Author Archives: Ellen Feldman

German Folksong: Over de Stillen Straten / Over the Quiet Streets

Link to audio recording of song: Over de Stillen Straten

Background on German Folksongs:

Q. Do you know how old these songs are?

A. No, and I think that’s part of folklore—you don’t really know where it comes from, it wasn’t written by anyone in particular. My mother must have taught me some, and at school, I imagine I learned some.

Q. When would people sing folksongs?

A. While we were walking places in a group, we would sing. And singing while walking, you know, is kind of fun. You can walk to the beat, and it gives you something to do. And I remember that they were calling on me because I used to know all the words. And I was the littlest one on the group, I was only five years old, but I used to know all the words, so whenever they didn’t remember the words, the older kids would call me, “Eva, what are the words again?” so I would come running and tell them the words, and it made me feel good, it made me feel important because here are these older kids, and I have to tell them the words. Those are some of my earliest memories.

Songs were often sung while working. If you had some menial work to do, and you’d get bored doing that, you would sing. For example, when spinning—women used to do a lot of spinning—they would sing, just to amuse themselves. Or when they were ironing; my mother used to tell me, “this is an ironing song,” because they had to do a lot of ironing, and it’s boring work. And my mother and I would sing when we did the dishes because that, too, was boring, menial work. She would do the dishes, and I would dry them, and we would sing together. And we would harmonize. You sing when you work or you walk, and you don’t use any machines, because machines make noise and then there’s no room for singing…so it’s kind of part of the preindustrial age.

Q. People don’t sing as much as they used to?

A. We sing in certain contexts, like at school in choir, but just while doing stuff, not very much anymore. It’s really sad—it’s kind of a dying tradition.

Q. Do you know if German folksongs are very different from other folksongs?

A. Well, you will see that most German songs are in the major key, which sets them apart from eastern European folk music, which is usually minor.

Over de Stillen Straten / Over the Quiet Streets:

This song is a lullaby…There are many lullabies. This song is also in dialect. Originally, all folk songs are in the dialects of the regions where they came from. Then, many of them were cleaned up and translated into High German, but this one was not, so this one, I know in the original dialect form, which is the dialect from the region I came from, a region in the north of Germany.

So, I think they took several steps. The songs came from a certain region, and then they were collected by some of the collectors in the nineteenth century, and then they were compiled into collections of songs, and then they became sort of universally known, in that form—not quite as original as they were.

Q. What is High German?

A. High German isn’t really any dialect, it’s something that people just agreed on as the language that everybody would know. For very long, there were only dialects, and not any form of High German. It didn’t really have a capital, the way England and France did. What really killed the dialects is television. Now, in everyone’s living room, you have High German, and you hardly ever speak dialect anymore. There are some regions where they hold onto it, like Bavaria.

Q. In Germany, do people have a sense of having a regional identity, as opposed to a German identity?

A. Yes. There was not really a German identity until 1870, with Bismarck. There were little states, and those gave people identity. Bismarck united Germany as the first Reich. But people still have very local culture.

Analysis: This song has a melancholy, plaintive melody, and is very lyrical. It stands out against the other songs that my informant sang to me because it is the only one in a minor key; according to my informant, almost all German songs are in major keys. It seems reasonable that a lullaby would be less upbeat, however, since it is meant to quiet children down before they fall asleep. Since this particular folksong has not been translated into High German, it remains much closer to its original form than many other German folksongs today.

German lyrics can be found online on numerous websites, including these ones:

http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=36693

http://www.textlog.de/gedicht-nacht.html

German Folksong: Auf du Junger Wandersmann / Get Up, Young Wanderer

Link to audio recording of song: Auf du Junger Wandersmann

Background on German Folksongs:

Q. Do you know how old these songs are?

A. No, and I think that’s part of folklore—you don’t really know where it comes from, it wasn’t written by anyone in particular. My mother must have taught me some, and at school, I imagine I learned some.

Q. When would people sing folksongs?

A. While we were walking places in a group, we would sing. And singing while walking, you know, is kind of fun. You can walk to the beat, and it gives you something to do. And I remember that they were calling on me because I used to know all the words. And I was the littlest one on the group, I was only five years old, but I used to know all the words, so whenever they didn’t remember the words, the older kids would call me, “Eva, what are the words again?” so I would come running and tell them the words, and it made me feel good, it made me feel important because here are these older kids, and I have to tell them the words. Those are some of my earliest memories.

Songs were often sung while working. If you had some menial work to do, and you’d get bored doing that, you would sing. For example, when spinning—women used to do a lot of spinning—they would sing, just to amuse themselves. Or when they were ironing; my mother used to tell me, “this is an ironing song,” because they had to do a lot of ironing, and it’s boring work. And my mother and I would sing when we did the dishes because that, too, was boring, menial work. She would do the dishes, and I would dry them, and we would sing together. And we would harmonize. You sing when you work or you walk, and you don’t use any machines, because machines make noise and then there’s no room for singing…so it’s kind of part of the preindustrial age.

