Document Type

Honors Project

Publication Date



Estonian identity, history, and music are deeply intertwined. In the late 20th century, when faced with Soviet domination, Estonians relied on music to carry their message as part of their independence movement, which was eventually referred to as the Singing Revolution. Composer Alo Mattiisen emerged as one of the most influential members of the Estonian music scene in the 1980s, not only by defining Estonian popular music as political and activist, but also by developing experimental reinterpretations of larger Western popular music traditions. We can view Alo Mattiisen’s contributions to the Estonian music scene of the 1980s as a lens through which to interpret the various musical influences shaping Estonian music during that period, which ultimately played a vital role in the country’s struggle for independence at the end of the decade.

In demonstrating Mattiisen’s role in the Estonian independence movement, I analyze a collection of songs he wrote and premiered in 1988, called the Five Fatherland Songs. Scholars often mention what an important role this collection of songs played in the Singing Revolution. However, there is no existing, published scholarship that describes the actual sounds of the music or the meaning this music would have held for the audience. Since both of these contexts are necessary in order to fully understand how these songs might have impelled the revolution, as well as their place in broader popular music trends from the late 1980s, I provide such an analysis in this paper. I place the songs in context by discussing the 1980s Estonian popular music scene, music production and distribution in the Soviet Union, prog rock, and other early attempts at musical activism. I provide a musical analysis of the songs coupled with a discussion of how they functioned in live performance and as a commercially released concept album.

Level of Honors

magna cum laude


Conservatory of Music


Erica Scheinberg

Included in

Musicology Commons