The Father of Latvian Folk Songs

You’d be amazed at what you can find if you look hard enough and persevere with spring cleaning. Way back in 1988 they published books in Latvia for children to be able to learn English. In this one book, I noticed that there were interesting facts not only that could be used for school education but also for fascinating information. Nowadays school books have become so modern that everyone has forgotten all of the old stories.

On October 31, 1835, in one of the Baltic regions of Tsarist Russia, a baby boy was born into the Barons’ family and given the name Krisjanis. A very noble and traditional Latvian name. Americans will notice the date. The Father of Latvian Folk Songs was born on Halloween. Of course, in Latvia, there was no such holiday. At the time that Krisjanis Barons was born, there was actually no such things as Latvian literature. This was because at this time Russian literature dominated.

For seven centuries Latvians had suffered social and national oppression. However, at this time education and culture did begin to develop. So having the opportunity for education Krisjanis Barons chose to study astronomy and mathematics at Tartu University in Estonia. It was this strict scientific training which helped him to start to collect and systemize Latvian folk songs. He worked for 25 years as teachers, poets and ordinary people sent him Latvian folk song texts.

He gained the name of Old Man of the Dainas. Dainas is the Latvian name for folk songs. By 1915 he had published his last book of folk songs.  There are many statues and memorials dedicated to him in Latvia. In 1980 the Latvian Academy of Sciences published a new edition of Latvian folk songs which was six times bigger than the Krisjanis Barons edition but still based on the principles laid down by him.

There are six known translations of Latvian folk songs translated by Peter Tempest.

  • The harder my day,                                         
  • The sweeter I sing                                             
  • The sweeter I sing.                                           
  • Brushing tears away.
  • The bear climbed on the oak                        
  • And was stung by a bee,                                  
  • “Hey, can’t you bee folk                                 
  • Your own master see   
  •                                     .         
  • Every day of my life                                                         
  • My birth, death and when                               
  • My wedding will be.  
  • Hand washes hand,
  • Who’ll wash my face?
  • Hand in hand they
  • Shall wash your face.
  • I rode a cock to Riga,
  • Three peas I took with me.
  • While I was drinking beer there
  • My cock ate all three.
  • God grant I die the way
  • My folk died long ago –
  • My father threshing grain,
  • My mother kneading dough.



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