Folk song

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A folk song is a song that has the widest possible dissemination in and through a social group. Folk songs can be differentiated according to musical, linguistic, social and historical characteristics. They are characterized by a common language , culture and traditions . Regional variants for text and melody are possible.


Johann Gottfried Herder coined the term folk song in 1773 and introduced it to the German language. In an exchange of letters about Oßian and the songs of old peoples , the term is used by him for the first time, in translation based on Thomas Percy's popular song . The term folk song initially had a wider range of meanings than it does today. He described not only the lyrical genre whose license plate light singability, coming from the people and anonymity, but said primarily a then new, populist conception of lyric poetry in general, directed against the artificiality of the Poetry in the Age of the Baroque and Rococo deposed which was based on learned knowledge and refined education. Rather, poetry is of divine origin, according to Hamann "the mother tongue of the human race", which expresses itself through natural immediacy.

Folk songs mainly deal with specific, recurring or everyday situations, occurrences and moods of daily life. The poetry can move away from "ordinary and harsh reality", from joy and happiness, love and death, farewell and travel, strangers and longing and can be shown in an idealized way and form, for example in the depiction of idyllic images of nature or a tragic love between prince and princess. Folk songs various functions meet - in the form of work song (working part-time) or stalls song (work areas or professions characterizing) or wedding song (about the bride and groom or congratulating on the "holy covenant" morally indicative).

The numerous “genres” reflect the content and thematic spectrum: love , wedding, drinking , children's and lullaby , birthday song , work , dance, worker , student , soldier and seaman's songs ; Furthermore, professional songs based on religious festivals, songs from home , journeys , hunting and hiking songs , Alpine songs , morning and evening songs oriented towards the times of day , seasons, farewell songs , joke and mockery songs . The traditional song with narrative content in a dramatic form is the folk ballad .

The folk song is to be distinguished from folk music .

Folk song as folk music

Folk music is a collective term that does not point to a specific form of music, but to a musical practice within certain social contexts. It is also hardly possible to speak of definable styles within folk music, but rather of types, since folk music is not subject to any discourse-like norms or written fixation, as is the case with Western art music . For Johann Gottfried Herder, the literary-poetological aspect was in the foreground of the songs and poems he had collected, some by well-known authors, which he often published under the title “Volkslieder” in 1778 without naming his name. As "folk songs" called Georg Gottfried Gervinus reciting mainly by lay people from the local population.

A clear, clearly delimited version of the terms “folk music / folk song” is difficult. Today, folk music is largely a historical term and can only apply to a limited extent to contemporary music practice. A rule of thumb is that folk music traditions are most alive where there is a certain distance to modern technological and economic structures. These are and were predominantly rural areas. In Europe, this affects regions that can be regarded as the periphery of the highly developed, sometimes highly industrialized heartland, such as parts of Eastern Europe. In Germany , the southern German and alpine regions occupy a certain exceptional position in this regard .

According to a historical definition by Hugo Riemann in 1882, a folk song is “a song that was composed by the people (i.e. whose poet and composer are no longer known), or one that has passed into popular parlance, or finally one that is 'popular', d. H. simple and easy to understand in melody and harmony, is composed ”. According to Alfred Götze , a folksong is a song that "is or was so naturalized in the singing of the lower class of a cultural people in long memory-based tradition and in its style that whoever sings it does not feel anything of the individual right of an author to words and manner." A modern definition by Tom Kannmacher reads: "Folk songs are ubiquitous media in the memory of the members of a sociological group, which are subject to the currents of tradition, cultural epochs, rule relationships and thus never take on fixed forms that could be documented or materially grasped".

The term “folk music”, which is currently widespread in many media, is basically just a branch of the music industry and media world and shows unreal domestic and rural idylls on sound and image carriers as well as on television. The media conveyed, choreographed and overstylized performances are difficult to distinguish from other media conveyed music genres. Starting points for distinctions would at most be that different target groups are targeted and that different visual and “sound-related” characteristics are revealed. In the latter case, however, the boundaries between what is commonly considered to be folk music , hits , pop and rock are blurring . This then also applies to the "folk music" of other countries conveyed through AV media , for which the even more recent market-technical term " world music " was found - here the indifference is already in the term itself.

