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  • Katalóg slovenských naratívnych piesní/Typenindex slowakischer Erzähllieder
  • Robert A. Rothstein
Katalóg slovenských naratívnych piesní/Typenindex slowakischer Erzähllieder. By Soňa Burlasová. (Etnologické štúdie, 2–4.) (Bratislava: Veda, 1998. Pp. 682, introduction, bibliography, indexes.)

In 1969, the Commission for Folk Poetry of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore issued a call for the creation of national ballad catalogs as a first step toward the compilation of a catalog of European ballads. The Commission also proposed a taxonomy to be used in such catalogs, while leaving open the possibility of local modifications. The three-volume Catalog (or Index) of Slovak Narrative Songs, compiled by Soňa Burlasová of the Institute for Ethnology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, is the first publication of this sort in the Slavic world to encompass the entire range of ballad types. (Earlier partial taxonomies based on the proposed European framework were published by Marta Šrámková and Oldřich Sirovátka for Czech ballads and by Elżbieta Jaworska for Polish ballads.)

The Slovak Index is based on both published and archival sources, and the ballads cited come from nearly 800 locations in Slovakia, 59 in Hungary, and from smaller numbers of Slovak villages in Vojvodina (Serbia), Romania, and Bulgaria. The author excluded material from neighboring regions of Moravia, Poland, and Ukraine because of the difficulty of assigning texts in transitional dialects to one or the other of two neighboring ethnic groups. Chronologically, the material ranges from the second half of the 18th century to the early 1990s.

While the Czech and Polish indexes use the word ballad, Burlasová prefers the formula "narrative songs" because of what she calls the "persistent openness of the definition of the ballad" (p. 8). By including all songs in which "the epic principle is embraced in any way," she argues that the corpus of examples provides [End Page 108] a better basis for future comparative studies (p. 8). In the meantime, the Index documents the variety of narrative songs in Slovak. Although some new collections have been published since the project was completed in 1992, and fieldwork continues, new data are not expected to change the picture presented in the Index.

The taxonomy proposed in 1969 divided ballads into ten thematic groups: supernatural forces, (religious) legends, love ballads, family relationships, social conflict, historical ballads, heroic conflict, strokes of fate and catastrophes, cruel deeds, and humorous ballads. Burlasová adheres to the first six categories but divides heroic conflict into two groups: songs about war and songs about highwaymen. The last group, the hôrni chlapci (mountain lads) is the Slovak analog to Robin Hood and his Merry Men and is especially well represented in Slovakian folk genres ranging from songs and stories to paintings on glass.

To better reflect the Slovak material, the author similarly renames groups eight and nine as songs about misfortunes and songs about acts of violence, respectively. Her tenth category is songs about animals, which includes those humorous ballads that are not listed in other categories (mostly under love and family songs). Each group is subdivided, for example, the acts of violence category includes the subheadings "death in a fight," "suicide," "murder for profit," and the like. A total of 307 ballad types are divided among these ten thematic groups and their subgroups.

The entry for each ballad type consists of five parts: (1) the heading or title (e.g., "A mother turns her daughter into a maple tree"); (2) a plot summary with information about variants; (3) the most typical first line for this type; (4) a listing of published and unpublished variants by location and year of recording with bibliographical and other information; and (5) a representative example with a melody line (unless the melody was unavailable). The heading and the plot summary are given in both Slovak and German, as are most of the introductory material and the table of contents.

Burlasová appropriately stresses the inclusion of concrete textual and melodic examples as one of the most important features of the Index since in many cases "thematically similar types differ noticeably in their prosodic system and the melody associated with it" (p...


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