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Reviewed by:
  • Le chant du pain: Trás-os-Montes: recherches sur le romanceiro, and: Romances du Trás-os-Montes: mélodies et poésies
  • Gerald Porter
Le chant du pain: Trás-os-Montes: recherches sur le romanceiro. By Anne Caufriez. (Paris: Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian,1998. Pp. 371, 19 illustrations, bibliographic references, discography, indexes.)
Romances du Trás-os-Montes: mélodies et poésies. By Anne Caufriez. (Paris: Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian,1998. Pp. 287, 8 illustrations, indexes, CD.)

These books together make up a detailed study and edition of the narrative work songs of the [End Page 109] most isolated area of Portugal, Trás-os-Montes, ("beyond the mountains"). They are based on three trips that Caufriez made between 1978 and 1983, when she collected 140 ballads, including versions of narratives told at greater length in the Carolingian and Romanesque cycles. Some of her outstanding recordings have already been released on her 1993 CD Portugal: Trás-os-Montes (Ocora C 580035).

Romances du Trás-os-Montes includes almost all the romances collected by Caufriez. They are all printed in Portuguese with French translation together with their music, including that of the second singer in many cases. Several striking variants are given. A superb 50-minute CD accompanies both books reviewed here. The 27 recordings, including 13 romances and eight solo and ensemble bagpipe pieces, are of very high quality indeed and would justify the price of the volume even for those without French or Portuguese. The CD ends unforgettably with a plaintive love song about a weaver accompanied by the clacking of the singer's loom.

The companion volume, Le chant du pain, is an extensive study of the romances in three parts: first, in their relation to the narrative ballads of the Iberian peninsula and the Azores, and ultimately to the Mediterranean as a whole; second, in relation to the work processes like weaving, garment making, and harvesting the rye; and, finally, in their full melodic complexity. Caufriez maintains that the Portuguese ballad is, both verbally and musically, a kind of boiled-down version of the epic (Le chant du pain, p. 40). Some of the romances seem to derive from elements of the medieval French chansons de geste, and each seems to be a fragment whose relation to the other parts is never made explicit (Le chant du pain, p. 43). Caufriez also traces the links between the Iberian and the Greco-Balkan traditions, "which find their meeting point in the ballad" (Le chant du pain, p. 64n).

As a border province, Trás-os-Montes shows considerable influence from Galicia, which appears in the romanceiro and the once-widespread playing of the bagpipe. The ballads are the songs of the poorest members the community and, overwhelmingly, the songs of the women in the villages. Caufriez shows clearly that their purpose is communal and functional. In the first place, they are a hedge against poverty: As the local saying goes, "fire and music protect you from the wolves" (Le chant du pain, p. 133). More than that, "the ballad expresses the solidarity of a human community, which thereby forms a free and autonomous entity" (Le chant du pain, p. 204). The ballads are typically sung as work songs associated with all kinds of tasks, including mowing and reaping, leading the cows out to pasture, beating flax, shelling almonds and chestnuts, and, of course, lulling babies to sleep. They are less commonly found in the context of threshing or herding: one woman's donkey would sway to the rhythm of its favorite song (Le chant du pain, p. 172). The romances are frequently sung antiphonally or in dialogue form and, often, as the work changed, so did the song, or at least the melody (Le chant du pain, pp. 170, 192). A particularly interesting feature is the way some of the songs, not themselves religious, form a secular musical liturgy that measures out the working day. Thus the romance "A Morena" (included on the CD) is sung across the region at the hour of none (2:00 p.m.). According to Caufriez, this ritualization of the harvest is unique to Tr...


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