Karl August Hermann

September 23, 1851, Võhma village, Uue-Põltsamaa parish – January 11, 1909, Tartu
Buried at Tartu Raadi cemetery

Active musician, composer, journalist and linguist Karl August Hermann was one of the most colourful and multifaceted figures in Estonian National Awakening. Dr. Phil. Hermann, graduate of the Languages Department of the Leipzig University, worked as an Estonian language lecturer at the University of Tartu and an editor at the largest daily at that time, the Eesti Postimees (Estonian Postman). Beside that, he managed to be active as an amateur composer, conductor, publisher, writer and poet, collector of folk tunes and many more.

Karl August Hermann studied and later also worked as a tutor at a parish school in Põltsamaa. Several years he taught also in St. Petersburg, being at the same time one of the initiator of the theatre-movement of Estonians in St. Petersburg: A. Iffland's play Das Hagestolzen (translated and adjusted by Hermann), entitled City and Village Life, was premiered in 1873, with Hermann as the director and in leading role.

In 1875, he entered the University of Tartu majoring in theology yet quit the studies and started to learn in Languages Department of University of Leipzig which he graduated in 1880 as a Doctor in philosophy in comparative linguistics. He was an editor at the Eesti Postimees (1882–1885) and worked as a Professor of the Estonian Language at the University of Tartu (1889–1908). In 1886 he obtained the newspaper Perno Postimees, renamed it Postimees and published it in Tartu up to 1896.

Up to the end of the 19th century, Hermann was one of the most influential figures in Estonian music life – an improver and advocator of Estonian music, folk-song collector and one of the song festival organisers (general leader of the II, IV, V and VI song celebration). Hermann also founded the first Estonian musical periodical The Song and Play Paper (Laulu ja mängu leht, published in 1885–1897), where he developed the Estonian musical terminology and gave musical education to people in general. He published choral song collections Eesti Kannel (I 1875, II 1883, III 1884), Laulu-kaja, Koori ja Kooli Kannel, Homeland’s Singer (Kodumaa Laulja) and Estonian Folk Songs. For Mixed Choir (I 1890, II 1905, III 1908). In these compilations there were plenitude of his own songs and other erstwhile original songs.

Hermann’s compositions include nearly a thousand choral songs and instrumental pieces to a small extent. Most popular of them – „Kungla people“ („Kungla rahvas“), „Let's go up to the mountains” („Minge üles mägedele”), „Reminiscence of fatherland” („Isamaa mälestus”) – are in the repertoire of choirs and song celebrations till now. Hermann’s choral music that is based on the example of German liedertafel is characterised by simple and vivid melody, carefree optimism, light jollity but also a naive rejoicing. In the end of his life he made an attempt to write an opera – Singspiel Uku and Vanemuine or Estonian Gods and People (Uku ja Vanemuine ehk Eesti jumalad ja rahvad) premiered in 1908.

The memorial column of Karl August Hermann is situated in Põltsamaa Castle Park (Alfred Zolk-Leius, 1934).

© EMIC 2011

The texts on the EMIC's homepage are protected by the copyright law. They can be used for non-commercial purposes referring to the author (when specified) and source (Estonian Music Information Centre).