Johann Gottfried von Herder's Collection of Latvian Folksongs

Johann Gottfried von Herder's Collection of Latvian Folksongs

Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), a German poet, reviewer, theologian, philosopher – representative of the Enlightenment and the initiator of the German romanticism, also was the collector and publisher of the oral poetry of numerous European peoples. J. G. Herder created the notion 'folksong' ( Volkslied), meaning by it – in a wide sense – the poetry living among the people. By now the editions of folksong texts created by Herder were well known, while the originals kept in the convolutes in the Berlin State Library ( Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz) are less easily accessible and therefore less studied. The Latvian folksongs and their translations into German are kept in the J. G. Herder's manuscript capsule No. 14 (Nos. 28, 29; 50, 51, 52, 53). Some of the song originals have been studied by folklorist Ludis Bērziņš (1870–1965) and historian Leonid Arbusow (1870–1965). Latvian folksongs can be found in J. G. Herder's collections "The Old Folksongs" ("Alte Volkslieder", 1773/74, unpublished), "Folksongs" ("Volkslieder", 1778/79, in the book 4 of the second part) and "The Voices of Nations in Songs" ("Stimmen der Völker in Liedern", 1807).

From 1764 till 1769 J. G. Herder was a teacher in the Riga Dome School ( Domschule), also performing the duties of a pastor's adjunct at the churches of Jesus and St Gertrude. The works of J. G. Herder written during the time he spent in Riga are devoted to literature: "Fragmente über die neuere deutsche Literatur " ("Fragments on the most recent German literature", 1767), "Über Thomas Abbts Schriften " ("On writings of Thomas Abt", 1768) and "Kritische Wälder" ("Critical Forests, or Reflections on the Science and Art of the Beautiful", 1769). But there are assumptions that it was exactly in his time spent in Riga that, regarding the texts of Old Testament as author-created literary phenomena and coming into contact with the Latvian traditions, J. G. Herder became especially interested in folksongs.

J. G. Herder acquired some texts of Latvian folksongs in 1770, 1777 and 1778, the songs have been written down by different hands. Among Herder's correspondent's there have been several clergymen and supporters of Enlightenment from Vidzeme (central part of modern-day Latvia). In the course of the correspondence about 80 Latvian folksong texts have been collected. Herder requested the publisher and merchant Johann Friedrich Hartknoch (1740–1789), as well as August Wilhelm Hupel (1737–1819) – a German Baltic pastor from Estonian part of Vidzeme, historian and journalist to contribute Latvian folksongs. Hupel, on his part, asked authors and pastors of Vidzeme to respond to Herder’s request and contribute Latvian folksong texts and notations. This request was responded by Jakob Benjamin Fischer (1731–1793) – a German Baltic natural scientist, apothecary and bookkeeper; a German Baltic artist, ethnographer and historian Johann Christoph Brotze (1742–1823); Heinrich Baumann (1716–1790) – a German Baltic pastor in Liezēre and Cēsis, dean of the first precinct of Cēsis, a bibliographer.

It is quite likely that the texts have also been contributed by pastor of Rubene, author and publisher Christoph Harder (1747–1818); Gustav von Bergmann (1749–1814) – a German Baltic pastor of Āraiši, Mazsalaca and Rūjiena, folklorist and book publisher; Johann Gottlieb Kreutzfeld (also Creutzfeld, Kreuzfeld; 1745–1784) – a German poet, teacher, professor of the poetic art and librarian at the University of Königsberg, who provided J. G. Herder with seven Lithuanian songs along with their translations in 1775, while in 1779 Herder thanks him for collaboration on the matter of the Latvian folksongs.

Archives of Latvian Folklore of the ILFA, LU expresses its gratitude to the scholar of the Berlin Humboldt University Kaspar Renner, Berlin State Library and the leading researcher of the NLA Centre of Letonics and the Baltics Dr. phil. Beata Paškevica for the digital copies of the collection of the Latvian folksongs.

The following sources were used in the preparation of the present article:

Ludis Bērziņš. "Atraktā tautas dzeja" (The Uncovered Folk Poetry; "Filologu biedrības raksti", Rīga, 1933, Vol.13, pp. 114–151);

Ludis Bērziņš. "Greznas dziesmas" (Beautiful Songs; Rīga: Zinātne, 2007 [1942], pp. 77–135);

The presentation by Beata Paškevica "Tēvu tēvi laipas meta, bērnu bērni laipotāji. Latviešu tautasdziesmas J. G. Herdera konvolūtos Berlīnes Valsts bibliotēkā" (on 27 January 2015, at the Small Hall of the National Library).

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ThumbnailUnit numberpp.TitleCategories 
16Maria brauz baznica, savu dēlinu mekledama,
26Paklausi želigs Raditais mūsu lūgšanu,
37Aiz upītes zaļa zālefolksongs
47Lūdzu kungu, lūdzu Dievufolksongs
57Es mazais vīrits biju
67Projām iešu nedzīvošu
77Dzēris biju, krittis biju
87Tumša nakte zaļā zāle
97Tu tautieti lielu radufolksongs
107Meitas mani mežā vede folksongs
117Apkārt griežu, pāri sedžu folksongs
128Nākat meitas lūkotiesfolksongs
139Kas kraukļam medus dosfolksongs
149Es izgāju dēlu zemi,folksongs
159Pie niedrītes laivu sējufolksongs
169Lielā pulkā meitas nākfolksongs
179Lustējiet sīki putniņifolksongs
189Dziedat meitas, ko gaidat
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