THE BEGINNING, 19th CENTURY
1869 – the first Estonian Song Celebration was held in Tartu with 878 male singers and brass players. Publisher Johann Voldemar Jannsen initiated the Song Celebration as part of the Estonian national awakening movement. Simple peasants discovered that their traditions can be part of high culture. His daughter, Lydia Koidula was the author of lyrics for two Estonian songs “Sind surmani” and “Mu isamaa on minu arm” that are still in the Song Celebration repertoire today. She was also involved with the preparations of the scores and fund raising – quite an unusual role for a woman at that time. All songs were in Estonian.
1880– the Song Celebration was held in Tallinn for the first time. A year later Finland arranged the first nation-wide song and music celebration.
1891– in Tartu mixed choirs participated for the first time. In spite of Russian Tsar’s efforts to force the domination of Russian language in public life more than half of the songs were in Estonian, among them songs by Miina Härma, the first female composer. Singers spontaneously tuned into today’s Estonian anthem “Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm” by Fredrik Pacius. In the years to come choir singing remained the only cultural activity in Estonian as the Russian emperor required all official matters and education to be handled in Russian.
1894 – for the first time choirs from Estonian settlements in Russia participated at the celebration in Tartu. Pacius’ anthem was sung again.
1910– the Celebration was held in Tallinn with children’s choirs among the performers for the first time. Mihkel Lüdig, whose “Koit” (Dawn) is the standard opener today, was the artistic director of a celebration with a complicated repertoire.