About this Recording
8.555740 - IVANOVS: Symphonies Nos. 8 and 20
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Jânis Ivanovs (1906-1983)

Jânis Ivanovs (1906-1983)

Symphony No. 8 in B minor (1956) • Symphony No. 20 in E flat major (1981)


Jânis Ivanovs is regarded as Latvia’s most distinguished symphonic composer. He was born on 9th October, 1906, in the small Latvian town of Preili and graduated in 1931 from the Latvian State Conservatory in Riga, where his teachers for composition and conducting were Jâzeps Vîtols and Georg Schnéevoigt respectively. While continuing postgraduate studies in composition, he began a long association with Latvian Radio, eventually becoming artistic director of the Latvian Radio Committee. He joined the faculty of the Latvian State Conservatory in 1944 and in 1955 was appointed professor of composition. Ivanovs composed his Symphony No. 1 in B flat minor in 1933. Unfortunately the manuscript and all scores and parts have been lost. In 1936 his Latgale Pictures was performed, followed by Symphony No. 2 in D minor (1937) and Symphony No. 3 in F minor (1938), both of which have been recorded with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dmitry Yablonsky (Marco Polo 8.223331). These early works, together with the tone-poem Rainbow (1939), although rooted in the old scales of Latvian folk-music, are essentially lyrical compositions, showing the influences of impressionism and of Scriabin. During the war years Ivanovs produced Symphony No. 4 (The Legend of Atlantis) (1941) and Symphony No. 5 in C major (1945), the latter coupled with Symphony No. 12 in a similar recording (Marco Polo 8.223332). Symphony No. 6 (The Latgale) (1949), and Symphony No. 7 in C minor (1953), although still peppered with folk-themes, show Ivanovs as a maturing symphonist developing his own musical language and style. The Soviet and Latvian musical establishment joined in his praise as the composer celebrated his fiftieth birthday. “Jânis Ivanovs is like thunder and lightning cleansing the air with his Luciferic sounds. His symphonies are like ancient Greek tragedies, filled with ecstasy and purification”, wrote the Latvian composer and music critic, Margers Zârins.


This powerfully dramatic voice is very evident in his Symphony No. 8 in B minor (1956). The first movement is one of psychological rumination, full of austere colours, conflict and tension, only occasionally relieved by a simple and tenderly caressing melody. The second, scherzo-like, movement expresses a more straightforward and clear outlook on the world, full of wholesome humour and the play of nature. In it the musicologist Ludvigs Kârklins hears “life-affirming joy”. The third movement is noble in its austerity and lyrical in a Bach or Handel sense. According to Kârklins, “the luminous idealism of the second movement is negated in the third movement”. In the last movement the struggle between joy and austerity finally concludes in a vigorous and life-asserting way, bringing this lyrico-psychological and dramatic work to a close.


Although Ivanovs composed three string quartets, numerous vocal, piano and chamber works, five symphonic poems and three concertos (one each for cello, piano and violin), it is the 21 symphonies that define his musical output. From 1960 until his death in 1983 he wrote a further thirteen symphonies, of which Symphony No. 21 has only three completed movements. In each work Ivanovs provided the listener with an unusual sense of intimacy, as if he were speaking to us. His love of melody was evident in all his music. He once claimed that the melodic content was the essence of each of his compositions. Although he eventually stepped away from what he called the “precise, expressive, and nationalistic musical idiom”, Ivanovs never really stopped drawing upon the native songs of the Latgale district of Eastern Latvia for his inspiration. He wrote that Latgale’s folk-music was particularly poignant in that it “combined both Slavic sadness and restrained beauty...” Pathos, colour, intensity, dramatic ingenuity, an expansive musical language, and an extraordinary ability to create a powerful tone-painting, were his musical fingerprints. Much honoured during his lifetime, he was president of the Latvian Composers’ Union and was awarded the titles of People’s Artist of the Latvian SSR in 1956 and People’s Artist of the USSR in 1965.


The composer’s last completed symphonic score and his most personal work was his Symphony No. 20 in E flat major (1981). “These are memories”, mused Ivanovs. “If you are willing to know what you are today, you should remember what you have been and should know what road you have followed...” This is a deeply tragic work, more cycle than symphony. The visions of the past and the mournful mood of the first movement are repeatedly rejected by orchestral recitatives full of Beethoven-like utterances and power. According to Kârklins, “these recitatives direct the musical development into the road of impetuous seekings and struggles. Restrained chimes as if to confirm the deeper meaning of the struggle and its place in eternity”. The second movement is even more tragic. It is a memorial narrative, deliberately aloof, but bright and lucid. According to his biographer, Ludvigs Kârklins, “this movement is the summit of Latgale’s great music-maker’s symphonic confession — the song of songs of his soul!” The third movement, Menuetto: Reminiscenza, is a poetic reflection, with a sad, and perhaps ironic smile. The monolithic finale is full of majestic gestures and impetuous vigour. Through generalised images the composer captures the swift pulse of our age and times. In summarising, Kârklins states: “The notation of the symphony seems to be covered by a kind of golden glitter. Texture and tone-colour couplings blooming like muted, dispersed sunlight, sketch out many associative notions, reflecting the world of the composer’s ideas and feelings, and the reality of today”.


Marina and Victor Ledin

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