Lithuania is famous for its archaic folk songs, a UNESCO world heritage and a center-point of many Lithuanian cultural festivals and events.
Archaic Lithuanian folk songs and musical instruments
Before the modern era swept through villages Lithuanians used to sing at most occasions. Work songs would lead them through daily tasks. With the exception of children songs, every song was reserved for some particular task or lifetime event (e.g. sowing, harvest, wedding, departing for war). The choice of traditional musical instruments also depended on the reason for singing.
The lyrics of old (pre-19th century) Lithuanian folk songs are full of diminutives. Some songs are multipart and known as sutartinės. Sung by two to four persons these have few counterparts in Europe, they are listed as UNESCO World Heritage.
Hereunder is an example of sutartinė, typically sung by four women in two pairs. "Doliya" is a kind of meaningless word used to create rhyme/rhythm in old Lithuanian folk songs (some think they may have had a meaning in the past which is now lost). As the English language lacks diminutives the word "Little" is used to replace them.
Folk (author unknown)
Žvingia žirgas, dolija, (Dolijute, dolija.)
|The horse is neighing
English translation ©Augustinas Žemaitis.
The horse is neighing, doliya (little doliya, doliya)
The most famous Lithuanian traditional musical instruments are skrabalai (percussion instrument), skudučiai (wind instrument) and kanklės (string instrument), with kanklės regarded to have a deeper spiritual importance. Traditionally only a single (or one type) instrument would be used to accompany a song, but "traditional instrument orchestras" have been established in the 20th century, modernizing the once-archaic Lithuanian instruments to expand their accuracy and possibilities.
In addition to the main Lithuanian instruments there used to be many reserved for special occasions or jobs which are now obsolete (e.g. džingulis is a large jingling rod for calling villagers into a wedding) .
Many folk songs have been traditionally performed without instruments. Raudos (Weeps) are improvised a capella laments for either funeral or wedding as both transitions into new life were considered to be worth weeping for.
Hereunder is an example of a rauda sung during the funeral of a son. The body is typically addressed as if he would be alive.
Sūneli mano brangus,
|Funerary lament for a dead son
English translation ©Augustinas ŽemaitisMy dear little son,
Little son - little apple,
What have you thought of,
What have you decided,
In your young days?
Little son - little flower,
Here are standing
And small little daughters
They want to... to talk.
Dear little son, wake up,
Talk in lovely little words,
Little son - little flower.
Performing folk music in traditional circumstances died out in late 19th to mid 20th centuries (when modern technologies and urbanization altered the lifestyle) but it is still popular among various folk bands. However, the true meaning of the older folk songs may be hard to discern to a modern person.
19th-20th-century Lithuanian folk songs
Today even more popular than the archaic songs are 19th-20th-century rural-themed songs performed with accordions (rather than the traditional instruments). Some towns and villages have their own bands called Kaimo kapelija which perform such songs. Not all of them are literally folk songs as many have non-anonymous authors but they are still a local tradition.
|Vėl gegužio žiedai
©Jungėnų kaimo kapela (Jungėnai village band)
Vėl gegužio žiedai
Čia prabėgo linksmai
Ten palaukėj beržų
|Again the blossoms of May
English translation ©Augustinas Žemaitis.Again the blossoms of May
Have decorated the meadows and valleys
And fields and forests and old farmsteads...
My native farm, tell me why I long for you so much?
And why I love you like this? (x2)Perhaps it's only because
I was bustling here when I was small
And at the pure stream, I played with my friends.
Because I found my first love like an adorable rosebud
In a small hut of the native village... (x2)
Here joyfully passed
There near the birches
Refrain-free romances with sad lyrics on love, death and war also became popular in the 19th century, however, their prevalence never reached that their contemporaries enjoyed in Russia. A "romance evening" in Vilnius or Klaipėda, therefore, is likely to be an ethnic minority event of Russian romances rather than a Lithuanian one.
The mass expulsion of Lithuanians by Soviets in 1940s-1950s woven the final carpet of Lithuanian folk music. Dehumanized and anonymous expellees would join in creating songs on their tragedy. Meanwhile, in Lithuania itself, even more new anonymous songs were written by partisans who fought against the Soviet regime. They were defeated so these final types of folk music are permeated with sadness and doom and (at best) the glory of graceful death.
|Jei ne auksinės vasaros
Partisan/expellee folk romance
Jei ne auksinės vasaros,
Paliksime tas kryžkeles
Išeisiu vieną vakarą
|If not for the golden summers
English translation ©Augustinas Žemaitis
If not for the golden summers,
We will leave these crossroads
I will depart one evening
Where to hear Lithuanian folk music?
Today the most massive Lithuanian folk music events are UNESCO-inscribed Song Festivals (Dainų šventė) which take place in the Baltics regularly since the 19th century (approximately every four years in Lithuania). There are also smaller annual events such as the Skamba Skamba Kankliai every May in Vilnius, Atataria lamzdžiai in Kaunas while the Kaimo kapelijos style is represented in Ant Rubežiaus at Šiauliai (June).
Folk songs are considered an important representation of Lithuanian culture and, as such, they are performed in various international events. In Lithuanian communities abroad the Lithuanian folk song/dance tradition tends to outlive even the Lithuanian language. Folk songs are nearly always performed in folk costumes (which are otherwise no longer used in Lithuania).
In 2000s, it became fashionable to incorporate folk elements into new songs, merging them with rock, pop, metal or sung poetry. However, this neo-folk should not be taken for an authentic folk music. Mėnuo Juodaragis annual festival is somewhat dedicated to such neo-folk.
Lithuanian folk dances
Today folk dances usually go hand in hand with folk songs and are performed on stage. But originally they would include entire communities. Many dances have slower and faster parts and are danced in circles which transform into lines, "snakes" and other formations as the dance progresses, or may even temporarily "disintegrate" into pairs. The dancers' actions may be so elaborate that some Lithuanian dances are also known as "games".
Those folk dances that are always danced in pairs are mostly of foreign origin (e.g. Polish polka).