How Classical Music Influenced British Folk Songs

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


How Classical Music Influenced British Folk Songs
In this blog post, we’ll explore how classical music has influenced British folk songs over the years. We’ll also provide some tips on how you can use this information to improve your own songwriting.

The Origins of British Folk Songs

Folk songs have been around since the early days of human history, passed down from generation to generation orally. In Britain, the arrival of the Roman Empire brought with it a new musical tradition from the continent which slowly began to mix with the existing folk songs. This process was continued by the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans, among others. Over time, the various influences from these groups blended together to create the uniquely British tradition of folk music that we know today.

The Celtic Influence

The Celtic people are an ethnic group native to Western Europe, especially the areas surrounding the Celtic Sea. The Celtic influence is seen in many British folk songs that have been passed down through the generations. Many of these songs are based on ancient Celtic mythology and have been adapted to fit the modern day.

The most famous example of a Celtic-influenced folk song is “Danny Boy.” This song is based on an old Irish ballad called “The Londonderry Air.” The original ballad tells the story of a young man who leaves his homeland to fight in a war. He is killed in battle and his body is brought back to his loved ones in a coffin.

Other popular Celtic-influenced folk songs include “Wild Mountain Thyme,” “The Skye Boat Song,” and “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” These songs all have their roots in traditional Celtic music and culture.

Classical music also had a hand in shaping British folk music. Many of the melodies used in folk songs were borrowed from classical pieces. For example, the melody of “Greensleeves” was borrowed from a 16th-century Italian dance tune. Similarly, the melody of “Scarborough Fair” comes from a 17th-century English ballad.

Folk songs often tell stories about real life events and people. They can be humorous, romantic, or tragic. Folk songs are an important part of British culture and heritage.

The Anglo-Saxon Influence

The Anglo-Saxon period in Britain lasted from around the 5th century to the Norman Conquest in the 11th century. This was a time of great change in Britain, as the Roman Empire collapsed and Christianity began to spread. It was also a time of great literary achievement, with some of the earliest examples of English poetry being written during this period.

Anglo-Saxon folk songs would have been heavily influenced by the music of the time, which was itself heavily influenced by classical music. One of the most famous examples of this is the melody of “Greensleeves”, which was first written down in England during the 15th century. However, it is thought to be based on a much older French melody.

Another example is the Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, which contains elements of both German and Italian folk songs. This shows how music from different cultures can come together to create something new and distinctive.

British folk songs often have a strong sense of national identity, as they reflect the country’s history and culture. This is one of the things that makes them so special and unique.

The Influence of Classical Music

Classical music has influenced various genres of music over the years. One such genre is British folk music. In this article, we will explore how classical music has influenced British folk songs.

The Renaissance

During the Renaissance, classical music underwent a radical change. In the early part of the period, composers were influenced by folk music and popular songs. As the period progressed, however, they began to develop their own style, which was more complicated and dramatic than traditional folk music. This new style was called the madrigal, and it quickly became popular among the educated classes. Many of Britain’s best-known folk songs, such as “Greensleeves” and “Dance to Your Daddy,” are based on madrigals.

The Baroque Period

The baroque period was from approximately 1600 to 1750. It was a time of grandeur in both the secular and religious music worlds with composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi becoming household names. In England, the two main styles of baroque music were the consort (a group of instruments from the same family playing together) and the cantata (a piece for solo voice with instruments). The baroque period was also when opera was born.

The influence of classical music can be heard in British folk songs in several ways. First, many of the melodies used in folk songs are derived from classical pieces. For example, the melody of “Greensleeves” is based on a theme from a Handel concerto grosso. Second, classical compositional techniques such as counterpoint (the art of writing two or more melodic lines that harmonize with each other) and variation (repeating a melody but making small changes each time) are often used in folk songs. Finally, classical instrumentation (the use of specific instruments to play certain parts) is sometimes used in folk songs. For example, fiddles and guitars are often used to play the melody in British folk songs while concertinas and accordions provide the accompaniment.

The Classical Period

The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 and 1820. The Classical period falls between the Baroque and the Romantic periods. Classical music has a lighter, clearer texture than Baroque music and is less complex. It is mainly homophonic, using a clear melody line over a subordinate chordal accompaniment, but counterpoint was by no means forgotten, especially later in the period.

The major figure of the Classical era is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), who produced works that summarize the era. Other important composers of the Classical era include Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Luigi Boccherini (1743–1805), Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–87), George Frideric Handel (1685–1759),Georges Bizet (1838-75)

The term “classical music” did not appear until the early 19th century, when it was used in relation to the style of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Clementi and others. It was not until after Beethoven’s death in 1827 that “the classicism of Haydn and Mozart… became widely recognized as comprising one of four distinct periods in Western art music.”

The Modern Era

It would be hard to overestimate the influence of classical music on British folk songs. Even during the twentieth century, when folk songs enjoyed something of a revival, many of them were based on classical themes or structures. More recently, the popularity of Celtic music has led to a renewed interest in folk songs, and classical influences can be heard in many of the best-known examples.

The 20th Century

Classical music and the British folk tradition have been closely connected for centuries. In the early 20th century, composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst began to incorporate folk songs into their works, often arranging them for orchestra or choir. This practice became increasingly common in the mid-20th century, as composers such as Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett drew inspiration from traditional folk tunes.

The influence of classical music on British folk songs is most evident in the 20th century. The most notable examples are Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves and Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, both of which incorporate traditional folk tunes into their structures. Tippett’s A Child of Our Time is also based on broadside ballads, a type of traditional folk song.

The popularity of British folk music in the 20th century was due in part to the work of Cecil Sharp, who collected and published hundreds of traditional tunes. His work helped revive interest in traditional music and encouraged many people to seek out and perform traditional songs. Today, there are numerous British folk groups that play traditional tunes, often with a modern twist.

The 21st Century

Folk music in the 21st century is still as vital and important as it has ever been. It is a genre that has always been about the people, for the people, and by the people. In a time where the world is more connected than ever before, folk music has been able to evolve and grow in new and exciting ways.

The internet has played a huge role in the growth of folk music in the 21st century. Platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud have given independent artists a way to reach a global audience with their music. These platforms have also allowed folk musicians to connect with each other and share ideas, leading to new collaborations and cross-pollination between different styles of folk music.

One of the most exciting things about folk music in the 21st century is how inclusive it has become. Folk music has always been about telling stories and sharing experiences, so it’s no surprise that it has appeal for people from all walks of life. In recent years, we’ve seen an influx of people from different cultures and backgrounds taking up folk music as their own. This has led to some truly unique and innovative takes on the genre, keeping it fresh and relevant for today’s audiences.

So whatever your taste in music, there’s sure to be a type of folk music out there for you. Whether you like your folk music traditional or modern, fast-paced or slow-paced, there’s something out there for everyone. So go ahead and explore – you might just find your new favorite type of music

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