Last week I stood near the top of Wendelstein, a mountain in the Bavarian Alps that looks toward the snow-covered peaks of Austria. At knee level were really lovely pine trees with glossy needles, very healthy plants. I was waiting for my family so I thought I’d ask how they liked living on a mountain with a beautiful view. Tuning in all I could hear was the whole lot of them on the slopes singing those German beer cellar songs, all in very high spirits. “Sing with us, join in!” The base notes of the oom-papa were being sung by the mountain itself.
I don’t know how many of you have heard the songs of the land beneath your feet. I live in the Surrey Hills and one daughter has sung the music of Ralph Vaughn-Williams who lived and composed in these same hills. If you want to know what the Earth sounds like here, listen to the music Vaughn-Williams captured as it rose though his feet into his compositions. The music in the beer cellars was sung first by the natural world, and filtered through into human song.
The music of a group of people, whether a nation or an ethnic group spread across international borders, will sound like the land they live on. Somehow Russian music sounds Russian, yet it is hard to specify how a certain collection of notes can sound like a country or a people. The music of the Earth seeps up into the people above and this is translated into their music. Russian music sounds Russian because it is the song of the land itself.