The term “folk song” denotes songs developed by or for the people. In folk songs, melody and lyrics always belong together. They often go back to chants sung at work, celebrations, etc. However, folk songs were only collected and written down in England during the 18th century for the first time. In Germany, Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1804) was the first one to collect and write down folk songs (“folk songs”, 1778). At first, he was harshly criticized for his work, but today, thanks to this and other publications, he is known as the founder of research on folk songs. Following Herder, Clemens Brentano (1778-1842), and Achim von Arnim (1781-1831) also collected folk songs (“Des Knaben Wunderhorn” – “The Youth’s Magic Horn”), as well as the brothers Jakob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm. Unfortunately, aside from a few exceptions, only the lyrics were conserved. Of course, ordinary people were not interested in these “scientific” collections since folk songs were passed on orally, which is a typical characteristic of folk songs.


Among other things, the early German “Romanticism” was characterized by a desire of being close to ordinary people’s thinking and their way of life. During this period, new lyrics were added to many well-known melodies, and numerous new songs were composed – some of them so close to ordinary people’s taste that the composer was forgotten or not acknowledged at all, while his “creation” survived as a “folk song”. Philipp Friedrich Silcher (1789-1860) is one such example of forgotten composers. August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1818-1892) who is also famous for having written the lyrics to the German national anthem, on the other hand, is one example of authors who added new lyrics to well-known melodies.


After 1900, printed collections of folk songs (now including lyrics and music) were spread throughout people because all classes were able to read, and better technical standards made prints of all kinds cheaper. Due to this, however, the typical oral passing on of folk songs got lost. The spread of the radio, the TV, and various types of recording media lead to the fact that, during the 20th century, the tradition of making music oneself disappeared to a great extend, while the passive consumption of music gained ground. This trend is observable first and foremost in the domain of functional music without artistic aspiration. By now, there are almost no national folk songs in the Western world any more. To the contrary, there is rather a kind of world folk music, for which “Yesterday” by the Beatles is a great example. I hope that, in the globalized world, actively making music will not disappear entirely as well.


Western music in Japan

Western clerical music was brought to Japan by missionaries of the Order of Jesuits during the 16th century for the first time. From 1639 onwards, however, Japan had been isolated for more than 200 years, and Christianity as well as Christian music was prohibited. In 1854, Japan and the USA signed a friendship contract. Following this, Japan signed trade contracts with Russia, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain. In 1861, Japan and Prussia signed a friendship, trade, and naval contract. Even before the general opening, the Tokugawa government in Edo (today Tokyo) asked France for assistance at building up the military, while the Han government in Southern Japan (Kyushu and Southern Honshu) consulted Great Britain. Of course, according to European tradition, military musicians joined the military instructors on their journey to Japan. Mr. Guttig (his first name and dates of birth and death are unknown) came as musical director from France and John William Fenton (born 1828, date of death unknown) from Great Britain. Both of them laid the ground for Western music in Japan – independently from each other and without anyone expecting them to do so.

In addition, after the opening, Christianity was allowed again. Protestant as well as Catholic chorales were introduced (during Japan’s isolation, the schism took place in Europe as a consequence of the Reformation) and had great influence on Japanese music.


Less than 10 years after the opening, Shûji Izawa (1851-1917) went to the USA to study music. After his return, he became director of the Teacher Training College in Tokyo. In 1879, he founded the Department of Music Research within the Ministry of Education. This department developed into the Music School Tokyo (the director of which Izawa became), which again developed into the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (today called Tokyo University of the Arts).


In 1880, the Japanese government invited Luther Whiting Mason (1818-1896), one of Shûji Izawa’s former teachers in the USA, to work in Japan for two and a half years (together with Izawa, he also worked in the Department of Music Research in the Ministry of Education). Mason’s motto as a music teacher was: Music starts with singing. Therefore, he and Izawa published the music schoolbook that was referred to at the beginning. This schoolbook encompassed 3 parts and included not only the songs’ melodies and lyrics, but even music theory. This was the starting point of Japanese music pedagogy at schools. Following this book, numerous music and song books for schools of every type and even kindergartens were published – also by other authors. All of these books included many European and American songs with new Japanese lyrics, new Japanese songs that were written following the style of Western music, but also new Japanese songs using traditional Japanese scales. Thus, Izawa succeeded at realizing his dream of combining orient and occident. 


L. W. Mason himself oftentimes went to Europe, and especially to Germany, to pursue his own studies and was a friend of the German music teacher Christian Heinrich Hohmann (1811-1861). In addition, many German immigrants were living at the US east coast where Mason was working most of the time. Due to this, he knew numerous German songs, and thus many of them were included in the schoolbook he published with Izawa.


