Musical Influences from across the Baltic: Finland until the 19th Century

The Baltic Sea has always been what it still is today, a fairway for goods and people. In times before the construction of railways and modern highways, the waterway was the most natural and, in fact, the only possible route for the transport of merchandise. And where goods and people moved, cultural influences were spreading. The intensity of contacts between Finland and areas on the other side of the Baltic Sea have, however, greatly varied according to political circumstances.

The first traces of settlement on the soil of contemporary Finland date back to the 7th-millennium b. C., shortly after the continental glacier had started to withdraw from this region, and it is obvious that there has been hunters and fishermen on the other side of the Baltic Sea as well. We know nothing of the music of these people, but we have all reason to believe that the Palaeolithic man had ‘sound tools’ (bone or chimney flutes, drums, etc. ) and that he or she was making ‘music’, whatever meaning it may have had in his or her culture. He or she did probably sing, and both were using their sound tools in religious rites, when working or hunting, and at leisure for the pure joy of producing sound – as did their descendants thousands of years later.

The beginning of the culture of rune singing, handed down in oral tradition up to the present day, is believed to have taken place during the Bronze Age, for about 2500 to 3000 years ago, in an area consisting of the Baltic countries, Ingria, the southern and south-eastern coasts of the Lake Ladoga as well as the Finnish coastline and archipelago from the Karelian Isthmus to Ostrobothnia. Rune singing was the common culture of the Baltic-Finnish peoples living around the Baltic Sea. The centre of this culture was originally south of the Gulf of Finland. Later on, it moved towards the north and split into two branches, western and eastern. The eastern branch survived in distant communities of Northern Karelia until our time, while the western branch slowly disappeared under the pressure of the Roman Catholic church. One of the relics of this ancient civilization is the traditional zither instrument kantele (kannel in Estonian, kuokles in Latvian and kankles in Lithuanian), which, according to one theory, originated in the Baltic-Finnish region, influenced probably by the Russian gusli or the Arab qānūn, structurally its closest relatives.

The Middle Ages

Christian influence began to infiltrate the provinces north of the Baltic Sea during the late Viking era, before the end of the first Christian millennium, and in the second half of the 12th century, these parts became a mission area of the Roman Church. The first crusade is believed to have taken place in 1155 or 1157. From that date, the south-western and southern parts of modern Finland gradually became integrated into the kingdom of Sweden. Churches were built, spiritual life took ordered forms, and Latin chant was introduced. The Roman faith spread to the borders of Karelia, whose people were under the rule of Novgorod and, therefore, Orthodox.

Centres of Latin chant in Finland were the cathedral of Turku, the churches of other medieval towns, the Dominican and Franciscan convents of Turku and Viipuri, and the schools, of which the cathedral school of Turku, founded in the latter half of the 13th century, was the most important.

What we know about Latin chant in Finland is based upon ca. 6300 parchment sheets used in Finnish churches and monasteries in the Middle Ages. These sheets were detached from liturgical books, which became obsolete during the Reformation, and used as bindings of account books, prepared in Finland and sent to Stockholm by the king’s bailiffs. The oldest pages, from before the 14th century, contain French and German types of non-diastematic neumes and seem to have originated mostly from around Maastricht and Utrecht in the medieval church province of Cologne. Sheets from later periods up to the Reformation have mensural notation. Most of the material is of foreign origin and was probably brought to Finland a long time after it had been written.

Now, the question is: from where did it come and who brought it? We might consider the following alternatives.

1) It is possible that the bishopric of Bremen, responsible for the missionary work in Sweden and Finland before the church was firmly established there, took care of making manuscripts of Latin chant available in the mission area.

2) Former students of the cathedral school of Turku often continued their studies in the universities of Central Europe, in Paris, Prague and elsewhere, and they may have purchased some of the material on behalf of the Turku see and sent it home with German merchants along the trade routes of the Hanse.

3) Blackfriars of the Dominican Order came to Finland at a very early stage of conversion and established their first monastery there in 1249. They exerted a strong influence on spiritual life, and their liturgy was sanctioned as the official liturgy of the Turku see around 1330. As the first printed missale of the Turku see, the Missale Aboense (Lübeck 1488), was a Dominican missale, it is not unlikely that the black friars were importing manuscripts of Latin chant to the country during previous centuries as well.

