Exploring the Dumka—Tchaikovsky’s Dumka Op. 59 and Beyond
A Brief History of the Dumka Form
The dumka may have reached its height of popularity in 19th century Romantic music, but the origins of the form lie not in the beloved chamber of music of Dvořák —a composer enamored with the dumka—but in the countryside and villages of Eastern Slavic countries.
The dumka is a form common in the folk music of Ukraine, Poland, and Bohemia. In Ukrainian, the verb “dumati” means to think, and “to ponder” in Polish and Czech, is translated as “dumać” and “dumat,” respectively. This is definitely indicative of the pensive nature of the dumka, but the form has other dimensions to be explored. If we probe further back into its history, the 19th century dumka can be seen as a hybrid of two related musical forms— the Polish dumka (a song or lament usually sung by women), and the Ukrainian duma. The linguistic origins of the word are thought to possibly stem from the Indo-European root “-mudh,” which is related to the Greek “mythos.”
The duma, an epic, or ballad-like narration originating in Ukraine around the 16th century, has undeniable connections to the epic poetry of the ancient Greeks, but there are key differences in its structure and performance style. Instead of having a set strophic form, the duma depended on the contents of its narrative to determine the lengths of its discrete sections. The lyrics were recited in a lamenting, recitative, and almost chant-like style, over the accompaniment of a plucked string instrument, such the bandura, kobza, or lira. At this time, the lyrics of the epic dumas often depicted Cossack conflicts—first the warring Tatars and Turks, and later the battles of the Cossacks and the Poles. Another common duma...
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...aikovsky foregoes the usual cadential formulas and establishes the tonic by insistence on it.
At the height of its elation, the dance is pulled back into G minor, a Poco meno mosso section, which nevertheless retains some of the previous urgency, heard in its pulsing sixteenth note chords and anticipating dotted rhythms. A progression of Italian augmented sixth chords leads into softly rumbling E-flat major arpeggios, reminiscent of thunder after a summer storm. A short cadenza of arpeggios and flourishes, serves as a transition back to the dance, this time marked con fuoco. Chromatically rising and falling passages, marked fortissimo and finally fortississimo, escalate tensions to the Dumka’s highest point yet, settling on A-flat major for its triumphant culmination. Finally, the opening ballad returns softly marking its departure with three loud, abrupt chords.
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