Source: Žanna Pärtlas

The very old Estonian song tradition – regilaul e. runo song – is mainly monodic, sometimes with the elements of heterophony. Multipart singing can be found only in Southern Estonia, especially in Setumaa (South-East of Estonia). Some examples of two-part drone singing were found in Tartumaa and Võrumaa.

Setu multipart song tradition

Basic facts about the Setus: The Setus (in local dialect – Seto) are a small ethnic group of the Estonians living in South-East Estonia and within the adjoining border territories of Russia (Pskov region). The Setu tongue – a Võru-Setu dialect of Estonian – is now spoken by about 5000 people, and belongs to the Finnic subgroup of the Finno-Ugric languages. Unlike most other Estonians the Setu people are Orthodox. The traditional culture of the Setus differs from the culture of other Estonians also in many other respects.

Functions and Performers: Multipart singing is characteristic to all genres of the Setu traditional songs (work, calendar, wedding, lyrical, lyroepic, game songs) except solo genres (funeral laments, herding songs, lullabies etc.). The song performers are predominantly women. The men songs are mostly of festive character.

Structure: The texture of Setu songs is comprised of two functionally different parts – the lower main part (torrõ in folk terminology) which is sung heterophonically by a chorus, and the upper subsidiary part (killõ) which is sung by a solo voice. The torrõ part repeats, usually with extensions and alternations, the leader’s melody. The killõ’s part functions as an embellishment and moves along the two or three upper degrees of the scale.

There are three principles how the killõ voice can be built: (1) syllabic drone on the upper scale degree with resolutions to the tonic in the ends of the phrases (only in archaic tunes based on one-three-semitone mode[1]); (2) realization of “harmonic rhythm”[2] of the tune on two or three upper scale degrees (in both older and newer tunes); (3) motion in parallel thirds with main melody occurring periodically during the strophe as addition to second principle (mostly in newer diatonic tunes).

Sometimes one of the torrõ singers sings lower tune variations than others. Ethnomusicologists refer to this part as “the lower torrõ”, but there is no special folk term for such a part. In the presence of “the lower torrõ” the texture of Setu songs approaches functional three-part singing with main melody in the middle part.

The contemporary state: Nowadays the multipart singing is one of the most important symbols of ethnic identity of the Setus. Within last decade the growth of ethnic consciousness of the Setus led to revitalization of the old song tradition. There are many singing groups comprised of younger or/and older people who try to keep alive the tradition of multipart singing. Still one should recognize, that the most archaic and original features of Setu song style are disappearing. The essential changes are observed also in performing situations and the ways of transmission of tradition.

Two-part drone singing in Southern Estonia

The origin of examples: The examples of two-part drone singing in Southern Estonia originate from the time period 1877–1912. Among them there are field transcriptions (Aksel August Borenius-Lähteenkorva, August Kiiss) and some phonograph recordings (1912, Väisänen). The transcriptions of all 19 examples are published in Tampere 1938 (1988).

Structure: The main melody locates in the upper part and it is sung by a solo voice (lead singer). Another singers (or one singer) perform syllabic drone on the tonic (mostly the lower scale degree). In the end of the phrases the drone voice may go up or down to the neighbour tone and then back to the tonic.

[1] For more information on the Setu one-three-semitone mode see also Pärtlas 2000, 2006b.
[2] For more information on the “harmonic rhythm” in Setu folk songs see also Pärtlas 2001, 2006a.


Selected bibliography on multipart singing in Setu (Estonia)

Compiled by Žanna Pärtlas: 2005

Audio recordings

Hagu, Paul 2000. Ülgeq ütte! (Let’s sing together!). Seto meestelaul (Setu men’s songs). Võro Instituut’, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum. CD.

Helmine. Mikitamäe leelokoor. Seto rahvalaule (Seto traditional Song) 2005. Setomaa kultuuriprogramm, Mikitamäe Vallavalitsus. Neumann Studio. CD.

