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ClassicsOnline Home » SLOVENIA Various: Winter Kolednica (Carols)
By Jon Pareles
The New York Times
"Slovenia, in central Europe, has held on to two kinds of unaccompanied seasonal songs: narrative songs so rhythmic they could be Slovene hip-hop, and choral songs declaimed in major-key harmonies, both originally sung by groups of English carolers. This collection intersperses the songs with ebullient instrumentals - for bells, wooden flute, accordion, hammered dulcimer or zither - that add variety."
By Marc Shulgold
Rocky Mountain News
"A mix of church bells, recited and sung carols from Slovenia."
By Jason Serinus
"Slovenia, a country of 2 million, lies in the heart of Europe nestled between Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. With singing their primary form of musical expression, the Slovenes have managed to preserve much of their traditional heritage. Songs, usually written for three or more voices, are in major keys and for the most part sung loudly without changes of dynamics or tempo. While the familiar harmonies are less engaging than those of Bulgaria and the Balkans, this is a rare opportunity to hear authentic performances recorded as early as 1962 and preserved by the Institute of Ethnomusicology of the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts."
WINTER KOLEDNICA IN SLOVENIA
At the heart of Europe, where the Balkan Peninsula meets the
Apennine Peninsula and the Danube Basin meets the Adriatic Sea, lies Slovenia.
The country, nestling between Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy, has a
population of just under two million. Its capital city is Ljubljana. Its
language, Slovene, is a member of the South Slavonic family. Beyond the
official borders of Slovenia, Slovenes can be found in areas of Austria,
Hungary, Croatia and Italy. There are around 500,000 Slovene emigrants living
in other countries around the world. All of these Slovenes – those in Slovenia,
those living in Slovene areas outside the borders and those scattered around
the world – are linked by a common culture and tradition and constitute a
uniform Slovene cultural area. In the past this common culture and tradition
shaped the national identity and national consciousness of the Slovenes and,
despite the influences of the Romance, Germanic, Magyar and Yugoslav worlds,
the Slovene area formed and preserved its own unique cultural image, which
largely belongs to the Alpine area. Thanks to their way of life and respect for
tradition, Slovenes have managed to conserve, to the present day, many relics
of the past in both their material and spiritual cultures. The most
characteristic form of musical expression of the Slovenes is singing, although
the instrumental tradition is also important. Slovene folk songs consist of
narrative songs (legendary songs, historical songs, social songs, etc.) and
lyrical songs (children’s songs, love songs, ceremonial songs, etc.). Slovene
folk songs are in major keys and are usually for three or more voices. The
leading voice usually takes the middle part, the upper voice follows it a third
above, and the bass line moves around the basic harmonic intervals. When these
three voices are joined by a fourth voice, the fourth part interweaves among
the other three, sometimes even ascending beyond the upper part. Songs are
usually sung loudly, without changes of dynamics or tempo, and in a slow,
Singing was often connected to customs, and one such custom
is koledovanje, where a group of people (koledniki) go from house to house in
and around the village on certain feast days and sing songs appropriate to the
occasion (although sometimes the greetings are spoken). The greetings bring
happiness and blessings to the house and its inhabitants, to the animals and to
the fields, and thus the koledniki are repaid with gifts. The koledniki perform
a kind of religious function and folk beliefs ascribe them supernatural power.
Best known is koledovanje at Christmas, New Year and the Epiphany, although
there are also other types which differ considerably in terms of time and
place. Most of the koledniki are men, although children and women occasionally
take part. As a rule the singing is done without instrumental accompaniment.
In all probability these ritual visits from house to house
derive from pagan times. The name koleda derives from the word calendae, the
ancient name for ritual house-to-house visits to mark the New Year which our ancestors
probably adopted from the Romans. It is likely that during the period of
Christianisation – or through the intervention of Christians – the word koleda
began to be used for house-to-house visits at Christmastide. The first written
reference to koledovanje in Slovenia dates from the second half of the 16th
century when Primozˇ Trubar, the author of the first book in Slovene,
refers to it as an ancient tradition.
