Printer Friendly


The collection of songbooks of the Estonian general song celebrations today comprises 172 choral songbooks containing celebrations' literature, published since 1869, the year when the first Estonian song celebration took place. Since then, twenty-six general song celebrations have taken place, with the next one to be organised in 2019. As such, future song celebrations will profit from a digital collection updated continuously with newer songbooks. Another songbook collection contains 130 school hymnbooks and songbooks in German, Russian, and Estonian compiled for the public schools in Estonia, and published between 1821 and 1940. Both collections present diverse song literature and reflect the strong tradition of song celebrations and school singing in Estonia. As such, they are of upmost interest to the Estonian community, choral singers, and music lovers, but also to all who are interested in the music history of Estonia.

Songbooks of the Estonian General Song Celebrations

The creation of a digital collection of song celebration songbooks, initiated in 2012, was the idea of two prominent Estonians, Laine Randjarv, vice-president of the Estonian Parliament, formerly the Minister of Culture, but also a choral conductor by training, and of cleric and writer, Vello Salo. They reinforced that twenty-six general song celebrations had been held in Estonia between 1869 and 2009, that is, a period of 140 years, and pledged personal donations to fund the digitisation of these songbooks, as all the hard copies of the songbooks are stored in the National Library. At present, the collection includes the songbooks of twenty-six general song celebrations, complemented by new songbooks created for song celebrations to come.

The greatest value of this collection lies in the wide variety of choral literature reflecting the long established tradition of choral singing in Estonia across several political periods from the time of the Russian Empire until 1917, through the first period of independence (1918-1940), the Soviet occupation (1940-1991), up to, since 1991, the newly independent Estonia. The song repertoire gives us a clear picture of the development of Estonian choral music, and how foreign musical influences, as well as Tsarist Russia and Soviet regimes affected it.

As previously mentioned, the first Estonian choral singing celebration was held in 1869 in Tartu (Dorpat), when Estonia was a governorate of the Russian Empire. However, German musical traditions still strongly influenced the local musical culture, which prevailed in Estonia over hundreds of years. The organisers of the celebration were inspired foremost by the Baltic German song festivals, the first of which was held in 1836 in Riga, and the second over twenty years later, in 1857 in Tallinn. Nonetheless, the ideas of national unity and identity espoused by the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) proved to be inspirational among Estonian intellectuals, who saw in national choral singing activities an opportunity to serve as the basis for the development of a "national awakening" movement. Consequently, the first Estonian song celebration, dedicated to the fiftieth anniversary of the end of serfdom of the Livonian peasants, actually outlined the objectives of national advancement, unity, and cultural independence (1). Even though Tartu was decorated with flags of the Russian Empire, many participants wore Estonian national costumes. Participation in the first song celebration included forty-six male choirs comprising 822 singers and five brass bands with fifty-six musicians participated. In fact, in the first three celebrations only male choirs and wind orchestras were involved; beginning with the fourth song celebration in 1891, mixed choirs also appeared.

Johann Voldemar Jannsen (1819-1890), journalist and schoolmaster, and one of the organisers of the song celebration compiled the first songbook for song celebrations. It contains twenty-seven songs for male choir, with sacred and secular works, mostly by German composers. Only two Estonian songs appear in the songbook, Mu isamaa on minu arm (My fatherland is my love), and Sind surmani (Until I die), composed by Aleksander Kunileid (1845-1875) to poems by Estonian poet, Lydia Koidula (1843-1886). Of course, the anthem of Imperial Russia, [phrase omitted] (God, save the Tsar!), composed by Alexei Lvov (1799-1870), was included in every songbook during the Tsarist period.

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article.]

After the first song celebration, many Estonian people criticised the repertory for being mostly of German origin. However, in 1910, more than forty years later, at the seventh general song celebration, almost the entire concert program consisted of songs by Estonian composers for the first time. Composers included Aleksander Kunileid (1845-1875), Karl August Hermann (1851-1909), Johannes Kappel (1855-1907), Aleksander Late (1860-1948), Miina Harma (1864-1941), Rudolf Tobias (1873-1918), Artur Kapp (1878-1952), Mihkel Ludig (1880-1958), and Mart Saar (1882-1963). This was also the first time that children's choirs participated in the song celebration, performing six songs.

During World War I, it was not possible to organise song celebrations, but when Estonia gained independence from Russia in 1918, the tradition was revived, and the next celebrations in 1923, 1928, 1933, and 1938 acquired widespread popularity as a means of asserting Estonian cultural identity. In the years of independence, competitions for Estonian composers were organised to create new choral repertory, the first such competition took place before the ninth general song celebration in 1928.