Q. People don’t sing as much as they used to?

A. We sing in certain contexts, like at school in choir, but just while doing stuff, not very much anymore. It’s really sad—it’s kind of a dying tradition.

Q. Do you know if German folksongs are very different from other folksongs?

A. Well, you will see that most German songs are in the major key, which sets them apart from eastern European folk music, which is usually minor.

Informant’s Explanation: “This is a song about the journeymen, the craftspeople that used to walk. Once they finished their apprenticeship—there was a very tough system for craftspeople. They would have three years of apprenticeship, and you start that when you’re young. So you would have three years of apprenticeship, and then pass some kind of exam, and then you became a journeyman. And the journeymen journeyed throughout Europe. So they would come, and walk from town to town, and come into a town, and find a master craftsman in that town and ask them, “Do you need someone?” And they would work for this guy for a while, and then they would journey on. So, this is how they broadened their horizons and learned more about their trade. It’s a great system, really—they got to see the world. And there are songs that these people would sing as they walked from town to town.

“The story is about a young man who goes and carries his belongings on his back and says, ‘Sometimes it’s painful and it’s tiring, but it’s worth it, I’m getting to see the world, I’m in Innsbruck now’—Innsbruck is a town in Austria—’and they have good wine there. And anyone who hasn’t been out in the world, I couldn’t recognize as a journeyman or as a master; you have to go out into the world.’”

Analysis: This song’s rhythmic pattern, in which shorter notes lead into longer notes, gives it a strong beat which certainly makes it well-suited for walking. In terms of tone, the song feels confident and almost heroic. Thus, the melody fits the song’s subject well; we can feel the speaker’s sense of adventurousness and excitement at travelling to new and exotic places.

German lyrics can be found online on numerous websites, including these ones:

http://www.volksliederarchiv.de/text1182.html

http://www.singenundspielen.de/id93.htm

German Folksong: Wenn alle Brünlein Fliessen/ When all the Wells are Running

Link to audio recording of song: Wenn alle Brunlein

Background on German Folksongs:

Q. Do you know how old these songs are?

A. No, and I think that’s part of folklore—you don’t really know where it comes from, it wasn’t written by anyone in particular. My mother must have taught me some, and at school, I imagine I learned some.

Q. When would people sing folksongs?

A. While we were walking places in a group, we would sing. And singing while walking, you know, is kind of fun. You can walk to the beat, and it gives you something to do. And I remember that they were calling on me because I used to know all the words. And I was the littlest one on the group, I was only five years old, but I used to know all the words, so whenever they didn’t remember the words, the older kids would call me, “Eva, what are the words again?” so I would come running and tell them the words, and it made me feel good, it made me feel important because here are these older kids, and I have to tell them the words. Those are some of my earliest memories.

Songs were often sung while working. If you had some menial work to do, and you’d get bored doing that, you would sing. For example, when spinning—women used to do a lot of spinning—they would sing, just to amuse themselves. Or when they were ironing; my mother used to tell me, “this is an ironing song,” because they had to do a lot of ironing, and it’s boring work. And my mother and I would sing when we did the dishes because that, too, was boring, menial work. She would do the dishes, and I would dry them, and we would sing together. And we would harmonize. You sing when you work or you walk, and you don’t use any machines, because machines make noise and then there’s no room for singing…so it’s kind of part of the preindustrial age.

Q. People don’t sing as much as they used to?

A. We sing in certain contexts, like at school in choir, but just while doing stuff, not very much anymore. It’s really sad—it’s kind of a dying tradition.

Q. Do you know if German folksongs are very different from other folksongs?

A. Well, you will see that most German songs are in the major key, which sets them apart from eastern European folk music, which is usually minor.

Informant’s Explanation: “This is about a girl, and supposedly a young man, who sings about her, and how he found her, and how blue her eyes are, and how red her cheeks, and that there’s no other girl like that under the sun. Very simple again, four verses and a very simple melody—it’s all in one octave, and is very easy to sing.”

Analysis: The informant characterizes this song as simple. In fact, however, it is actually very important for folksongs to be simple, so that most people will be able to sing them—folksongs are meant to be sung by everybody, rather than exclusively by professionals. This particular song is also very upbeat and cheerful, but has a comforting tone at the same time.

German lyrics can be found online on numerous websites, including this one:

http://www.volksliederarchiv.de/text574.html

German Folksong: Horch, was Kammt von Draussen Rein/ Hark Who’s Rapping at my Door

Link to audio recording of song: Horch, was Kammt von Draussen Rein

Background on German Folksongs:

Q. Do you know how old these songs are?

A. No, and I think that’s part of folklore—you don’t really know where it comes from, it wasn’t written by anyone in particular. My mother must have taught me some, and at school, I imagine I learned some.

Q. When would people sing folksongs?

A. While we were walking places in a group, we would sing. And singing while walking, you know, is kind of fun. You can walk to the beat, and it gives you something to do. And I remember that they were calling on me because I used to know all the words. And I was the littlest one on the group, I was only five years old, but I used to know all the words, so whenever they didn’t remember the words, the older kids would call me, “Eva, what are the words again?” so I would come running and tell them the words, and it made me feel good, it made me feel important because here are these older kids, and I have to tell them the words. Those are some of my earliest memories.