Kalkun, Andreas 2004. Leiko. Lauluq. Helisalvestusi Eesti Rahvaluule Arhiivist. Seto Talomuuseum, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum, CD.

Sink, Kuldar 1992. Hallõ Setomaad. FD 0027 Forte. Compact cassette.

Sarv, Vaike 1999. Helmine. Mikitamäe leelokoor. Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum, Eesti Keele Instituut, Tartu. ISBN 9985-9218-7-9. CD.

Sarv, Vaike 2001. Kuldatsäuk. Leelokoor (Leelo Choir). Kuule kulla külänoorik (Hark now, lovely village woman). Helisalvestusi Eesti Rahvaluule Arhiivist 1 (Recordings from the Estonian Folklore Archives 1). Setu Talumuuseum, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum.

Sarv, Vaike 2003. Siidisõsarõ. Leelokoor (Leelo Choir). Setu rahvalaule Tallinnast (Setu Traditional Songs from Tallinn). Helisalvestusi Eesti Rahvaluule Arhiivist 2 (Recordings from the Estonian Folklore Archives 2). Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum. CD.

Tampere, Herbert, Erna Tampere and Ottilie Kõiva 2003. Eesti rahvamuusika antoloogia (Anthology of Estonian Traditional Music). Helisalvestusi Eesti Rahvaluule Arhiivist 3 (Recordings from the Estonian Folklore Archives 3). Project co-ordinator Ergo-Hart Västrik. Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum (Estonian Literary Museum), Tartu. ISSN 1736-0528. EKMCD 005. 3 CD [Estonian and English commentary inside].

Volumes with musical transcriptions

Tampere, Herbert. 1956-1965. Eesti rahvalaule viisidega I-V [Estonian Folk Songs with Melodies I-V]. Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, Eesti Raamat, Valgus, Tallinn.


Gorkovenko, Aleksandr. 1973*. Увеличенная секунда в эстонских народных напевах [Augmented Second in Estonian Folk Tunes]. In Проблемы музыкального фольклора народов СССР: статьи и материалы, ed. Изалий Земцовский, Музыка, 257 - 261, Москва.

Kolk, Udo. 1979*. Проблемы сетуского многоголосия [The Questions of Setu polyphony]. In Ученые записки Тартуского государственного университета, вып. 501, 90 - 98, Тарту.

Pärtlas, Žanna. 1997*. Tähelepanekuid setu laulu laadiehitusest ja mitmehäälsusest [Some Remarks about Modal Structure and Polyphony in the Setu Songs; in Estonian]. In Teater. Muusika. Kino, nr 1, 23 - 28, Tallinn.

Pärtlas, Žanna. 2000*. Helide funktsionaalsuhetest setu pooltoon-poolteisttoon-laadis (mitmekanaliliste salvestuste distributiivanalüüsi põhjal) [The Functional Relationships of Tones in the Setu One-Three-Semitone Mode (on the basis of the distributive analysis of the multi-channel recordings; in Estonian]. In Töid muusikateooria alalt I, ed. Mart Humal, Eesti Muusikaakadeemia, Scripta Musicalia, 115 - 140, Tallinn [Summary in English: 204 - 205].

Pärtlas, Žanna. 2001*. Viisi rütmilisest vormist ja laadirütmist setu mitmehäälses rahvalaulus [The Rhythmic Form of the Tune and Modal Rhythm in the Setu Polyphonic Folk Song; in Estonian]. In Regilaul – keel, muusika, poeetika, eds. Tiiu Jaago, Mari Sarv, Eesti Kirjandusmuusem, 117 - 152, Tartu [Summary in English: 369 - 371].

Pärtlas, Žanna. 2004a*. Muusikalise loomingu võimalikkusest setu mitmehäälses laulutraditsioonis [On the Possibilities of Musical Creation in the Setu Polyphonic Song Tradition; in Estonian]. In Regilaul – loodud või saadud?, ed. Mari Sarv, Eesti Kirjandusmuusem, 73 - 87, Tartu [Summary in English: 264 - 266].

