The collections of Estonian poetic and musical folklore have been amassed over the past 150 years. True, sporadic documented records exist from earlier times (for example, a few proverbs from Hiiumaa from the year 1587, some spells from Kanepi from 1632, a fragment of a folk tune from the same year from the vicinity of Tartu, a song game from Audru from 1680, a love song from Järva-Jaani from 1695 etc.) but the uninterrupted collecting of folklore did not begin until the turn of the 19th century. At first it was as the result of an increased interest in the aesthetic, and to a certain extent scholarly, aspects of folk poetry and music among individual Estofiles.
However, the real foundation for Estonian folklore research was laid only in the middle of the 19th century by such figures of the democratic enlightenment as Friedrich Robert Faehlmann and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, who wanted to use folk poetry primarily as a way of demonstrating the creative abilities of the Estonians and to create a national literature and culture. In particular the works of Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (the folk epic “Kalevipoeg” 1857–1861 and “Ancient Tales of the Estonian People” 1866) provided the impetus for an extensive and systematic collecting of folklore material that started in the 1860’s, albeit with periodic spurts and starts, and has continued to the present day. Right from the start the direction this work has taken has been characterized by a strict sense of scholarship. Over the years with the help of thousands of local correspondents close to one million texts, music and choreographic material, as well as data on folk customs, practices and beliefs, (in total approximately one and a half million items) have been collected and maintained by many individuals and organizations such as Jakob Hurt, Mihkel Veske, Matthias Johann Eisen, Oskar Kallas, Walter Anderson, Samuel Sommer, the Estonian Folklore Archives, the Fr. R. Kreutzwald Literary Museum, the Institute of Language and Literature of the Academy of Sciences of the Estonian SSR and the Tartu State University as well as many others. This is a great wealth of none-material culture the likes of which are possessed by few other nations.
The first sound recordings in the history of the collecting of Estonian folklore were made only in the years prior to the First World War. The pioneer in this work was the Finn Armas Otto Väisänen who, at the invitation of Oskar Kallas, started in 1912 and travelled over many summers in Estonia, in particular among the Setu of southeastern Estonia recording folk music. In due course Cyrillus Kreek and Johannes Muda also started using phonograph equipment to collect material in Western Estonia. Initially, to be sure, the phonograph was a rare and precious tool for the collectors of musical folklore, but increasingly it became the most important tool for collecting folklore material in its most authentic form. Sound recordings were made quite intensively in the 1930’s under the auspices of the Estonian Folklore Archives (Eduard Oja, Karl Leichter, Herbert Tampere and others). A brief but nevertheless rather significant period in the history of folklore collecting that needs to be mentioned here was the extensive recording of folk songs and instrumental pieces onto reportage disks at the National Radio in Tallinn. The Estonian Folklore Archives and Music Museum (Herbert Tampere and August Pulst) were in charge of the scholarly preparation for this project. The fascist aggression against our homeland put a check on the collecting of folklore material but after the end of the World War II it once again slowly began to revive. Now the use of tape recorders became mandatory on their expeditions for many organizations devoted to the collecting of folklore material (the Literary Museum, the Institute of Language and Literature, Tartu State University, Estonian Radio, etc.). Significant and valuable results have been achieved particularly over the past ten years. During this time the collections of sound recordings have greatly increased, above all in the Literary Museum (under the direction of Herbert Tampere) as well as Estonian Radio (Aino Strutzkin) and the Institute of Language and Literature (under the direction of Richard Viidalepp and Ülo Tedre). In addition to musical folklore, more and more narrative traditions (fairy tales, legends, jokes, anecdotes, descriptions of customs) were also being deposited in the collections. As of today  there are altogether approximately 12 000 sound recordings in the various folklore sound archives. Additional taped recordings of folklore materials are also to be found in the collections of scholars working on Estonian dialects.
Estonian folklore has been published in many scholarly and popular editions. Among the very first ones that should be mentioned are a series of volumes initiated by Jakob Hurt and published under a common title “Monumenta Estoniae antiquae”. A number of volumes in this series dealing with Estonian legends and regilaul have already appeared (“Setu Songs” I–III, “The Old Psaltery” I–IV, “Estonian Legends” I–II). Material pertaining to folk music is to found in such works as Armas Launis’ “Estonian Runo Melodies” (1930) and Herbert Tampere’s “Estonian Folksongs with Tunes“ I–V (1956–1965). In record from folk music has only been available to the wider public interested in folklore up to now in the form of arrangements by professional composers. However, scholars, teachers, composers and all other friends of folk culture have keenly felt a need for a publication in audio form of songs and music in their work that demonstrates directly how authentic folk songs and music have been interpreted by the real folk. With that end in mind the decision was made a few years ago to prepare a scholarly selection of Estonian folklore on records. It was felt that the first order of business should be an overview of the regilaul that have played such a important part in our musical history, after all, much of Estonian professional and national music is actually based on just this. Unfortunately, today we no longer have any direct link to regilaul singing as a living tradition and as such we are often unable fully to understand these traditional phenomena.
