Retracing processes of change: the case of the scales of the Setu songs (Southeast Estonia)

Žanna Pärtlas & Aare Tool

It is often remarked that the musical thinking of traditional musicians changed noticeably during the last century. There are many styles of traditional music that are quite viable nowadays, but are not the same as they were even a pair decades ago. The acoustic analysis of historical sound recordings gives us opportunity to retrace these processes of change and describe them more particularly. Such studies are the most effective if they are supported by field researches providing the additional data for a comparison.

In Setumaa (Southeast Estonia) sound recordings of traditional multipart songs have been made for almost a century. During this period and, especially, since the 1990s, the significant changes took place in both, the song repertoire and the musical style, including such aspects as pitch organisation, rhythm and metre, multipart texture, manner of singing, etc. The present paper deals with the changes in the interval structure of the scales, which are the essential feature of the Setu song style.

The most specific and probably the oldest scale of the Setu songs, the so-called "one-three-semitone mode", is on the verge of disappearance nowadays: partly because the respective repertoire, work and ritual songs, are mostly out of use today, partly because of diatonization of the old song tunes. This paper concentrates on the process of diatonization of the Setu tunes as it appears in the archival and contemporary sound recordings.