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Folk (folk music), [ foʊk ] (English: folk "folk"; what is meant is folk culture or folklore in relation to music) is a genre of popular music , especially in North America and Europe . Melodies and texts of traditional folk music (not: folk music ) are rearranged or stylistically imitated. The instruments are mostly traditional acoustic like guitar , fiddle , flute or bagpipe .


The English-language name for traditional folk music took on a new meaning when in the USA from the 1920s with the emergence of modern mass media such as radio and record, regional, mostly rural music cultures became popular across the country and in the following years became supraregional, independent forms of music such as jazz and Country developed.


The term folk was adopted into the German language under the influence of the American urban folk movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The popularity of North American urban folk rock in the 1960s sparked a great deal of interest in Europe’s own musical traditions. Especially since the 1960s, a time of social upheaval in the USA (black civil rights movement , anti- Vietnam war movement and since around 1970 also the women's rights movement ), the focus of folk rock was on the political and social problems of this time. From this, for example, political rock developed in Germany . With the decline of political movements in the 1970s, the importance of folk music shifted to popular music such as Irish folk . Nowadays there is a lively international exchange at numerous festivals and folk music is no longer limited to individual countries or regions in terms of production, distribution and consumption.

Definitions and delimitation

There is no uniform definition of the term folk . The understanding is different in North America and Europe. In English, the term folk music includes traditional music ( folk song , folk music) on the one hand and modern popular music on the other . Ultimately, musicians, fans and the music press determine what defines the term. There are three different areas of focus:

  • Folk music as a modern form of traditional folk music,
  • Folk music as a comprehensive term for various styles of North American popular music,
  • Folk music as a genre of international popular music that is stylistically based on traditional folk music.

The contradictions contained therein - such as the question of whether urban or non-urban culture is represented - make a uniform understanding difficult. Apart from its musical and stylistic inspiration from traditional folk music, modern folk music has nothing in common with it.

Folk distinguishes itself as part of modern popular culture from popular music and world music . The boundaries to world music are fluid. Although the mainstream of folk music refers to European traditions and thus differs from the non-European tradition of world music, Asian, African and other musical styles are also part of it. Likewise, numerous groups move in the intermediate areas to other musical styles such as rock, jazz and techno. Other related terms are folk rock , roots music , Americana , Vernacular Music , Poplore and filk . Some songwriters are also referred to as folk musicians.



From 1765 the Reliques of Ancient British Poetry appeared as a revision and addition to a manuscript of popular songs created around 1650. As a result of this publication, interest in traditional songs was aroused beyond England. In Germany, Johann Gottfried Herder published folk songs in 1778/79 along with mixed-in other pieces and coined the term folk song . Since the melodies were well known and less interesting for Herder, only the lyrics were printed. Corresponding melodies can, however, be found in Friedrich Nicolai's satirical publication Eyn feyner kleyner Almanach Vol schönerr echterr liblicherr folk songs , which appeared a year earlier. Joseph Haydn's music draws numerous melodies and ideas from folk music in Austria , Croatia and the Roma .

The English term folksong corresponded to the German folk song . In the 19th century, historians, musicologists and literary scholars across Europe were concerned with recording traditional music and culture. The classical music drew on national traditions, such as Schubert , Bizet , Smetana and Sibelius .

In the second half of the 19th century, with the opening of classical music to a broader bourgeois and urban audience, Schlager developed ; early examples are the Viennese waltz and the operetta . German pop music remained decisive for the German-speaking music market until the 1960s, until - despite adapting to new listening habits (e.g. opening up to foreign-language interpreters and texts in the 1960s) - it was replaced by rock music and the New German Wave and is now part of the associated with popular music .

North America until 1920

Early American folk music developed out of the predominantly rural, musical traditions of the immigrants. The traditional music of the Indian population played no role. Examples are to be mentioned here

At the turn of the 20th century, many of the genres known today emerged:

  • Zydeco originated in African American communities in the early 20th century and adopts elements of Cajun music
  • the blues of African American society becomes an important precursor of North American popular music ( soul , jazz and rock),
  • Ragtime and the New Orleans jazz ,
  • the Hapa-haole -music Hawaii is 1900 popular on the American mainland - was preceded by the 19th century the connection of local traditions with those of immigrants and the development of an independent style.