Just what then is this style of singing called regilaul? It is the older layer of Estonian folk songs with texts in regivärss poetry. The principles of its poetic and musical structure as well as many of its motifs were shaped over the course of many centuries. Along with the ancient traditional songs of the Finns, Carelians, Izhorians and Votes, they constitute a single phenomenon. It is generally believed that this singing tradition, common to the Balto-Finns, started to take shape in the first centuries of the common era or perhaps a bit earlier. In terms of its form the most characteristic feature of the song texts is parallelism between verses. A consistent use of alliteration is also a typical feature. The versification, in keeping with the structure of the language, is quantitative (based on trochaic rhythm). The Estonian regilaul that we know are primarily from the feudal period. They vividly reflect the life and situation of the peasants as well as their social status as it existed then (see for example the numerous songs about slavery). However, it is quite clear that many musical and textual features took shape prior to the development of the class system and had survived (as elements in work and ritual songs, for example) in the feudal village. Without a doubt, many recitative types of melodies or at least their basic intonation reach back to this time. It is also more than likely that numerous lyroepic songs such as “Just a Kiss”, “The Husband Slayer”, “The Brother’s War Tale” and others originated in the early feudal period (9th–12th centuries).
The tunes of the regilaul were musically quite simple. In form they usually consisted of one or two short melodic phrases within a narrow range (thirds and fourths or thirds with subfourth) and older forms of major as well as minor scale. In their dynamics the songs were closer to a speaking style, although in some song types and later developmental stages it moved closer to one based on rhythmic movement. The song texts and tunes were only partially interconnected. Instead, tunes for groups of songs were the rule. The tunes for each type of song (harvest songs, herder songs, wedding songs, swinging songs, laments) had their own peculiarities (called ‘tones’ or ‘voices’). There were also regional differences: in southern Estonia work and ritual songs as well as games had a refrain (õlle, lelo, üles, marti, katri, kiigele, kaske, ollale etc.). Conversely, in northern Estonia there was a tendency to stretch the endings of the phrase or motif in these as well as lyroepic songs. During the singing there was usually an alternation between the lead singer and the chorus, the latter repeated the verse sung by the lead singer either exactly or with slight modifications in the melody. Polyphonic singing (drone and its developments, some examples of heterophony) occurred only sporadically in southern Estonia and in particular in the Setu region. A typical feature here was that the choir (called torrõ) as it was either repeating or extending the lead singer’s verse was invariably accompanied by a single singer (called the killõ) singing in a higher pitch.
With the development of capitalism (mainly in the second half of the 19th century but to a certain extent beginning already in the latter part of the 18th century) the regilaul began to disappear from common use. They were replaced by completely new rhymed songs in many different accentual-syllabic meters, although there were many transitional forms as well. The new songs also differed from the regilaul in their contents. There was an increase in importance in the music and the majority of songs acquired a specific melody of their own. The tonal melodies of these more developed song forms with their extensive ambitus was based increasingly on considerations of a functional harmony at the same time as polyphonic singing became increasingly widespread. Group singing now took place without a lead singer alternating with a chorus. Many songs were sung to dance tunes and there was an increase in the influence from foreign songs (from Germany, Russia, Latvia) and from professional Estonian music. The traditional regilaul, or in some circumstances the regilaul with certain melodic innovations, survived, in some cases right up to the present, only here and there in peripheral areas (in Setu, Kihnu, Mustjala, Kuusalu) or in very specific genres such as songs of Martinmas and St. Catherine’s Day, children’s songs and partly in song games.
