthnic Europe. Bartók called for “brotherhood of people, brotherhood in spite of all wars and conflicts.” That didn’t quite happen in Bartók’s lifetime, but his legacy of valuing people from many cultures, reveling in this difference while finding commonality in music, continues to inspire musicians and ethnomusicologists to this day.

Let’s have a bit of video fun meeting Eastern European folk:

— Romani masters Taraf de Haidouks

— Balkan brass legend Boban Markovic

Ivo Papasov and his Bulgarian wedding band

— Muzsikas and Hungarian folk


Klezmer in Budapest

— a beautiful Bosnian sevdah

— All you’d every want to know about Lithuanian sutartines/p>

— “the mystery of Bulgarian voices

— ubiquitous Russian folk song “Kalinka” as performed by the Red Russian Army Choir

a double-necked Polish mazurka. (A mazurka is a Polish folk dance in triple meter [refer to the “Everything is a Drum” rhythmic overview if you’re curious about what that means] that became a global phenomenon of sorts over many centuries, inspiring everyone from
Western classical composers like Chopin, as evidenced by the aforementioned “double-necked” marzurka, to Filipino dancers to those who transformed it into Swedish “polska”
(though this guy, playing a Swedish polska on his accordion, could at least pretend to be having fun).

Explore these genres of music from Eastern Europe and the Baltics:

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