ESTONIAN FOLK MUSIC LAYERS IN THE CONTEXT OF ETHNIC RELATIONS
Style and melody types in the comparative folk music research
A comparative study of folk music is relevant from the aspect of both the style and the melody types.
Style is specified as a complex of musical features and determined by their quality and structure. We
may define national, regional and historical styles, genre peculiarities, performing styles etc. Style as
a complex phenomenon is related to a complex of causes while in certain causal relations different
factors may dominate. Alongside with historical, regional and functional factors style peculiarities are
determined by the structure of language.
Thus, the musical form of Estonian and Balto-Finnic runo-song tunes, especially the length of the
basic structural unit, shows foremost the stage of historical development, while the length of the
melody has a strong positive correlation with the melodic range (Rüütel 1986). In our case
the horisontal as well as vertical widening of song tunes was mainly parallel. Deviations from such a
general regularity seem to result primarily from the peculiarities of the function and the genre of a
song. The melody-movement is particularly related to the speech intonation, at least in more ancient
tune-layers. Rhythm and some melody attributes may be conditioned by the performance which in its
turn is related to the genre and function of the song (e.g. the North-Estonian swing-song tunes with
their very specific rhythmic and melodic structure).
In actual development of folk music all the factors influencing the genesis and evolution of musical
phenomena intertwine or mix and any music forms a symbiosis of them all.
Beside the study of style, melody types as phenomenal units of folk music constitute a separate
aspect of research in folk music studies. All folklore phenomena, including melodies, disseminate as
variants in space and time. A tune type forms of a complex of its variants (tune samples) united by a
common content and the basic qualities of form (for details see: Rüütel 1986). Its basic
quality is expressed in the common invariant which as a rule is preserved in the samples of one and
the same melody type.
The genetic ties of folk music are best expressed by the melody types but it must be taken into
consideration that, on the one hand, outwardly very similar melodies may derive in different locations
independently; on the other hand, the melodies of common genesis may acquire different shapes
above recognition while spreading in time and space. Therefore the establishment of typologically
related tune-families requires a thorough typological research. The conclusions drawn from different
occasional examples can not give reliable results. It is just the same as to compare externally similar
words in different languages without any knowledge about their origin and etymological background.
The differentiation of melody types, however, especially in archaic music, is rather complicated. It
demands a very exact and detailed structural analysis and special methods. This is the reason why
the problem of musical typology of folk melodies on international scale has not been solved yet.
Several attempts have been made, based on different material and while using different methods
(Ling, Jersild 1965; Elschekova 1966; Chekanowska 1977; Pelinski 1981 et al). Still, universal
methods suitable for all musical cultures have not been created. May be it is eventually impossible,
whereas different musical cultures are so diverse.
The original computerised method for distinguishing melody types, worked out at the Folklore
Department of the Institute of Estonian Language, is based on modelling the melody on the basis of
the melodic context (see: Rüütel 1981; Rüütel, Haugas 1990). It enables to
distinguish typologically related melody-groups as well as to discover their possible relations and
overlaps. The most efficient way for solving these problems appeared to be the cluster
analysis method, which permitted to group tunes under study round fixed centres
(melody models) (Rüütel 1979). Such grouping (clusterization) corresponds to the
dialectic notions of "type" and "variant" in the folklore theory according to
which all variants of a folklore (or folk music) phenomenon (type) share the common basic form, from
which they may differ in detail, having at that a common invariant (Rüütel 1986). Special
studies have shown that such an invariant of old Estonian runo-tunes is expressed by the system of
basic tones of a melody which is formed by the given scale degrees in a given syntactic position of
the melody (Rüütel 1980). Such an invariant reveals itself only after the analysis of tune
samples of an established melody-type and contains the pitch values of only a part of syntactic
positions of a melody (the most stable ones).
In addition to the invariant, every melody-type is also characterised by a certain basic form - the
normative model which is formed on the basis of the most probable pitch value (pitch
degree) of every syntactic position of the melodies in the given typological group. Mathematically, the
normative model is the mode of the multidimensional distribution of melodies of a given melody
group. Such normative models (centres) can be found with the help of a statistic analysis of the
melodic context (Rüütel 1986 A). The research has shown that the modelling of melodies
on the basis of the melodic context proves to be the most efficient method of distinguishing normative
models. We have worked out an iterative algorithm ("Centre") for the preliminary
establishment of the initial centres of classification, considering the multidimensional qualities of the
objects under study (Rüütel, Haugas 1990). It enables to create melody models which
serve as the basic forms of certain melody types. Another iterative algorithm ("Cluster")
enables to compare all the tune samples with all the models (centres), to find out the model which
any tune sample is the nearest to and classify all of them accordingly into clusters which in our case
correspond to the typological groups of melodies. After the first classification the centres are checked
up and corrected (if it is needed) according to the concrete tune material, then the new, more
specified clusterisation is carried out, centres are corrected again, etc. Such an iterative analysis
lasts until the system becomes stable. Finally most of the tunes usually appear to belong to certain
clusters, part of the tunes remain on the borders of two or more clusters and part of them do not
belong to any of them. Then a distance matrix is calculated which reveals the relations between
separate centres and enables to discover interrelations of the typological system. A general structural
model of a typological group may be constructed which serves as the grammar of the tune-group,
fixes its syntactical rules and enables to derive all the variants of a given melody-type, including
those which are not presented in the initial material (see: Rüütel 1986 B). Later, the
correlations between the established tune types and other features (region, song-genre, rhythmic
pattern, etc.) may be calculated. While studying Estonian one-line refrainless tunes it appeared, for
example, that the tune-types are the most closely related to a geographic region, and less to a
song-genre. It is caused by the fact that most of the tunes served as general tunes for different
song-genres. Yet, it appeared that a part of melody-types are characterised by clearly distinguishable
genre peculiarities. So far the above described method has been used for studying the melody types
of Estonian, Karelian and Ingerian one-line refrainless song-melodies, Estonian one-line
refrain-tunes, and for studying a part of Estonian two-line melodies (about 2000 tune samples in
Possibilities and difficulties in interpreting folk music from ethnic aspects
The comparative typological study of folk tunes, complemented with the results of style analysis
and with the archaeological and linguistic data, may serve as the basis for interpreting folk music
from ethnic aspects, despite of the inevitable suppositional character of such interpretations
(Rüütel 1990). When interpreting folklore phenomena from an ethnic aspect, we
encounter several difficulties. Thus, it is not always clear whether similar phenomena yield evidence -
not only stylistically but also typologically - of an ethnic unity (either primary or more recent, based on
assimilation) of their bearers, or whether they indicate an autonomous dissemination of cultural
phenomena - the so called cultural loans, which surpass ethnic as well as language barriers. In fact, it
is a universal problem including both the material and the intellectual culture.
