A unique collection of recorded Greek folk music has been digitized and made available to the public by Harvard University’s Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature.
The collection, named after Trinity College Classics Professor James A. Notopoulos, is particularly notable for its wealth of songs that use centuries-old musical and poetic techniques to narrate recent occurrences such as the Italian invasion, Nazi occupation and other events from World War II.
In September 1952, Notopoulos traveled to Greece with funding from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Philosophical Society to make audio recordings of traditional Greek music and oral poetry.
Inspired by Milman Parry and Albert Lord’s groundbreaking work in the southern Balkans, he hoped to conduct an analogous survey of oral composition techniques and heroic themes in modern Greek folk song as a basis for further comparative studies.
From his base at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, he embarked on numerous field trips until August 1953, recording singers, oral poets, instrumentalists, and storytellers in villages and towns across mainland Greece, the islands of Crete and Naxos and Cyprus.
Notopoulos gathered 645 discrete performances — roughly 90 hours of vocal and instrumental music — on 157 double-sided reel-to-reel tapes, nearly an hour of color and black and white films and several hundred color photographs, all digitized and catalogued from 2013-2018.
The Notopoulos Collection is remarkable for its breadth, as it spans a great many of the popular genres and regional styles of traditional and liturgical music in Greece; its depth, since Notopoulos recorded multiple variations of songs from various locales and sometimes different versions of a single composition from the same performer; and its excellent audio quality.
The Notopoulos Collection stands as a sonic and multimedia testament to the diversity of oral music and poetry traditions in rural post-Civil War Greece, and a valuable resource for researchers and practitioners of Greek and other regional music and poetry traditions.
A spreadsheet with detailed notes on the contents of the Notopoulos Collection can be downloaded here.
A page containing links to audio files of performances can be accessed here.
Several performers, compositions, and other descriptive features of the recordings have yet to be identified. Visit the Harvard University website for more information.
Featured image: Constantine Manos, circa 1960s.
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