The Kolbergs of Eastern Europe

by Bożena Muszkalska (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 234 Pages


This book draws attention to the reception of Oskar Kolberg’s folklorist’s work outside of Poland. It also presents the work of other scholars active in Eastern Europe from the nineteenth century to the present day, many of them poorly known, despite their lofty achievements. The contributions by authors from Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Slovakia and Poland reflect on how Kolberg’s work is being continued by scholars today and how the musical repertoire that he recorded is functioning. This book unites the results of the international conference «The Kolbergs of Eastern Europe», organised by the College of Eastern Europe and the Institute of Musicology of the University of Wrocław.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the editor
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • The importance of Oskar Kolberg’s legacy for the development of ethnomusicology and ethnography of spiritual culture in Eastern Europe (Ihor Macijewski)
  • Kolberg’s Research
  • Oskar Kolberg and his significance for the emergence of Lithuanian folkloristics (Rimantas Sliužinskas)
  • Oskar Kolberg’s contribution to the instrumental music of the Hutsuls (Victoria Macijewska-Schmidt)
  • Collections of Other Researchers
  • Lithuanian collections of traditional music in the nineteenth century (Rimantas Astrauskas)
  • Andrej Kmeť (1841–1908) and his collection of Slovak Christmas songs (Hana Urbancová)
  • In the shadow of a myth: A history of the documentation of folklore in Kashubia (Witosława Frankowska)
  • Scholars researching the musical traditions of Polish-speaking Lutherans in the nineteenth and early twentieth century (Arleta Nawrocka-Wysocka)
  • Bronisława Wójcik-Keuprulian and her research into the musical culture of Polish Armenians (Bożena Muszkalska)
  • The musicological and functional-material specificity of the folk song repertoire of the Silesian Beskids: The case of Trójwieś (Magdalena Szyndler)
  • Oskar Kolberg’s music transcriptions as a unique source for modern melogeography (based on the example of a wedding song type with 5+5+7 syllabic structure) (Iryna Klymenko)
  • The Musical Ethnographic Archive at the Scientific Laboratory of Music Ethnology at Mykola Lysenko Lviv National Music Academy: The founders and their followers (Olha Kolomyyets)
  • The digitisation of Polish folk instrument museum collections: www.folk.instruments.edu.pl (Agata Mierzejewska, Joanna Gul)
  • Reminiscences
  • The documentation of Polish folklore during the second half of the twentieth century and at the beginning of the twenty-first century (Zbigniew Jerzy Przerembski)
  • Kolberg’s description of the “goat feast” of Baltic Prussians and Lithuanians and its reminiscences in Belarusian folk-song culture (based on data from an expedition undertaken in August 2014) (Galina Tavlai)
  • Reviving tradition from Oskar Kolberg’s musical materials (Łukasz Smoluch)
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index


This volume has been inspired by the events related to Kolberg Year, in particular by the international conference entitled “The Kolbergs of Eastern Europe” that was organised by the College of Eastern Europe and the Institute of Musicology of Wrocław University and held in Wrocław on 14–15 November 2014. The book contains extended versions of some of the papers delivered by the participants of that conference as well as papers by other authors on similar topics.

The aim of both the conference and this publication has been not so much to present the rich legacy of Oskar Kolberg, to which many scholarly events and publications were devoted in the jubilee year, as to draw attention to the reception of this great folklorist’s works outside Poland, to present the achievements of other researchers working in Eastern Europe from the nineteenth century up to the present day, who, despite their accomplishments, are often little known, and to share reflection on how Kolberg’s work is being continued by contemporary scholars and how the musical repertoire recorded by him functions today.

The issues addressed in this book are introduced in the article by Ihor Macijewski, who also delivered the opening paper at the conference. The author points to the vastness of the material collected by Kolberg and the inventiveness of his works. According to Macijewski, Poland owes Kolberg its “national revival and development […] in the twentieth century and today”. His article contains condensed information on folklore collectors contemporary to Kolberg and his continuators in Poland and neighbouring countries up to the present time.

The subsequent texts have been divided into three groups, in line with the above-mentioned aims of the publication. The first section, entitled “Kolberg’s Research”, contains two articles: a paper by Rimantas Sliužinskas on the significance of Kolberg’s collection for the development of folklore studies in Lithuania and a text by Viktoria Macijewska-Schmidt on Kolberg’s contribution to initiating research into the instrumental music of the Hutsuls. Sliužinskas analyses the content of Litwa [Lithuania], the fifty-third volume of Dzieła wszystkie Oskara Kolberga [The complete works of Oskar Kolberg], which includes materials collected by Kolberg during his expedition to Lithuania and Belarus in the years 1836–1837. The author considers the broader historical and social context of the folklorist’s explorations. He describes Kolberg’s research approach, which served as a model for other researchers of Lithuanian folklore and – in a global dimension – led to the birth of comparative musicology. Similarly, Kolberg was also one of the first researchers of the musical folklore of the Hutsul region, and ← 7 | 8 his approach inspired the ethnographers and ethnomusicologists that came after him. Macijewska-Schmidt focuses on the methods used by Kolberg in his research into the musical traditions of the Hutsul region.