4) Parchment manuscripts might also have been a regular merchandise that was traded in by German and Dutch merchants. In Old Livonia, the scenery was in many ways different in the early Christian era. When it comes to mendicant orders, more important than the Dominicans were the Cistercians who established a monastery in Dünamünde (Väinänsuu) in 1205. A hundred years later they sold it to the Teutonic Order and settled down further north in Paadinen, where they had built a monastery in 1281. They also purchased some land in Uusimaa on the northern coast of the GuIf of Finland, but the purposes of this acquisition were more economical than religious and, consequently, the Cistercians do not seem to have had an influence on religious practices in the Turku see, where the Dominican dominance was so well established. In late Midd1e Ages, the importance of the Dominican and Franciscan orders increased in Old Livonia, too, and there is some evidence of contacts, if not cooperation, between Dominican monasteries on both sides of the GuIf of Finland. We know that in 1427 at least, Latin chant was taught in the school of Viipuri by a Black Friar of the name of Klemetti, who came from Tallinn where he had been abbot.

Can we draw the conclusion, then, that Latin chant used in the liturgy was similar on both sides of the Gulf of Finland and that manuscripts of the chant came from the same area? In the Swedish state archives in Stockholm, there is a large corpus of chant manuscripts used as bindings of Baltic account books (Baltiska fogderäkenskaper) in the 17th century, when Sweden dominated large territories south of the GuIf of Finland, including the entire Old Livonia. There is no thorough examination of this material, yet, but preliminary studies point towards the conclusion that it is completely different from the Finnish sources. To offer an explanation for this fact would be untimely by present knowledge. What we do know, however, is that the mission history of the Old Livonian territories is far more complicated than that of Finland and that the Teutonic Order, which dominated the Baltic states for centuries, did not play any role north of the GuIf of Finland.

In addition to Latin chant used in the service, a repertory of cantios – monophonic songs with sacred, nonliturgical texts – was cultivated in the Middle Ages, especially in schools throughout the country. Students sang either to praise Christ and St. Mary or to deplore the misery of human fate and the harshness of scholarly life etc. A collection of these songs, Piae Cantiones Ecclesiasticae et Scholasticae Veterum Episcoporum, in Inclyto Regno Sueciae passim vsurpatae… was edited by the Finnish student Theodoricus Petri Nylandensis and printed in Greifswald by Augustinus Ferberus in 1582. While printed during the Reformation, most of these cantios are medieval, and their early sources have been detected in manuscripts all over Central and Southern Europe, mostly in Bohemia. How did these cantios become so popular in Sweden, and especially in Finland, remains to be explained. Who introduced them? Possibly Swedish and Finnish students who were continuing their studies in Central European universities and who became priests and teachers after returning home. The publication of a Latin songbook in the midst of Reformation is not easy to explain, either. Perhaps was it a part of the policy of King Johan III, who had certain reasons to favour ideas of Counter-Reformation. Cantios were apparently popular for a long time. A Finnish translation of the texts by Hemminki of Masku, a country priest, was published in 1616, and a new, enlarged Latin edition, with new arrangements of the polyphonic songs by Daniel Friderici, cantor of the Marienkirche in Rostock, appeared in 1625. Some songs were still being published in the 18th century and later, and some found their way into official Lutheran hymnbooks.

Of secular music in medieval Finland, we do know practically nothing. Some 15th century documents from the Turku area, dealing with legal affairs, include musician names such as Knwt Piparsson (or Knut Pipare), Martin Pipare and Michil (Micchiæl, Michel) pipare (Pijpare, Piper) from the parish of St. Mary, Larens pipare from Halikko, Oleff Pipare from Kokemäki and Nis (or Nils) Lekare from Sund in the province of Åland. We do not know whether these people were musicians themselves or whether their names were hereditary family names, already. Both interpretations involve unsolved questions.

The social status of wandering minstrels was very low in the Middle Ages; they were practically void of human rights and legal capacity, as we know from law books such as the German Sachsenspiegel (1215) and its Swedish equivalents (e.g. Östgötalagen) from the latter half of the 13th century. However, the people mentioned above were honourable men: Knut, Martin, Michil, and Nis acted as lay members in the court of law, Oleff sold land for thirty-three marks and Larens a house. Which means that they could not have been wandering minstrels who were constantly moving from place to place. Were there musicians of another kind, then, in l5th century Finland? We do not know.

