About this Recording
8.223756 - VITOLS: Dramatic Overture / Fantasie / Spiriditis / 'Autumn Song'

Jāzeps Vītols (1863–1948)
Orchestral Works


Jāzeps Vītols (Joseph Wihtol), distinguished Latvian composer and teacher, was born in Valmiera, Latvia on 26th July, 1863. He died in Lübeck, on 24th April, 1948. His remains were returned to Riga in 1993.

Jāzeps Vītols grew up in a schoolteacher’s family. His parents’ support made it possible for him to study at the famous St Petersburg Conservatory at the age of seventeen. In 1886 he graduated in composition from the St Petersburg Conservatory, where his principal teacher was Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. Immediately thereafter he joined the faculty of the Conservatory, where from 1901–1918 he was full professor. Among his students were Sergey Prokofiev, Nikolai Miaskovsky, and Vladimir Shcherbachov. During his 32 years in St Petersburg he became intimate friends with Anatoly Ladov and Alexander Glazunov. From 1897 to 1914 he was music critic and correspondent of the St. Petersburg Zeitung—and director of the Latvian Chorus in St Petersburg.

Vitols returned to Riga, now part of the newly independent Republic of Latvia. He became director of the Latvian Opera and in 1919 founded the Latvian Conservatory of Music. From 1919 until 1944 he was rector of the Conservatory and head of its composition department. Renamed Jāzepa Vītola Latvijas Muzikas Akademija, it is still the only music establishment of its kind in Latvia today. In addition to his full-time position at the Conservatory, Vitols found time and energy to write music criticism. He also devoted much time to composing, and promoting national folk-song festivals throughout Latvia. In 1923 he was one of the founders of the Latvian Composers’ Society. He continued to appear in concerts frequently as both pianist and choral conductor. At the time of his death, Vitols had completed his autobiography, Memoirs of My Life, which unfortunately did not appear in print until 1963. The first complete edition of this book was finally published in Latvia in 1988.

Among Jāzeps Vītols’ 850 compositions are one oratorio, two cantatas, a ballad for chorus and orchestra, one symphony, overtures and symphonic poems, 103 works for a capella choir, a string quartet, piano Sonata and some 80 other works for the piano, 92 songs for voice and piano, over 300 arrangements of Latvian folk-songs, works for band, violin, viola, cello and organ. Jāzeps Vītols’ scores are characterised by their balance of classical forms, expanded dramatic development, programmatic content, subtle instrumentations and their sophisticated contrasts. These outstanding characteristics can be attributed to his association with Rimsky-Korsakov at the St Petersburg Conservatory, and are evident in the music recorded on this disc.

The Dramatiska Uvertira (Dramatic Overture), Opus 21, is dedicated to Anatoly Ladov. Composed in 1895, it received its première on 9th March, 1896 under the baton of Rimsky-Korsakov. The Overture is written as a ballad in the form of a sonata allegro. Although clearly influenced by the “Mighty Five” Russian composers, Borodin, Cui, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky, Vitols brings to this work his own forms of self-expression.

The Fantazija par Latviesu Tautas Dziesmam (Latvian Folk-Song Fantasy) was composed in 1908 as Fantasy for violin and piano and dedicated to his friend and colleague from the St Petersburg Conservatory, Ovanes Nalbadjan. In 1910 Vitols orchestrated the Fantasy and published it as his Opus 42. The Fantasy in form resembles a concerto. The concerto genre was practically unknown in Latvia at the time, and the prominent violin part in this Fantasy established a precedent for concerto writing. Vitols incorporated his love for Latvian folkmusic in this work, utilising some folk melodies he had arranged earlier in his career. The first movement of the Fantasy is built as a contrast between two themes—folk melodies: romantic Apkart kalnu gaju (I went to the mountain) and the contemplative nocturne Tumsa nakte, zala zale (Dark Night). The second movement is both tragic and melancholic, using an orphan’s song Ej, Saulite, driz pie Dieva (Take the sun, I pray to God). The final movement of the Fantasy is again based on two songs, only this time they supplement each other rather than contrast. Brave and vigorous Redz, kur jaj div bajari (Look at those two lords) and the joyous peasant song Gani dzina, govis mava (Shepherds) melt together towards the coda where brilliant passages for the violin and orchestra reflect the enthusiasm and optimism of Latvian peoples.

