Monday, April 10, 2006


Corsican polyphony - you decide

I'm not very knowledgeable about music, but like most annoying, opinionated people, I know what I like. And amongst the music that falls into the "like" category, there's Corsican polyphony.

It seems that a lot of people dislike it. For others, it sends shivers down the spine and touches the soul. I am firmly in the second camp – I absolutely love it and regularly play recordings at home. But don’t take my word for it, and don’t go to a polyphony concert before you’ve heard a bit first! If you find you hate it, you could be in for a long night!

It is not enough to say that polyphony is a traditional music, totally unaccompanied, or that much of it is sacred in content. For me it sounds somehow eastern in quality – not really what you expect coming to a sophisticated, westernised place like Corsica. I can’t find much about Corsican polyphony in English language except on sleeve notes. I did try and read a book about it in French, once, but got fed up looking up adjectives in my Anglo-French dictionary. Anyway, here goes…

In most polyphony there are three singers, called sicunda, bassu and terza. The sicunda is the singer who generally begins the chant. The bassu, as the name implies harmonises with the sicunda at a lower pitch and the terza weaves a further melodic line. In combination, it sounds nothing like Gregorian chant or later church music and there is a type of strange vocal wavering in the higher registers that is unique to this music, but which seems to be done by all the groups who practise it.

So. I suggest you start off by listening to some A Filetta here… and listening to a few samples. Then make up your own mind. I’ll be writing more about polyphony later on.

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