After the incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, the tradition of the song celebrations was continued, but adapted to the prevailing Communist ideology. The first Soviet Estonian song celebration in 1947 was intended to serve as an important event in Soviet propaganda, and the authorities demanded that the number of singers had to be bigger than at the previous festival in 1938, when Estonia did not belong to the Soviet Union. As a result, more than 25,700 singers and musicians participated in the celebration, performed by male, mixed, female, and children's choirs, as well as wind orchestra. Despite ration cards, singers and musicians were supplied with textiles for their singing costumes; they were transported to Tallinn without charge and provided with meals throughout the festivities (2).

The Soviet regime always tied the song celebrations to "Red holidays", and forced foreign and propagandist songs into the repertoire. For example, one of the opening numbers in the 1947 celebration was song Raudtahtel Stalin juhtis meid (Under Stalin's iron will) by Vano Muradeli (1908-1970), performed by a large joint choir of female, male, and mixed choirs. Nonetheless, at that celebration, folk and choral songs by Estonian composers were sung as well, including the premiere performance of the patriotic song Mu isamaa on minu arm (My fatherland is my love), composed by Gustav Ernesaks (1908-1993) to the same poem by Lydia Koidula (1843-1886) that was first set to music by Aleksander Kunileid in 1869. During the occupation years, the Ernesaks's song became an unofficial national anthem for Estonia, and since 1960, performed at every song celebration as the closing piece by a joint choir of over 25,000 singers and the audience, who sang along with the choir.

Yet, the festivals in the 1950s, especially the thirteenth general song celebration, which took place in 1950 after mass deportations of Estonians to Siberia in 1949, including several choir conductors, were strongly ideological. In addition to Estonian choirs, the choirs of the Soviet Army and other Russian choirs participated in the festivals. Classical Estonian choral music was censored and mostly new Soviet repertoire, approved by the Communist Party--songs glorifying "the fraternal family of Soviet peoples" and "great communist leaders and teachers"--were performed. Still, singers wore national costumes. A song festival that was "national in form and socialist in content" was acceptable to the authorities (3).

In the late 1980s, when a new era of "national awakening" began, new patriotic songs by Ulo Vinter (1924-2000), Veljo Tormis (1930-2017), Rene Eespere (b. 1953), Alo Mattiisen (1961-1996), and Tonis Magi (b. 1948) became very popular and significant to Estonians. In 1990, although Estonia had not yet regained independence, but under changed political circumstances, the twenty-first general song celebration was quite different from previous festivals. Several Estonian choirs and conductors in exile participated in the celebration for the first time. There was no ideologically compulsory repertoire in the program, but plenty of patriotic songs and sacred works along with classical Estonian choral repertoire.

The songbooks of the 1990s and 2000s reflect the wide range of musical traditions in Estonia, from folk songs to contemporary choral compositions. At recent festivals, the repertoire has also included favourite Estonian rock songs, which acquire quite different dimensions when performed by a large choir. The range of choirs performing at festivals is diverse: there are seven- to ten-year-old children's choirs, girls' choirs, boys' choirs, female, male, and mixed choirs, performing a cappella, as well as with orchestral accompaniment.

For nearly 150 years, more particular song festivals have emerged, such as regional song festivals, Baltic students' song festival Gaudeamus, statewide youth song celebrations, night song festivals, and punk song festivals. In 2008, UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity included Estonian song and dance celebrations as well as Latvian and Lithuanian celebrations.

The Estonian general song celebration takes place every fifth year, and held over two days. Over the years, the number of participants has increased and has reached 30,164 singers and musicians4 as of the last song celebration, the twenty-sixth, held in 2014 on the grounds of the Tallinn song festival with an audience of approximately 153,800. Preparations for every song celebration start several years before, beginning with a competition to select the festival theme and its artistic director. For example, the theme of the last celebration was "Touched by Time. The Time to Touch", while the repertoire was compiled by its artistic director, by conductors, and by the music board of the Estonian Choral Society.

For the most part, the singers and musicians participating in celebrations belong to amateur choirs and orchestras, directed by professional conductors. A recent statistic shows that over 40,000 people sing in choirs in Estonia; the number of choirs is around 1,350, and the number of choir conductors about 9005. Because of great popularity of song celebrations, there is considerable competition among the choirs, and the repertoire rehearsed as soon as new songbooks are available. Only the best choirs make it into the celebration.