Folk song title

There is no unique text-music link in folk songs. Since the 19th century, however, one can refer to a "solid" folk song tribe, which is represented in the printed song collections. But here too there are difficulties. On the one hand in terms of the lyrics, on the other hand - as a result of this - what title the song now has. In addition, folk songs arise from the vernacular and are therefore of course also dialect-bound. For their further dissemination through printed collections, some of them were then translated into standard German or other standard languages.

In song collections one can often observe that folk songs do not have a fixed title. The song title is often simply formed from the beginning of the first verse: e.g. For example: "Now are the fun days". The song with the beginning “I don't know what should it mean”, however, is known with this first verse as the title and as Die Lorelei . Song collections sometimes also have two tables of contents: one by song beginnings and one by title. The beginning of the song and the title can coincide, but do not have to be.

Creator question

From a folklore point of view, no definitive answer is possible to the question of who produces the lyrics and melodies of folk songs . Because folk music was first passed on through an ongoing vocal tradition, that is, through hearing and imitation, it was in a constant process of variation and creation. For Braun, for example, the inclusion and dissemination and thus the enculturation or embedding in the cultural forms of expression affecting a particular community seem more important than the question of origin . An original melody can be one from the music of the bourgeoisie, e.g. B. a memorable operetta melody . Béla Bartók discovered something like this in his extensive research on the Hungarian folk song and speaks of the instincts of imitation that can be ascribed to a longing look at the culture of higher social classes.


In the course of collecting and researching folk songs, the following characteristics of the folk song have been identified:

Music practice

In terms of its internal musical characteristics, the folk song can be viewed as a substrate or a preserved original form of the art song. The aforementioned impetus from art music speaks in favor of the term substrate. The fact that the folk song mostly shows a stage in its tonal language and form that art music has already outlasted at a given point in time speaks in favor of the designation Urform. This can be seen in

  • Scales with a small number of tones ( pentatonic or lower),
  • a low ambitus especially in songs
  • simple melody line form or even one
  • in metric / rhythmic free ways design. Here, however, the folk song, as a performance art, is an expression of a social group and its lyrical and musical horizon and need for communication, which is characteristic of a point in time and social development stage.

Differentiation from the art song

The folk song can be distinguished from the art song in that a unique text-music connection is not mandatory. Field research by ethnomusicologists as well as records by composers have shown that melodies that have already been heard appear with different texts, which can also be fundamentally different thematically. Likewise, the singing habits depend on the situation or on the particular ability of the singer. There is also great variability in the sense of shape; often different from what we know as a thoroughly composed art song. The performance of a song can deviate significantly from the "first version" even if it is immediately repeated, but remains the same song in the interests of the presenter. On the other hand, mere changes in perspective in the narrative structure of a song (text), with almost the same musical material and musical formation, are sometimes viewed by the presenter as different songs. 'Singing around', corresponding to the vocal possibilities of a singer, has also been observed many times (octave shift if a note in high or low is not reached).

Influence each other

Mutual influences and emigration can also be seen. Within Europe, however, parallels can be found in the music of geographically separated peoples. This mainly applies to tonal and formal design methods. This phenomenon is a central result in Bartók's folk music research.

National and state-bound ownership claims to folk music, even with qualitative emphasis or purity claims, are therefore absurd. The migration of a melody through different regions mentioned below and its changes from a folk song to the theme of a string quartet by Haydn and on to the German national anthem is an eloquent example of this.

