- Albanian Urban Lyric Song in the 1930s
"The urban song must not remain only in the mouths of singers dressed in folk costumes and fez, but it needs to put on the modern dress of our time" (p. 59). Such is soprano Marie Kraja's explanation for the efforts of a generation of Albanian singers from the educated middle class, trained in western Europe in operatic technique, who returned home in the 1930s and transformed the older Albanian urban song repertoire into art song, to be performed to the accompaniment of piano or chamber orchestra. By recasting urban song as a cultivated art form that could share a concert stage with operatic arias, these performers helped to assure a prominent place for it in Albanian musical life up to the present day. It is the Albanian "lyric" song of the 1930s and the singers, instrumentalists, composer-arrangers, and lyricists who developed it that are the primary subject of Eno Koço's excellent and well-researched study. As the first monograph in English to examine an urban song repertoire from southeastern Europe, and the first to detail musical life in the region in the early twentieth century, it will be revelatory for international readers.
Aside from his skills as an ethnomusicologist, Koço is a highly accomplished classical musician who, as longtime conductor of the Albanian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, arranged and recorded many examples of the songs he examines here. He is also the son of two of the singers who helped to develop Albanian lyric song: Kristaq Koço, a baritone who studied in Milan; and Tefta Tashko-Koço, a soprano who studied at the Paris Conservatoire. The lives and careers of Koço's parents, born respectively in Romania and Egypt, together with artists such as Austrian-trained Kraja and tenor Kristaq Antoniu, who studied in Romania and Italy, illustrate both the far-flung character of the Albanian middle class in the early twentieth century and their strong sense of affinity for European high culture. Koço's study does much to counter stereotypes of Albanian cultural isolation by illuminating a fascinating period of musical "Europeanization" in the decades before World War II.
Throughout his study, Koço distinguishes between what he terms "Albanian urban song" (AUS) or "traditional urban song," and "Albanian urban lyric song" (AULS). AUS refers to the repertoire of urban songs created and performed up to the present by Albanian musicians within a framework of local performance practices; and AULS to the concert repertoire composed of reworkings of AUS as well as newly composed songs. Koço focuses on four towns that served as centers of urban musical life: Shkodër in the north, Elbasan and Berat in Central Albania, and Korçë in the south. Songs from these towns are known today not only in Albania, but also in Albanian communities in the former Yugoslavia as well as throughout the large Albanian diaspora. While many present-day listeners are acquainted with recordings of "lyric" performers, perhaps many more are familiar with the larger repertoire of urban songs performed in a more local style by several generations of professional "folk" singers. [End Page 367]
Following a short introduction and a historical overview in chapter 1, Koço provides, in chapters 2 and 3, substantial information on the historical and social context of Albanian urban song. First he surveys possible sources for the musical style of this repertoire, with particular attention to the Byzantine legacy and the many genres that were introduced to the region in the Ottoman period. He then focuses on the performances and styles of small ensembles of singer-instrumentalists, known in the north as aheng and in the south as saze,whose members were the principal creators and performers of "traditional" urban song.
Intermingled with these descriptions, Koço traces the gradual transformation of local, orally transmitted aheng...