The hereditary family name theory is equally difficult. Why would an honourable man adopt or keep a family name that revealed a despised profession? The 1ow status of musicians in the society was stressed upon in many ways, especially by the church. It was reflected e.g. in the fresco paintings on the walls of stone churches. One such example, from the 15th century, is in the Taivasssalo church in southwestern Finland. On the right-hand side we see a bagpiper with the snout of a pig and on the left-hand side a woman who is offering the bagpiper bread and beer.

Would it be possible, then, that in the late Middle Ages, there were in Finland musicians who were honourable men? In this case, they must have been city waits, members of a Ratskapelle. But did medieval towns, of which there were six in Finland, had economic resources to hire city waits? Not very likely because they were nothing more than small trade villages. The biggest of them, Turku, had by the end of the Middle Ages approximately 1500 inhabitants. Tallinn was more than twice as big at that time, and there the city council could afford to hire and to maintain a Ratskapelle of four to six waits in the late 15th century – a considerable number for a town of Tallinn’s size. In London, one of Europe’s largest cities, six city waits was considered to be the proper number from 1475 to 1550.

We must conclude, then, given the present state of sources, that secular music in Finnish medieval towns was most probably performed by wandering minstrels, street performers, who did not settle down permanently anywhere. They might have obtained permission from the city council to carry on their trade, but they probably had to be content with whatever people wanted to pay for their services. It can be assumed that the same minstrels travelled along the coast of the Baltic Sea and stayed for a while in each of its cities.

The problem with this scenario is that it does not answer the question, whether ’Knwt Pipare’ or ’Nis Lekare’ were musicians themselves or whether they were burghers who had musicians amongst their ancestors.

The Reformation

In Sweden, the Reformation was set in motion during the reign of Gustaf I Vasa (1523-60) but was not firmly established until the Convention of Uppsala in 1593. Lutheran services were held in churches in the Turku diocese from the 1520s on, and Lutheranism was reflected in a number of manuscripts, such as the Mathiae Joannis Westh Codex of 1546 and the Kangasalan koraarikirja (’Kangasala Chorale Book’) of 1624, prior to the publication of Yxi Tarpelinen Nuotti-Kirja (’A Necessary Notebook’) in 1702. This book of chorales provided melodies for the Uusi Suomenkielinen Virsikirja (’New Finnish Hymn Book’) published a year before. Most of the melodies were taken from previously published Swedish, German and Danish collections of chorales.

Organs were built for Finnish churches by Swedish masters from the 17th century onwards. Most early organs fell prey to fire or destruction by the enemy, especially during the Great Nordic War in the early 18th century; the only surviving one is the Positive of Nauvo (ca. 1664), now in the National Museum, Helsinki. Some 30 18th century organs are recorded, but not until the 19th century did organs spread throughout the country.

In the 16th century, wandering minstrels continued to provide musical services for the town population that was slowly increasing. According to one estimation, there were about 2800 inhabitants in Turku in the year 1571. In addition to wandering minstrels, there were at least from time to time privileged musicians in the retinue of noblemen who travelled the country and stayed for some weeks or months in the castles of Turku and Viipuri. Records of Turku castle from the time of King Gustaf I Vasa (mid-16th century) include names such as ’Hans Pijpar’, ’piparen Hans Weckenop’, ’Sixtus piiper’ and ’Hans Trumslagare’, all apparently military bandsmen. The King himself played the lute (as did his sons Erik and Johan) and there were professional lutenists in his court. One of them was Cornelius Hoffman from Danzig, who entered his service in 1535, and another was an Italian by the name of ’Jeroniumus’. He stayed in Stockholm for several years, and he had apprentices; at least he taught a certain Bertil Larsson to play both the lute and the harp. When moving to Tallinn in 1547, he took Bertil with him. In 1555 Bertil Larsson was again in Stockholm where he signed a receipt for four ’welsche Geigen’, and soon afterward he showed up in Turku in the court of Duke Johan together with other musicians such as ’Matz Fidlere’ or ’Matz Luthenist’. In addition to lutenists, there were organists and string players in the service of Gustaf I Vasa and his sons, not to mention trumpet players who followed the regent wherever he moved.

