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8.223332 - IVANOVS: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 12
Janis lvanovs (1906–1983)
Janis Ivanovs is considered Latvia’s preeminent symphonist. His grasp of orchestral colour and musical texture was so extraordinary that his colleagues often praised him for his “precise, expressive, and nationalistic musical idiom.” Had he only written his Fourth (“Atlantida”), Fifth or Sixth (“Latgales”) Symphonies, he would have left an indelible mark on music history. However, he composed 21 symphonies, three concertos for various instruments (cello, violin, and piano), five symphonic poems, three string quartets, and numerous vocal, piano and chamber works.
Janis lvanovs was born on 9th October, 1906, in a small Latvian town called Preili. He graduated in 1931 from the Latvian State Conservatory in Riga, where his teachers were Jazeps Vitols (composition) and Georg Schneevoigt (conducting). He continued post-graduate studies with Vitols until 1933. In 1931 he began a long association with Latvian Radio eventually becoming the artistic director of the Latvian Radio Committee. In 1944 he joined the faculty of the Latvian State Conservatory, becoming full professor in 1955. He was president of the Latvian Composers Union and was awarded the titles People’s Artist of the Latvian SSR (1956) and People’s Artist of the USSR (1965). Janis Ivanovs died in 1983, after completing three movements of his 21st Symphony.
The bulk of lvanovs’ compositions are orchestral, the core of which are his 21 symphonies. Stylistically his early works show influences of Scriabin and his later works that of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. However, these are just passing influences. The hand of the mature master is evident in all his works, early or late. The language is distinctly Ivanovs’—nationalistic, dynamic, powerful, dramatic. “Janis lvanovs is like thunder and lightning cleansing the air with his Luciferic sounds. His symphonies are like ancient Greek tragedies, filled with ecstasy and purification.” So wrote another Latvian composer and music critic, Margers Zarins. Although every composition of Ivanovs delivers something fresh and unusual, we also hear the familiar. His music provides us with an unusual sense of intimacy—a composer who is speaking to us, perhaps battling something, defending us from obstacles and taking us on a safe and welcome path. His love of melody is evident in all his works. In fact, the melodic content is the essence of each of his compositions. Ivanovs drew upon the native songs of the Latgale district (eastern Latvia) for his inspiration. Latgale’s folk-music combines both Slavic sadness and restrained beauty. This is definitely a trademark of Ivanovs’ music. Pathos, colour, intensity, tightness of structure and expansiveness of musical ideas are also corner-stones of his style.
As with most creative artists who lived through the horrors of World War II, Ivanovs was deeply touched by the harshness and human tragedy that was bestowed upon the world. Written in 1945 as the Nuremberg trials were occurring, Ivanovs’ Symphony No. 5 in C major is a work full of darkness, yet hope, harshness, yet longings for justice, and, indicative of his optimism, a work that provides a brightness for the future.
The opening statement acts as an epigraph for the symphony, ringing out as a dynamic order—tutti fortissimo. The first movement is full of painful emotional reflections- the Second World War is over. An end has been put to the ugly dissonance brought about by the war…now the fingers of the musicians who held a gun can once more inspire the obedient, melodious strings of a violin, and the serene melody of peace and creative work will ring out. A contemplative mood prevails in the second movement. A striking contrast to the peaceful nature of this movement is an episode portraying the enemy. A rough, even primitive melody is rhythmically supported by a monotonous harmonic ostinato. The third movement is lyrical. Playful Latvian folk-tunes and dances eventually lead to an elegiac waltz. The finale is dramatic and powerful, concluding with a dynamic coda of powerful affirmation.
Energy, determination and joy of life—these are the words that come to mind when hearing Ivanovs’ Symphony No.12 in C major (Sinfonia Energica). The work consists of a prologue and four movements. If we were to examine all of the previous symphonies of Ivanovs, we would encounter fast movements which act as a relief from the drama of what surrounds them. The Twelfth Symphony uses a different approach. It does not actually have a fast movement. Instead, fast sections are incorporated throughout the symphony, dispersing the relief according to a new musical concept.
Majestic chords open the symphony, creating an epic atmosphere. The movement maintains almost a perpetual pulse, building, as if up a ladder to a powerful climax. The second movement is only nine pages long, but manages to leave a powerful musical image as a result of its fugato structure. The third movement is a psychologically lyrical meditation. A brusque-like, affirmative finale (almost like a symphonic anthem) concludes the composition.
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