Assignment Three ~ Nationalism in Music

Music 1 ~ From the Present to the Past – Ms Suncica Lazic, Student ID: 516098


Assignment Three – [Pt III] – Nationalism in music

Nationalism is one of the hot topics of current times. Here in Britain there has been a resurgence of interest in the preservation of traditions. As is usually the case the upsurge in nationalism has come in the wake of social unrest, economic difficulties and at the back of recessions. The perceived loss of ‘autonomy’ due to decisions being taken by a foreign body, in our case the EU, and the (arguably irrational) fear of an unmanageable influx of migrants along with a greater homogenisation of both culture, laws and goods has led to a desire to reassert a national identity. These sociopolitical trends are then reflected in the arts. Sometimes this is expressed in patriotic and less than savoury ways.

‘… And to those who think the Last Night of the Proms should actually be a kind of nostalgic, patriotic rally, above and beyond its musical content: get a bloody life.’ (Goodall, H.2017)

Similar trends were happening in the Romantic era. Composers in the 19th Century sought to re-establish a sense of national identity after long periods of war and occupation. They sought freedom from the cultural dominance of German Art music. Like now, some managed to embrace their roots in an invigorating way and some, like Richard Wagner, veered towards degrading and dangerous philosophies based on supremacy. (Taruskin, R. and Gibbs, C. 2013:607)

In this essay I have chosen to focus on two pieces by composers who I feel used nationalism in their music in a positive and inspiring way, without ever loosing love and respect for other cultures. Let’s start by looking at Vaughan William’s quintessentially English piece ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’.

Written references to the folk tune Greensleeves hark as far back as 1580. (Greensleeves Myth & History, 2016) It was of a ground bass construction popular in European dances of the time. (Gjerdingen, R. 2007) It is generally considered to be a Romanesca (a variant of the Passamezzo Antico) and as such Spanish and/or Italian in origin. (DeVoto, M. 2017)

The lyrics have been attributed to Henry VIII, but it seems more likely they are of Elizabethan origin. (Castelli, J.H. 2017) Many versions of the ballad existed and even Shakespeare made references to it in his play ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. It is presumably this reference that prompted Vaughan Williams to pick Greensleeves as one of the folk tunes he included in his four act Opera about Shakespeare ’Sir John in Love’. The libretto was in fact based on ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. The Opera itself is rarely performed, however Ralph Greaves’ arrangement of the Greensleeves section has endured and become very well known. Greaves also included the folk song ‘Lovely Joan’ which had been a part of the ‘Sir John in Love’ Opera.

Fig. 1. Greensleeves section of ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’ (2004)

By the time Vaughan Williams wrote ’Sir John in Love’ he had already become a champion of the collection and preservation of English folk music. He had researched Greensleeves’ origins and evolution and compared several different versions starting with the version given in Ballet’s Lute Book’ and tracking its development to a Morris jig in the Dorian mode. There are many permutations of Greensleeves some in Aeolian, some in Dorian and even Mixolydian modes.

According to Vaughan Williams himself;

‘One of the most interesting examples we have of the transformation of a song tune into a dance tune is the melody Greensleeves. This was a well-known tune in Shakespeare’s time, and he refers to it more than once’-and the same tune, in an altered form, was used up to modern times as a dance tune by the Morris men of England.’ (Williams, 2008)

In addition to the folk tunes, what is it then that makes ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’ sound so English? In my view the instrumentation gives it a very specific character. The combination of flute, harp and Divisi strings convey a very ‘green’ and lush feeling. The sounds evoke a magical pastoral atmosphere. The directness and prosody of the language is reflected in the very English directness and phrasing of the melody which is without extensive ornamentation. The 6/8-time signature and hints of the Dorian mode is typical of local folk dances. The overall impression of the piece is epic and sprawling but it never loses an element of melancholy. There is always the sense of solitude and restraint to temper the soaring beauty, thus preventing it from the bombast and grandeur of, for example, German Art Music.

Next, I’ll take a look at the passionate style of Spanish art music.

