This ballad has served as the inspiration for one of Ingmar Bergman's famous films, The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan). The storyline of the film follows that of the ballad quite closely, although there are some differences.
Vänge was the name of a place near to Malmskogen, near Linköping in Östergötland, and the ballad is associated with a number of local legends in that area. The song explains how the church at Kärna came to be built (sometimes the church at Kaga also claims this legend; both Kärna and Kaga lie close to Linköping), and it also tells of the origin of a spring at Vänge. There is, or was, also a legend that tells of how the ghosts of the three girls would appear around midnight at a local smithy.
|Woodpecker, by Th. Kittelsen|
The ballad begins with the three girls, Per Tyrsson's daughters, asleep in bed ... they oversleep, and are late for church. The first of them to wake then wakens the other two. They get dressed in their fine clothes and hurry out of the house. An ill-fated journey.
It happens that they meet a group of three vagabonds out on the hill above Vänge. These men give the girls a choice: either they may marry them and become vagabonds' wives, or they may lose their lives. The girls choose death.
The men strip the girls, and then behead the three of them in a birch grove. A stream springs up from the ground at the place where the girls were struck down.
The men wander off, taking the girls' clothes with them, and soon they arrive at Vänge. They approach Per Tyrsson's house, and speak to his wife, Karin, who is standing outside. They try to sell her the elaborately decorated clothes, but when Karin sees them, she easily recognises them as belonging to her daughters, and rushes off to find her husband.
When Per Tyrsson hears from his wife what has happened, he emerges with his sword. He strikes two of the vagabond men dead, but he pauses before killing the third, and asks him where the three of them have come from, and who their parents are. The man replies that they were sent out to wander as children, and that they have been away from home so long. He says that their father is called Per Tyrsson of Vänge.
Per Tyrsson realises that he has killed his own sons, and vows to atone for this sin by building a church.
A full Swedish ballad text from Geijer & Afzelius is here.
The Danish ballad Herr Thors Børn (Sir Thor's Children) tells basically the same story. Child ballad fans may notice a great similarity between the first episode of this ballad (up to and including the fatal meeting between the girls and the vagabond men, which is to say, their brothers) and Child #14, Babylon, or The Bonnie Banks of Fordie. But all of the Child ballad variants are shorter: the moment of recognition happens between the brothers and sisters (after a couple of murders), without the involvement of the parents.
I know of two Swedish melodies for this ballad. Both use the same omkväde lines: Kaller var deras skog / Men skogen han lövas, or Cold was their forest / While the forest grows leaf-green.
(1) Pehr Tyrssons Döttrar i Vänge (Ahlström No. 127 / Berggreen No. 37), melody from Östergötland. (Demo video here, but also see below ...)
(2) Pehr Tyrsons Döttrar i Wänge (Ahlström No. 220).
These two recordings are rather different in character, with different interpretations of the same tune. The melody is either the same as (1) above (for Slaka), or very similar (for Falconer) ...
Falconer are a Swedish power metal band. They are influenced by folk music, as can be seen especially from their 2011 album, Armod. Per Tyrssons Döttrar i Vänge was included on their first album, Falconer (2001), as the only Swedish-language track.
The second recording, is, I think, from the Slaka ballad workshop. Slaka is also close to Linköping in Östergötland, and the ballad forum there have various activities to sing and raise awareness of the traditional ballads.
Slaka Ballad Forum:
J. N. Ahlström, 300 Nordiska Folkvisor, Stockholm, 1878
A. P. Berggreen, Svenske Folke-Sange og Melodier, Copenhagen, 1861
E. G. Geijer and A. A. Afzelius, Svenska Folkvisor Från Forntiden, Stockholm, 1814--1816