During this period, minstrels and vaudevilles were important for the spread of traditional music, which was otherwise often only played in extended family circles.

Radio and record (1920-1940)

Leadbelly with accordion
Fiddlin 'John Carson
Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane

Shortly thereafter, the emerging record industry and radio gave rise to a new interest in regional musical traditions, which made them accessible to a new audience. The success of hillbilly music (later also called old-time music ) of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the southern Appalachians with their European roots fell into this era . The region sang about John Denver in 1971 in the country hit Take Me Home, Country Roads . The Original Dixieland Jass Band released the first jazz record in 1917. Other first successful recordings were Mamie Smith's Crazy Blues in 1920 and Fiddlin 'John Carson's hillbilly pieces Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane and The Old Hen Cackled in 1923 . Both were recorded and produced by Ralph Peer . The city of Nashville in the US state of Tennessee established itself as the center of the media industry early on. The live show Grand Ole Opry , which has been broadcast weekly since 1925, is legendary . The Bristol Sessions of 1927 marked the birth of country music with its first stars Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family . The Library of Congress set up the Archive of American Folk Song in 1928 - incorporated into the American Folklife Center in 1976 . The first leader was Robert Winslow Gordon . In 1931 he was followed by John Lomax , who was also a student of George Lyman Kittredge and whose son Alan Lomax also worked for the archive. Many of the recordings in the archive were made by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who was widely known as the organizer of The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival (annually from 1927). John Lomax made the blues musician Leadbelly known from 1933 .

The success of the hillbilly let numerous bands emerge and become known. From 1937 onwards, Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys developed bluegrass from hillbilly music. Other important early exponents of this music are The Stanley Brothers and Earl Scruggs . In this early period, the centers of folk music were in the southern regions of the east coast.

Folk revival and development to folk rock (1940–1970)

In the decades that followed, American folk music developed its own lyrics and melodies - while maintaining traditional references. The first folk music poet was Woody Guthrie ( filmed in 1976 with David Carradine as Woody Guthrie), who sang mainly about the situation of the people during the Great Depression in the 1930s and 1940s . His song This Land Is Your Land is now an integral part of American culture. He popularized talking blues as a form of spoken song. Equally important was his friend and colleague Cisco Houston . In 1940 he met Pete Seeger and wrote some folk-oriented union songs with him. In the late 1940s, the Weavers and Pete Seeger became immensely popular. Pete Seeger became known internationally as the first folk singer with songs like We Shall Overcome and Where Have All the Flowers Gone (German: Tell me where the flowers are ). He also took up the folklore of other countries. From 1940 urban New York established itself as the center of this emancipated folk music; Folkways Records was a major record label. The idea underlying this new music, to use the traditional music of the European immigrants to give expression to their thoughts and feelings, partly led to the persecution by McCarthyism .

In the 1950s, more and more young people, mostly from the white middle class , began to be interested in their country's roots music - folk, blues and country - the elements of which began to mix more and more frequently. The most important American event was the Newport Folk Festival , which took place annually from 1959.

With the development of rock music in the 1960s, folk in the form of folk rock also flourished and enjoyed international popularity. The central role of the text made it suitable for the protest songs of the various social movements . The development of Bob Dylan - who composed a hymn of that time with Blowin 'in the Wind - from folk to rock musician during this time is exemplary . Other internationally known American folk rock musicians are Joan Baez , Phil Ochs and Arlo Guthrie , the son of Woody Guthrie. At first, folk rock was controversial, as demonstrated by Bob Dylan's use of an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Festival. For this he was booed by the audience. With the end of the era of folk revival, the festival ceased to take place in 1971 and was only revived in 1985.

Folk music in Europe (from 1970)

The Swedish nyckelharpa was rarely used when it became internationally known as an instrument through the folk revival

The international popularity of American folk rock aroused interest in Europe in its own traditions of folk music. In contrast to the USA, the popularity was largely not politically justified. Well-known bands and musicians of this time are Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention in England, Alan Stivell and Tri Yann in France ( Brittany ) and the City Preachers (from 1965), Ougenweide and Zupfgeigenhansel in Germany.

