Folk Music (Volkslieder)

The Volga Germans carried with them the folk songs of their native lands in German speaking areas of Western Europe. The folksongs or Volkslieder is a unique form of music that reflects the common joys and sufferings of life.


The cover page from a Wolgadeutsche Volkslieder (Volga German Folk Songs) book by Georg Dinges published in Berlin in 1932. Source: CVGS Archive.
The cover page from a Wolgadeutsche Volkslieder (Volga German Folk Songs) book by Georg Dinges published in Berlin in 1932.


"Without recognized authorship, with no effort to be preserved, it wells spontaneously from the heart of the people, echoing with utter and artless simplicity their loves and fears and superstitions, the joys and woes of their pastimes and occupations, and the fervor of their devotions. Human passion in all its varied manifestations, the humbler phases of human experience, — human life, in short, is the theme of the Volkslied. In it the mirror is held up to common nature truly, and the image seen is unaffectedly portrayed. The Volkslied is without a definite drift. It has no ulterior purpose. No precious literary reputation is to be made or marred, no literacy theories are to be vindicated or overthrown.

Viewed as literature, then, the Volkslied is commonly fre from finish and often without conscious point, yet frequently full of a rustic melody which haunts the memory like strains of weird witch music. There is no striving for effect, no attempt at rounded symmetry. Not rarely appear obscure allusions, inconsistent antitheses, or meaningless conclusions, the blending of varying renditions of the same tale, faint reverberations of half-forgotten legends, the ignorant inheritance of generation upon generation.

The Volkslied is neither moral nor immoral; unless perchance any faithful chronicle may be so designated. Coarseness is there, to be sure, vulgarity in the literal sense, such as pertains to the mob, as upon the earlier stage, where no refined audience was to be offended. Pathos, too, pure feeling, and rude wit; shrewd and pithy homilies; unintentional exemplifications of poetic justice; betrayals of the external strife between masses and classes; songs of student mirth and infantile frolic, of toil and moil in peace and war, — the shepherd's call, the huntsman's cry, the journeyman's plaint, the soldier's roundelay, and the rude prayer or hymn where mingle benighted fears and childlike rejoicings over the promises of the new Jerusalem.

To us in America the Volkslied seems almost an alien or unnatural growth. We have our Indian chants, our war lyrics, our negro melodies, our penny ballads of the palings; but save by legacy from across the water we have no fireside heritage of humble or fantastic lore that links us to a vanishing past of homely thought and of unfailing faith in myth and marvel. Accustomed to poetry of a different type, we turn the pages of such a collection of verses as this at first with a certain sense of disappointment, uncouth materials as they may seem, awaiting the master's finishing hand. We compare them unfavorably too with the perfected ballads of Goethe, of Bürger, of Heine, of Uhland and Rückert and Müller, in which we seem to find not only many of the best features of the Volkslied, but furthermore a completeness and significance of thought, and melodious rhythm, flowing onward, too, with apparently the same spontaneous simplicity.

A difference indeed exists. It is the contrast between the luxuriant disorder of nature intentionally and joyously careless, and the studied elegance of a cultivated landscape. Here and there may be a spot where the hand of the critical husbandman might have been too curiously busy, where he has touched, perhaps to adorn and improve, perhaps to impair the charm of native artlessness. But whatever irregularities in treatment or inconsistency of tone have crept into the collection, it may be presented on the whole as not an unfair illustration of the untrammeled although crude poetic utterances of the German folk."


The Institut für Volkskunde der Deutschen des östlichen Europa holds recordings of Volga German folk music in its archive.

Dinges, G., Rau, P. D., Deutsche Akademie, & Deutsches Volksliedarchiv. (1932). Wolgadeutsche Volkslieder mit Bildern und Weisen. Berlin ; Leipzig: W. de Gruyter & Co.

Schünemann, G. (1923). Das Lied der deutschen Kolonisten in Russland. München: Drei Masken Verlag.

Weigel, L. A. (1980). German folk songs from the Volga : 100 favorites with music--German words (English translation). Hays, Kan.].



Excerpt from "Deutsche Volkslieder: A Selection from German Folk-songs" by Horatio Stevens White - Cornell University (March 24, 1892)