For years I’ve been meaning to attend the annual Rencontres de Chants Polyphoniques de Calvi (literally: Meetings of polyphonic songs) organised by the Corsican singing group A filetta. This year I’ve managed it!
The tradition of Corsican polyphonic singing had nearly become extinct until its revival in the 1970s. It is now a central part of Corsican national identity, and is sometimes linked with political agitation for autonomy or independence. Founded in 1978, A Filetta are one of the more famous Corsican polyphonic singing ensembles and helped to set up the annual festival.
Every year since 1989, the Polyphonic Song Festival has featured choristers and soloists from Corsica and the rest of the world. In late summer, concerts of polyphonic songs are organised in various locations in the citadel of Calvi, including the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and the Oratory.
As a truly international festival, the Polyphonic Song Festival welcomes a wide range of acts, be they Corsican, Bulgarian, Georgian, Amerindian, Inuit, Tibetan, African, Indonesian, New Caledonian, Réunionese, Syrian or Moroccan.
what is polyphony?Polyphony is when two or more independent melodies are sung at the same time. ‘Poly’ = many and ‘phony’ = voices.
This differs from monophony or unison singing (i.e. no harmonies, everyone sings the same tune) and homophony which is when block harmonies are sung (i.e. there is a chord on every syllable and each harmony part sings the lyrics at the same time).
Polyphonic singing is traditional in Georgia (which has the oldest polyphony in the Christian world), Corsica, the Balkans.
Georgian ethnomusicologist Joseph Jordania has written extensively on the origins of choral polyphony.