|Albanian folk iso-polyphony|
A traditional male group performing
|Region||Europe and North America|
|Inscription||2008 (3rd session)|
All four regions of southern Albania—Lalëria (Myzeqe), Toskëria, Çamëria, and Labëria—have polyphonic song as part of their culture. A related form of polyphonic singing is found in northern Albania, in the area of Peshkopi; Polog, Tetovo, Kičevo and Gostivar in North Macedonia; and Malësia in northern Albania and southern Montenegro.
Labëria is particular well known for multipart singing; songs can have two, three, or four parts. Two-part songs are sung only by women. Three-part songs can be sung by men and women. Four part songs are a Labërian specialty. Research has shown that four-part songs developed after three-part ones, and that they are the most complex form of polyphonic singing.
The Gjirokastër National Folklore Festival, Albania, (Albanian: Festivali Folklorik Kombëtar), has been held every five years in the month of October since 1968, and it typically includes many polyphonic songs.
The Albanian polyphonic traditional music is performed in two dialects of Albanian: Tosk and Lab. The Tosk musical dialect comprises the Albanian ethnographic regions of Toskëria, Myzeqeja, and Chamëria, while the Lab musical dialect comprises Labëria.
Many scholars who have studied the Albanian iso-polyphony and in general the polyphonic music of the Balkans consider it an old tradition that dates back to the Thraco-Illyrian era. There is a lack of historical documentation of the Albanian polyphonic traditional music. However, since it is considered the product of oral transmission down many generations, scholars came to their conclusions by analyzing this musical tradition that continues to be performed in modern days. There are found many specific features of the Albanian polyphonic tradition that indicate its ancient origin: the pentatonic modal/tonal structure, which is widely thought by scholars to represent an early beginning to the musical culture of a people; the presence of recitative vocals, because when the melody of the vocals is not developed, the tradition is thought to be in a more primitive phase; the presence of calls and shouts, which indicates a primitive phase of development in the musical culture of a people; the a cappella singing style, which suggests an old age of a musical tradition since it lacks of instrumental accompaniment.
Although the region has been under the dominion of the Byzantine Empire for many centuries, the Balkan polyphonic traditional music had a different development than medieval Byzantine music. The Balkan tradition was non-institutionalized and has been continually collectively formed, while the Byzantine music was created by individual composers and was institutionalized. The Balkan tradition has been transmitted orally down the generations, and its performers were common people musically illiterate, while the Byzantine music was widely documented, and has been performed by professionals who were trained and educated. The two musical traditions lived side by side for centuries, therefore they would have had a mutual influence on each other. However, it is thought that the interaction between the Albanian polyphonic traditional music and the Byzantine music has been relatively small.
Albanian polyphonic traditional music is thought to have been composed in its beginnings of only two melodic lines: the taker and the turner. The turner likely played initially a non-specific melodic role, a style that can still be found in the two-voiced polyphonic singing of the women in Gjirokastër. It is thought that over time the turner have gradually become more precisely defined melodically; the tradition of two-voiced (taker and turner) in which the turner plays a clearly defined melodic role is found today among the men of Dukat.
The next melodic line to evolve into Albanian traditional polyphony is thought to have been the drone, which seems to have adapted naturally to the two previous melodic lines, giving rise to the three-voiced polyphony. The introduction of the drone was a significant artistic achievement because it brought the diversification and the enrichment of the harmonic interplay between melodic lines. The drone is very common in today's Albanian polyphonic tradition, and it is rare to find varieties without it nowadays.
The last melodic line to evolve into Albanian traditional polyphony was the launcher, which gave rise to the four-voiced polyphony. The introduction of the launcher marked an increasing artistic sophistication, however it did not essentially change the vocal harmony and interplay. Being completely absent in Toskëria, Myzeqeja, and Chamëria, the four-voiced polyphony exists only in Labëria, where it is found along with the more common three-voiced style.
Pleqërishte is a genre of Albanian folk iso-polyphony sung by men in Labëria and is principally identified with the city of Gjirokastër and its environs. The genre is characterized by a slow tempo, low pitch and small range.
Pleqërishte means both "of old men" and "of the old time" in reference to the mode of singing and the lyrical themes of part of their songs respectively. In relation to these subjects pleqërishte songs are also called lashtërishte ("of the ancient time"), a term used exclusively in Gjirokastër. These specific topics have largely fallen into public disuse over the years but remain thematically notable.
Songs of the genre adhere to a slow tempo and low pitch with little vocal variation as opposed to genres such as djemurishte ("of young men") in particular. As all fourth-part genres they feature a third soloist (hedhës). While in other four-part genres the hedhës mainly assumes the role of secondary drone a minor third above the keynote, in pleqërishte the hedhës relieves the first soloist (marrës) and allows him to take a breathing break. Each rendition begins with the singing of the first lines by the marrës and the introduction of the second soloist (kthyes) and finally the hedhës. After the hedhës, the marrës's lyrics are repeated by the drone group in various forms and manners.
Pleqërishte songs are exemplified in the repertory of the folk group Pleqtë e Gjirokastrës sometimes regarded as the "last representative" of the genre. One of the best-known songs of the genre and most notable renditions of the group is Doli shkurti, hyri marsi, which details a battle between Çerçiz Topulli and Ottoman troops in 1908 in the village of Mashkullorë near Gjirokastër.
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