Musicality and language of Prussian Lithuanians

Musicality and language of Prussian Lithuanians

The written sources of the 17th century reflect the peculiarities of the culture of Prussian Lithuanians (lietuvininkai) and still persisting forms of folk beliefs that the church authorities sought to control through visits and regulations. From these documents we learn about the musicality of Lithuanians, although foreigners used to describe their singing as the howl of wolves. To those with a more favourable attitude, Lithuania seemed to be a land of songs and hymns.

The ethnographic descriptions of the vocal folklore presented by E. Wagner, T. Lepner, M. Pretorius, and K. Hartknoch are already much more informative. The Prussian Lithuanians sing about everything that comes into their minds and everything that they see, and they all are composers and themselves adapt a tune to their songs. However, the singing of Lithuanians is still a strange yelling and funny lamenting, female dancing looks like staggering, and wedding music is a kind of noise.

At the beginning of the 18th century, priests Michael Mörlin (1641-1708) and Philipp Ruhig (1675-1749), two prominent Lithuanian linguists of East Prussia started their linguistic studies. Regardless of their unfavourable attitude to singing, Mörlin wrote that anyone who diligently records songs, will eventually accumulate great resources of Lithuanian words, and Ruhig reiterated such an attitude: the beauty of the Lithuanian language is best evidenced by the Songs created by simple girls for various occasions.

In 1745, in his Study of the Origin, Character and Peculiarities of the Lithuanian Language, Ruhig published three Lithuanian folk songs (with their translations into German): Anksti Rytą, Rytuźį; Asz turrėjau Źirguźėlį; Asz atsisakiau savo mocźuttei.