Thursday, December 3, 2009

Arany Zoltan and Medieval Music

It is frustrating to look back in time and wonder what the languages of a thousand years ago actually sounded like. Modern recordings give us a degree of certainty. Before that, phonetic alphabets and poetry in them take our imaginations back even earlier. Those who study the history of Old French are fortunate to have the Jewish scriptural commentator Rashi, who uses an abundance of Old French words in his commentary on the five books of Moses. These words have proven useful to scholars of the French language.

From time to time I wonder about France, which even before the Arab influx was a multilingual country. From Breton,a Celtic language spoken on the Normandy coast to Basque, which is related to no other known language on earth, from Provencal to Corsican and Catalan, there is much more to France than French.

When trolling You Tube for medieval music, I was fortunate enough to find a recording by arany Zoltan, a Hungarian singer who gave a soulful rendition of a Troubador love song in Occitan (Old Provencal) that dates back to the late 1100's.

When I looked for information on Zoltan, I found an autobiographical paragraph that achieved superb comic effect with well chosen photographs. Zoltan brings not only medeival music to life but that of Hungary and Central Europe. He is well worth checking out. Although he is gracefully and comically reticent, his You Tube Channel is a delightful musical tour of his wide range of interests and musical expertise. I am going to be a frequent return visitor, not only to Zoltan's music but to his collected favourite songs.

Occitan is a close relative of Catalonian (which in its written form looks like a midpoint between Spanish and French), and oddly enough derives its name from "Oc" whhich is the Occitan word for "yes". It is estimated that about seven million French people understand it.In its early stages it is close to its mother tongue of Latin. Julius Caesar is reported to have said that the people of Aquitaine could teach the Romans themselves how to speak Latin properly. This is not surprising. There is a general principle in linguistics that the further away a group of language speakers strays from its geographic base, the more true they stay to the original spoken form of the language. An example of this is the speakers of Yoruba in Brazil, who are said to speak a form of the language close to what was spoken 500 years ago.

I will always treasure France not so much for French as for the multitude of languages that exist within its borders. It is impossible to look at English without looking in appreciation at the critical contribution French has made to English as we know it. Listening to the music and collected favourites of Arany Zoltan touch down within France brings this appreciation to life. Thank you Arany Zoltan. I wish you success.

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