Classic Lithuanian Literature Anthology

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Liudvikas Rėza
(Martin Ludwig Rhesa)

The Study of Lithuanian Folk Songs


    L.Rėza was an initiator of research in Lithuanian folklore. He had published the first collection of Lithuanian folklore (songs) and had written the first research study about Lithuanian folklore (songs). Thus he created the fundament for Lithuanian folklorists research. L.Rėza had completed the collection of songs in 1915. He was prepared to expand it and corresponded with J.W. Goethe on that subject. However, L.Rėza had published the collection under the title "Dainos oder Littauische Volkslieder" only in 1825. He had financed it by himself. The first collection consists of 85 songs (in Lithuanian and German), 7 melodies, German commentaries and a big article "The Study of Lithuanian Folk Songs".
    L.Rėza tried to achieve the same goals by publishing songs as by translating the works by K. Donelaitis. The publication was oriented towards the same intelligentsia that did not know Lithuanian language. It had to represent, in this case, not the individual (as "The Seasons" by K. Donelaitis) but the collective genius of the nation, to emphasize its creativity, richness and originality of spiritual culture.
    In the article, L.Rėza has reviewed the groups of songs, themes and means of artistic expression. He paid exceptional attention to love (erotic and wedding) songs as to the most numerous group, emphasized an exceptional diversity of topics and emotions in it. L.Rėza had investigated the background of locality and time in songs as well as mythological songs created "in ancient heathen times" (though the authenticity of these songs is doubtful). L.Rėza widely discussed the poetic means of the songs, showed their richness and variety of prosodic patterns. L.Rėza had presented as examples only seven melodies, because he had understood that there were subtleties in songs that were not expressed in music. The article had dealt with the history of publication and evaluation of Lithuanian folk songs, had listed helpers of L.Rėza in gathering folklore, had mentioned citations of different authors about Lithuanian songs (alas, these had perished). The main merit of the work by L.Rėza was the characteristics of psychological and ethical contents of the songs, evaluation of their originality. L.Rėza had admired natural and simple means by which feelings of tenderness and candidness were expressed, high ethic and moral standards in Lithuanian folk songs. "The song is the purest jewel of the nation's spirit" and as such it has an eternal spiritual value. He had made a final conclusion: "If a nation perishes it often still lives in its songs".