Its popularity continued to grow in the 1980s and thereafter. Regional lively musical traditions become internationally known - above all Irish folk with bands such as The Chieftains and The Dubliners . The bands increasingly played arrangements in the style of old traditions, for example Blowzabella from England. Attempts were also made to integrate new timbres and instrument sounds into the music; an early forerunner of this development is the psychedelic folk of the Incredible String Band .

Folklorism is an integral part of the folk music scene: Pipes & Drums of Brunswiek in Berlin in April 2005

There is also a revival of local traditions through the popularity of folk music. In Brittany, for example, the music of Ar Re Yaouanks makes Fest-noz popular again. Folk music is also linked with the emergence of new traditions, for example with the medieval markets in the Federal Republic. Ireland , England , Scandinavia , the Balkan countries , Brittany and the rest of France form independent focal points of international folk music .

The Finnish folk band Värttinä was featured in the pop charts in their home country

In the 1990s, the increasing dissolution of the boundaries between different styles of pop music and the spread of the crossover also affected folk music; especially with regard to rock , techno and jazz . This resulted in musical styles such as folk metal , folk-punk , neofolk and anti-folk as well as a mixture of folk and hip-hop , which was operated, for example, by Lecker Dinge from Cologne.

Today folk music is more of a marginal phenomenon in mainstream pop culture , but elements of folk music live on in other genres, such as country music. In Germany, American, English, Irish, French and Scandinavian folk has many followers as a niche culture .

Folk music in Germany after 1945

The folk music scene in Germany differs considerably from that of many European countries. To this day it is characterized by a distance from German traditions that have existed since the end of the “Third Reich” . The European folk revival in Germany is more of a new beginning and due to the division of Germany, the development in the east and west of the country was separate for a long time and it lacks reference to its own German traditions. After the turning point of the Nazi dictatorship and its ideological appropriation of cultural traditions, the reference to the musical national heritage is not very popular. In addition, there was the destruction of Jewish cultural life in Germany as a result of the Holocaust . An exception is classical music, which has retained its importance to this day thanks to its worldwide reception and, with Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, also includes an important work relating to medieval poetry . The southern German or Alpine region is also regionally an exception, which is formative for the international perception of German traditional music. In the east of Germany, the Ore Mountains and the Vogtland in particular were characterized by regional traditions. Classical, national folk songs like The Moon Has Risen - which Herbert Grönemeyer always plays at the end of his live concerts - or Franz Schubert's Heidenröslein are known for their schooling, but are not very popular.

It was only with the popularity of American folk rock that a development began to open up new approaches to one's own traditions. As in other European countries, the scene in Germany emerged under the influence of American protest and folk music in the late 1960s. In the early 80s this Deutschfolk was replaced by the Neue Deutsche Welle and fell into oblivion.

The documentation German folk songs of a democratic character from six centuries by Wolfgang Steinitz in the GDR, who is considered to be the most important pioneer of the modern folk music scene in Germany, was published as early as 1954 and 1962 .

The modern folk music scene emerged in eastern Germany in the mid-1970s. Folk dance became a hands-on folk dance that advanced to become a mass-effective branch of the GDR folk scene. The dance couples performed steps and dance figures to the audience willing to dance, but not knowledgeable, to the explanations of a dance master. This principle was adopted by the Hungarian dance house movement.

From 1974 the Irish band Sands Family toured regularly through the east of Germany. Since 1976 the Folk countries are considered to be one of the first folk bands of the GDR. An important national and international music event was the Festival of Political Song , in which national and international folk music also formed an integral part - performances by Mikis Theodorakis , Mercedes Sosa , Pete Seeger and Michelle Shocked . The festival took place annually in East Berlin between 1970 and 1990 .

The festival of German folk dance was held for the first time in 1955 in Rudolstadt . Taken into party politics - for example as a counterpoint to American influences such as jazz and rock & roll - the festival was primarily a platform for folkloric traditions from Eastern Europe until the fall of the Berlin Wall . At the beginning of the 1990s there was a reorientation towards international folk and the Rudolstadt dance and folk festival subsequently developed into the most important festival for folk and roots music in Germany with great international significance. In addition to the RUTH awarded here , Eiserner Eversteiner and Creole are important national prizes in folk music.