It is possible to distinguish certain genres of folklore which pass the language barriers easily, and
others which are related to an ethnic group and language more tightly. The former can be called
ethnically mobile, the latter ethnically stable ones. The first group includes primarily non-verbal
phenomena, like dances, which are not related to language, and tales, which can be translated rather
easily because they are not restricted by poetic forms as songs are. Ritual songs are ethnically very
stable due to their elaborate ethno-social context, as are also lyrical songs due to their
image-oriented structure, whereas the narrative songs are more autonomous and easier to translate.
Ethnically the most mobile part of music is, no doubt, instrumental music. As for song melodies, the
song melodies of newer style are more mobile due to their more independent musical expression and
universal form. Archaic song tunes are by far more closely related to the speech intonation and
structure of a particular language; their ethno-social context is also more elaborate. But in archaic
music, because of limited means of expression, we must consider the possibility of autonomous
genesis of typologically close phenomena.
Another problem aggravating folk music research and its ethnic interpretation is uneven occurrence
of archaic cultural phenomena due to sporadic retention. This in turn is connected with the different
speed of development of individual cultural areas and with different external influences. Alongside
with the newer song layers the Estonians as well as the Balts have preserved rather well their
archaic song genres and music styles (Lach 1929; Bendorfs 1981; Kirsite 1985). Much that is archaic
has been preserved in the music of different Finno-Ugric and Slavic peoples. But we have no clues to
the contemporary early Germanic, including Scandinavian music whose oldest music layers date
probably just from the Middle Ages.
Relations between a culture and its ethnic preservation are also complex. The most stable identifier of
an ethnos is its language. When the language disappears, the ethnos as a phenomenon disappears
usually as well, although the latter may be preserved as an anthropological substratum. Some
elements of its culture may be preserved in a cultural dialect of the assimilative nation as a cultural
substratum. Such substrata of Finno-Ugric elements has been discovered in Russian folk music (e.g.
Macievsky 1980; Rüütel 1987). The opposite case is the situation where the ethnos has
preserved its language but has passed over to a foreign musical language which is rather usual.
In comparison to archaeological objects, the ethnological interpretation of folklore phenomena is
more difficult caused by the fact that a tradition may change in the course of time, and the primary
area of distribution of a certain oral culture may change as well, while these phenomena may
sometimes preserve better in their new location than in their place of origin. Nevertheless, the old
layers of Estonian folk music have been preserved, if at all, in a surprisingly conservative form. New
music layers have appeared alongside of them, leaving their structure essentially intact. The extreme
conservatism of archaic musical phenomena has also been noted by musicologists from Latvia,
Lithuania and elsewhere.
Thus, the inevitable suppositional character of ethnic interpretations does not mean that ethnic
research in folk music has no perspective. But it should be based on the distinguishing of folk music
layers, styles and melody types; on the specification of alteration principles, ways of development and
other internal processes; and on the concrete geographical study of melody types and style
phenomena. The results of musical analysis should be combined with textual, ethnographic, linguistic
and archaeological data.
Historical strata of the Estonian folk music
The Estonian folk song is usually divided into two main historical-stylistical strata: the
runo-songs (songs in runo-verse form, also called Kalevala-metre songs, alliterative songs etc.) and
the newer songs with an end-rhyme and strophic form. Both are characterised by a special musical
style. The first one belongs to the old Balto-Finnic culture and derives probably from the last
millennium B.C., the latter one is related to the European traditional songlore of the last centuries.
Besides runo-songs (which are represented in the Estonian tradition first of all by lyrical songs and
by working songs, ritual songs, game songs, etc., less by the narrative ones) there exist a number of
ancient non-runo genres which are characterised by a special intonation mode depending on the
contents and function and which do not denote music in the accustomed meaning. However, the
intonation mode typical to these genres still deviates from the ordinary speech; the speech intonation
is used only as one potential means of expression alongside with other intonation patterns.
Ancient non-runo vocal genres
1. Cries, shouts, calls with the function to signal, communicate or co-ordinate rhythm (herding and
hunting calls, signals for co-ordinating working processes, ritual calls, etc.) ( see: e.g. Vilkuna 1946;
Vissel 1986; Rüütel 1994: 28);
2. Imitations of natural sounds: either natural or artificial. The first have generally practical, utilitarian
function (they are used by hunters for alluring birds or animals even today); the others might have
had primarily magic significance and were later used for amusement (e.g. the so called birds' songs
containing a poetic text whereas the respective bird sounds are imitated both as phonic compositions
and by intonation). Here belong also "conversations" of animals, birds, as well as spinning
wheels, carts, church bells etc. The significant expressive means alongside with imitation is the tonal
and temporal contrasting of certain phrases or words (high - low, fast - slow) (see: e.g.
Rüütel 1994: 28-31).
3. Incantations and spells used for influencing and inducing natural forces, animals or human beings,
for inciting the working process, for healing, sauna charms, etc. which occur as verse incantations in
Estonia. While in Finland and Karelia they are predominantly in the Kalevala metre, then in Estonia a
large part of them are either in the accentual metre or in the heterosyllabic free verse. These were
performed either as a half-whispering mutter, a recital with free rhythm (half-singing, half-speaking),
as a monotonous scansion with fixed measure, or while shouting (Rüütel 1994: 31-36).