Although the major social and economic changes taking place in Estonia and all over the world have raised serious concerns for the future of song celebrations, the tradition is very much alive and well. The spirit of the nearly 150-year-old song celebration has not vanished because for Estonians singing together means something much more special than just a large choral concert. Lennart Meri (1929-2006), the former President of the Republic of Estonia, clearly explains this idea when he stated in his speech at the twentythird general song celebration in 1999:

"It has been fashionable lately to say that song celebrations are not in fashion anymore. Thank you all for proving that foolish talk wrong with your presence here! A thousand thanks to you from all my heart! A song celebration has never been fashionable because it is not a matter of fashion. A song celebration is a matter of the heart. Just like the Estonian language and mind, like love. Fashions come and go, but the nation and the country remain. Songs have been our weapons and song celebrations our victories!" (6)

School Songbooks up to 1940

The creation of this collection connected to the exhibition on the history of music education in Estonia, compiled by Katre Riisalu and me in 2015, and held in the National Library as one of the special events in the Year of Music program. The exhibition was titled Teele, teele, kurekesed (Bye bye, dear storks) after an old, but still very popular children's song. This song, composed by Friedrich Kuhlbars (1841-1924), the schoolmaster in Viljandi, was first published in 1868 in Laulik koolis ja kodus, an Estonian songbook for school and home. So, since 1868, that is, for over 150 years the song "Bye-bye, dear storks" has been included in primary school singing repertoire and published in fifty-four school songbooks up to the present.

The collection contains 130 school songbooks used in Estonian as well as German and Russian public schools in Estonia from the 1820s to 1940, the year Soviet Russia occupied Estonia. Among these publications, there are hymnbooks and secular songbooks, as well as books containing both sacred and secular songs. Most of the songbooks also include the melodies for the songs, while only a few hymnbooks contain only lyrics. The earlier publications are in German, composed by German teachers for German town schools in Estonia. For example, the oldest publication in this collection is a six-volume hymnbook, Vierstimmige Chorale nach ihren ursprunglichen Melodien ohne Begleitung zum Gebrauch fur Kirchen u. Schulen, published by Carl Ferdinand Biedermann (1792-1869), a music teacher at Tartu Gymnasium. Each of the volumes, printed between 1821 and 1825, contain six four-part settings of chorales.

The first Estonian school songbook, Laulik koolis ja kodus, was compiled by Friedrich Kuhlbars in 1868, as already mentioned. It contains forty-eight one- to four-part songs based mostly on German folk tunes; Kuhlbars wrote the texts himself. In the 1870s and 1880s, various Estonian songbooks were compiled by schoolmasters and pastors, such as Jaan Jung (1835-1900), Carl Robert Jakobson (1841-1882), Adalbert Hugo Willigerode (1819-1893), Friedrich Brandt (1830-1890), Karl August Hermann (1851-1909), and Dietrich Leopold Roder (1845-1899). The next important and even revolutionary Estonian songbook was a six-volume book Kooli laulmise raamat (School songbook), composed by Ado Grenzstein (1849-1916), a schoolmaster in Tartu, in 1878. For the first time, Grenzstein provided music theory instruction in the songbook, as well as rules for the singing teacher and singing learner, printed in each volume. There are more than 140 oneto four-part songs in total, including secular Estonian and foreign songs, folk songs, and church chorales.

For German schools, Baltic German music teachers, usually composed the songbooks in German, for example, Liederbuch fur Knaben- und Madchenschulen by A. W. Schonberg, Gesanglehrer am Gymnasium zu Arensburg (Riga: [A. W. Schonberg], 1876), and Baltischer Liederkranz. Ausgewahlte Lieder zum Gebrauch fur den Gesangunterricht. Herausgegeben von Joh. Reinfeldt, Lehrer und Organist an der Martins-Kirche in Riga (Reval: Kluge, 1886).

During the period of cultural Russification from the mid-1880s on, Russian language and schools were imposed on Estonians, as well as all other minority nationalities in the Russian Empire. The policy of Russification also involved school singing, and as a result, several school songbooks in Russian, composed by Estonian, Russian, and Latvian music teachers, were published in Tallinn, Tartu, and Riga. For example, [phrase omitted] (Gusli), [phrase omitted] (School guslis), [phrase omitted] (School choir), Earn (Bayan), and [phrase omitted] (Singer). These songbooks largely contain Russian folk songs and some songs by Russian composers as well, such as Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857), Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751-1825), and others.

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article.]

