Under der Linden

In the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, though Latin-language religious music was still all the rage in Germany, a number of aristocrats who traveled from court to court and had picked up music along the way began to compose and perform decidedly non-religious love songs. These performers, known as Minneseingers, eventually made way for middle-class craftsmen known as Meistersingers
who studied music as their main profession. Enjoy 12th century minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide’s “Under the Linden” with English subtitles (the singing starts at about 0:50).

Making Much Music in Germany

All Around This World map of Western Europe featuring GermanyThis week in our online class we’re going to Germany…hurrah! Okay, so Germany had what one could only most, most generously describe as “a complicated 20th century,” but this season we’ve chosen to focus more on the genres of music from each of our Western European countries than on each nation’s history. So, let’s celebrate Germany by learning about its music…which, as we’ll see, is complicated enough.

Germany has long been a nation of musical visionaries. From the 12th century, when German Benedictine nun Saint Hildegard explored the idea of wedding Catholic “plainchant” with moral drama, through the “common practice period” (1600-1920), during which German composers regularly reinvented both opera and instrumental classical music, way into the late 20th century–wherever would we be without Kraftwerk?–German musicians have consistently found new ways to think about music, in turn inspiring new ways to think about the world.

We become għannejja

We conclude our week exploring the music of Europe’s “small states” with our own in-class interpretation of Malta’s unique Għana spirtu pront. In the traditional poetic singing competition, while each of the għannejja has a lot of latitude in what he sings, there are also strict rules for the form. For example, each improvised response must a rhyme. Plus, phrases should be in four lines, with 8 syllables in the first, 7 in the second, 8 in the third, 7 in the fourth. Third, the singers music use a poetic version of the ancient Maltese language which often has multiple meanings, draws heavily on proverbs and shared stories, and can come off as seeming self-righteous–which is why għannejja sometimes shake each other’s hands during the performance, letting the other know that what is being said is just for the competition and should not be taken personally. In class when we introuce kids to the art form we know better than attempt any of the above. Instead, we just have fun, and let the għana chips fall where they may.

Malta’s Għanna Spirtu Pront

In Malta, the “spirtu pront” form of the local folk music known as għanna–pronounced “ah-na” (the għ is silent)–is a particularly beloved form of art. In a typical spirtu pront session, two għannejja are lined up against each other in what is imagined to be about an hour-long competition. The two għannejja start by introducing themselves (in song), then they start singing about a particular topic which has either been predetermined or just develops in the course of their musical conversation. The topics are sometimes very serious, addressing social issues and political themes, but they generally deal with them using wit. In this video, masters Tony Camilleri and Il Bambinu strut their spirtu pront stuff.

Maltese Makjetta

Malta is a small country that consists of a small set of islands in the central Mediterranean about fifty miles south of the Italian island of Sicily. It’s a picturesque place, a destination for tourists, a multilingual, multi-faceted country that tries to draw the best from the many who ruled it during its very long past. Over the centuries, little Malta has found itself under the thumb of many powerful entities: the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Byzantines, Arabs, the Germans, Barbary corsairs (pirates), who in 1551 enslaved the entire population of the Maltese island of Gozo and sent them all to the Barbary coast, the French (specifically Napoleon, who visited for just six days, but in his time there abolished feudalism and freed Malta’s slaves) and, from 1814 until its independence in 1964, the British Empire. Despite its multiple colonizers, Malta has consistently maintained its own distinct forms of music and dance. In this video, try to enjoy traditional Maltese makjetta as much as the guy is who is singing it.

Wat den Noper seet

Luxembourg, which shares borders with Belgium, Germany and France, has always been both small in land mass and large in European strategic importance. At Luexombourg’s heart is a fortress around which a town developed at the turn of the first millennium. The Luxembourg family (the House of Luxembourg) dominated the fortress for a few hundred years until the mid-1400s when the Luxembourgs experienced a financial crisis and sold the land. A succession of families and countries, such as France, owned Luxembourg, and it generally found a way to remain independent. Today it’s a representative democracy with a constitutional monarchy attached; Luxembourg’s monarch is known as the Grand Duke.