4. Laments (death dirges, wedding laments, later also lamentations for recruits and for other
occasions). In Estonia they preserved longer mostly in Setu (Pino, Sarv 1991; Pino, Sarv 1992; Sarv
1986). Death dirges are noted also in other parts of East Estonia. Laments were known also by the
Karelians, Vepsians, Votians, Izhorians and other Finno-Ugrians. A lament performed in a genuine
situation represents an act of wailing through weeping, while the intonation of a speech phrase
intervenes with weeping. A lament verse (or a longer period) is followed by the actual weeping
(Rüütel, Remmel 1980). The text contains traditional runo-song patterns, images and
motifs but improvisation is of much greater importance here, it involves both the contents and the
form of the text as well as the structure of the melody.
5. Songs in fairy tales (see: Salve, Sarv 1987). Besides explicit songs which are dissimilar in verse
metre and musical characteristics, there occur also recitative monologues and dialogues which hardly
differ from the rest of the text (as is the case with tales and shamanistic performances of Siberian
6. Children songs ( see: e.g. Tampere 1958: 139-201; Rüütel 1994: 33-40). Hereto
1) songs performed for children (lullabies or simple asemantic lullings, nursery songs performed with
respective gestures and movement to amuse the baby, incantations for children, songs in a
2) children's own repertoire (traditional addressings to birds, animals and objects of nature with an
initial magic background, banter words and other jesting verses, songs in a restricted sense etc. ).
7. Chain songs (which initially had a magic background but have later become a part of children
songs) (see: e.g. Tampere 1958: 204; Rüütel 1994: 41).
Having specific purpose and functions, all these genres evolved probably earlier than runo-verse,
existed alongside with runo-songs and have partly preserved even longer. Due to their practical
function they may sometimes emerge even nowadays (e.g. improvised lullings, shouts for
co-ordinating working rhythm, herding and hunting calls, etc.). Regardless of certain tendencies to
interfuse with runo-songs and assimilate into the runo-verse form ( Finnish and Karelian charms and
chain song texts are mostly in the Kalevala-metre) these genres still maintained autonomy and
specific characteristics in the Estonian tradition both in function as well as in expression, and this
concerns both the text and the music (resp. mode of intonation).
These genres occur also by those Balto-Finnic peoples who do not know the Kalevala-metre songs.
They represent rather universal phenomena in archaic cultures. In many cases the question arises
whether we are dealing with songs altogether, or rather with phenomena preceding songs? What is a
song after all? This conception has different interpretations in different cultures.
The Balto-Finnic peoples regard as song (laulu) in general a vocal genre which consists
of a poetic text and a melody with a certain structure. The word laulu is common to all
Baltic Finns who know the runo song, and to Livonians (by whom the runo-song form is not
documented). This conception expresses the consistency of poetic texts and melodies. Runo-songs
have always been performed while singing but originally there existed no special word for denoting
the melody (the Estonian word viis is of Germanic origin).
Traditionally laments, spells, calls, herding vocalisms, wedding shouts etc. were not referred to as
songs, nor were their performance called singing. The same applied to children and chain songs, if
these were presented corresponding to the ordinary speech style, as a recitative with free rhythm or
as a scansion in strict measure but without any insistent melody. The discussed vocal genres were
usually designated by special, often descriptive and original linguistic expressions, as a rule. The
same word stems were used for referring to the performing of these genres ( huikama, hellatama,
hõiskama, itkema, lausuma, sõnama etc).
Still, the verb laulma is used for lullabies and even for asemantic lulls, and also for the
song-like intermediate parts in fairy tales, apparently because they oppose to the prose text,
distinctly contrasting in structure with an obvious artistic or other special intention. The sounds of
certain birds and their imitations are also called songs.
On the other hand, there is no clear distinction between the song and other vocal genres. Both in text
and music of the discussed ancient genres the various stages of fixedness and development
(songfulness) are rather different. Regarding the poetic text, some of these genres lack words
altogether, they are performed on a phoneme or on asemantic syllables; the others do contain words
but without any definite poetic structure. They remain in-between speech and poetry, being at the
same time most improvisational. Finally, hereto belong texts with traditional poetic expression and
invariable structure, although the structural freedom and improvisation is of greater significance than
in runo songs. In comparison with the fixed norms of the runo song form (the 8-syllable verse based
upon the trochaic structure of a quantitative metre), the length of verses is more variable both in
different genres as well as in the one and the same specimen. Instead of a quantitative metre we can
find here an accentual one (with a fixed or variable number of stressed syllables and non-fixed
number of unstressed syllables), and also a free metre and rhythm corresponding to the speech
The relations between text and melody can be likewise diverse. Even the poetically established texts
with invariable structure are in general not accompanied by a melody in the accustomed
Nevertheless, it seems that the Balto-Finnic popular conception of a song has not been too particular
about the musical characteristics. E.g., herding calls have developed into vocalisms, which are
melodically among the most advanced vocal genres in the Balto-Finnic song tradition. Regardless of
that, they are not called "songs", nor is their performance called "singing", but
instead descriptive terms are used, derived from asemantic syllables (see: Vissel 1986). It is probably
explained by the free structure of both the text and the melody.
The above discussed ancient non-runo vocal genres are based upon specific modes of intonation
which are not characteristic of runo-songs, or which occur in runo- songs in a different way. Hereto
1. Monotonous intonation based on permanent repetition of the same pitch level;
2. Calls, shouts, rhythmic recitations, etc., based on permanent contrasting of two pitch levels where
the higher degree corresponds to the stressed syllables and the lower one to the unstressed ones
(permanent opposition of two degrees occurs also in rhythmical recitings where the lower degree is
repeated or both degrees are repeated);
3. Repetition of the step-by-step descending movement; descending glides are also very typical but
they occur usually in combination with other intonational modes;
4. Imitation of natural and other sounds;
5. Tonal and temporal contrasts (two or three phrases are opposed to each other while performed on
different pitch levels and (or) in different time);
6. Recitative, speech-like type of intonation corresponding to the intonation of a narrative phrase
having the undulating melody contour with a general descending direction. The melodic culmination
corresponds to the prosodic one, smaller ascents and descents are connected with the stressed and
unstressed syllables of the words as it is characteristic of the Estonian and other Balto-Finnic
All these types of intonation may be performed either in a more speech-like or in a more song-like
way which may also alter during the same performance. Separate samples of discussed genres are
based on one of the named types of intonation or on several types intertwined.