Pärtlas, Žanna. 2004b*. О ладовом “двуязычии” сетуских многоголосных песен [On the Modal “Bilingualism” in the Setu Polyphonic Songs; in Russian]. In Механизм передачи фольклорной традиции, ed. Наиля Абубакирова-Глазунова, Российский институт истории исскуств, 78 - 90, Санкт-Петербург.

Pärtlas, Žanna. 2005*. К вопросу о сходствах в сетуской, мордовской и южнорусской песенных традициях [On the Similarities between Setu, Mordovian and South-Russian Folk Song Traditions; in Russian]. In Setumaa kogumik 3. Uurimusi Setumaa loodusest, ajaloost ja folkloristikast, eds. Mare Aun, Ülle Tamla, Tallinna Ülikooli Ajaloo Instituut, 196 - 237, Tallinn [Summary in English: 236 - 237].

Pärtlas, Žanna. 2006a*. Foundations of the Typology of Setu Folk Tunes [in English]; Setu rahvaviiside tüpoloogia alustest [in Estonian]. In Individual and Collective in Traditional Culture. Individuaalne ja kollektiivne traditsionaalses kultuuris. Töid etnomusikoloogia alalt 4, eds. Triinu Ojamaa, Andreas Kalkun, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum, 19 - 38 (in English), 29 - 46 (in Estonian), Tartu.

Pärtlas, Žanna. 2006b*. "Sümmeetrilised laadid" ja monointervalliline mitmehäälsus vokaalses rahvamuusikas: mõningaid paralleele setu ja Lõuna-Venemaa rahvalaulu vahel [“Symmetrical Modes” and Mono-interval Polyphony in Vocal Folk Music: Some Parallels between the Setu and Southern Russian Folk Song; in Estonian]. In Regilaul – esitus ja tõlgendus, ed. Aado Lintrop, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum, 219 - 248, Tartu [Summary in English: 270 - 272].

Rüütel, Ingrid. 1999. Setu rahvalaulu kihistused ja etnokultuuriline taust [The Strata and Ethno-Cultural Background of Setu Folk Songs]. In Keel ja Kirjandus, No. 1, 33 - 52, Tallinn [Summary in English: 72].

Sarv, Jaan. 1977*. Üheksa setu rahvalaulu [Neun Volkslieder aus Setu]. In Soome-ugri rahvaste muusikapärandist, ed. Ingrid Rüütel, Eesti Raamat, 68–103, Tallinn [Summary in German: 102 - 103].

Sarv, Jaan. 1980*. Расшифровка сетуского многоголосия при помощи многоканальной студийной аппаратуры [About the Notation of Setu Folk Songs by Means of Multi-Track Studio-Apparatus]. In Финно-угорский музыкальный фольклор и взаимосвязи с соседними культурами, ed. Ingrid Rüütel, Eesti Raamat, 103 - 126, Tallinn [Summary in English: 126].

Sarv, Vaike. 1980*. О закономерностях строения звукорядов и ритмики в сетуском музыкальном фольклоре (на материале песен одной запевалы) [About the Structure of the Scales and Rhythm of Setu Folk Songs]. In Финно-угорский музыкальный фольклор и взаимосвязи с соседними культурами, ed.

Ingrid Rüütel, Eesti Raamat, 129 - 145, Tallinn [Summary in English: 145].

Sarv, Vaike. 1995*. Ühe rahvalauliku kolm stiili. In Teater. Muusika. Kino, No. 1, 35 - 42, Tallinn.

Tampere, Herbert. 1938*. Le bourdonisme et ses développements dans le chant populaire de l’Estonie du Sud. In Õpetatud Eesti Seltsi Toimetused XXX (Liber saecularis), 727 - 734, Tartu.

Tampere, Herbert. 1956*. Mõningaid eestlaste etnilise ajaloo küsimusi suulise rahvaloomingu valgusel. In Eesti rahva etnilisest ajaloost, ed. Harri Moora, Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 255 - 277, Tallinn.