I’ve read in an academic tome that folk songs and art songs should be considered as distinct. Not this but an interesting read, anyway:
I understand the reasoning to be that art songs are composed as intentional artistic works with formal consideration of form, structure, melody, harmony and accompaniment – whereas folk songs arise out of an initial spontaneity of expression which gain currency and reinforcement within a community due to the relevance of the subject matter and appeal of the tune.
So if folk songs arise from spontaneity, why do British folk music clubs, and the folk singers who populate them, take so much care in their formal presentation to the extent that adherence to the purity of some imagined paradigm is all, and that, by inference, insist that the rejection of re-interpretation as a corruption is mandatory? It strikes me as an ossification of something that was once lively. This desire to retreat into a frigid imitation of the past and opine that where, for example, the hearty singing about the poverty of a redundant cotton worker or a drowning sailor is noble and pure; well, surely that’s just sentimental and lazy. Particularly if you dress for the part.
So where are the folk songs of tomorrow to be found today? In hip-hop, I imagine. Where are the “art songs” of today? Beats me.