The last type of the melody construction becomes the main formation basis of the runo song
melodies which are characterised by a more developed, a more stable tonal and melodic structure,
by a more "musical" intonation and, what may seem somewhat paradoxical - by a
narrower tonal range.*Examples 1-7
Layers of the Estonian runo-song tunes
In the following we do not attempt to give a thorough musical characterisation of the discussed tunes
(which exceeds the limits of the current paper) but we shall try to determine the main layers of runo
song tunes and discover their genesis in the context of ethnic history.
One-line refrainless melodies of North and West Estonia
The oldest basic layer of Estonian runo-tunes are represented in one-line refrainless
melodies (i.e. melodies corresponding to one verse line of text) of a narrow tonal range (mostly a
third or a fourth). They occur mostly in North and West Estonia, including the islands, less in the
peripheral areas of South Estonia (see *Map 1).
Among them one can differentiate between tunes with a descending melody-movement (with a
possible ascent at the beginning of the melody) based upon the speech-intonation, and tunes with a
descending-ascending contour (the so-called Pendelmelodik) which belong as a rule to the
swing-songs (primarily women's calendar-ritual songs sung while swinging).
In the mentioned speech-like melodies, and also in the prosodic intonation melodic ascents usually
coincide with the stressed syllables of the words and descents coincide with the non-stressed ones
(exceptions from such a regularity may mostly take place at the beginning of a melody-line). The
pitch culmination of a melody-line corresponds to the prosodic culmination of a phrase (a verse). The
melody may follow the norms of the words during a song consistently (though still following the
musical norms concerning pitch degrees) but mostly it is represented as a generalised model of
the speech-intonation formed as a musical abstraction of the prosodic intonation of the
8-syllable runo-verse (see: Rüütel 1986: 173-180).
In swing-song tunes correlations with the speech-intonation occur less often and the melody often
ends with an ascent which is in contradiction with the Balto-Finnic prosody.
The distribution area of the one-line speech-like tunes expands from the North-Estonian coast
through Järvamaa and the Pärnu river-basin region to the South-West Estonian coast and
the West-Estonian islands (*Map 1).
In the east it spreads through the Kodavere parish up to Setumaa where the described tunes
represent the older one-voiced melody-layer (mainly lullabies) (Rüütel 1990). In the Karksi
parish (South Estonia) such tunes are met in game songs only. In other parts of South Estonia
one-line refrainless speech-like tunes are not typical and occur rather sporadically.
The typological analysis of all one-line refrainless tunes revealed that they can be divided into 40
typological groups (see Table 1) which are associated first of all with geographic regions, less often
with particular song-genres (e.g. as was the case with the above mentioned swing-song tunes). The
majority of tune-types are spread in one, two or three neighbouring counties (e.g. in Harjumaa;
Harjumaa, Virumaa and Järvamaa; Virumaa and Tartumaa (Kodavere); Virumaa,
Järvamaa and Kodavere, etc.). Common distribution area of certain tune-types joins the
East-Harjumaa coast with the West-Estonian islands, or with the south-western coast and islands (the
Audru and Tõstamaa parishes, Kihnu island). Less often a tune-type is spread all over the
territory from East Estonia to West Estonia. In the latter case we are merely dealing with a more
general peripheral distribution. E.g. samples of the type 29 can be found in all the main distribution
areas of the tune-layer under discussion. Here belong also the Karksi game song tunes and a
number of the Setu lullaby-tunes. To this group belong in general a considerable amount of lullabies
of different regions which reveal some specific traits typical of the melodies of ancient improvisatory
lulls sung on asemantic syllables, being probably pre-runo ones (see: Rüütel 1980).
The speech-like melody-types with a descending contour usually do not belong to any concrete song
genre but can be specified as polyfunctional, the so-called general tunes used in different song
genres. Formed on the basis of the speech-intonation, they were suitable for all songs which were
recited as spells, charms, for communicating tidings, requests, edifications, commands or simply as
talk, narrative, etc. Such melodies were more closely combined with the structure of the text than its
content. Due to the variability of the ancient tunes they could easily be adapted to different
performing situations, concrete texts and rhythms (within the form of 8 metrical units). In verse lines
which contain three-syllable words (the so called murrelmasäkeet) word stresses are
normally preserved while singing and musical accents are subordinated to word stresses (although
the dynamic stresses are rather weak as they are weak also in the Balto-Finnic languages).
*Example 8. Wedding song
The same tune-type can be applied to all song genres and it often appeared that a singer actually
had only one melody for all her songs. Yet, statistical analysis of the tune-layer under discussion
revealed the preference of older song genres, such as wedding songs, ancient epic songs,
calendar-ritual songs, etc. To the latter belong also the swing-songs. But due to the special way of
performing (singing while swaying on a big swing) and because the songs tried to be in accordance
with the rhythm of swinging, their melodies developed in a special way. The prolongation of descent
of each metrical foot (i.e. each even syllable-note) was accompanied by melodic figurations as
well as modifications in the melody-contour (ascending motif, phrase and line endings) which
contradict with the speech-intonation. It led to the formation of a specific type of swing-song tunes.
Their distribution area was noticeably narrower than that of descending speech-like tunes being
restricted with Järvamaa and the adjacent parishes of Harjumaa and Virumaa
*Example 9. Swing-song
Despite of certain typological differences the discussed speech-like melodies were rather similar in
their inner structure having mostly the same stable system of basic tones. These tunes start on a
higher degree of the scale or reach it in the 2nd or 3rd metrical unit, descend (usually into the 2nd
degree) in the 4th unit; then a new rise (often lower than in the first half of the melody) follows and
the melody descends through the 2nd degree into the tonic (which it reaches as a rule in the 7th
metrical unit) (see: Rüütel 1986).