Songs were often sung while working. If you had some menial work to do, and you’d get bored doing that, you would sing. For example, when spinning—women used to do a lot of spinning—they would sing, just to amuse themselves. Or when they were ironing; my mother used to tell me, “this is an ironing song,” because they had to do a lot of ironing, and it’s boring work. And my mother and I would sing when we did the dishes because that, too, was boring, menial work. She would do the dishes, and I would dry them, and we would sing together. And we would harmonize. You sing when you work or you walk, and you don’t use any machines, because machines make noise and then there’s no room for singing…so it’s kind of part of the preindustrial age.

Q. People don’t sing as much as they used to?

A. We sing in certain contexts, like at school in choir, but just while doing stuff, not very much anymore. It’s really sad—it’s kind of a dying tradition.

Q. Do you know if German folksongs are very different from other folksongs?

A. Well, you will see that most German songs are in the major key, which sets them apart from eastern European folk music, which is usually minor.

Horch, was Kammt von Draussen Rein/ Hark Who’s Rapping at my Door:

Informant’s Explanation: “It’s very simply a story of someone’s in love with someone, he or she marries someone else, and he or she dies young, and on the grave, they plant forget-me-nots. It’s very simple, you know, in strophic form. It’s very easy, anyone can sing it, you don’t need to have any singing education or musical talent.”

Analysis: Interestingly, the song combines a weighty theme with a lively, upbeat melody. The music does not quite seem to match the story—from the notes alone, you could never guess at the speaker’s misery. According to my informant, almost all German folksongs are in major keys; so, apart from this tradition of writing cheerful folksongs, it is difficult to explain why such a disconnect would exist between the words and the melody. Perhaps, the lyrics and music were written by different people with different visions for this song.

Multiple versions of the song can be found online, including at the following links:

http://www.singenundspielen.de/id136.htm

http://www.karaoketexty.cz/texty-pisni/traditional/horch-was-kommt-von-draussen-rein-346045

Soviet Joke about a Newspaper Stand

“An old lady goes to buy a newspaper, but she forgot which newspaper she wants to buy. So, the newsman says, ‘Would you like to buy Pravda?’ which means, in Russian, ‘truth.’ And the old lady says ‘no, no, it’s not pravda, there is no pravda in Pravda, no truth in Truth.’ And the newsman says, ‘would you like to buy Isvestia?’, which means ‘news’ in Russian. And the old lady says, ‘No, no, not Isvestia, there is no isvestia in Isvestia, no news in News. Give me the Soviet Sport.’”

NOTE: For a Russian transcription of this joke, please see item 1 on the uploaded image: 

Q. What message is this joke trying to convey?

A. It’s saying that everything is just lies—there are no news, there is no truth. It’s a joke where people laugh at what is officially told by the Soviet party and the Soviet authorities to people, that these are not true news, these are not true truth, Soviet Sport is the only thing which reports the truth. So, it’s not that it’s worth reading it, I mean, my family didn’t read Soviet Sport because we were not into sports, but that’s the only newspaper which has truth—the results reported truthfully—and it is news, because the games were actually played.

Analysis: This joke laughs at the names of Soviet newspapers, which are called by such ridiculous titles as “Truth” and “News,” but only write the party line, so that they are not actually worth reading.

Background on Soviet Jokes:

Q. Are these jokes that people would tell all the time?

A. Well, I remember them now, and I’ve been out of the Soviet Union for over thirty years. I knew them all my life. People would just sit down and they tell jokes, and if you have a new joke, that’s great. People learn those jokes, and they retell those jokes—it’s an underground joke industry. I don’t know how Soviet jokes originated, but all these jokes are something I grew up with, and thirty years later, I still remember them.

Analysis of Soviet Jokes: The Soviet regime was very oppressive. People constantly heard rhetoric about the greatness of the Soviet Union, and that it is a worker’s paradise, but in reality, the situation just grew worse and worse, and life only became bleaker. Thus, these jokes expose the population’s horrible disappointment in the regime. When I asked my informant whether people were idealistic about Communism in its early days, she told me that her grandparents were extremely idealistic about socialism, and believed that the Soviet Union would eventually become a great country with a high standard of living. When part of her family emigrated from Russia to Palestine in 1919, they invited her grandparents—and their children, of course—to come with them. But her grandparents declined, believing that socialist Russia would be a wonderful country. My informant’s parents grew up within this idealistic climate; in the 1930s, even though Russians experienced a horrible food shortage, people believed that since they inherited a terrible economy from the tsar, World War I, and the Revolution, the situation would eventually improve.

In contrast, by the time that my informant grew up, in the 1970s, the Soviet Union was corrupt through-and-through, and no one believed that there would be any improvement. In these jokes, then, we see people’s horrible disappointment, their cynicism, and their lack of hope for the future. The jokes never call you to resist the regime because resistance is futile and people feel powerless to change the system; rather, these jokes simply give people the satisfaction of laughing at the regime, an outlet for their disillusionment.