The present collection, as it was decided, has an additional goal; that is to provide a general overview of the different types of Estonian folk instruments and their development as much as it was possible to do so using audio recordings of the last few decades. Among the various folk instruments used in former times in everyday life simple and very ancient types of horns and pipes were particularly numerous. These include the buckhorn, the herder’s horn, the duct flute, the reed pipe and others. The buckhorn (in Estonian sokusarv, also luik, lutusarv) was played by older herder boys but it was also sounded during outdoor work as well, particularly when people were coming or leaving. It was also played just to pass the time. The horn usually had 4–6 finger holes. The herder’s horn (karjapasun, tõri or lepatoru) was an instrument specifically meant for the herder. The herders used it to announce when the herd was being taken out in the morning and upon its return home in the evening. But they were also used by the herders to pass the time during their long days. The instrument was made from a piece of wood which was cut lengthwise in half and hollowed out on the inside. The two halves were joined together either with hoops or were covered with a spiral of birch bark. Children also made horns from alder bark which they twisted into a spiral, forming a cone shaped horn. The usual type of Estonian herder’s horn was without finger holes (although some had holes) and it was possible to play tunes consisting of natural sounds on them. Particularly popular among the children were all manner of duct flutes and reed pipes either with or without finger holes. Without a doubt, the favourite one of all was a duct flute made of willow tree (pajupill). In the Setu region a bull’s horn was often placed on the end of the pipe which made the sound deeper (sarvepill). Older men also played this instrument and even used it to play song and dance tunes. At festivals even as far back as the 16th century the best loved instruments was the large bagpipe with a deep sound (see B. Russow’s chronicle). The bag was made either of a seal’s stomach or dog skin. There were either one or two drone pipes. The sounds were made in these as well as the chanter with reeds called piugud. The bagpipe tunes with their exotic and manyfold embellishments, triplets and syncopated rhythms could be heard at weddings and during harvesting on the manor fields as late as the first half of the 19th century. More recently some bagpipe players could still be found on the islands and in coastal regions. The music played on all the instruments mentioned above was very similar to the melodies of the regilaul. Although we have records of the violin from earlier periods as well, it was only in the beginning of the 19th century that the violin started to spread and began replacing the bagpipe. Also in the previous century a newer type of psaltery (in Estonian kannel) was developed. This was called a simmel in northern Estonia. It had numerous strings for playing the melodies and later bass as well as chord strings were added. Many different techniques were used to play it. The old 6–7 string psaltery, which was fashioned from one piece of hollowed wood and which resembles the similar instrument used by the peoples neighbouring Estonia (compare the Finnish kantele, Latvian kokle, Lithuanian kankles, Russian gusli), was used (still at the turn of the 20th century) considerably longer in Saaremaa and Setu, although by now it has disappeared without a trace from these areas as well. In the 19th century, primarily by way of the Swedes, a type of instrument belonging to the lute family spread in northwestern Estonia. Bowed harp (in Estonian hiiukannel ‘Hiiu psaltery’ or rootsikannel ‘Swedish psaltery’; in Swedish talharpa) was played with a bow that was shaped more like an archer’s bow. The three or four strings were attached with pegs to a frame that extended out from the soundboard. The bottom edge of the instrument rested on the knees and the notes were played by pressing the backs of the fingers of the left hand against the first string. The other strings were often plucked in accompaniment. At the turn of the 20th century the Estonian type accordion (lõõtspill) became the dominant instrument. At this time too different types of string ensembles were formed (brass bands were already known from earlier times). The ensembles were often called village bands (in Estonian külakapell). Violin duets or violin with psaltery became particularly popular. A special type of chord psaltery was developed in southeastern Estonia. Whenever possible other instruments were added to the ensembles (contrabass, mandola, accordion, leaf instrument). The jew’s-harp belonging to the group of idiophones had begun to spread already in the previous century, first near the cities and later further afield, but its role in the development of Estonian folk music is not particularly significant.
Among the rich repertoire of folk dances the most original ones with respect to both choreography as well as music were the older chain dances and the Estonian type of waltz (labajalavalss ‘flat-foot waltz’, a couple dance with a triple metre). Later the polka became firmly entrenched in Estonian music. Quadrilles and contradances spread more in the periphery. The present selection contains the type of musical material that for the most part has disappeared from actual use and can only be found in the memories of a few elderly people or more frequently on old wax cylinder recordings. The singing of regilaul as a living tradition can still be heard only among the Setus, but rarely in the songs of other regions. Very rarely was it possible for the editors to find live choirs. Often it was only possible to record from old people many types of songs that originally belonging to the repertoire of young people (such as herder songs, swinging songs, games, lyrical songs). The way they sang the songs was undoubtedly genuine but the resonant and emotional quality of multi-voiced performance was certainly lacking. It was also difficult to represent all the different song types in their true proportions nor was it possible to restore the old phonograms to an adequate technological quality. Furthermore, some areas of instrumental music have also been found wanting. For example the old Estonian psaltery, which absolutely should have been represented, is missing. Many examples of horns (buckhorn, reed pipe with horn) found their way into the collection only from archival material collected in 1912–1913.
It is intended that the current series of records will be continued. The next set to be released will be the newer folksongs and stories. Newer instrumental music will be released with the dances. The present edition is based primarily on the sound archive of the Literary Museum and has been realized under the scholarly direction of Herbert Tampere. The compilers of the collection and song texts were Herbert Tampere, Ottilie Kõiva and Erna Tampere. Heino Pedusaar was the sound technician and restorer. Vaike Neeme and Tiiu Oja were the sound operators. Joann Jushchuk was the editor. We wish to thank all those individuals who helped collect and compile this edition. Most of all we wish to thank the songsters and players who were able to pass on these beautiful, old and valuable folk traditions of their youth to the present and have thus saved this material from dissolving into oblivion.
May 25th, 1967