The swing-song tunes share a considerably richer spectrum of means of expression which become
observable on the level of both the typological and stylistic diversity. They contain the extreme variety
of melismas (see: Toi 1982), which are not characteristic of the runo songs in general. At that, the
distribution area of separate melody-types is also noticeably narrower than that of the speech-like
tunes. So, these swing-song tunes belong to the local peculiarities of a more restricted region and
their formation can be considered to be related to the formation of other tribal peculiarities of
The archaeological data confirm the beginning of the formation of separate cultural as well as
linguistic dialects of the Estonian tribes during the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. (i.e. in the later Iron
Age). As we are dealing with an ancient song-genre connected with magical background and
mythological world view (the swing is considered to be a modification of the world column which joins
the lower, central and upper world - see: e.g. Laurinkiene 1984) and an extremely old musical style,
therefore it is probable that these tunes evolved during that period or a little later while being
developed further and modified in the next period when the two-line modifications were formed. The
swinging lost its previous ritual background and preserved in North Estonia as a popular mode of
entertainment of village youth up to the end of the last century.
Typologically close to the North-Estonian swing-song tunes are the West-Estonian wedding tunes
which reveal the character of shouting (Rüütel 1986;
*Map 2). It is difficult to say whether
we have here occasional coincidences, or are we facing the influence of the discussed swing-song
tunes which might have been introduced by inhabitants from the North.
The distribution area of the above discussed speech-like tunes coincides in general with the earlier
persistent agricultural area in Estonia in the I-IV centuries A.D. It is noteworthy that this tune-layer is
nearly absent in the regions of the later internal colonisation (e.g. North-West Estonia, etc.) where
newer runo-tune layers prevail as well as in the regions which were later populated by outsiders
(Ugandi) where an another ancient tune-style developed.
If the swing-song tunes belonged to the cultural peculiarities of more restricted region so the
discussed speech-like tune-layer which is extremely unitary both stylistically as well as typologically
may be traced back to the North- and West-Estonian cultural unity in the later Bronze Age and earlier
Iron Age. The central areas of this archaeological culture were particularly the North-Estonian coast
and the islands Muhu and Saaremaa which constituted the most highly developed parts of Estonia
at that time. South Estonia developed more slowly and was closely connected with North Latvia which
was then populated by the Balto-Finnic tribes. The archaeological culture of North Estonia reveal
great similarities to southern and western Finland and to Scandinavia (Jaanits et al 1982). At the
same time the archaeological data prove that the Baltic Finns still preserved a noticeable cultural
unity with the more eastern Finno-Ugrians (up to the Volga region) while the relations with the Balts
were rather weak.
This age coincides also in general with the final stage of the Balto-Finnic linguistic unity, as the
dialectic differences became more apparent starting from the 2nd century A.D. and led to the
discernment of separate Balto-Finnic languages. During the first centuries A.D., according to the
archaeological data, the main cultural dialects were formed in Estonia concurring with the linguistical
dialects which have survived up to this century.
The mentioned North- and West-Estonian cultural and linguistical unity which started to form in the
10th century B.C. and lasted up to the first century A.D. represents a very significant stage in
Estonian history, both economically and culturally. Agriculture was developed, cultivating economy
became the main branch of economy, the transition to permanent settlement began, people learnt
about metal, how to process and use it. Great changes took place in social life - the increase of the
role of a man brought along the strengthening of the extended family and the role of other members
of the family. Great changes took place also in religious beliefs and rites - transition to cremation, the
dissemination of cromlechs and worship stones, etc. Changes in social life created necessary
suppositions for the formation of wedding ceremonies. It is plausible that this age, i.e. the final
stage of the Balto-Finnic linguistic unity was also the time of formation of the Balto-Finnic runo-song
form. The initial centre of the runo-song tradition is considered to be exactly North and West Estonia
from where it disseminated to other regions (Kuusi 1963; Virtanen 1987). It has been suggested that
the most ancient song genres and types evolved here, e.g. harvesting and swinging songs (Tampere
1956), a number of epic songs with mythological content (Tedre 1969: 7-8), etc.
The discussed one-line speech-like melody-layer which represents the most primitive and the
most ancient runo-song tune style was probably formed together with the runo-song form. Its
distribution area was not restricted by North and West Estonia. It was spread also in Ingeria, being
especially characteristic of the Votians who were both culturally and linguistically very close to the
North-Estonians (Ariste 1956). Such melodies belong to the main tune-layer of the Votian
runo-songs. These were polyfunctional tunes used in different genres. Still, the statistical analysis
revealed the strongest positive correlation with the more ancient song genres, especially with the
wedding songs (Rüütel 1977; Rüütel 1982).
One-line tunes are less characteristic of the Karelia where a newer style prevail. Still, some parallels
can be found and the common melodic structure appears also in two-line runo-tunes which have
probably survived some relicts of the former one-line ones (Kolehmainen 1977; Rüütel
The basic traits of this tune-layer - one-line form, diatonic scale with a narrow tonal range (a third or a
fourth), descending melody contour, step-by-step melody movement based upon syllable-notes, etc.
are characteristic also to the melodies of the most ancient song genres of the other Finno-Ugrians
(Rüütel 1986A), including those who belong to the so called Volga-Ural pentatonic area
which was formed probably later ( Vargyas 1981).
Refrain-tunes of South Estonia
The South-Estonian culture developed since the later Bronze Age and earlier Iron Age quite apart
from North and West Estonia. In South Estonia agriculture was less developed at that time;
noticeable differences occurred in burial customs and in spiritual culture.
The most archaic song-tune layer of South Estonia is represented first of all by the one-line
refrain-tunes, where the basic melody-line, corresponding to the verse-line is followed by a
refrain which consists of one or two words. Such a structure is characteristic of working songs, ritual
songs and game songs.*Example 10. Kadrilaul
The structural principles as well as a number of concrete melody patterns are similar to the
North-Latvian calendar-ritual and herding song tunes. They constitute a common music layer
although the texts are different.
The structural principle where a verse-line is followed by a refrain is characteristic of the Baltic and
Slavic old calendar-ritual songs and it is considered to originate from the Baltic-Slavic cultural unity
(see, e.g. Zemcovsky 1975). It is not relevant to the older folk songs of the North-Estonians and other
Balto-Finnic peoples and is evidently borrowed from the Latvians. But in South Estonia it was even
more popular than in Latvia, occurring here in a larger number of song genres. The majority of texts
originate from North Estonia (e.g. a number of harvesting and swinging songs, etc.). A lot of wedding
song texts are common not only to the different Estonian cultural dialects but to all Balto-Finnic
peoples who share the runo-song form and derive probably from the Balto-Finnic cultural unity (Kuusi
1963; Rüütel 1970).