In Spain a renewed interest in long forgotten Spanish Renaissance music and folk music was led by the guitarist, composer and musicologist Felip Pedrell. Along with his four-volume collection of folk songs ‘Canciero Popular Espanol’ he also published his theories in ‘Por nuestra música’ (Rhodes Draayer, 2009:173-175) which was to heavily influence generations of Spanish composers to come, including his first students Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados and later the Impressionistic composer Manuel de Falla. Isaac Albeniz has become one of SpaIn’s best known composers. His pieces, originally composed for piano but consequently arranged for guitar, have become synonymous with Spanish Art Music and form part of the repertoire for classical guitar.

‘Chants d’Espange contains some of the most celebrated and widely performed of his works, especially the ‘Prelude”, a warhorse in the guitar repertoire’ (Clark, W A. 2002:97)

‘Asturias-Leyenda’, which borrows heavily from flamenco music, has in fact gone full circle. I have personally witnessed it adapted and performed by flamenco musicians, thus becoming part of the folk music tradition that it drew on. Although ’Asturias-Leyenda’ (originally titled ‘Preludio’) was written for piano it emulates distinct flamenco guitar techniques. The structure does not strictly follow a flamenco structure but remains in a simple ABA form. However other aspects of flamenco are clearly mimicked, such as the ‘rasgueado’ chords so unique and typical of the style and the use of open string pedal point. (Yates, S. 2000)

Rasgueada chord
Fig. 2. ‘Rasgueado’ Chords section of Preludio Chants d’Espange Op. 232 (s.d)

The Phrygian mode is also used in a lot of the piece, both in the rhythmical ‘guitar/dance’ sections and then in the more lyrical ‘cante jondo’ middle section. Albeniz uses ‘cante jondo’ type ornamentations like appoggiaturas and acciaccura’s to emphasise certain notes and the interval of the augmented second and the range of the augmented sixth to give it a Flamenco flavour. (Cho, YS. 2006)

The ‘cante jondo’ is traditionally the improvised, sung solo section of flamenco and believed to have its roots in Christian Liturgy, Hebrew, Indian and Romani music. (Lorca, FC. 1931) All of these features of ‘Asturias-Leyenda’ is what gives it it’s distinctly Spanish quality.

In summary; the preservation of customs, traditions and originality is essential to our quality of life and sense of self. Resisting homogenisation and dilution has become a battle for survival. However, resisting fanatical purist fantasies is of even greater importance at times like these. Appreciating one’s own culture, whilst recognising the interdependence and cross fertilisation of different traditions is a balance that must be pursued. Had it not been for the influence and spread of music from one nation to the next there would be no such thing as ‘western art music.


Figure 1. Lazic, S. Greensleeves section of ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’ (2004) [Sheet Music+Photograph] In: possession of: The author: Lazic.

Figure 2. ‘Rasgueado’ Chords section of Preludio Chants d’Espange Op. 232 (n.d) [Sheet Music] At: (Accessed on 8 Sep 2017)


Albeniz, I. (1860) ‘Preludio’ Chants d’Espange Op. 232. [Music Score] Public Domain At: (Accessed on 8 Sep 2017)

Castelli, J. H. (n.d) HENRY III. King of England. His Reign, Wives and Military Battles. At: (Accessed on 04 Sep 2017)

Cho, Y S. (2006) The Spanish Guitar Influence on the Piano Music of Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados: A Detailed Study of “Granada” and “Asturias” of Suite Española by Albéniz and “Andaluza” and “Danza Triste” of Doce Danzas Españolas by Granados. [D.M.A] the University of Texas at Austin. . At: (Accessed on 20 Sep 2017)

Clark, W. A. (2002) Isaac Albeniz: Portrait of a Romantic. (New Ed edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Classic FM (n.d) Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleeves. At: (Accessed on 4 Sep 2017)

Coe, D and Jones, A. (n.d) The Search for Five Finger Frank. At: (Accessed on 19 Sep 2017)

DeVoto, M. (n.d) Ground bass. At: (Accessed on 1 Sep 2017)

Fantasia on Greensleeves Analysis (n.d) At: (Accessed on 01 Sep 2017)

Fletcher, S. (2017) Greensleeves- Song Notes. At: (Accessed on 02 Sep 2017)

Garcia Lorca, F. (1931) “CANTE JONDO”.  At:  (Accessed on 12 Sep 2017)