The first German folk festivals were the Burg-Waldeck-Festivals . Glatt & Verkehrt has been a festival that has been taking place since 1997 and takes place annually at the end of July in Krems , Spitz and Göttweig . The festival is co-organized and broadcast by Ö1 . Other folk events in Austria are the music festival in Waidhofen an der Thaya , the folk festivals in Mistelbach , Hallein , Amaliendorf (Wackelsteinfestival) and Kremsmünster - the latter as a podium for the drone scene .

Only gradually did a reflective approach to its own tradition begin in Germany. MIA's hit Was es ist from 2003 and the subsequent controversy are one example of this, the emergence of the Deutschfolk style since the 1970s and its revival in the 21st century are another. Folk dance evenings or Bal Folk are an integral part of the music scene .

In Germany, in addition to folk music in the High German language, there are also performers and folk bands who sing or sang in dialects ( Biermösl Blosn ) and previous languages ​​(such as Ougenweide ), in Yiddish ( Zupfgeigenhansel ), in North Frisian ( Knut Kiesewetter ). Above all, however, folk titles were published in Low German , for example by Knut Kiesewetter, Hannes Wader , Fiede Kay , Godewind , De Plattfööt and Malbrook .

See also


  • Robert Cantwell: When We Were Good - The Folk Revival. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA 1996, ISBN 0-674-95133-6 .
  • David A. DeTurk, A. Poulin (Eds.): The American Folk Scene: Dimensions of the Folksong Revival. Dell Publishing, New York 1967.
  • R. Serge Denisoff: Great Day Coming - Folk Music and the American Left. University of Illinois Press, Urbana 1971.
  • R. Serge Denisoff: Sing Me a Song of Social Significance. University Popular Press, Bowling Green OH 1972, ISBN 0-87972-036-0 .
  • Jürgen Frey, Kaarel Siniveer: A History of Folk Music . Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek 1987, ISBN 3-499-17693-9 .
  • Victor Grossman: If I Had a Song - songs and singers of the USA. VEB Lied der Zeit Musikverlag, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-7332-0023-3 .
  • Dave Harker: Fakesong. The Manufacture of British 'Folksong' 1700 to the Present Day . Open University Press, Milton Keynes 1985, ISBN 0-335-15066-7 .
  • David King Dunaway & Molly Beer: Singing Out. An Oral History of America's Folk Music Revivals . Oxford University Press, New York 2012, ISBN 978-0-19-989656-1
  • Lutz Kirchenwitz: Folk, chanson and songwriter in the GDR - chroniclers, critics, emperor birthday singers. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-320-01807-8 .
  • Kulturverein Schloss Goldegg (ed.): Folk and folk music - Documentation of a symposium at Schloss Goldegg. Kulturverein Schloss Goldegg, Goldesgg / Salzburg 1989.
  • Robbi Lieberman: 'My Song Is My Weapon' - People's Songs, American Communism, and the Politics of Culture, 1930-1950 . University of Illinois Press, Urbana 1989.
  • Carsten Linde: Folk songs from America. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-596-22969-3 .
  • Kip Lornell. Introducing American Folk Music . WCB Brown & Benchmark, Madison WI 1993, ISBN 0-697-13383-4 .
  • Alan Lomax: Folk Song Style and Culture. Transaction Publishers, 1978, ISBN 0-87855-640-0 .
  • Niall Mackinnon: The British Folk Scene - Musical Performance and Social Identity. Open University Press, Buckingham 1994.
  • Walter Moßmann , Peter Schleuning: We are fed up with old and new political songs . Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek 1978, ISBN 3-499-17159-7 .
  • Ailie Munro: The Folk Music Revival in Scotland, including 'The Folk Revival in Gaelic Song' by Morag Mac Leod . Kahn & Averill, London 1984, ISBN 0-900707-78-X .
  • Neil V. Rosenberg (Ed.): Transforming Tradition - Folk Music Revivals Examined. University of Illinois Press, Urbana 1993, ISBN 0-252-01982-2 .
  • Andreas Safer: Folk & popular music in Styria. Weishaupt, Gnas 1999, ISBN 3-7059-0051-X .
  • Pete Seeger: The Incompleat Folksinger. Edited by Jo Metcalf Schwarz; University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 1992, reprint of the original 1972 edition.
  • Florian Steinbiß : German folk: In search of the lost tradition. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1984, ISBN 3-596-22988-X .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Wolfgang Leyn, in: Volkes Lied und Vater Staat , published in 2016