The same melody-type may occur in different song genres but every genre is specified by a special
refrain-word (see: Tampere 1956;1958;1960). Refrains in the South-Estonian songs were as a rule
original Estonian words with a concrete meaning. The old Balto-Slavic refrain stem lel appears
mainly in herding songs (in Setumaa it is popular also in some other genres).
To sum up, it is evident that in South Estonia the old working and ritual songs have obtained a refrain
structure under the cultural influence of the Balts. The melody-layer under discussion is probably
formed as the symbiosis of the ancient Balto-Finnic and Baltic culture. Typological and
genetic relations between such Latvian and Estonian tunes have also been noticed by Latvian
scholars (Bendorfs 1986). If the one-line North- and South-Estonian tunes are compared, it appears
that in most cases they are typologically different. Yet, some common types can be found. So, one
North-Estonian speech-like melody-type has spread from the Kuusalu parish (the North-Estonian
coast) up to the Karula (on the Estonian and Latvian border in the south), and it occurs also in the
neighbouring Latvian area (in Vidzeme) (Rüütel 1986: 184). In North Estonia it is
refrainless, in South Estonia and Latvia the melody-line is followed by a refrain.
The archaeological data confirm that the Baltic influences upon the South-Estonian culture increased
rapidly in the middle Iron Age (II-IV centuries A.D.). It was also the time of differentiation of separate
Estonian cultural dialects and it is quite possible that the tune-layer under discussion was formed
namely in that period. But let us keep in mind that in the early Iron Age North Latvia was still settled
by the Balto-Finnic population and it is possible that they also knew a refrain structure similar to the
discussed tune-layer before their assimilation. As it was shown, the latter may be treated as a
symbiosis of the Baltic and Balto-Finnic cultures. In the Latvian folk song tradition one-line
refrain-tunes are relatively rare in comparison to the two-line refrain-tunes, i.e. those which are based
upon two melody-lines both followed by a refrain. This tune-layer which spread in the same old song
genres is evidently younger and it is also very popular in South Estonia. Here concrete Latvian loans
are much more visible both in song texts as well as in music.
In two-line refrain-tunes different refrains and strophic structures occur. Sometimes Slavic influences
may be noticed (Rüütel 1994: 67).
Ancient refrainless tunes of South-East Estonia
The discussed refrain-tunes spread all over South Estonia and were common also in South-East
Estonia. But here, beside the ones mentioned (and the one-line refrainless speech-like tunes which
were less represented) a special archaic song tune layer is found. It is also based upon one
melody-line but occurs often in a two-line form AA1 with slight deviations in the 2nd
line. As both the above discussed tune-layers, these melodies have also mostly a narrow tonal range
(a third, a fourth) which may be enlarged by a subsecond or a subfourth.
This tune-layer differs greatly from other Estonian runo-tunes by its melodic and rhythmic structure
which does not correspond to the structure of the runo-verse and is often in contradiction with the
speech-intonation (ascending word- and motif-endings, regular musical accents on unstressed
syllables and on unstressed positions of prosodic intonation, etc.). Here one can often find also
melody-lines longer or shorter than 8 metrical units which do not correspond to the runo-verse
structure. The next special rhythmic patterns occur.
*Example 11. Lyrical song (*Map 3)
Non-accordances with the song text form are compensated by distributing syllables between two
metrical units of the melody, by word repetitions, additional words and syllables, etc. All these means
of expression exist as structural norms and may deform the runo verse form beyond recognition.
Roots of this tune layer were evidently formed separately from the runo song tradition, in another
cultural context. While later becoming in contact with the Balto-Finnic runo song tradition and
complemented by runo-texts this musical style probably assimilated to some extent but melodies still
preserved their form which caused the above mentioned changes in the song texts. Thus, it can be
said that the discussed song layer has been formed as a symbiosis of the Balto-Finnic runo song
tradition and some other ethnic culture.
Some tune types and stylistic peculiarities of this tune-layer are spread in more restricted region only
- in southern and western Võrumaa and southern Tartumaa (Tampere 1956). Here belong, for
example, the polyphonic singing with a special bourdon where the lower accompanying voice
performs the text while repeating the same tone (deviating from it in some places, especially in the
cadences). *Example 12.
Such a polyphony differs from the Latvian "bagpipe-type" bourdon where the lower voice
is performed without any text while prolonging one accompanying tone without interruption.
The above described South-Estonian type of bourdon singing (or similar to that) can be found in the
territory of the present-day Latvia, where the former Livonian population dwelled (at the Koiva and
Väina river) (Tampere 1977), as well as by Mordvinians, Byelorussians and the West-Russians
Most of the peculiarities of the described tune-layer (certain rhythmic patterns as well as modal and
melodic traits) are distributed widely in the Eastern Baltic region, extending from Karelia and Ingeria
up to Byelorussia and the Ukraine (Rüütel 1994). The nearest tune-parallels can be found
This is the area where the former population of the Eastern Balts (Dniepr-Balts) dwelled. The
archaeological data confirm that the Eastern Balts became the neighbours of the Balto-Finnic tribes
and Western Balts in the second half of the 1st millennium A.D. and that their culture, as it was
represented here in the Eastern Baltic region, was a peculiar mix of the Eastern Baltic, Slavic and
Finno-Ugric elements. Thus, it is probable that the discussed tune-layer is related to the described
archaeological culture and may also be influenced by the Krivichies who reached the neighbourhood
of the Baltic Finns nearly the same time.
According to the archaeological studies, in the region of South-East Estonia and the contemporary
Pskov district during IV-IX centuries A.D. a culture evolved which was related to the distribution of
barrows. It was formed on the basis of the local Finno-Ugric culture, mixed with the elements of the
culture of the Eastern Balts and Krivichies. The carrier of this culture was probably a Finno-Ugric tribe
who gave rise to the Võru linguistic and cultural dialect in South-East Estonia. Evidently the
discussed song tune layer was a part of the mentioned Võru cultural dialect and was formed
at the same time, being complemented with some later Slavic elements (here belong some
tune-types, rhythms and refrains which have parallels in Byelorussia, West-Russia and the Ukraine -
see: Rüütel 1994: 65-66).
