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MJR 2011


leftThe 14th Mėnuo Juodaragis Festival once again welcomes everyone to gather and unite. This time, the invitation is voiced through the rhythm and the intertwined melodies of sutartinės – Lithuanian traditional polyphonic songs. This year, the Festival is dedicated to this unique heritage of our culture – a decision taken due to several intertwined reasons. Alongside the collection of weird modern music, the sound of sutartinės has been with Mėnuo Juodaragis Festival from the very first get-togethers. This was backed by the welcome news from the UNESCO – in 2010 sutartinės were inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity . What do we know about the treasures of the past and the future intertwined in these polyphonic songs and what can we find out without experiencing their overwhelming power? This year, Mėnuo Juodaragis Festival will attempt to unravel the mysteries of sutartinės.

The most ancient melodies

If the music culture was viewed from an archaeological perspective, sutartinės would be found in the layer of the most ancient melodies . They are archaic multipart songs with two distinct melodies and texts regardless of the number of singers. There are vocal polyphonic songs as well as instrumental ones played with Lithuanian traditional instruments such as skudučiai, horns and kanklės.

Like the pattern of a cloth

According to Dr. Daiva Vyčinienė, the researcher of sutartinės, “the intertwining of these two independent melodies is similar to the process of weaving when the harness is moving one past the other interchangeably emerging and hiding again ”. Graphical depiction of these polyphonic songs reveal infinitely recurring combinations that support the impression of the weaving process and remind of traditional patterns of Lithuanian sashes and cloths.

Similarly to the ritual songs of the seasons and the stages of life, there are sutartinės dedicated to calendar festivals, certain types of work, weddings, family and war/death, as well as historical polyphonic songs, etc. The fact that these songs were used when working and illustrate pivotal stages of activity evidences the ritual approach of our ancestors towards life."

The mysteries of sutartinės

One of the greatest mysteries of Lithuanian polyphonic songs are the nonce words typical only of sutartinės, e. g. sodauto, čiūto, lingo, ladūto, sidijo, tatato, etc. Most likely, these refrains once had a meaning. Used in various combinations they tend to create harmonic and melodic accords of sounds and consonants revealing the melodious beauty of Lithuanian language.

Another feature of sutartinės is the syncretic art reflecting the connection between the music, the text and the motion. Polyphonic songs are not “merely the result of primal creativity, stagnant in its initial form” – “sutartinės contain the traces of various historical periods and have made huge influence on the entire Lithuanian choreography” and beyond. A third of all Lithuanian polyphonic songs are sung while dancing and/or playing..

Ancient sacredness

The age of sutartinės is evidenced not only by the mysterious sound-words, the subtle and laconic melodies, and the close relationship between the music, the text and the motion, but also by their message. Similarly to the ancient ritual songs, there are no Christian themes in the lyrics of sutartinės. Nevertheless, the Lithuanian polyphonic songs were called chants by the elders – unique songs with sacred meanings. Unfortunately, the time of origin of sutartinės remains an unsolved mystery.

Narrowly saved tradition

At the junction of the 19th and the 20th century, sutartinės almost died out in rural tradition, but their subtle beauty was once again discovered, taken over and revived by urban folk bands and the young generation. Sutartinės became one of the most distinct symbols of Lithuanian cultural identity inspiring many modern composers..

Unique harmony

Sutartinės are a paradox in the context of European music. Accords of adjacent notes – seconds – typical of the Lithuanian polyphonic songs are considered dissonances unpleasant to hear. Foreign chroniclers of the 16th–18th centuries as well as rural Lithuanians of the early 20th century were of the same opinion. However, when the singers are in concordance and the listener is tuned in, such sounds create harmony. This is the source of the magical, sacred and meditative power of sutartinės.

Infinite creativity

“The structure of sutartinės is best reflected by the symbol of the circle: they have no end”, writes Vyčinienė. The life of the polyphonic songs themselves has no end either – it paradoxically intertwines the most archaic heritage of our music culture and the continuous creative nature.

Thus, Mėnuo Juodaragis Festival welcomes you to learn about this unique phenomenon stretching “in different shapes towards both the past and the future” .

by Ruta Liogienė



[c] Mėnuo Juodaragis [c] Dangus 2011