New York Debut of Remarkable Corsican Male Vocal Quartet Barbara Furtuna

The outstanding male vocal quartet Barbara Furtuna will perform Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 8:00 PM at Saint Peter’s Church in New York. Barbara Furtuna carries on the centuries-old tradition of polyphonic singing from Corsica, the mountainous Mediterranean island off the coast of France.

With its exquisite and haunting a cappella harmonies of spiritual and secular songs, the group has become a leading exponent of this music that nearly became extinct until its revival in the 1970s. The vocal tradition is now a central part of Corsican national identity, and is sometimes linked to calls for autonomy or independence.


Corsican polyphonic song – one of Europe’s most beautiful vocal traditions – is performed for all celebrations, rites of passage and seasonal festivals on the island and includes both secular and sacred songs. Songs are traditionally performed a cappella. The method of a cappella singing is based on three parts while a fourth part – the voice of the angels – is produced by harmonics caused by the interaction of the other voices and seems to appear magically.

The lead singer is the middle voice and is known as the secunda; ornamentation is provided by the terza, the highest voice; and the lowest voice is provided by the bassu, often in the form of a drone. Traditionally polyphony was sung by men, though there was the cuntrastu, which included male and female voices.

Barbara Furtuna. Photo: François Balestriere
Essentially there are four types of Corsican polyphonic song: sacred, paghjella, madrigale and terzettu. Sacred songs are mostly in Latin and are drawn from the Catholic mass; they include Dio vi salvi Regina (Hymn to the Virgin Mary), which has become the Corsican anthem. The paghjella is the oldest and most representative polyphony; here the individual singers often make extensive use of the ribucatta – a free form of ornamentation with vibrato, which creates a slight time lag with the other singers. The madrigale is a form of secular poetry, often a love song, dating back to the end of the thirteenth century.

Around 1530 it was developed further and influenced the music and the composers of the Renaissance. This type of polyphonic song has now completely disappeared, except on the island of Corsica. The poetic terzettu, often a lament of love or exile, dates back to the Middle Ages, and like the the madrigale, is written in the old Tuscan language.

This program is made possible in part with public support made available by the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional support is provided by American Express.

Saint Peter’s Church, 54th Street at Lexington Avenue, NYC
Suggested donation: $30; $20 students
Information/Tickets: (212) 545-7536

Buy the albums: Adasgiu and In Santa Pace

Author: World Music Central News Department

World music news from the editors at World Music Central

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