The tone-poem, Spriditis (a little boy named Spriditis [Tom-Thumb]), Opus 37, was composed in 1907 and dedicated to the famous Latvian sculptor, Gustavs Skilteris. It received its first performance on 8th March, 1908 in St Petersburg under the direction of Felix Blumenfeld. In 1911 this piece received the Glinka Prize. The programmatic content for this tone-poem comes from the play by the Latvian writer Anna Brigadere. On the face page of the score the composer provides a synopsis of the plot: “Once upon a time lived a little boy named Spriditis. He lived in his grandmother’s hut. Spriditis becomes bored with carving wooden spoons and tending sheep, and dreams of foreign lands and carefree life. The overture shows us the heroic moments of the boy’s adventures after he decides to leave the hut. While searching for hidden treasures, Spriditis is attracted by wood fairies with their tiny lights. He has to fight demons to gain the favours of the princess. Discouraged by their magic tricks, he dreams of his homeland and finally rushes home to grandmother where the little boy finds real happiness in the tiny hut”. From the exposition, the overture develops in the form of a classical sonata allegro with the sad folk melody Ik vakarus dziedat gaju (Every night I went to sing). The energetic main theme and the poetic sub-theme characterizes the little boy himself. The development brings fantastic shades and contrasts, showing the courage of the little hero. The reprise shows the boy’s cheerful return home. No doubt the idea of this fairy-tale is deeply rooted in the composer’s longing for his homeland while living in St Petersburg.

The suite, Dargakmeni (Jewels), Opus 66 was composed in 1924 and dedicated to his friend Alexander Glazunov. The first performance took place in Riga on 6th November, 1924, under the direction of Teodor Reiter. The suite consists of five short contrasting movements, colorfully orchestrated. Vitols’ handling of the colours and contrasts shows his ability to imbue his music with sophisticated and scintillating expression. The movements are as follows: I. Ametists (Amethysts)—softly flashes its beauty as a lyrical melody. II. Smaragds (Emeralds)—catches the ear as a zesty and impassioned dance. III. Perles (Pearls)—gracious miniature along with noble aristocracy. IV. Rubins (Rubies)—reveals the composer’s ability to build up an enchanting sonic world full of oriental dances, wonders and mystery. V. Briljants (Diamonds) —bright, elegant waltz where in the middle section the composer flashes back all the material from previous movements. In this particular movement the composer masterfully plays with a rondo form showing how one builds up the rondo using only one theme as a basis.

The presence of choreographic ideas in this suite is more obvious than in any other of Vitols’ works. The famous Latvian dancer and choreographer Beatrise Vignere asked the composer to write the music in the form of a suite, so that it could be transformed into a dance piece. However, the idea of producing this suite as dance piece in “lights and movements” did not materialise during the composer’s life.

The ballad, Rudens Dziesma (Autumn’s Song) was composed in 1927 and dedicated to the Latvian composer Janis Medins. It was first performed in Riga on 18th November, 1928, under the direction of Emil Kuper. The ballad Rudens dziesma is written in sonata allegro form and certainly ranks as one of Vítols’ greatest symphonic compositions. Broad and expansive is the sound of the orchestra in this score. However, the composer’s psychologically meditative mood prevails in this piece along with the dramatic elements found in earlier works (such as the Dramatiska uvertira, the Symphony (1886–88), and the tone poem, Ligo).

Notes by Olgerts Gravitis Dr.art., Professor, Latvian Music Academy
Edited by Marina A. Ledin, © 1995

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