A special branch of the Võru linguistic dialect is retained up to nowadays by the Setu ethnic
group in the south-eastern part of Estonia and in the neighbouring area of the contemporary Pskov
district. Among the Setus all the above discussed musical layers appear. In addition, one can find
here a number of special stylistic and typological peculiarities pertaining to the music and song texts
which are not known in other places of Estonia, nor in the neighbouring Russian area. Special scales
and rhythmic patterns can be found (Sarv 1980). A number of specific features in songs and music as
well as some ethnographic and linguistic peculiarities reveal similarities with the Mordvinians
(Rüütel 1990). For example, the Setu polyphony - the most peculiar phenomenon of the
Setu folk song (Sarv J. 1880) which is especially similar namely to the Mordvinian polyphony, and has
no North-Russian parallels. An observable closeness appears also in the performing style (in a loud,
tense voice with a special timbre, gradual rise of the tessiture with the abrupt transition into a lower
tonality, etc.). *Example 13
Archaeologists have discovered a common cultural stratum which was formed in the territory of South
Estonia and North Latvia and in the dwelling area of the Volga-Finnic tribes since the VII-VIII century
A.D., and which is observable in clothes, adornments, etc. So it is possible that in this period some
Finno-Ugric tribes came from the Volga region and populated that Baltic area, mixed here with the
former Balto-Finnic population and left some cultural superstrata into their spiritual culture as well.
Special peculiarities of the Setu folk song might be caused just by such colonists who assembled the
eastern Finno-Ugric influences. It is also possible that certain Finno-Ugric tribes who formerly
dwelled inbetween the Balto-Finnic and Volga-Finnic tribes (e.g. Merriams) served as mediators of
the cultural contacts between the Volga-Finnic tribes and the South-Estonians.
Two-line refrainless melodies
In the runo-song tradition of Estonians and other Balto-Finnic peoples two-line refrainless
melodies dominate which are in most cases characterised also by a wider tonal-range - a fifth, a
sixth. Apparently such tunes represent a more recent musical layer in comparison with the one-line
melodies of a narrow ambit. Here one can find melody-types which are typologically (and probably
also genetically) related to the one-line tunes and are evidently their elaborations. Still, most of
two-line tunes reveal independent melody-types.
A prominent group of melodies represent the tunes which are most characteristic to the
North-Karelian and East-Finnish heroic epic songs. They are characterised by a specific rhythmic
pattern (! ! ! ! ! ! ! !) and the so-called question-and-answer form: the first line ends with the second
degree and the second line ends with the first degree, i.e. with the tonic. In the first line the tonal
range exceeds to the fifth degree while the range of the second line is restricted, as a rule, with the
fourth (both lines or one of them can be extended by a subsecond). These melodies have often a
minor third but it is not absolute. The major third can occur as well (see: Kolehmainen 1977).
Such a tune-type is usually referred to as a Kalevala-tune. As a matter of fact, it is not by far the only
melody-type used in the heroic epic songs and, from the other hand, they are also polyfunctional and
are used with other songs as well (e.g. with the wedding songs and lullabies).
The heroic epic of the Kalevala-cycle was probably formed in North-Karelia during a longer period,
but it flourished during the era in the end of the 1st millennium and at the beginning of the 2nd
millennium A.D. (see: Kuusi 1963). Its distribution is restricted with Karelia, East Finland and Ingeria.
It was not known in Estonia. But this melody-style disseminated in Estonia as well; in North Estonia
the same melody-types can be met also. The Estonian tune parallels differ mainly in the rhythm (the
so called Kalevala-rhythm with two prolonged notes at the end of the line is not popular in
Actually, the two-line refrainless tunes with the ambit of a fifth or a sixth constitute the prevailing
musical layer of the Estonian runo-songs. In North Estonia they have become dominant not only in
the lyrical and narrative songs but also in other song genres. In South Estonia the two-line refrainless
melodies were dominant in lyrical and narrative songs while two-line refrain tunes were typical in
working songs, wedding and calendar-ritual songs.
The tune-style under question, especially the above described "Kalevala-type" have
attained the most attention by researches. From the one hand, this tune group is considered to be
formed under the Scandinavian influence (see: Kolehmainen1988); Scandinavian influences are
supposed in the later strata of the Kalevala-epics as well. From the other hand, this
"Kalevala-tune" has been considered the primeval Finno-Ugric melody-type whereas
similar parallels have been found in the archaic layer of Hungarian folk songs and in those of all
other Finno-Ugrians (Szomjascz-Schiffert 1965).
Actually the "Kalevala-type" represents a wide-spread tune pattern which can be found
nearly everywhere. According to one theory such a melodic structure evolved in the Near-East
together with the poetical form of the so-called distichon (which consists of two symmetrical
verses joined with the end-rhyme) formed in the IV century A.D. and became later popular in the early
Islamic culture through which it reached Europe in the Middle Ages (Michaelides 1987).
By the Finno-Ugrians these melodies are evidently older, being formed at least during the period of
the flourishing of the Kalevala-epics, may be even earlier. Evidently we have to tackle first of all the
stylistic analogues, whose formation process and its impact should be studied separately in the case
of each culture before making any final decisions.
The Balto-Finnic music may have received external impact from any direction, and the tune-layer
under discussion may also include some tune-patterns borrowed from the neighbouring cultures. Still,
in general their primary formation was probably based upon the inner evolution of the former one-line
speech-like tunes, while their main structural principle C1>C2>F1>F2 (C = the culminating
tone, F=the final tone) is the same and corresponds to the Balto-Finnic prosodic intonation. The
extension of the musical form is probably connected with the typical performance of the runo-songs
where the chorus (or the other singer) joins the song-leader at the end of each verse and repeats the
same verse-line while also repeating, varying or altering the melody. In older melodies of a small
ambit usually slight deviations occur in the 2nd line; in more recent ones with a larger tonal range the
modifications become more noticeable (AA...AA1...AB).
The typology of the two-line melodies is not finished yet. The analysis carried out up to the present
show that a lot of different melody-types can be discovered despite of the external stylistic similarity.
So in the Jõhvi parish (North Estonia) 8 two-line tune-types were established (Tuvi 1992).