Gjerdingen, R. O. (2007) Music in the Galant Style. At: (Accessed on 12 Sep 2017)

Goodall, H. (2017) Flags at the Proms: a few thoughts. At: (Accessed on 12 Sep 2017)

Greensleeves Myth & History (2016) At: (Accessed on 02 Sep 2017)

Horshall, K. (2015) Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleeves. Programme notes no.145 [Kindle Edition] From: (Accessed on 22 Sep 2017)

Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing (2014) Galant schemata. At: (Accessed on 18 Sep 2017)

Matthews, D. (1998) The Music of English Pastoral. At: (Accessed on 10 Sep 2017)

The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (2013) [Kindle Edition] From: (Accessed on 15 Sep 2017)

Piotrowska, A.G  (2013) Gypsy Music in European Culture. [Kindle Edition] From: (Accessed on 20 Sep 2017)

Rhodes Draayer, S. (2009) Art Song Composers of Spain: An Encyclopedia. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press.

Saylor, E (2017) English Pastoral Music- From Arcadia to Utopia, 1900-1955. [Kindle Edition] From: (Accessed on 17 July 2017)

Starr, F. (2007) Nationalism, Folk Song & Primitivism: In Nationalism in Music. At: (Accessed on 08 Sep 2017)

Taruskin, R. and Gibbs, C. (2013) The Oxford History of Western music. (College Edition) New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Thomas Cosmo & Isaac Albeniz s Orchestra Barcelona. (2013) Suite Espanola, Op. 47- Leyenda – Single. [Download] Available at:

Williams, V. (2004) Fantasia on Greensleeves arranged from the score of the opera “Sir John in Love” by Ralph Greaves. Tewkesbury: Goodmusic Publishing.

Williams, V. (2012) Fantasia on Greensleeves. Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Classic FM: The Full Works). [Download] London: Decca. Available at: (Accessed on 1 July 2017)

Williams, V. (2008) Vaughan Williams on music. [Kindle Edition] From: (Accessed on 03 Sep 2017)

Yates, S. (2000) Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About… ALBÉNIZ’S LEYENDA (Preludio-Asturias). At: (Accessed on 6 Sep 2017)


Assignment Three – [Pt. III] – Reflective Account

The main difficulty with assignment three was picking the pieces of music. There are so many composers and styles in this era that I like.

Although I settled on a piece from Vaughan Williams and one from Isaac Albeniz I could just as easily have picked something from Tchaikovsky, Bartok or Grieg. There’s a plethora of music that could have been used as a basis for an essay on Nationalism in music. In the end I decided to pick two vastly different pieces, but both written by composers with an abiding interest in folk music from their respective nations. They also happen to be pieces of music that I love.

Even though I am also a fan of Richard Wagner’s music I can’t get behind his views of Nationalism nor his antisemitism. It has not stopped me from listening to and appreciating his music, but I can’t help but think that perhaps my tolerance of him comes from the fact that he is far removed in time. I see him as a relic and product of his time. I ask myself if I would be quite as forgiving if faced with similarly racist views from a contemporary musician. I doubt I would, but perhaps it is an unfair comparison since I live in a post – Holocaust era and have seen the horrors that resulted from the Nietzschean inspired anti-Semitism. Wagner did not have the benefit of history to help shape his views. Regardless of whatever ignorance lay behind his ‘beliefs’ I do struggle to consolidate them with his wonderful music. I was recently in Switzerland and visited one of his residencies, now a museum. I found a lot of information about him there and there was a pamphlet he’d written about the ‘Jews’. I would like to write up my notes from there properly and include them on my blog.

This brings me to another area in which I still struggle when it comes to the course work. I’ve yet to learn to limit the amount of information I gather. I have more research notes than I will ever have time to input into the computer. It is way beyond the scope of what can fit into my essays or listening logs. The result is that I end up running out of time and none of it gets edited and put into the blog. I have to master a more selective approach and stick to the main point rather than go off on tangents. One of those tangents was paying a visit to Cecil House, which is near where I live. There I gathered a substantial amount of information about English folk music. It has become a topic of great interest and I’m extremely glad my attention was drawn to it. So, all in all I am extremely happy with all these new discoveries I’m making through this course, but I need to learn how to reign myself in and stick to the main task at hand.