In the first decades of the twentieth century, songbooks in Estonian were again composed, for example, Kooli kannel (School psaltery), published by Friedrich Kuhlbars in 1908, that is forty years after his first school songbook, Laulik koolis ja kodus appeared. This new book contains 176 one- to four-part songs, and basic music theory instruction in an appendix. The repertoire is still for the most part of German origin, with only a few songs from Estonian authors, such as Karl August Hermann (1851-1909), Johannes Kappel (1855-1907), Aleksander Late (1860-1948), and Miina Harma (1864-1941). An important step in improving methods of teaching singing was made by Juhan Elken (1851-1931), the schoolmaster and choir conductor, who compiled Koolilaste laulud kahele ja kolmele haalele (Two- and three-part songs for pupils [Tallinn: Pihlakas, 1913]), which provided instruction in reading music and vocal exercises. Elken also published new Estonian children's songs and arrangements of Estonian folk melodies.

In the first period of independence, the most prominent force in music education in Estonia was Voldemar Tamman (1884-1942), a music teacher, who wrote a comprehensive method for teaching singing and compiled more than twenty school songbooks, of which the most widely used are Laste-laul (Children song) in two volumes (Tartu: Tamman, 1925-1926), and Kooli-koor (School choir [Tartu: Tamman, 1928]). Tamman's work was carried on by Riho Pats (1899-1977), his former pupil, as well as music teacher, composer, and choral conductor. He compiled many school songbooks and music workbooks throughout his entire life until the 1970s. His earlier books published in the 1930s, for example, the songbook Lemmiklaulik (Favorite songbook) for eight grades in eight volumes (Tallinn: Kooli-Kooperatiiv, 1935-1938), contain both classical and modern Estonian songs.

Along with music teachers, professional composers, such as Johannes Kappel (1855-1907), Aleksander Late (1860-1948), Miina Harma (1864-1941), Artur Kapp (1878-1952), and Gustav Ernesaks (1908-1993), created songbooks for schools, enriching the school singing repertoire with new songs. The main purpose of music training in schools was to develop musical intelligence and to excite interest in singing. The school counsellor Juhan Lang wrote in 1930:
   Love for singing also has to remain in pupils after graduating
   school, and serve as a basis for further music making in the family
   circle and society. Leaving school, all children have to take some
   favourite songs with them, which they would sing with real
   pleasure. (7)

Today, the digital collection contains school songbooks published up to 1940. The aim in the future is to digitise the songbooks of the Soviet period, the songbooks published in the newly independent Estonia, and forthcoming books, in order to provide access to a consistent collection of Estonian school songbooks, similar to the songbooks of the Estonian general song celebrations collection.

DIGAR Digital Archive

To conclude, information about the digital archive of the National Library of Estonia is warranted. DIGAR ( [accessed 24 March 2017]), created in 2004-2006, is the first attempt to preserve the growing volume of digital information in different types and formats. Soon, in addition to archiving print files from publishers and online publications, digitising and archiving of printed publications, including books, periodicals, sheet music, maps, posters, postcards, and manuscripts will begin. Since 2013, sound recordings have been archived in DIGAR as well. The main priority of the National Library is to preserve and make publicly accessible Estonian national cultural heritage, by primarily archiving national publications. Archiving of foreign publications is done only if they are digitised under the auspices of a project or cooperative effort, with preference given to rare and old publications or manuscripts.

Looking at DIGAR's user interface, the main categories of publications are shown in the menu above the page, but there is no category for music among them. As such, in order to find sheet music items, for example, the best way would be to use the detailed search option on the starting page, by choosing 'sheet music' found in dropdown menu. Currently, there are approximately 740 digital images of sheet music archived into DIGAR, but this number is continuously increasing. To get access to the song celebrations or school songbooks, the most efficient way is to search by type 'sheet music', and then by keyword, either 'song festivals' or 'school songbooks'.

In fact, not all the digital copies of sheet music are available for public access via the Internet because of copyright protection. A padlock symbol marks these items, and only samples images may be viewed; the entire copy cannot be saved or downloaded. Still, copies are accessible on the network of the National Library of Estonia via authorised computers in the reading rooms. If an item is not under copyright, it is possible to view it in the DIGAR user interface, and also to download a PDF of the publication.

Today, the digital archive is still a work in progress, continuously supplemented by new objects and collections, and the functionality of the archive with user-friendly access to digital material is improving. The latest version of DIGAR's user interface launched in January 2016 and was designed for tablets and smartphones as well. The objects in the digital archive are linked to the e-catalogue ESTER ( [accessed 24 March 2017]), which is the main bibliographic database for accessing digital publications, and where more detailed metadata may be found. Therefore, in order to get access to digital copies of items all digitised and e-publications have DIGAR links in their corresponding ESTER records.