The next section, entitled “The Collections of Other Researchers”, includes papers devoted to the work of folklorists and ethnomusicologists from Eastern European countries. The study by Rimantas Astrauskas contains information on the most important collections of traditional Lithuanian music from the nineteenth century, namely those of Antanas Juška and Christian Bartsch. Those two scholars were active in different parts of Lithuania and in different political and cultural contexts, but they had direct or indirect relations with Kolberg. Hana Urbancová has traced a profile of Andrej Kmeť, a Slovak polyhistor who was active as a folklore collector during the second half of the nineteenth century. That outstanding scholar contributed to the birth of many scientific disciplines, including ethnography and folklore studies. He devised the concept of collecting material as a basis for research, as well as a source for regional, ethnic and national identity. His collection Prostonárodné vianočné piesne [Popular Christmas songs] (1863–1868) is a unique anthology of Christmas music in Central Europe. Witosława Frankowska has reconstructed the history of research into the musical folklore of Kashubia. For a long time, this kind of research was not undertaken, due to a widespread belief that Pomerania non cantat, and Kolberg, among others, was (unfairly) blamed for establishing that “myth”. Only in the 1930s was systematic research into this area initiated, giving rise to numerous publications. Arleta Nawrocka-Wysocka, in turn, has presented the history of research conducted among Polish-speaking Evangelicals. In her article, she considers works related to folk and religious repertoire performed in various regions of Poland and indicates the origins of the researchers behind them. The little-known works of Bronisława Wójcik-Keuprulian, who can be considered “the Kolberg of the Polish Armenians”, are the subject of Bożena Muszkalska’s study. Wójcik-Keuprulian, who belonged to the Lviv school of musicology established by Adolf Chybiński and was renowned mainly as a Chopin scholar, published a number of works on Armenian liturgical and folk music and on the folk songs of the group of Armenians who lived in Polish lands and from the seventeenth century were under the Pope’s jurisdiction. The article by Magdalena Szyndler is a report on the author’s own research conducted among the autochthons inhabiting the southern part of Cieszyn Silesia, including the area of the so called “Tripoint”. Similarly, the paper by Iryna Klymenko concerns the author’s study of the most archaic vocal traditions of three ethnic groups: Ukrainian, Belarusian and Polish. She demonstrates the application of the concept of “melogeography”, which refers to the ← 8 | 9 → geographical projection of analytical procedures, using, among others, the material collected by Kolberg. Presented in the article by Olha Kolomyyets, meanwhile, are important figures associated with the Musical Ethnographic Archive at the Scientific Laboratory of Music Ethnology at Mykola Lysenko Lviv National Music Academy and the directions in which this archive is being developed today. This section closes with an article by Joanna Gul and Agata Mierzejewska, in which the authors give an account of the work undertaken during Kolberg Year on the digital portal www.folk.instruments.edu.pl – the largest digital collection of folk musical instruments in Poland.

The third group of texts, entitled “Reminiscences”, opens with an article by Zbigniew Przerembski on the collections of Polish folk music published from the second half of the twentieth century. The series that stands out among those collections is the one entitled Polska pieśń i muzyka ludowa: źródła i materiały [Polish song and folk music: sources and materials], which is the result of a long-term undertaking by the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Folklorists call this series the “New Kolberg”, as it is intended as a continuation of Kolberg’s work. The next article, by Galina Tavlai, outlines the genre and stylistic background of a Belarusian song recorded by the author in the present day, with its characteristic guttural hoarseness in the vocal refrains. Kolberg’s descriptions provide a significant context for Tavlai’s analysis. In the last of the texts included in the book, Łukasz Smoluch presents possible ways in which Kolberg’s collections could be used today, focusing on how Polish performers include music notated by Kolberg in their repertoire.

Whilst largely a fruit of the events connected with Kolberg Year, this publication also represents a contribution to the issues raised by the Study Group on Music of the Slavic World, newly established within the International Council for Traditional Music. Many of the authors whose texts are included in this volume are members of the Group or cooperate with it. The Group’s First Business Meeting was held at the ICTM’s 43rd World Conference in Astana on 19 July 2015. The main aim of the Group is “to serve the study, practice, documentation, preservation and dissemination of traditional music (songs, instrumental music and dance) of all Slavic countries and peoples”.