Research history

Even in the early days of German studies , scientists were concerned with collecting folk tales and folk songs. It is more difficult with the musical tradition. The fact that historical folk music is accessible today is primarily thanks to music ethnology . This branch of musicology is still relatively young and found its first heyday at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Researchers such as Béla Vikár , Zoltán Kodály , Béla Bartók , Erich von Hornbostel , Constantin Brăiloiu , to name just a few, were the first to attempt to “listen” to music directly from the people. Technical options such as the Edison phonograph (based on Thomas Alva Edison ) were already available to them. But many composers also made records directly among the people. You know z. B. by Modest Mussorgsky , Ralph Vaughan Williams , Nikolai Rimski-Korsakow or Percy Grainger . What is then available is a musical text that only gives an idea of ​​the associated musical practice.

From the earlier history, only very fragmentary conclusions can be drawn about the respective folk music. For understandable reasons, records are rare: none of the people did it and there was hardly any interest among scholars. One can assume, however, that especially in the Middle Ages, the boundaries between folk music and “high culture”, which was essentially church music , were still quite fluid. So was z. For example, part of the music heard in the church is always taken “outside”, so to speak, and then freely - and above all in vernacular - rewritten and sung. And that too in a cheeky and mocking manner. We even have some, if mostly “only” texts, in sources such as the Lochamer song book , the Jena song manuscript or the Carmina Burana . As far as musical practice is concerned, however, one can only draw conclusions from pictorial representations, especially about the use of instruments that were largely excluded from liturgical musical practice (especially wind instruments ). The travelogue of Giraldus Cambrensis (1147–1223), who tells of popular music-making practices in Ireland and Wales , is also quite famous .

Romance and 20th century

Germany song

Sometimes the folk song melodies pass into other genres of music. So the old Bohemian processional song becomes Ubi est spes mea? (“Where is my hope?”) First in the 16th century of the chant My dear Lord I praise you! . A good 200 years later, in 1797, Joseph Haydn used this to create the melody for the Austrian imperial hymn Gott preserve Franz, the emperor . Haydn himself detaches this melody from the text and makes it the center of the “Kaiserquartett” (op. 76 No. 3). The melody also appears in variants and with changing text in the Croatian region as a folk song. It is unclear whether there were interrelationships between Haydn and the folk melody - and if so, what type they were. In 1841 Hoffmann von Fallersleben composed the verses of the Deutschlandlied for Haydn's melody . It has been used officially as the German national anthem since 1922. From the old Bohemian processional song, the well-known German canon O how comfortable is me in the evening has also developed.

Folk song researchers and folk song compilers

Folk song collections

With Herder, the so-called “second existence” of the folk song began, which has now been written down in folk song collections and thus codified . These collections, which mainly reproduce texts without musical notation, can today primarily serve literary and social science interests, but are also considered a source of folk music maintenance. The first collections of folk songs corresponded to the romantic idealization. It was not until the 20th century that the collection of folk songs began on the basis of scientific criteria. Handwritten song recordings offer an interesting special case. An analysis of 65 manuscripts from the 19th century ( John Meier Collection , Deutsches Volksliedarchiv Freiburg) clarifies the various functions of songs and song collections. The song handwriting is a "linguistic structure that can take on different levels of expression, each associated with certain cultural functions." It is a testimony to semiorality, by which processes of reception of cultural values ​​and norms can be shown. The manuscripts come from Alsace and Lorraine and are divided into three types. The handwriting of François Juving from 1848, for example, can be assigned to the personal type. The author's everyday life and life path can be followed through his selection of songs. Problems, disappointments and hopes or overcoming problems are also visible in the content of the chosen songs, as in the handwriting of Marie Feigenspann (1867). Such recordings have the function of self-talk and identity work, in which writers deal with the roles and norms of behavior to be fulfilled. The communicative type, on the other hand, was specifically designed for or in interpersonal contact. The song recordings reflect the socialization paths of their authors and are characterized by creative text modifications through which their own opinions were communicated. In the songs of Franz Lang from 1830, his life path from bachelor to family man can be traced and the atypical selection of Henriette Steiner (1900–1918) documents the breakout of a woman from the role behavior usual at the time against the background of the historical situation. Finally, the anonymous type is to be seen as an excerpt from the treasure trove of songs recognized in its time and considered worth striving for; they are collections that document the general civic education of their authors. The repertoire therefore corresponds to that of the printed song collections available at the time. It is a passive song reception, while the first two types document an active song acquisition. As the analyzes of the lyrics modifications of these two types of manuscript show, collective knowledge is reflected: images of history are analyzed, prejudices are broken down, ideological values ​​are devalued and the social behavior and ways of thinking conveyed in the songs are reconsidered.