Thus, it seems that in the 15th century at the latest there was a certain number of privileged musicians who served the aristocracy around the Baltic Sea. Names of the same musicians show up now here now there, in Stockholm, Turku, Tallin, Danzig, Copenhagen and elsewhere. One of them was Blasius Fischer, who was head of the Royal Trumpet Corps in Stockholm from 1550 to 1588, and another high-ranking trumpet player was Jören Heyde, who had been earlier in the service of Christian III in Copenhagen and before that of Duke Albrecht in Königsberg. The repertory of music that was played in the courts in Stockholm and Copenhagen in the 15th century was more or less the same and included motets, madrigals, chansons, and German lieder, as well as various dances. Henrik Glahn has compared some Danish and Swedish manuscript part books from the 16th century and discovered a certain number of pieces in both of them.

Sweden as Great Power

In 1611, Gustavus Adolphus came to the throne, and Sweden began to expand. In the 17th century, the country was almost constantly at war, and a large number of young men from Finland fought in Swedish troops in Germany, earning for themselves ’a formidable reputation as warriors’, or they spent years in conquered areas in the Baltic lands, Pomerania and Lower Saxony. To ease the harshness of life in such military camps Carolus Pictorius, ’Aboensi militum concionator’, an army chaplain from Turku, published in Dünamünde ’Four sweet and consoling hymns of thanksgiving and prayer for the Glory of God’ (1622). These were the first printed Lutheran chorales with Finnish words. The melodies are variants of German songs such as ’Venus du und dein Kind’, the earliest print of which is in Jacob Regnarts Kurtzweilige Teutsche Lieder (1574), and ’Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott’ from Harmoniae hymnorum scholae Gorlicensis (1599).

During the war years, in which the economy was tight, cultural life could not flower. However, some important developments took place. A major event was the foundation of a university in Turku, the Åbo Akademi (1640), which was Sweden’s third university in chronological sequence after Uppsala (1477) and Tartu (1632). Music was adopted into the university’s curriculum only in 1747 when a teacher of music was attached to it, but it was an integral part of the academic life from the beginning.

In the 17th century, organs were built in the churches of most towns, and organists were engaged by the joint effort of the church and the town. The organist, thus, became a musicus principalis, who was responsible for the music in the church and, at the same time, had the exclusive right to perform music in weddings and other celebrations of the burghers. The organists of Turku and Viipuri e.g. came from the Baltic lands, Germany and Sweden. Of the 17th century organists in Turku Peter Pollak came from Tallinn, Håkan Persson from Nyköping, Michell Nachtigall from Wismar, Caspar Schultz from Narva, Christian Kellner from Liebertwolkwitz near Leipzig and Johann Fredrik Zettegast from Riga. The organist had as associates a couple of city waits who assisted him in performing wedding and other celebration music in the feats of the townsmen. Such men were e.g. Jacob and Philip Wein, who came from Germany in 1559.

18th century

In 1700, the Great Northern War broke out, and as Russian troops plundered the country, priests, civil servants, teachers of the university, and all who could, left their homes and fled to safety in Stockholm and other towns in the western part of Sweden. City waits followed suit. Recovery after the war took a long time. A major event was the arrival of a new organist Carl Petter Lenning in Turku. He came from Strängnäs in 1741, and in 1747, he was engaged by the University, where he was supposed to set up a collegium musicum. From now on students of the university got tuition in music and learned to play instruments under a competent teacher’s supervision. Later on, Lenning neglected his duties and failed to satisfy the demands of the burghers, who started to engage other musicians for their weddings and other festivities. The old system of exclusive rights granted to the organist was approaching its end.

In 1770, the educated people in Turku took music making in their own hands by setting up a secret society Aurora, which soon after its foundation established a musica1 class and organized the first public concerts in Finland in 1773 and 1774. Its activities were taken up by Musikaliska Sällskapet i Åbo (The Musical Society of Turku) founded in 1790. Music had become an art in its own right, and some musically well-educated amateurs started to write ambitious compositions. The first of them was Erik Tulindberg (1761–1814) whose six string quartets, probably composed in the early 1780s, are in the style of Haydn’s opus 6. Tulindberg also acquired, from 1776 to 1786, a large collection of sheet music that gives us a fairly good idea of what was played in Turku in the late 1770s and the early 1780s. In a sense, the time of musical influences coming from across the Baltic was over. From now on they came, in the form of printed music, directly from European centers of musical life, such as Amsterdam and Berlin.

Talk at a conference on Baltic music in the 1990s, updated on 25 Apr 2017


About Ilkka Oramo

Professor of Music Theory, emeritus
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