Contrary to the well-known folk music and folk dance of major Celtic nations like Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany, the folklore of Cornwall, a partly autonomous region located in the far southwest of England, has to date not received much international academic attention. Even in the major scientific works on Celtic music (Sawyers 2000; Stokes and Bohlman 2003), Cornwall is usually not mentioned at all, even though it was recognized as one of the six Celtic nations as early as 1904 (Jenner 1905). Until now, only one PhD thesis (Davey 2011), an MA thesis (Toms 2010) and a BA thesis (Trethewey 2011) have been written on Cornish folk music, while Cornish folk dance has only been investigated in a single chapter of Davey’s thesis.
This lack of scientific interest in the region’s folklore seems somewhat surprising, however, given that there is indeed a rather lively folk music and folk dance scene observable in the Duchy at present. This movement has its roots in the late 1970s, when local musicians initiated the Cornish Music and Dance Revival – not least because they wanted to give emphasis to their Celtic heritage and celebrate their otherness to English people. In the year 2000, some young musicians and dancers started a new folk movement called Nos Lowen, in search of more modern ways of expressing Cornish identity. However, the different visions of what Cornish folk music and folk dance should be and how it ought to be interpreted have led to a huge and highly emotional, if not adversarial, controversy between the early revivalists and the initiators of Nos Lowen.
By exploring and examining the Cornish Folk Music and Dance Revival as well as the Nos Lowen movement, the present PhD thesis aims at filling a significant gap in the scientific field of Celtic Folklore Studies as well as the Anglo-American folk music research in general, and at raising international awareness of it. It also aims at addressing important questions concerning the identity/identities of Cornish folk music and folk dance, how the terms “authenticity” and “tradition” may be interpreted and expanded in the Cornish context, and how new and especially young people are attracted to the Revival scene. This also relates back to general issues regarding questions on identity in a modern and global context, which is not only an important aspect in Cornwall but also in many other parts of the world.
Lea Salome Hagmann