Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

Start Over

Folk culture : Lithuanian

  • Popular culture (Manners and customs)Popular culture (Oral literature)Popular culture (Folk music)Lithuanian
  • Cultural Field:
  • Author:
    Sniečkutė, Marija
  • Text:

    The first Lithuanian folk songs were recorded in manuscript in the early 18th century; Lithuanian folk songs were included in Herder’s <em>Volkslieder</em><em></em> (1778-79), and Goethe’s Singspiel <em>Die Fischerin</em> (1782). A more systematic interest arose around Königsberg (East Prussia) and Vilnius (Lithuania under the Russian Empire).

    The Königsberg professor Ludwig Rhesa published the first Lithuanian folk-song collection, <em>Dainos oder Litauische Volkslieder</em> (1825), included Lithuanian folk songs in his poetry book <em>Prutena</em> (2 vols, 1809-25), and discussed the material in a letter to Goethe. Interest at the University of Vilnius was initiated by the Warsaw Society of  Friends of Learning (1800-32), which established a commission in 1804 to study and document Lithuanian folk culture before its apprehended extinction. A new educational statute obliged schools to collect local information, also on the origin and characteristics of the Samogitian language. Vilnius professors, especially Ivan Lobojko, encouraged students to conduct fieldwork; among these were Simonas Stanevičius  (<em>Dainos Zemaičiu</em>, 1829) and Simonas Daukantas (whose Samogitian fairy tales, were only published in 1932); Daukantas published songs of Samogitians (<em>Dajnes Žemajtiu</em>) in 1846. Ludwik Adam Jucewicz (1813–1846) collected Samogitian proverbs, discussed them in <em></em><em>Przysłowia ludu litewskiego</em> (1840), and included them in his <em>Wspomnienie Żmudzi</em> (1842) and <em></em><em>Litwa</em> (1846). Around that time, Lithuanian folk songs were also finding their way into Polish poetry, e.g. by Mickiewicz. After the closure of Vilnius University in 1832, Lithuanian folklore interest shifted to Russian-based institutions, as noted further below.

    Meanwhile, in Königsberg, Friedrich Kurschat collected folk songs, G.H.F. Nesselmann published the substantial <em>Litauische Volkslieder</em> (1853), and A. Bezzenberger provided a few pieces of Lithuanian oral literature in <em>Litauische Forschungen</em> (1882). Lithuanian oral literature was published by the <em>Litauische literarische Gesellschaft</em> in Tilsit, e.g. the collections of Christian Bartsch, which included melodies (<em>Dainu balsai: Melodien litauischer Volkslieder,</em> 1886, 1889).

    A wider audience was reached by the <em>Birutė</em> association, which used oral literature in its performative activities, such as song festivals and theatre performances. The scholarly interest in Lithuanian oral literature was also present in a wider European context, linked to the archaic stature of the language. A. Schleicher included songs, fairy tales and other oral literature in his <em>Litauisches Lesebuch und Glossar</em> (1857); A. Leskien and F.K. Brugmann published <em>Litauische Volkslieder und Märchen aus dem Preussischen und dem Russischen Litauen</em> (1882).

    By now, a significant impulse emanated from the Russian Geographic Society, which established its north-western department in Vilnius (1867) with the aim of studying Lithuanian-Latvian ethnography. It organized field trips to Lithuania with the purpose of collecting ethnographic material. Among the most active Russian scholars who were involved in the society’s activities were Filip Fortunatov, Vsevolod Miller, and Eduard Wolter (Eduards Volters/Eduardas Vоlteris; 1856–1941), a prominent Latvian-born, Russian-trained philologist of Baltic-German extraction who in his later life became a prominent scholar, librarian, and professor in Lithuania. Fortunatov and Miller published <em></em><em>Litovskie narodne pesni</em> (1872) following a field trip in the previous year.

    Oral literature was actively collected by Lithuanian intellectuals, including Mikalojus Akelaitis, Motiejus Valančius (<em>Patarlės Žemaičių</em>, 1867), and Laurynas Ivinskis (who published oral literature in his calendars). The most substantial work was done by the brothers Jonas Juška and Antanas Juška. Antanas started collecting in 1862 with the support of scholars such as J. Baudouin de Courtenay and Izmail Sreznevskij, publishing three volumes of Lithuanian songs (<em></em><em>Lietuviškos dainos</em>) in 1880-82, an overview of wedding customs (1880), a collection of Lithuanian wedding songs (<em></em><em>Lietuviškos svotbinės dainos</em>, 1883), and Lithuanian folk melodies (<em>Melodje ludowe  litewskie</em>, 1900). Most of these were published in Russia, where publication in the Latin alphabet was not forbidden as it was in the territory of Lithuania.

    At the turn of the century, the pre-eminent figure of Jonas Basanavičius made a significant impact with his collections of Lithuanian fairy tales (<em>Lietuviškos pasakos</em>; 1898, 1902; <em>Lietuviškos pasakos yvairios</em><em></em>, 1903-05). He also used these to support his wayward theories on the Asian origins of the Lithuanian nation.

    Word Count: 824

  • Article version:
  • DOI:
  • Direct URL:
  • Dundulienė, Pranė; Etnografijos mokslas Vilniaus universitete (Vilnius: Lietuvos TSR Aukštojo ir vidurinio mokslo ministerijos leidybinė redakcinė tarnyba, 1978).

    Dundulienė, Pranė; Lietuvių etnologija (Vilnius: Mintis, 1991).

    Girdzijauskas, Juozapas (ed.); Lietuvių literatūros istorija. XIX amžius (Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 2001).

    Sauka, Donatas; Lietuvių tautosaka (Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos institutas, 2007).

    Sauka, Leonrdas; Korsakas, Kostas (eds.); Lietuvių tautosaka (3rd volume; Vilnius: Mintis, 1965).

  • Creative Commons License
    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Sniečkutė, Marija, 2022. "Folk culture : Lithuanian", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 03-04-2022, consulted 07-12-2023.