Thursday, April 8, 2010

Music from the Carpathian Mountains

This CD, which I picked up this morning to listen to while I was working, is quite curious. On the cover it is called, "Pan Pipe Songs and Dances From Transylvania (The Land of Dracula) and Other Mysterious Regions," but in iTunes it is called "Greetings from Hungaria Part 1 - Traditionals." I don't where the country of "Hungaria" is, and the liner notes say:

Transylvania is legendary as the home of the vampire Count Dracula, based on the exploits of a Romanian noble, Vlad the Impaler. But the mythical ghouls have been the least of the problems endured by this Eastern European region, which was invaded by barbarian tribes, Hungarians, Mongols, Turks, Hapsburgs, and Soviets.

The region known as Transylvania sweeps southeastward from the present-day Hungarian border to central Romania. It is bounded on three sides by mountains. The first record of its mane [sic], which means "beyond the forest," appears in documents from the 12th century. Because it is a fertile area and was crossed by important trade routes, rulers of many lands wanted to control Transylvania.

I don't know as much as I'd like to about the history of this region, but the music sounds very much like Hungarian folk music, or at least it would if there were only the hurdy-gurdies, fiddles, hammer dulcimers, and vocals without the bagpipes. The track titles are in Hungarian:

1. Szigetközi Dudanóták (Pipe Tunes of Szigetkoz) [2:15]
2. Zörög a Cidrus (The Citruswood Is Whispering) [1:32]
3. Bonchidai (Slow Lad's Dance) [3:21]
4. Eleki Román Táncdallamok (Dance Tunes of Elek) [3:21]
5. Dráva Menti Horváth Népdalok (Folk Songs of Drava Valley) [3:19]
6. Széki Keserves (Lament of Szek) [2:09]
7. Szépkenyerúszentmártoni Köszöntó (Greeting Song) [1:52]
8. Amerikás Dal (Hungarian Song from the American Emigration) [3:42]
9. Lassú Csárdás és Bertóké Verbunk (Slow Csardas and Bertok's Dance) [2:46]
10. Udvarhelyszéki Dalok (Songs of Transylvania) [3:57]
11. Széki Verbunk (Szek Dance) [1:30]
12. Bánat, Bánat, de Bánatos Vagyok (Sorrow, Sorrow, I Am Sorrowful) [1:53]
13. Lónal Keserves (Lament of Lona) [3:19]
14. észak-mezóségi Tánczene (Dance Music of Northern Transylvania) [3:42]
15. En Az úton (On My Way) [2:01]
16. Székelyföldi Táncok (Dances of Szekely) [3:04]
17. Azért Vagyok Lenvirág (I Am a Flax Flower) [0:24]

In spite of its incredibly silly title, the music is fabulous, like Hungarian folk music.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Snuff Bottles

I've always found snuff bottles to be curious little objects. The artistry in some of them is quite impressive, but I never really took the time to learn much about them. This article has some good general information about them. Excerpt:
Chinese snuff bottles were only made in the Qing Dynasty, which started in 1644 and ended in 1911, and contrary to what some people think, they were used only for holding powdered tobacco, usually with some herbs and spices in it, which was inhaled through the nose. They were never used for opium; that’s a totally different thing.
They actually started in the imperial court. For the first hundred years of their existence, pretty much throughout the 18th century, tobacco was exceedingly expensive in China, so taking snuff was a habit. It was definitely something for the upper crust of the imperial family and the influential minority of China. It wasn’t until the 19th century that you see a diffusion to the general population.
I own two Chinese snuff bottles myself. One is layered and carved glass, given to me as a gift from a friend. The second is an inexpensive, porcelain, recently created (and therefore not genuine) bottle in the form of Tang Dynasty tea scholar Lu Yu (陆羽).