Beside the above described monodic tunes of the narrative character, another style occurs which is
related to the instrumental music. Here belong, first of all, tunes which derive from the bagpipe
pieces.*C1 Similar tune-patterns are met in triple metre dance song tunes and in narrative or lyrical runo
songs - often humorous men's songs, sometimes also other genres, e.g. the wedding-tunes of the
Mustjala parish in western Saaremaa (Rüütel 1980).
*Example 15. Wedding song
Among the latest two-line refrainless runo-song tunes are included the samples with a developed
harmonic structure, i.e. those which are based on the functions of the tonic, dominant and
subdominant and thus belong to the major-minor modal system characteristic of the newer Estonian
song style with the end-rhyme and strophic structure (see: Rüütel 1980A). The latter does
not belong to the subject of this paper, and the same concerns a small amount of runo-song tunes
with the four-line strophic form which are borrowed from the newer songs or developed according to
In the Estonian runo-songs the next tune-layers can be distinguished:
1. The most ancient one-line refrainless polyfunctional tunes with a narrow tonal range, a descending
contour and a recitative character whose distribution area coincides in general with the oldest regions
of resident agriculture of North and West Estonia, dating from the 1st millennium B.C. and the
beginning of the 1st millennium A.D. They were probably formed together with the runo-verse form.
Similar melodic types predominate also in the oldest Votic songs, parallels can be found in the oldest
song-layers of the other Finno-Ugric peoples, and also in laments, spells and other, probably
2. One-line swing-song tunes with the descending-ascending contour and special rhythms spread in
a restricted area of North Estonia. Their formation may be connected with the development of the
cultural and linguistic peculiarities of the Estonian tribes in the first centuries A.D. Later on, a number
of new one- and two-line swing-tunes were formed on their basis.
3. One-line refrain tunes with a narrow tonal range which were characteristic of the South-Estonian
working, ceremonial and game songs, and were formed in the first centuries A.D. at the latest as a
symbiosis of the South-Estonian and Latvian (Baltic) songlore.
4. In South-East Estonia (as well as in Ingeria) one and two-line tunes can be found where the
metre, rhythm and melodic structures differ greatly from the structure of a runo-song verse and
melodies and which probably derive from some other ethnic culture. The formation of such tunes may
be explained by the superstratum of the culture of the East-Baltic and Slavic tribes (Krivichies) who
settled in the neighbourhood of the Balts and Baltic Finns mostly in the 2nd half of the 1st millennium
A.D. This tune-layer includes also some later Slavic influences.
5. Two-line refrainless tunes with an ambit of a fifth or sixth which prevail in the runo-songs of all the
Balto-Finnic peoples, including the Karelian epic songs of the Kalevala-cycle. Here belong also a
melody-pattern which is known in folk music studies as the Kalevala-tune. We are dealing with
melodies which are wide-spread in Europe as well as in other continents and whose formation
evidently can not be explained by a common genesis. By the Estonians and other Baltic Finns they
were probably formed at the beginning of the 2nd millennium A.D. on the grounds of the internal
development of the melodies of the first layer. To a certain extent, some European, including
Scandinavian influences may be considered.
The newer folk music give more evidence to cultural contacts rather than to ethnic relations, as was
the case with the older layers.
*C1 Ancient bagpipe tunes with triple metre and specific rhythmic patterns were popular in North and
West Estonia and by the Estonian Swedes. It represents probably a style of instrumental music from
the early Middle Ages, with an area of distribution extending from Estonia to Scandinavia and up to
Ireland (though here another bagpipe tune-style prevailed). In Estonia a special dance-song style
disseminated in the XVIII and the XIX centuries, which was formed on the basis of these bagpipe
tunes. Their rhythm caused the formation of a very special verse form which differ greatly from the
runo-verse (Rüütel 1971). These songs contain some elements of the runo-song form
(e.g. alliteration) as well as of the newer folk song (the end-rhyme) and belong to the so-called
transitional folk song form.
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Vissel, A. 1986. Estonskie pastusheskie pesni (vidy, regoinal'nyie i muzykal'nyie osobennosti).
Muzyka v obriadakh i trudovoi deiatel'nosti finno-ugrov. Tallinn.
1. Wedding shout. RKM, Mgn. II 1576 b - Theodor Saar, etc., Kihnu (1968).
2. Rooster's crow. RKM, Mgn. II 3311 (15) - Marta Mäesalu, Häädemeeste
3. Roosters of rich men and a poor man. RKM, Mgn. II 3311 (16) - Marta Mäesalu,
4. Spinning wheels of the diligent and the lazy girl. RKM, Mgn. II 3311 (26) - Marta Mäesalu,
5. Charm against snake-bite. RKM, Mgn. II 520 h - Liisa Kümmel, Tori (1961).
6. Backing a bun (children's amusement song). RKM, Mgn. II 3311 (3) - Marta Mäesalu,
7. Hallo, black grouse! (Chain song). RKM, Mgn. II 163 d - Ida Pino, Setu (1959).
8. Wedding song. ERA, Pl. 86 B1 - Miina Lambot and Anna Paalberg, Kuusalu (1938).
9. Swing-song. RKM, Mgn. II 1022 b - Lisette Kautlenbach, Järva-Madise (1965).
10. Song of Midsummer. ERA, Pl. 49 A2 - Marie Sepp, Kolga-Jaani (1937).
11. The bird consoles the orphan (lyrical song). RKM, Mgn. II 2927 (11) - Ella Hummel, Rõuge
12. The purchased voice (lyrical song). ERA, Fon 4a - Ann Kolatsk, Eeva Valner, Karula (1912).(=H.
Tampere, Eesti rahvalaule viisidega V. Tallinn 1965. P. 46. Notated by A.O.
13. The bride's lament. RKM, Mgn. II 2424 f - Olga Laanetu (1973). (=Soomeugrilaste rahvamuusika
ja naaberkultuurid. Tallinn 1980. P. 138. Notated by V. Sarv).
14. A swindler suitor (lyrical song). RKM, Mgn. II 734a - Kristjan Kiviloo. Kuusalu (1962).
15. Wedding song. RKM, Mgn. II 1650g - Mare Pook, Mustjala (1963).