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Fragments from the chronicle of Pärnu song festivals

On June 10, 1900 at 6 o'clock am due to the old calendar was a powerful blare heard from the Pärnu Farmers' Society which at that time was on Karja street. Over two hundred instrumentalists practiced here under the baton of undefatigable D. O. Virkhaus from Väägvere, it was the opening day of Pärnu Song Festival. Already for days were party guests streaming to Pärnu from allmost all corners of Estonia. Three decades after the first Estonian Song Festival in Tartu became Pärnu one link in this chain which have up to the present helped to bind Estonians together as a nation and to feel ourselves as a nation both in good and bad.

The road to the first song festival had been long and rough. Pärnu was old-established Baltic-German town where even in the end of 19th century were domineering German spirit and German language. At the same time was a shadow of the two-headed eagle of Russian tsar hanging over the Baltic States and aboriginals were oppressed by flagrant Russianization opressure. For the learners it was not easy to realize Estonian song festival between anvil and hammer for this was obviously an attempt iniciting feeling ofsolidarity. Many episodes that have reached us in written word confess the olime around Estonian's cultural activities of that time. It is heard that baron of Audru, A. Pilar von Pilchau, the elected leader of the county's nobility, was wrathful when "Endla" choir welcomed governor of Liivimaa, who had come to visit Pärnu, with songs in Estonian language. In another place one pastor interdicted choirs before song festival from rehearsing in schools and rooms for confirmation classes... On the 2nd Song Festival of Pärnu County the representatives of tsardom didn't allow to the rostrum Villem Reimann, an ardent nationalist and an active member of the temperance movement. The same time were the choirs from Võrumaa and Northern-Estonia not allowed to participate in the festivities in Pärnu. Unfortunately grater Estonian societys in Pärnu ('Endla" and "Valgus") could not reach an agreement ether, for long time they didn't get the permission from governments. Years passed...


Aforegiven does not mean that people in Pärnu parts were not singing or playing instruments. As all over Estonia were choirs and brass bands born here also long before the national singing festival. According to fragmentary facts started choir practices in Vändra already in the beginning of 1840s under teacher Körber's leadership, at the inauguration of Tori church in 1854 was singing the local choir already songs for four voices, in the middle of 19th century was a brass band in Kaelase, in 1860 established schoolmaster Adu Andrus in Koonga a choir, in 1861 was the choir of the parish school of Audru singing under the leadership of the parish clerk, one photo has preserved of Tõstamaa choir from the year 1865, of Sauga Eametsa choir..........When choirs came into being were also joint-singings arranged.


Pärnu parish song festival in Uulu in 1867 is mentioned as one among first local song festivals in Estonia. Its organizer and leader was the parish clerk of Eliisabet church C. F. Lorenzonn. Seven choirs from Pärnu and its neighbourhood came together in order to sing sacred songs. The audience was approximately one and a halfthousand.


In the year of the first song festival a special children's song festival took place in Vändra and there was also part-singing heard. Lord of the Taali manor asked neighboring choirs to sing at lineage jubilee-day.


Yet all of it started much earlier in a half-dark classroom, where schoolmaster taught singers their voices with trough-intrument. In addition to well-known leaders we own the bow of gratitude to modest schoolmasters who's names have time erased from our memories. Records of schools competing singings show that already in 1849 was sight-read music taught in Pärnu, Tori and Taali schools.


The fact that there were very few choirs from Pärnu and its parts in Tartu song festival was caused by long distance so wrote "Perno Postimees" of that time. Yet there were some: in procession on the 21st place marched Sindi choir and under the same flag "Voltvet" singers. Farther one could see singers from Tori and Vändra. From the memorials of song festivals we also find a note that on the 5th national singing festival in 1894 won Kilingi-Nõmme brass bänd 2nd prize. Finally six years later gathered singers and instrumentalists for their own song festival.


Temperance Society "Valgus" had purposed to realize song festival of Pärnu County already in sumer 1897 and had asked society "Endla", Tõstamaa and Temperance Society "Laine" to join. But this co-operation did not work out and song festival did not take place. Song festival which was planned to summer 1899 did not take place eather and this time again thanks to the factious spirit. From now on both "Endla" and "Valgus" decided to organize a song festival of their own. Both endeavoured after the permission to organize a song festival in 1900. Prefect of Pärnu district refused abruptly to support "Endlas" application, cause was party does not have a higher purpose. As a member of honour of "Valgus" he personally supported the application of his society's application and got the permission from the governor to organize a song festival in Pärnu on 10th and 11th of June in 1900. The "higher purpose" of this festival was to dedicate it to tsarism as a thanksgiving for adjusting vodka-monopoly. On 10th of June there were 24 male choirs, 32 mixed choirs and 16 brass bands performing for the audience all together 897 participants. Thousands of people gathered into the garden of Farmers' Society. As a patron of the song festival O. A. Brackmann, the mayor of Pärnu, saied the opening words. Following festival speech was held by high priest M. Suigusaar and he saied remarkable words for that time: "During these 30 years that have passed from the first song festival, has our life driven so much that German influence and spirit have lost its big importance and step by step has stronger neighbour, Russia, replaced it. I remember words of one peasant from Viljandimaa from 30 years ago: "Estonian nation is like a small mouse between two big and strong cats whom both try to catch. Let's see which one gets it." But these words have not come true. Today this little mouse is still alive and has flourishingly grown."
The first day's program included sacred songs and orchestral pieces, choirs were led by A. Läte, brass bands by D. O. Virkhaus. Troupes of "Endla" and "Valgus" societies gave performances in the evening. Next day there was a special excitement in town. At 3.30 pm started procession and it was accompanied by masses. This was vigorous self-manifestation of Estonians living in Pärnumaa and for the first time were Pärnumaa's singers marching in a common column.


Approximately ten thousand listeners greeted the concert of secular music with growing rapture, many pieces of music were repeated. "I can't cease singing" were singing mixed choirs in loud voice. This Miina Härmas song have been in Pärnu song festivals repertoire through all these years as a motto. As a custom of that time competing singing of choirs took place and competing playing of brass bands. The brass bands' 1st prize 25 roubles beared away Tarwastu musicians, brass band "Valgus" won a silver baton and 10 roubles, Laiksaare brass band ebony baton and 5 roubles. Competing singing of mixed choirs won Vastseliina, then came Tartu and Lihula choirs. D. O. Virkhaus who had been to almost all song festivals was laureled and given a golden cup. Then was heared the concluding song "My fatherland, my happiness and joy".


Pärnumaa had come true the augural words about Estonian peasant of a teacher and Estophile, pastor of Eliisabet church J. H. Rosenplänter: "They do have a spirit and a beautiful language. A nation with such a spirit and language can't stay under dust. There will be a time when they shake this dust away..., when noone is ashamed of this language..."

 

H.Treuberg

 

 

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