Wedding songs

Wedding songs. Ritual songs that accompany the different stages of a traditional wedding. They form the largest subgroup of lyrical folk songs on family life. The earliest reference to wedding songs in the written sources dates back to 1096, and the first published samples of wedding songs appeared in 1820. Since then they have been included in virtually every anthology of Ukrainian folk songs . The Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR (now NANU) collection Vesil’ni pisni (Wedding Songs, 1982) contains 2,256 songs, 1,662 of them with the melody. No Slavic nation has a larger repertoire of wedding songs. Although all ritual songs have gradually lost their magical meaning, wedding songs retained such a meaning longer than other songs. They can be divided into four groups according to their role in the wedding: songs that are closely tied to only one event in the wedding, for example, the wedding bread (korovai), branch, or wreath rituals; songs that accompany several stages of the wedding; songs that may be sung during various parts of the wedding; and songs whose relation to the wedding has been forgotten. Songs of the first group are the oldest. Wedding songs can also be divided according to the various stages of the wedding. V. Shubravska divided them into 45 groups and some subgroups. In fact there is no wedding ritual without an accompanying song. The majority of wedding songs deal with family life, and many of them contain traces of the primeval matriarchal order. But there are also reminders of later epochs. The basic themes are the hardships awaiting the young couple, particularly the bride in her new home with the groom's parents; separation from one's beloved; the forced marriage to a repugnant man; the understanding mother; the cruel mother-in-law; and the tender feelings of the young couple. Many of the songs have melancholy melodies similar to those of carols and laments. Today wedding songs have disappeared almost completely from the wedding ceremonies. They are performed only on stage in a stylized and dramatized form by folk ensembles. Attempts to replace the traditional songs with ‘contemporary’ ones have been unsuccessful.

Shubravs’ka, M.; Ivanyts’kyi, A. (comps). Vesil’ni pisni u dvokh knyhakh (Kyiv 1982)

Mykola Mushynka

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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