Bożena Muszkalska

← 9 | 10 ← 10 | 11

Ihor Macijewski

Russian Institute of Art History, St Petersburg, Russia

The importance of Oskar Kolberg’s legacy for the development of ethnomusicology and ethnography of spiritual culture in Eastern Europe

Abstract: Only now, in the early twenty-first century, is the importance of Oskar Kolberg’s research activities beginning to be appreciated. Kolberg’s approach to studying traditional life and creative works in different fields of art (literature, dance, theatre, vocal and instrumental music) has been adopted by researchers of traditional culture in the lands of the former Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania (Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, etc.) and also among other peoples of Eastern Europe. Many of those researchers (including Adolf Chybiński, Anna Czekanowska, Filaret Kolessa, Klyment Kvitka, Ludvík Kuba, Béla Bartók, Henrik Tampere, Jadvyga Čiurlionytė, Evgeny Hippius and Prometey Chistalev) have become classics of European ethnography, folkloristics and ethnomusicology.

Keywords: Oskar Kolberg, Eastern European folkloristics, ethnomusicology

In many respects, the importance of the research work carried out by the greatest Polish scholar-scientist, ethnographer, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and composer Oskar Henryk Kolberg is only now – on the bicentenary of his birth – being appreciated. His legacy, covering almost the whole of the nineteenth century, is being realised in the bicentenary edition of his works, comprising eighty-seven volumes, unprecedented in world cultural history (some volumes still await publication). His works include the fundamental documentation of traditional life, literature, dance, theatre, vocal and instrumental music, and other fields of folk art. Now we should pay attention, in many new ways, to the importance of his legacy for the development of ethnography, cultural anthropology and ethnic art history in the scientific world in general and in Eastern Europe in particular.

Oskar Kolberg lived and worked in a country deprived of its statehood and with no prospects for independent political development. In his ethnographic documentation, he describes the nature of his work and the character of the bearers of traditional culture, together with their customs, rituals, musical instruments, household objects, legends, stories, myths, fairy tales, sayings, songs, dances and instrumental works. He also shows the great strength and wealth of their creators’ ← 11 | 12 inventiveness, as well as its implementation in a variety of regional expression, and he shows his contemporaries and posterity not only the rich cultural history of the people, but also the broad prospects for its development and prosperity. Today we can safely say that his work is of considerable importance for the national revival and development of Poland in the twentieth century and today.

Yet Oskar Kolberg’s research was not limited to Polish ethnographic regions. He explored written sources and archive materials of a number of Ukrainian (Transcarpathia, Pokuttya, Hutsulshchyna, Volhynia, Polesia and other regions of the historical area of Red Ruthenia), Belarusian and Lithuanian ethnic territories, as well as conducting field research into the diverse manifestations of the traditional culture and ethnic art of those lands. He captured the creativity of Ashkenazi Jews and drew attention to the folklore of the Slovaks, Czechs and Southern Slavs. In this respect, Wacław Zaleski’s Pieśni polskie i ruskie ludu galicyjskiego (with musical transcriptions by Karol Lipiński) could be termed a forerunner of Kolberg’s work (though in a more modest, one-volume, edition).1

Truly amazing are Oskar Kolberg’s close attention to the authentic texts of traditional ethnic culture, his “hearing” and rendering of the finest details of the phonetic pronunciation of words and singing intonation, his attention to the subtleties of articulation, and his presentation of instrumental works and choreographic compositions. He could only describe this in words within the Polish literary tradition. He interpreted the rhythmic and harmonic-modal aspects of traditional music using the current terms of academic musicology, and in the music he recorded only one stanza (the music of other stanzas can now be reconstructed on the basis of those records). It is incredible how Kolberg could have achieved all this without sound and video recording equipment, relying on his hearing and sight alone.

Many more aspects remain to be learned and understood by future scholars. So what was Kolberg’s motivation, forgoing a private life and devoid of any funding for his ethno-culturological activities, including his numerous expeditions? His sole income was from his work as an economist and an accountant. He mastered the subtleties of the musical notation of folk styles through continuous dialogue with the traditional bearers of ethnic culture: storytellers, dancers, musicians and the staff of wedding chapels in the Carpathian region of Ukraine. Kolberg constantly refers to their help and advice in his studies of traditional choreography and instrumental music. So how could he, as an ethnic German Lutheran ← 12 | 13 and a true Polish patriot, establish a close contact, understanding and empathy (without which it would have been impossible to achieve what he did) with the culture bearers of other ethnic, social and religious groups, and also sometimes with their intellectual elite, traditional professional musicians and leading figures in regional traditions? Hopefully, the answers will be found by future research.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (September)
Oskar Kolberg Collections Eastern Europe Ethnomusicology Archives Documentation
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 234 pp., 25 b/w ill., 3 b/w tables.

Biographical notes

Bożena Muszkalska (Volume editor)

Bożena Muszkalska works as a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Wroclaw and at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. She is the author of many publications concerning the musical cultures of Polish diasporas, polyphonic singing in the Mediterranean Basin, Jewish music and methodological issues.


Title: The Kolbergs of Eastern Europe
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236 pages