Using a folk idiom in art music is a problematic practice for composers because folk and Art music traditions stem from fundamentally different origins. Art music is part of a literate tradition with recognized authorship, as opposed to the folk tradition, which is part of a communal tradition disseminated anonymously by means of oral communication. Thus, art music composers aspiring to leave a legacy often refrain from utilizing folk idioms in their music for several reasons; to compose cultured music, to create pure and authentic works that are associated with single composer, and to legitimize their philosophies above national and fugal divisions. The binary between folk and art music began much before the Baroque era, yet the use of folk was a significant feature of the Nationalist movement in art music during the 19th century. Composers such as Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857), Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), and Edvard Greig (1843-1907) used folk influences in their compositions in fundamentally new ways; as part of the communal tradition of their heritage, as an organic spring of inspiration, as well as in an effort to create a national style in tribute to their respective homelands. Consequently, musical nationalism had a dramatic effect on the 19th century art music landscape and the conception of folk as an authentic musical idiom.
Folk music, as defined by the International Folk Music Council, is the
“product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the transition are: (I) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives.”
Although there are many similarities between folk and art music, within the tradition of the latter, more emphasis is placed upon the role of the composer over the role of the collective. In the encyclopedic survey, Twenty-five Years of Russian Art, published in 1882, Russian author Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov (1824–1906) claims that “the best Russian musicians beginning with Glinka have never set much store by academic training…they reject all dry academia and pedantry, reject the gymnastic exercises to which thousands in Europe attach so much importance…” As a result, the New Russian School of composers did not accept the beliefs of so-called authorities, critics and conservatories. Instead, The New Russian School along with Nationalist composers from other countries, opposed the “leveling scythe of European culture,” the construction of tradition masquerading as timeless, objective truth. Essentially, it was this rejection of European tradition that led to the use of folk...