The melodies of the songs of the koledniki do not differ
greatly from other folk songs. The words usually contain a greeting to the
house, a description of the event, a request for gifts, an expression of good
wishes, thanks for the gifts and a solemn farewell. In the past koledniki were
given food; these days it is customary to give them money. At one time this
custom would have helped some of the poorer singers get through the winter.
Today the gifts are usually collected for charitable purposes.
The album contains examples of various sung or recited
kolednice (carols) and some songs from the Christmas and New Year period. These
are just a small part of Slovenia’s rich musical tradition. Some dance tunes
have also been added for their seasonal importance.
The beginning of the Winter koledovanje is announced by a
St. Barbara’s Day carol (track 2). In eastern Slovenia on the evening before
St. Barbara’s Day (4 December) singers known as polajzˇarji go from house
to house wishing happiness. Koledovanje also used to be a feature of the pig
slaughter in winter. At slaughter time children (mainly the poorer ones) would
go from house to house, sing a song of good wishes and receive in exchange some
pork or sausage. These days there is no longer koledovanje at slaughter time
but in some areas songs are still sung at this domestic celebration (track 4).
Christmas carol-singing (24 and 25 December) preserved pagan
beliefs which are, however, combined with the Christian message. This period is
closely connected to nature and the winter solstice, when the days start to get
longer. At Christmas time koledniki would go from house to house and sing
songs. Today, however, Christmas is more of a family holiday. People celebrate
at home and sing various Christmas songs (tracks 6, 8 and 9). In eastern
Slovenia it was the custom on the day after Christmas, 26 December, or St.
Stephen’s Day, when the horses are blessed, to sing or recite St. Stephen’s Day
carols. This usually happened on the eve of the holiday or first thing in the morning (track 11). Carols are
not sung on 27 December, the feast of St. John the Evangelist, but at Predgrad
in the Poljane Valley it used to be the custom to dance a round dance or kolo
to mark the winter solstice; Christianity ‘disguised’ this custom with
celebrations and dances to mark St. John’s Day. They danced to the old ballad
Pobelelo pole z ovcama which tells the story of three women who tear out a
young man’s heart (track 13).
Koledovanje to mark the New Year also includes
tepezˇkanje–Holy Innocents, today best known as a holiday for children who
use this day to ‘thrash’ grown-ups without being punished. On this day, 28
December, we also remember the Holy Innocents massacred by Herod. Once upon a
time it was adult men who went ‘thrashing’ and with their ‘miraculous’ rods
restored vital energy (track 15). The transition from the old year to the new
year is a time when people exchange greetings and wish each other all the best
for the new year. That is why even today New Year’s koledniki travel around the
countryside wishing people health and happiness and blessing their houses (tracks
17, 19 and 20).
As the Gospel tells us, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar,
variously known as the Three Kings, the Three Wise Men or the Magi, followed a
star until they found the Baby Jesus. Then they bowed down before him and
offered him gifts. In Europe, the singing of Epiphany carols on 5 January, the
eve of the feast of the Epiphany, has its roots in medieval dramatic rituals
and is today the most widespread form of koledovanje in Slovene ethnic
territory (tracks 22, 23, 24). At Candlemas, 2 February, candles are blessed to
remember the Purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in
the Temple. In the popular religious tradition Candlemas means the end of the
Christmas period. In eastern Slovenia it is also marked by Candlemas
carol-singing, a tradition which has also been adopted by female singers
(tracks 26, 27).
The compact disc contains a series of documentary recordings
of Slovenian kolednice. The songs are recorded on various types of equipment
and therefore the quality of some of the recordings, particularly the older
ones, is slightly poorer. All the recordings with the exception of tracks 13
and 28 are kept by the archive of the Institute of Ethnomusicology of the
Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in
Ljubljana. In these recordings you can hear thirty-four different singers and
groups from various parts of the Slovenian ethnic territory. Some of the songs
are not kolednice but they have been included in this presentation because they
are songs that are traditionally sung during the Christmas/New Year period.
Between the songs I have also included instrumental recordings
and examples of festive bell-ringing and chiming. These add variety to the
compact disc and serve as an introduction to traditional Slovene instrumental music as it was once heard
– and is still heard today in places – on feast days and holidays and as part
of daily life.
Institute of Ethnomusicology Scientific
Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and
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SLOVENIA Various: Winter Kolednica (Carols)