Heidi Heinmaa has been head of the Sheet Music Department at the National Library of Estonia since 2003. In 2005, she was a researcher at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, and taught music history and theory at the Tallinn Music High School from 1988 to 2003. She holds a bachelor's diploma (1994) and a master's degree in musicology (2005) from the Estonian Academy of Music, and completed her vocational training for librarians at the Tallinn Pedagogical University in 2004. She is a member of the Estonian Librarians Association, the Estonian Music Library Association, and the Estonian Musicological Society.

(1.) Kristin Kuutma, "Cultural Identity, Nationalism and Changes in Singing Traditions", Folklore. Electronic Journal of Folklore 2 (1996): 3-4, (accessed 24 March 2017).

(2.) Estonian Song & Dance Celebration: The Tradition of Song and Dance Festivals. Text compiled by Lore Listra (Tallinn: Eesti Instituut, 2009), 6-7.

(3.) Ibid., 7.

(4.) Uldlaulupeod 1869-2014, (accessed 24 March 2017).

(5.) Estonian Song and Dance Celebrations. Text by Peep Pedmanson (Tallinn: Estonian Institute, 2014), 28.

(6.) Speeches of the President of the Republic 1992-2001: Eesti Vabariigi PresidentXXIII Uldlaulupeol 3. juulil 1999, (accessed 14 September 2016).

(7.) Lauluvara algkoolidele. Lauluopetajate komisjoni ettepanekud. Toimetanud Juhan Lang (Tartu, 1930), 2. (Song repertory for elementary schools. Music teachers commission proposals. Edited by Juhan Lang.)

Caption: Fig. 1. Title page of the first song celebration songbook. Eestirahwa 50-aastase Jubelipiddo-Laulud (Tartu: Tarto Wannemuine-selts, 1869).

Caption: Fig. 2. Cover of the songbook of the tenth song celebration, Eesti 10. Uldlaulupeo laulud Tallinnas 1935 (Tallinn: Eesti Lauljate Liit, 1931).

Caption: Fig. 3. Cover of the songbook of the twelfth song celebration, Noukogude Eesti 1950. a. uldlaulupeo laulud (Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1950).

Caption: Fig. 4. Cover of the songbook for the Russian choirs in the sixteenth song selebration, [phrase omitted] 1965 [phrase omitted] (Tamm: [phrase omitted], 1963).

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article.]

Caption: Fig. 5. Cover of the songbook for the children's choirs of the twenty-sixth song celebration, Mudilaskooride laulik: XXVI laulu- ja XIX tantsupidu "Aja puudutus. Puudutuse aeg" 4.-6. juuli 2014 (Tallinn: Eesti Laulu- ja Tantsupeo SA, 2013).

Caption: Fig. 6. Estonian children's song Teele, teele! in Laulik koolis ja kodus (Tartu: [Wettering], 1868).

Caption: Fig. 7. Cover of volume 6 of the hymnbook by C. F. Biedermann, Vierstimmige Chorale nach ihren ursprunglichen Melodien ohne Begleitung zum Gebrauch fur Kirchen u. Schulen (Dorpat: Akademische Buchhandlung, 1825).

Caption: Fig. 8. Roomus laulja: Kooli lugemise raamatu wiisid (Joyful singer: tunes for the school reading book). Edited and published by Carl Robert Jakobson (Tartu, 1872).

Caption: Fig. 9. Cover of the Russian school songbook, composed by Dmitri Yaichkov, [phrase omitted] ([phrase omitted], 1898).

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article.]

Caption: Fig. 10. Cover of the school songbook published by Voldemar Tamman, Laste-laul, volume 2 (Tartu: Tamman, 1926).

Caption: Fig. 11. Cover of the school songbook composed by Riho Pats, Lemmiklaulik III: algkooli III klassi lauluvara ("Favorite songbook" III: Songs for the III grade of elementary school [Tallinn: Kooli-Kooperatiiv, 1936]).

Caption: Fig. 12. Screenshot of the DIGAR's useface.
COPYRIGHT 2017 International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2017 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Heinmaa, Heidi
Publication:Fontes Artis Musicae
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EXES
Date:Apr 1, 2017
Next Article:"Music Archives and Composer's Legacy in the Collections of Polish Libraries", Warsaw, 1-2 December 2016.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters