The term folklore (from the words folk = people, lore – knowledge, i.e. ‘what people know’) designates the cultural manifestations implemented in the forms of oral, acting, dancing, dramatic and musical-singing communication. Folk manifestations are carried out in many types and variants and are subject to the collective norms of the specific local community or social group. They reflect the social and cultural relations of the given environment and its ethical and aesthetic opinions. Syncretism is the characteristic feature, which means that several means of expression overlap in individual folklore manifestations. In the classification system we distinguish between verbal, musical and dance folklore. In science, the term folklore carries several content meanings – sometimes it designates only folk literature, sometimes the entire field of spiritual culture. The following sciences pertain to the study of folklore in Slovakia – verbal folkloristics, ethnomusicology and ethno-choreography as special disciplines of ethnology.
Verbal folklore is constituted by verbal, verbal-dramatic, oral and written manifestations of the folk tradition. It is divided into several basic types and genres. It incorporates proverbs, sayings, lore/weather folklore, riddles, fairy tales, myths, legends, stories from life and anecdotes. In family and calendar rite folklore, dramatic scenes, conjuring, incantations and congratulatory rhymes prevail. Folk and puppet theatres constitute a special group. Verbal folklore includes counting rhymes, nursery rhymes and dialogue forms of children’s games from children’s folklore. Written folklore – fair songs, letters, congratulations and inscriptions – constitute part of the verbal folklore.
Musical folklore consists of folk production represented by songs, instrumental music and all musical forms, whose main representative are musical manifestations as well as manifestations accompanied by musical means of expression. It exists in the form of individual interpretive versions and its main feature is variability. Musical folklore in Slovakia has been changing and developing for thousands of years, although it has kept lots of archaic features up to the present. The dominant phenomena which musical folklore is related to are:
a, folk song,
b, folk musical instruments and
c, folk collective (ensemble) play.
Folk song represents the basic musical means of expression in the environment of village inhabitants. Everybody who is able to sing at least some songs from local (or regional) repertoire and has got moderate interpretation skills is potentially considered to be a folk singer. The repertoire of songs was originally obtained in the family and during different social events (either ceremonial or entertainment ones). In general, the repertoire of men is smaller and it is related to specific male song (shepherd, recruit, military and others). Women usually keep slightly more archaic songs, functionally bound, lyric genres or genres more difficult to remember.
Folk song or singing as such is bound to the repertoire which is functionally related to singing occasions. The entire character of the singing expression is the result of local folk-music tradition but also of influences from the surrounding. Concerning singing traditions of individual places in Slovakia, we can note the dominance of either strong individual solo singing (e.g. the Gemer-Malohont region), or unison singing (e.g. the Hont and Myjava region) up to exceptionally developed polyphony which is created by different means on the basis of inherited tradition (the Upper Liptov Region and Ruthenian areas). Under the influence of folklorism organised forms of singing are making their way to the top today when we compare them with spontaneous singing which was typical for the past. Similarly, the singing repertoire is no more limited only to a region and the place of origin of the singer thanks to people interested in folklore.
Folk musical instruments are instruments for sound creation or which create sound that can be used in solo music manifestations as well as ensembles. The Slovak folk collection of musical instruments is very large when we compare it with other European cultures. Not only is the collection very large, but also the traditional music produced by these instruments is. This music often meets all criteria of aesthetic maturity and technical virtuosity. According to a married couple of ethnomusicologists-Mr.and Mrs.Elschek (Introduction to Slovak folk music studies) – we distinguish two main groups of instruments which are used solo or in the collective play:
a, folk sound instruments and
b, folk musical instruments.
Sound instruments are divided according to whether the sound is achieved by their natural form and shape (stones, leaves, various fruits, shells etc.) or whether they were produced (klepáč (two-part instrument, where the sound is produced by striking these parts together) rapkáč (rattle), bunkoš (a stick with tips, sound is produced by its shaking), bells and similar). The single production of musical instruments is based on longer-used typical techniques. Folk musical instrument are divided according to the way how they produce tone and according to their acoustic qualities. Instrumental taxonomy offers a complex categorization of instruments:
a, self-sounding instruments (idiophones) – bells, klopačka (mining knocking equipment), chrastidlá (rattles), klepáče (knockers) and similar
b, membrane-phone instruments – they occur very rarely in our folk music. We note only a drum-tambour.
c, stringed instruments (chordophones) – violin, viola, cello, contrabass, small cimbalom, cither, zlobcoka, oktavka (kinds of violin), trough instruments- hurdy gurdy and ozembuch
d, air instruments (aero-phones) – bzučadlo-húkadlo, frngadlo (instruments producing sound similar to their names – buzzing, hooting etc.), edge pipes – made of willow, elderberry and oak trees.
Then reef edge pipe, Goral edge pipe, rag edge pipe as well as hazel one-hand edge pipe, fujara (Slovak shepherds’ long pipe), trombita and trumpet made of bark and horn from the Važec region. Reeds include reed trumpet, corn trumpet, bagpipe and so on. In Slovakia we register approximately 200 musical instruments (data from 1989).
When we consider the functionality of solo instrumental music, it was, depending on musical instruments, signal level (a horn used for heard assembling, fujara and trombita used for spreading information from shepherd’s hut to a village and similar) and aesthetic level. The aesthetic artistic level of the individual folk musical instruments play is highly intimate expression of sincerity of feelings and aesthetic ideals. This music represented unbound musical expression used only to aesthetic manifestation of the musician. It wasn’t intended for “the audience“. The artistic individuality of the folk musician (and often the producer of the musical instrument) could nowhere be felt stronger than by playing solo a folk musical instrument.
One of the remarkable Slovak folk musical instruments is the fujara (Slovak shepherds’ long pipe). The fujara and playing on it were inscribed in the UNESCO list of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (recently referred to as the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity) in 2005. This instrument is similar to Gothic bass three-hole pipes which were spread in Europe mostly in the 12th and 13th century. Its specific features, as we know them today, originated in the community of shepherds in Central Slovakia. The homeland of fujara are villages near Slovenská Ľupča (Priechod, Podkonice and surroundings) as well as villages in the Podpoľanie region (Detva, Hriňová, Očová, Hrochoť, Poniky, Zvolenská Slatina and surroundings) and villages in the Gemer-Malohont region with the centre in Kokava nad Rimavicou (Kokava, Poltár, Tisovec, Klenovec and Turičky). Apart from the signal function, the play on fujara is mostly associated with the specific song repertoire of shepherds and outlaws. Gajdy (bagpipes) and the bagpipe culture were inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013. They aspire to be inscribed in the UNESCO Work Heritage List in 2015.
Folk ensemble play in Slovakia abounds in expressions and styles. In the past it was played mostly during dancing events- therefore it represented musical accompaniment of dance. It didn’t posses attributes of music “intended to be listened to” and it never accompanied any working occasions. The tradition of ensemble music in Slovakia started approximately in the half of the 18th century, although in some parts of our country these musical groups started to be established no sooner than at the beginning of the 20th century. We have to look for their roots in solo older instrumental music as well as in vocal song style. The continuity in development of older and younger instrumental style guarantees national integrity and that stays the truth when we consider that also a non-Slovak element- Roma people- contributed to the development of folk musical groups. The tradition of Slovak folk instrumental music is characterized through some arts of ensemble groups:
I. Bagpiper music- it was a connection of a bagpipes and a violin. According to the musicians we distinguish between goral group of two people and bagpiper group of three people.
II. Wind music- it contains a violin, viola, cello and contrabass in the representation of
a, wind group of two people
b, classical wind group of three people
c, wind group of four people
d, five-member wind music.
In single musical groups wind instruments are represented in different ways depending on regional traditions.
III. Dulcimer music- it is a group of 4-5 people with a dulcimer or with a clarinet.
The described examples of folk musical groups do not describe all their possible representatives but they include their most wide-spread arts.
A long tradition of ensemble music (very often a family tradition) caused that in many villages music groups were established whose musicians became the representatives of regional or local interpretive style. Primáš (the foreman) is usually regarded as the main representative of characteristic style in the play and the group used to bear his name. In Western Slovakia, folk music of Samko Dudik from Myjava, Jan Petruch from Priepasné, Martin and Stanislav Cibulka from Kostolné etc. became popular. From Central Slovakia we can mention folk music of the Palac family from Hrochot, the folk music of Blazej Paprcka from Hriňová, Pavol Olah-Vsivak from Poniky, the Pokos family from Telgárt and Šumiaca, the Strnast family from Heľpy, the Bartos family from Čierny Balog, Zubaj family from Východná, Rybar family from Terchova, Radic family from Kokava nad Rimavicou and many others. In Eastern Slovakia we can mention groups like musical group of Martin Zoltak from Raslavice and Jozef Kroka-Ceslak from Zámut. Despite the fact that Slovak musical folklore in its interpretation character of ensemble music is strongly varied, it creates characteristic style typical for the whole nation because it contains the most typical features of regional musical styles. It is worth mentioning that not only was fujara was inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity but in 2013 Music of Terchová also became part of the List.
The folk song is a differentiated music-verbal manifestation from the aspect of development and type with a simple structure, predominantly of anonymous origin, depending on tradition, that is spread collectively and predominantly orally (through singing). The folk song repertoire constitutes the sum of songs and compositions of various characters and origins, which are variable and regionally diverse thanks to the oral tradition. According to the function and occasion of singing, we distinguish between family rite songs (Christenings, weddings, funeral keening), calendar rite songs (such as Christmas carols, carnival songs, spring, Easter, summer Whit Week songs, St. John’s songs) the songs sung at work (meadow, reaping, harvesting songs, songs of shepherds) dance songs, songs sung during children’s games and songs sung at various social entertainment and relaxation occasions. We also distinguish songs according to the thematic orientation (love, military songs, etc.), according to the carriers or according to the interpretation (one voice, several voices). Several songs that became popular are incorporated in the traditional song repertoire. According to the developmental aspect, which is closely connected with musical folklore, we distinguish between a) old – pre-harmonic songs, b) transitional songs and c) new – harmonic songs. The old songs are further divided into magical-ritual songs, songs of the agricultural culture and songs of the shepherding culture. The new songs are divided into older harmonic songs (major – minor), harmonic newer (neo-Hungarian) and new harmonic songs of Western European style. Individual development styles exist in individual locations and regions side by side in different quantitative representation.
Folk theatre is based on the spontaneous creation of theatre signs, such as: the transformation of a human being into a character, the use of masks, props and costumes, and the use of gestures, mimicry, language means, monologues, dialogues and signs of dramatic plot. Such elements are present in many folklore forms, rites and plays and are also used within the framework of narration, singing and dancing interpretation. Rite plays are considered the earliest layer of folk theatre. Christmas plays constitute the later layer. The incorporation of rite and Christmas plays into the system of calendar customs led to the mutual overlapping of magical and religious functions. For example, the play about Saint Dorothea, which originated under the influence of Christian legend, is a play with a religious content. Comedic plays within the framework of weddings, carnival wandering, spinning evenings, etc constitute a special group. Many of them were spontaneous improvised performances. From the point of view of characters in the folk theatre we distinguish between dramatic characters (king, executioner, Dorothea, Nicolas, Bethlehem shepherds, three kings), rite characters (whit, goat, bear), demonic characters (Lucy, devil, grim reaper) and comic characters (dumb Kubo, priest, Gypsy). Folk theatre was not enacted on a stage, but in a room, a street, a courtyard, a pub, etc. The direct contact between actors and audience was the characteristic feature that erased the borderline between the imaginary stage and auditorium. Individual plays were repeated every year. Puppet and amateur theatre also significantly influenced folk theatre. From the point of view of the survival of individual types, some rites, Christmas and carnival plays were preserved for the longest. Traditional puppetry in Slovakia was inscribed in the Slovak Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013. In 2015 it was, together with the traditional puppetry in the Czech Republic, nominated for inscription in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Traditional folk dance is the art of dance and deportment, especially of the rural population, but also of townspeople. Farmers, shepherds and craftsmen were the creators and carriers in the past. We also include here dances assumed from other cultures and ethnic environments which in the course of time accommodated to the local conditions and continued to be passed down. Traditional folk dances are of a syncretic character. Along with song and music, they are connected with other manifestations of traditional folk culture, such as the spiritual culture (they constitute part of the rites and customs of the family and calendar cycles); they are connected to the pertinent way of life, farming and acquiring a livelihood; they constitute part of the social etiquette; and their final shape and form is significantly influenced by costumes. Traditional folk dance must be comprehended as a living and transforming organism. The dance repertoire of individual periods originated as a result of the layering, overlapping, influencing and extinction of dance manifestations which originated in various development periods. It was influenced by local, national and supranational traditions. In connection with musical development, we can distinguish several historic layers of traditional folk dance: the rite-magical dances (for example round dances, carnival dances) constitute the oldest group. The dances of the farm culture (dance ‘wheels’ of young men, spinning dances) and the shepherd and rebel culture (odzemok) constitute other layers. Neo-Hungarian (verbunk, czardas) and Western European (waltz, polka, mazurka and others) dances are among the newer kinds.
Dancing occasions constitute the necessary condition for preserving and developing traditional folk dances. Their existence depends on the overall social, cultural and historical situation. The gradual extinction of traditional dance occasions leads to the extinction of traditional dance as well.