German folk songs collected since 1914, the German folk song archive , the 2014 Center for Popular Culture and Music opened at the University of Freiburg. The Österreichisches Volksliedwerk has been responsible for collecting research and communication of folk songs since 1904.

The folk song researcher Ernst Klusen collected Lower Rhine folk songs. Since 1949 Sepp Gregor has been collecting European and non-European songs from countries in which European languages ​​are spoken. After his death, the Society of the Klingende Brücke e. V. in Bonn.

See also

Source collections


Web links

Wiktionary: Folksong  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Folk songs  - sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johann Gottfried Herder: Excerpt from an exchange of letters about Oßian and the songs of old peoples in: Von deutscher Art und Kunst. Some flying leaves. Bey Bode, Hamburg 1773
  2. Thomas Percy: Reliquies of Ancient English Poetry . J. Dodsley, London (1765)
  3. Georg Gottfried Gervinus: History of German poetry . Second volume. W. Engelmann, Leipzig 1853, page 252 ff. ( Limited preview in the Google book search).
  4. Folksong . In: Hugo Riemann (Ed.): Musik-Lexikon . 1st edition. Verlag des Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1882, p. 982 ( Textarchiv - Internet Archive ).
  5. ^ Alfred Götze : The German folk song . 1929
  6. Tom Kannmacher: The German folk song in the folk song and songwriting scene since 1970. In: Yearbook for folk song research 23, 1978. P. 38.
  7. ^ Hartmut Braun: Folk music: an introduction to musical folklore. Kassel 1999
  8. a b Béla Bartók: The Hungarian Folk Song ; 1926 (reprint see above ).
  9. Wolfgang Suppan: Volkslied: his collection and research. Metzler, Stuttgart 1968, 2nd revised and supplemented edition 1978. ISBN 3-476-12052-X
  10. Christian Kaden: Music Sociology , Berlin 1984 (also: Heinrichshofen 1985)
  11. ^ Walter Wiora : European folk song
  12. ^ Wilhelm Tappert: Wandering melodies. A musical study. 2nd Edition. Brachvogel & Ranft, Berlin 1889, pp. 7-10 ( Textarchiv - Internet Archive ).
  13. Hans Renner : Basics of Music . 8th edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 1969, p. 84 ff.
    Hans Renner: History of Music . 8th edition. DVA, Stuttgart 1985, p. 345: "[Haydn's] last most beautiful song, the way to 'God preserve Franz the Emperor' [...] has a broad line of ancestors [...] that can be traced back to an ancient Bohemian processional song." ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  14. Eva Kimminich: Experienced songs. An analysis of 19th century handwritten song records. Gunter Narr, Tübingen 1990, ISBN 3-8233-4237-1 .
  15. Eva Kimminich: Experienced songs. An analysis of 19th century handwritten song records. Gunter Narr, Tübingen 1990, ISBN 3-8233-4237-1 , p. 145.
  16. Eva Kimminich: Experienced songs. An analysis of 19th century handwritten song records. Gunter Narr, Tübingen 1990, ISBN 3-8233-4237-1 , pp. 26-36 and 97-100.
  17. Eva Kimminich: Experienced songs. An analysis of 19th century handwritten song records. Gunter Narr, Tübingen 1990, ISBN 3-8233-4237-1 , pp. 111-144.
  18. ^ Center for Popular Culture and Music at the University of Freiburg
  19. Austrian folk songs
  20. The Klingende Brücke - songs in all European languages