The Recording Academy has decided to de-list Polka music by eliminating the polka album of the year award. Deemed not relevent in the current musical landscape, it nonetheless is a valid and artistic form of musical expression. Much like reggae music, it is international and the variety of styles, tempos, beats, instruments employed, and arrangements make it a complex and sophisticated musical genre.It can also be regarded as a ”roots” music similar to Blues.
Originally from the area of Eastern Europe known as Greater Moravia, Polka’s appeal and basic compositional structures were adopted and adapted by surrounding lands extending to Scandinavia and Ireland, but not generally Western Europe. It has a number of similarities with Klezmer music and the Gypsy variations or Roma music.
Bohemia could properly be called a battleground and melting pot of Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages. It was a clash of cultures, civilizations and religions which looted , raped and pillaged in the heartland of Transylvania. Christiananity met the Hun who introduced him to the Turc. Renaissance humanism was not above a good impaling of local villagers to stir the passions as well as an implementation of a then novel scorched earth policy.The ends were thought to justify the means. Something like the quasi tribal battles in Virginia and Tennessee between competing clans.
The legend of Dracula was invented at this time. Created with the Pope’s blessing and penned as ” The Story of Prince Dracula” to demonize the opposition, it created the template for modern propaganda and perhaps other blood libel myths. After Radu the Handsome was hacked to death, the Vatican bankrolled a war against the Sultan and his Ottoman Empire and eventually prevailed. It was within this idyllic and bucolic historical context that Polka music was created. Its not by accident that the Czech word ”pulka” refers to lively short half steps. Polka music was likely the only footnote of liberty that survived the signed, but much maligned Magna Carta in these Dodge Cities of the Wild East.
Eastern Europeans were as dance crazed as anyone else and the demand fed its way into the classical repertoire in Vienna as the Strauss’s elevated ”peasant” music into a more classicized dance form complementary to the popular Waltzes of the period with the Pizzicato Polka, Champagne Polka and even in France under the guise of the ”Galop”. Johann Strauss created a ballet based on Polka music, The Taglioni Polka. Polka was also incorporated into more populist operettas and even into some songs of Russian composers such as Stravinsky and Shostakcovich.
In the States, there is even a punk-metal-thrash polka band called Polkacide and other alternative polka groups such as the Alex Meixner Band which have maintained the aesthetic form within a contemporary song structure.