In addition to individual dances (so called muzika), usually organised on Sundays, dances were part of the calendar customs such as: Carnival, Easter, Maypoles (the raising or taking down of maypoles), May Festivals, St John’s (bonfires on the eve of June 24), Whit Week, Harvest Festival (the end of the harvest), Catherine’s Festival (the last festival before Advent), Stephen’s (the first festival after Advent), wandering with Bethlehem during the Christmas holidays, the wandering of the Three Kings, Feasts.
Christening parties, confirmations and conscriptions and of course weddings were and still are the key dance occasions in the family cycle.
The basic categories of traditional folk dances according to the literature published until today and processed in encyclopaedic entries are constituted by women’s, men’s and pair dances.
The women’s dances includes group and less frequently solo dances, which are usually of an older origin. In the past, the interpreters were predominantly unmarried and more recently married young women. Recently, some of them were transferred into the children’s repertoire. We divide women’s dances into: round dances and round dance games (Hoja Ďunďa, Helišky, Bránička, Kadzi pavička ľecela, Omilienci, Uljana, wedding round dances, spring round dances with Morena, summer dances and others), wheels (Do kolesa, Do kolka, Karička etc.) and cipovičky, cindrušky. Another group is constituted by mostly extinct pair turning round dances of an older style adapted to the women’s cast (for example váľaný, do šaflika).
Men’s dances are predominantly of an older origin. Some selected layers of the male population, such as shepherds, rebels, soldiers (and aristocrats) and craftsmen were among their carriers. The rural environment, especially peasants and shepherds, constituted the unifying agent of dance traditions. The effort to manifest dancing agility, physical sturdiness, dexterity and competition are characteristic for men’s dances. Various props (valaška, stick, hat and others) are frequent dance accessories. The following dances make up the main typological groups: dances of young men (jumps, line dances, ordering dances, čerkaný, cifrovaný), types of odzemok (hajduch, hajduk, kozačik) or medviedky and verbunks (Sarku raz, Marhaňská, Solo Magyar, Bartók’s verbunk, Szallai verbunk and others).
Pair dances constitute the largest and richest group of traditional folk dances. Pair dances comprise dances of various historical periods, domestic and foreign dances and rural and urban dances (dances that became popular or folklorised). In terms of form we can distinguish a specific type of pair dances – spinning dances, for which the turning round of the pair in arms in one place is characteristic, and other pair dances (folklorised social dances), which are of a newer origin and which usually became popular. The roots of spinning dances are in the historical pair dances of Western Europe. In the Central European Carpathian region, the depictions of pair dances date back to the 15th century. These dances became domesticated in the Carpathian valley, especially in the 16th century. Despite the historical peripeteia and changes in the way of life and culture, even today this geographical space appears as the European centre and most significant region for the conservation of improvised pair dances.
And so the spinning dances are not a Slovak exclusivity. However, from the aspect of the frequency of representation in the collection of folk dance, they are the most significant kind of our folk pair dances, which differ significantly from the choreographic, development and regional perspectives. Until recently, they were universally spread. They exist in manifold shapes and forms which arise from the abundant folk content and usually also the improvisational character. In terms of development, we distinguish old style spinning dances (starobabská, krucena, friškí, one step, up high, Do skoku, O sebe, sellácka, Vrcenná and others) and the new so-called neo-Hungarian style (czardas, two steps, etc). The older development layers of these dances have characteristic Slovak forms and local colour. Even despite their significant reduction, they survived in certain regions in their natural rural environment in the course of the entire 20th century (even until today in exceptional cases). Their forms and shapes change depending on the intensively progressing modern lifestyle influenced by town and modern communication means.
Such dances as the polka (trasená, hopspolka, hrozená, židovka, ťapkaná, raslavická polka, etc.), waltz, mazurka, sotýš and others belong to other pair dances. The traditional dance repertoire is completed by various strophic dances (such as hrozená, ťapkaná, ševcovský, židovka), dances with the selection of a partner (bozkávaný, šatkový, poduškový, zrkadlový, metlový, čeriana) and dance games.
The typology of traditional folk dances corresponding to the typology applied in neighbouring countries, particularly in the Hungarian ethnochoreology, is based on the historical aspects of the development of traditional folk dance.
Older style is represented by following dance types: - chain and ring dances (chorovody and round dances – rings, guild dances, dance games) - pastoral dances (dances woth sticks, odzemok, skill dances) - dances of young men (solo, lineal, circular) - pair dances (jumping and spinning dances).
New style is represented by following dance types: - verbunk (solo, round, paired) - czardas (based spinning dances, kneeling dance, half-turn, unified) - folklorised social dances: - quadrille, križiak (beginning of the 19th cent.), - polka, waltz, mazurka (half of the 19th cent.), - šimi fox, tango (beginning of the 20th cent.).