12 songs from the Folk High School Songbook

1826-1980 Se tidslinje

By Finn Gravesen, writer and editor, 2006

Danish folk high school songs are community singing 

Community singing cannot be taken for granted. It doesn’t exist in many places in the world. But the Christian revival and folk high school movements of the 19th and 20th centuries made Denmark into a community singing nation and during the German occupation of the country from 1940-45, community singing played a major role in maintaining a strong national feeling of solidarity. Not to forget those homemade party songs which - in their own way - also are a community singing speciality. 

Not just a number in the Folk High School Songbook (Højskolesangbogen) 

The songs in the Folk High School Songbook are indeed “folk high school songs” - well, no, not all of them. If only things were that simple. Let’s face it, Clausen and Petersen’s “Granny’s Allotment Garden House” (“Mormors kolonihavehus”) probably never will be a folk high school song, nor will the Dutch-Swede Cornelis Vreeswijk’s “Veronica” (“Veronica”). But there must be some explanation for the fact that one can select 12 songs and declare them to be “folk high school songs”. It’s not easy though because folk high school songs are very different.

Just look here: “Lovely, Joyful Summertime” (“En yndig og frydefuld sommertid”) is an anonymous folksy song from the Mariager district in North Jutland, a direct, lyrical love song with a lovely ending. In “... And when I sleep sweetly, I dream happily of you, just as if you were lying beside me” (“... Og når jeg sover sødelig, om dig jeg drømmer lykkelig, ret som du hos mig lå”) nearly every verse almost sings itself. “Denmark, now the light night slumbers” (“Danmark, nu blunder den lyse nat”) with text by nature lyricist Thoeger Larsen and tune by Oluf Ring, is a different type of folk high school song: the straightforward, specially composed strophic song with four rhyming lines about the Denmark we love, the Danish countryside and the Danish people. And then by way of a change there’s for example “We, sons of the plains, have dreams in our souls” (“Vi sletternes sønner har drømme i sind”) with text by Ludvig Holstein and music by Carl Nielsen. This is a completely third type of song: a refined, carefully composed song, which can be difficult to sing for the uninitiated - but it is a folk high school song - no doubt about that! 

Romance versus pop 

Folk high school song texts to new melodies play a significant role - typical of this is the Midsummer Eve song “We love our country” (“Vi elsker vort land”), which in Lange-Mueller’s version - a romantic melody - has broken the necks of generation upon generation of Danes assembled round the Midsummer Eve bonfire in mid-June. In this context, pop group Shu-bi-dua’s new version of this number creates problems for the rest of us, because of the fact that we all insist on singing this pronounced solo number - together - in chorus. Now that it actually is a folk high school song we are singing!

Skt. Hansblus på Skagen Strand, 1906. Painted by P.S. Krøyer. Oil on canvas, 149,5 x 257 cm. Photo: Skagen Museum.
Marathon Song at Vartov, where songs from the Folk High School Songbook are sung from seven in the morning until the sun goes down. Photo: Søren Kjeldgaard.
Maratonsang 2017 i Vartov
Score Music

The 12 Folk High School Songbook songs

1. Den signede dag med fryd vi ser 

C.E.F. Weyse (1826). Tekst: N.F.S. Grundtvig (1826).

2. Det var en lørdag aften

Folkemelodi. Tekst: Folkevise, gendigtet af Svend Grundtvig 1849.

3. En yndig og frydefuld sommertid

Folkemelodi og tekst fra Mariageregnen. Trykt i A.P. Berggreens Danske folkesange (1869).

4. Vi sletternes sønner

Carl Nielsen (1906). Tekst: Ludvig Holstein (1903).

5. Jens Vejmand

Carl Nielsen (1907). Tekst: Jeppe Aakjær (1905).

6. Det er hvidt herude

Thomas Laub (1914). Tekst: St. St. Blicher (1838).

7. Danmark, nu blunder den lyse nat

Oluf Ring (1922). Tekst: Thøger Larsen (1914).

8. I Danmark er jeg født

Poul Schierbeck (1926). Tekst: H.C. Andersen (1850).

9. Jeg ser de bøgelyse øer

Thorvald Aagaard (1931). Tekst: L.C. Nielsen (1901).

10. Du gav os de blomster, som lyste imod os

Otto Mortensen (1939). Tekst: Helge Rode (1921).   

11. Septembers himmel er så blå

Otto Mortensen: (1949). Tekst Alex Garff (1949). 

12. Vi elsker vort land

P.E. Lange-Müller (1887)/Shu-bi-dua (1980). Tekst: Holger Drachmann (1885).

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Music, 2006

The Danish folk song has become a broad concept that stretches from modern evergreens to the thousands of choirs from all over the country who can sing the most complex polyphonic pieces. The beginning of all this, however, was the Højskolesangbogen (Songbook for Schools), which remains the source of Danish song. It began in the 19th century with romance melodies and a great interest in old Danish folk songs. Both of these subsequently were used in common songs – the tradition began when Gruntvig held his “Mands Minde” lecture in 1838. The audience began to spontaneously sing “Kommer hid, I piger små” when Gruntvig spoke of Peter Willemoes.

Later, after the Højskolesangbogens collection was published as a text in 1894, the second major wave of folk songs began: those of Carl Nielsen, Thomas Laub, Thorvald Aagaard and Oluf Ring, which culminated in the Højskolesangbogens melodibog (melody book) in 1922. Here, you get to know the characteristic simple melodic ideal that has played such a decisive role ever since: the clear, flexible melody without sentimental harmonisation – a melody that is in itself so well-formed and robust that it is enough for almost any performance. In reality, the original authors of the melody book created a completely new style – even though they did not term it as such themselves. This was continued by the inclusion of Poul Schierbeck and Povl Hamburger and not least in a wonderful range of melodies from Otto Mortensen’s hand.

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