Franz Eckert (1852-1916) from Prussia, who was already heading the Japanese navy music corps, succeeded Mason at the department of music research. Consequently, German music dominated Japanese music even more. In contrast to his predecessor Mason, Eckert had already been an active musician in Germany (conductor and composer). He, for instance, harmonized traditional Japanese melodies in the European style, and the Japanese national anthem is still played according to a setting of his! Apart from Mason and Eckert, a great number of other foreign musicians (mostly Germans, however) were working in Japan as guest instructors. At the same time, many Japanese youths went to Europe to study music, again mostly to Germany which was the center of the musical late Romanticism. Once they returned back to Japan, they brought with them the German understanding of music, which lead to a huge spread of German music culture in Japan.

Despite dufficulties (censure and indoctrination during times of war, for instance), Mason and Izawa’s heritage was always somehow passed on. In 1947, finally, rules for schoolbooks were enacted by the Ministry of Education ruling out direct interventions by the ministry. Since 1949, private and commercial publishers have been allowed to publish schoolbooks again.


German folk songs in Japan

The repertoire of German folk songs, which was brought to Japan by the above mentioned persons and via the above mentioned routes, indeed put down roots during those 130 years. We, the Japanese, sing these songs as if they were Japanese ones without knowing that they are in fact German. During those years, these songs found their own path and developed differently than in the country of their origin, Germany.

Current European music has undergone a development which was uninterrupted for several thousand years. However, after the opening, the Japanese society sought to close the gap to the Western world as soon as possible, developed an extraordinary pace at this, and was incredibly successful at achieving this goal. This success is probably also based on the fact that Fenton and Eckert used the piano as a central element for their communicating activity in order to differentiate the character of European music from the Japanese one as fast and effectively as possible. This distinct European character is the multi-part harmony which can be both played and even “seen” on the piano keyboard. As a consequence, the piano is still the most important instrument at school which is also used most frequently for accompanying songs. So of course, at school, we also always sang German folk songs alongside the piano. In contrast, in Germany, the piano is the one instrument used to accompany art songs. For folk songs, the guitar or the accordeon are more likely to be used as accompanying instruments. Moreover, in Japan, German folk songs are not only played on the piano, but also with complicated harmonies, while, in Germany, rather simple harmonies are used. This is the distinct route German folk songs took in Japan.


Only 150 years have passed since the contract between Japan and Prussia mentioned above. I hope that the German folk songs, which have become a part of Japanese music tradition during these years, will also be part of Japanese life in the future.


What to understand as a “German” folk song

The political history of central Europe is very complicated. Frequent changes of national borders and, consequently, of political authority always impacted people’s culture and language. The majority of the folk songs to be heard on this CD developed while the Austrian Empire (later the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy) and the Prussian kingdom were the leading political actors in central Europe. Thus, songs that originated outside the current German borders are also known as “German” folk songs. Aside from Austria, these areas include the German-speaking part of Switzerland, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), Silesia (now Poland), and Alsace (now France), to name a few.


Rhyme and yodeling

Rhyme is one of the key characteristics of German poetry and lyrics. In “Little Hans”, for instance, the third and fourth line (gut / wohlgemut) as well as the fifth and sixth line (sehr / mehr) rhyme, etc.

Yodeling is a typical characteristic of a number of German folk songs. It originated from “yelling” which was used to communicate in mountainous regions (by using the echo, too). In the musical genre, this is reflected by the use of funny, highly agile melodies. These melodies are sung with content-free text syllables and exhibit a constant change between chest and head voice. At around 1800, Tyrolean choirs travelled around Europe performing yodeling chants. They experienced great success from Vienna up to Northern Germany, and even in London. It is accounted for that the choirs performed even in front of Brentano and Goethe. Moreover, Beethoven was also familiar with this genre and wrote “Tyrolean songs” himself. In the alp regions in Austria and Switzerland, yodeling is still maintained today.


Titles, strophes, translations

Sometimes, folk songs had titles; however, they have often changed over time. Therefore, we use the first line as the song’s title which is common practice today – except for songs using lyrics by Goethe and Heine since there are also art songs written on these lyrics.

If the Japanese version of the lyrics is only a translation of the German one, I only included one strophe of the Japanese lyrics.

While translating the German lyrics into Japanese, I used the masculine form of speech if the German lyrics are unambiguously sung by a man. If the German lyrics are neutral, however, I – as a female singer – used the female form of speech. Concerning the plural, I also only used the female form if the German lyrics are neutral.


Shihomi Inoue-Heller