Monday, January 19, 2009


Transported by Song

I'm pleased and excited to have received through the post a copy of Caroline Bithell's new book Transported by Song - Corsican Voices from Oral Tradition to World Stage.

The author is a lecturer in ethnomusicology at the University of Manchester, and this is a meaty work. With 344 pages, and costing 27 GB pounds (Scarecrow Press) it's not the sort of book you'd flip through in an evening or take with you to read in the dentist's waiting room. What appeals to me about the book is that it looks at the phenomenon of Corsica's vibrant and unique musical scene and puts it in its historical, cultural and (perhaps most importantly) musical context.

I expect I will write more about its finer points when I've finished reading it. For now, I felt I had to share with you this short extract from the introduction, which transported me by words: Through my open window, I was serenaded by Canta u Populu Corsu, Alte Voce, A Filetta, Voce di Corsica and Canta again, their voices mingling with the more timeless sounds of the swallows circling over the ruined rooftops, the breeze in the trees, the children playing around the fountain and the older residents who, each evening, took their chairs into the street to observe and comment on life's affairs into the small hours." I'm back in Corsica.

I strongly believe that Corsica's music is one of the main contributions the island has to offer the rest of the world. How great to read a book - in English - about it! You can buy it from's books page.

Friday, January 02, 2009


Grand Piana

I have just been listening to La Venexiana's recording of a selection of madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi. It's a live recording, which took place at the Estivoce Music Festival at Pigna (which I wrote about on 3rd June 2006), in the Balagne, in 2002.

But it's another Corsican village to which I'll be whisking you off today - the village of Piana on Corsica's rugged west coast (the picture on the left will show you just how rugged). Piana and Pigna vary in spelling by a single letter but they couldn't be more different. Both carry strong musical memories for me.

My first visit to Piana was a decade ago on our first complete trip round the island. We had just negotiated the frightening and beautiful west coast road between Calvi and Porto. Piana is separated from Porto by the impossibly spectacular Calanches de Piana, and on our first day there we rashly decided to take a short walk. Accustomed as we were to 10km strolls in the gentle and forgiving hills of England's Hampshire, the Calanches gave us a sharp lesson in geography - I think we managed about 2km in our inadequate foootwear.

We stayed in Piana for three days. On our last full day, there was a village festival with a mountain race (No, of course I didn't enter it!), mime artists, jugglers, magicians and all kinds of other exciting things culminating in a concert of Corsican traditional music in Piana's beautiful church of the Assumption.

I remember several things about that day. A large and friendly Alsatian succeeded in catching the magician's dove to everyone's consternation but was somehow persuaded to relinquish his prize with, apparently, no ill effects to the latter. The magician's assistant, a beautiful little white fairy of eight or nine years of age charmed us all. And the characters who had entertained us during the day had been allowed to use the church to store their costumes and props including a huge monocycle. While we awaited the (late as usual) musicians, this motley gang trooped into the church to retrieve their gear, much to the delight and amusement of the concertgoers. The concert that followed was my introduction to Corsican polyphony - I've been hooked ever since.

Not sure why this memory arrived in my brain today. Anyway - a very Happy New Year to you all, and I hope you'll be able to pay this lovely place a visit when warmer weather comes.

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