Luxembourg’s culture mixes customs from France and Germany and its food is a mix of French and German and Belgian food. Luxembourg is trilingual, with French, German, and the German-related Luxembourgish as its main languages. Luxembourg also boasts a diverse array of modern musicians–indie rockers, jazz pianists, rappers, and even, as we see in this video, the uncategorizable Serge Tonnar.

Monetizing Monaco

Monaco is tiny and crowded and very, very rich–or at least it wants you to think so. The picturesque little principality that consists of less than a square mile of land on the Mediterranean coast of France, not too far from the Italian border, has always been a coveted spot, starting a long time ago when, according to legend, the Greek god Hercules passed through and dispensed with the local gods. In the 1850s the Principality of Monaco was in financial peril and decided to invest in the opening of what seemed to some to be an irrational and overly expensive project to bring in funds–an ambitious casino-resort. By 1869 the gamble (heh heh) had paid off; casino was so extraordinarily profitable Monaco’s rulers stopped collecting income tax from their residents. Rich Europeans who vacationed at the casino realized that if they stayed in Monaco, more of their money would too. Over the next several decades Monaco fashioned itself as a tax-free playground for the rich and famous, and today still thrives as a resort, a casino and a place for the rich to play.

The most famous Monegasque musician of the 20th century, and one of the top French language singer/songwriters of all time, poet and singer Léo Ferré, may have been the son of a casino director, but he was not always a friend to the global jet-setters that made his country rich. Though Ferré attained great wealth and fame, he was also and anarchist and eventually a communist who sang protest songs in the late ’60s and who worked closely with Paris-based free radio broadcast network, Radio Liberaire.

Andorra: Two for the Price of One

Andorra is a Catalan-speaking 181 square mile country found high in the eastern Pyrenees mountains, bordering both France and Spain. According to legend, King Charles the Great (King Charlemagne), who was King of the the Franks starting in the year 768 and then Roman Emperor from 800 until his death in 814, granted the people of Andorra a charter to their land in 805 in exchange for their fighting for Christian France against Islamic Moors. Charlemagne’s grandson, Charles the Bald (most always seen in portraits, for some reason, wearing his crown) declared the Count of Urgell, a Catalan-speaking county in what is now Spain, the overlord of Andorra. Eventually Andorra became a principality, with the co-princes being the Bishop of Urgell and the President of France. Andorra has been able to remain relatively autonomous by shifting its allegiance from support of one of its ruling nations to another. Only in 1993 did Andorrans finally adopt their own constitution and enter the United Nations as an independent nation.

The folk music of Andorra is, not surprisingly, a mix of French and Spanish sounds with a distinct Catalan flavor. As we see in this video, at public folk festivals Andorrans will dance a mean contrapás.

There is nothing Small about the Small States

All Around This World Western Europe "Everywhere Map"
Europe is already a continent packed with relatively tiny nations, each with its own couple thousands of years of history that comes with its own particular linguistic, cultural and musical traditions, yet it still boasts seven even smaller “mircostates,” which bring their own narratives and national pride. In class this week we give a nod to seven of them — Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City. These seven states have so much to offer, and we’d be silly not to take it. Let’s go!



We end our week of Greek music with our version of “Milo Mou Kokkino,” a song that is inexticably bound to the dance called the Kalimatiano. Of the most traditional are Greek circle dances in which dancers hold hands, wrists or shoulders, or link to one another by both holding a handkerchief. Usually men lead dances, and while dancers in the circle can be of either gender, sometimes men break off into an outer circle that surrounds an inner circle of female dancers. In some regions there is a prescribed order of dancers; men are first in a line, in descending order of age, then come women in a similar order. The oldest member of the village will lead the dance. Elsewhere the circle is composed of the group of families; the husband leads the wife, then the eldest son, his wife and then their children. We empower you to do any of the above as you dance along to “Milo Mou Kokkino,” but while you dance, you are absolutely required to exclaim, as Greeks do, “OPA!”