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8.557604 - BALAKAUSKAS: Requiem in Memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis
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Osvaldas Balakauskas (b. 1937)
Requiem in memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis (1995)

The music of Osvaldas Balakauskas is, above all, associated with clarity of style and form. Nearly every one of his compositions bears witness to the composer’s commitment to pure form and the innovative development of tradition, as does his system of composition, Dodekatonika, which gives his music its unique harmonic flavour, and is frequently described as Balakauskas’s tonality.

As one of the unmistakable leaders of the modern school of Lithuanian composition, and, in an official capacity, as head of the Composition Department at the Lithuanian Academy of Music, Osvaldas Balakauskas, when necessary, has not shunned a public rôle. He was a council member with the Sajūdis movement from 1988 to 1992, and Lithuanian ambassador to France, Spain and Portugal (residing in Paris) from 1992 to 1994. For his contribution to Lithuanian culture, he was granted the National Award in 1996, and the Third Order of Grand Duke Gediminas of Lithuania in 1998.

Balakauskas’s music has aroused interest not only in Lithuania. Initially it was heard within the context of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc environment, and his works were performed at the Moscow Stars Festival, the Krzysztof Penderecki Festival in Lusl´awice, Warsaw Autumn, Prague Spring, Berliner Festwochen, Zagreb Biennale, and elsewhere. Later, with a liberalisation of the political situation, Osvaldas Balakauskas’s music began to make its way into a broader milieu, including, among others, the Helsinki Festival, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Festival, New Haven Arts and Ideas, Europa Musicale, Vale of Glamorgan Festival, and MaerzMusik, among others. His artistic career was typical for a composer of his generation. It began, during the Khruschev “thaw” in the early 1960s, with a marked interest in the avantgarde, even though under the Soviet system such interest in innovations from the West was seen as being somewhat dissident. Later, in consideration for the communicative aspects of his music, Balakauskas returned to traditions which the avant-garde endeavoured to deny. It would, however, be incorrect to call Osvaldas Balakauskas’s work post-modernist. Essentially he remained true to the ideas of modernism, focusing on aspects such as coherence of form, integrity of structural parameters, and a distinctive system of pitch and modal organization. Totally foreign to Balakauskas is the post-modernist concept that everything in music has been already created, that what remains is simply re-creation. In his works any recognisable musical elements, jazz, classical cadences or medieval organum, become an integral part of the composer’s own unique style.

Osvaldas Balakauskas is not a typical Lithuanian composer, in the sense that his musical origins are not connected with the Lithuanian traditional composition school, one of whose basic tenets is founded on folkmusic principles. In this aspect his work has always been particularly European, and he has been reproached for creating music which lacked national character. Interestingly the identity of his music is heard completely differently abroad, where the overall mood of his works, and the principles of development of the material are seen as features specifically national in character.

Balakauskas was greatly influenced by his studies with Boris Lyatoshynsky at the Kiev Conservatoire between 1964 and 1969. It was not a conservatory on the level of Moscow or Leningrad, and the professor was considered fairly conservative, but while in Kiev, Balakauskas immersed himself in the modernist underground of Ukraine, in an atmosphere that was missing in Vilnius. He was close friends with contemporaries Leonid Hrabovsky and Valentin Silvestrov, and collaborated with a group of talented young composers who were eagerly engrossed in ideas coming from the West, and who actively resisted the standardised aesthetics of Soviet music, which at that time was primarily orientated towards the work of Dmitry Shostakovich and Sergey Prokofiev.

Balakauskas returned to Vilnius in 1972 as a mature artist. He avoided the innovations of the Warsaw Autumn, which affected a great many other Lithuanian composers in that period, and is one of those composers who is not overly concerned with music fashion, first selecting and proving each innovation himself, to be described, perhaps, as a Lithuanian Messiaen. His dodecaphonic principles, the creation of new tonal connections within the series of non-repeating notes (usually from eight to twelve), which are built not as abstract sound constructions, but as modes with inherent laws of harmonic tension, initially reveal his spiritual affinity with the creative thinking of the French master. His delicate rhythmic games (metro-rhythmic progressions, additive augmentation of prolonged durations) are also evocative of Messiaen’s nonretrogradable rhythms, though Balakauskas’s rhythmic systems derive from the theories of Boris Blacher. Finally there is a common focus on sound colour – Balakauskas is considered one of the most sensitive masters of orchestration in Lithuanian music – and a certain leaning towards musical exoticism.

The creative style of Balakauskas has changed over a period of nearly forty years, and it is possible to delineate it according to more detailed or broader periods. At the present time the composer is striving for musical simplicity (i.e., for all parameters to be subject to a single principle, rather than simplifying the music itself), and he also declares himself as having returned to jazz favoured by him since his youth, to swinging rhythms and quasi-improvisational melodies. Stylistic changes in his work were never radical, however, and his writing remains recognisable from his very first to the most recent compositions.

Requiem in memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis (1995) is an exceptional work in Osvaldas Balakauskas’s output. It is his only religious composition, and marks a new turning-point in the direction of simplicity. Unusual also is the fact that, for the first time, the composer openly declares his spiritual, as well as his public principles. This is not characteristic of him, as he had professed to adhere to the self-sufficiency of music as a specific sphere of art.

The Requiem appeared as the result of a strong external impulse. Stasys Lozoraitis (1924-1994), a former Lithuanian diplomat representing Lithuania at the Holy See and in America during the Soviet period, died in 1994. He ran for president in independent Lithuania in 1993, and although he lost the election, became an unquestionable authority in the country. His unexpected death shocked Lithuania’s intellectuals, and Balakauskas’s Requiem, written the following year, embodied the nation’s respect for him. This work is no equal to the monumental settings of Berlioz, Verdi, Britten or Penderecki, with their exaltation of universal mourning. According to Enrique Alberto Arias, a professor at Chicago DePaul University, Balakauskas’s Requiem could be assigned to the neo-medieval trend of the twentieth century, as represented by Tavener and Pärt, and by some works of Hindemith and Messiaen. A certain contextual parallel could also be made with Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Duruflé’s serene settings, whose originality stems from their use of a Gregorian chant. Balakauskas does revert to the tradition of liturgical music from the early Middle Ages, Gregorian chant and organum, as well as ars nova motets, but he does not follow the canonical structure of a Requiem Mass. The structure of Balakauskas’s Requiem is more akin to the concert tradition of the genre. The work consists of twelve parts: the Requiem Introit and the Kyrie, the Dies irae sequence divided into five parts (Dies irae, Tuba mirum, Rex tremendae, Recordare, Confutatis), the Domine Jesu offertory, Hostias, Sanctus, Benedictus, followed, unusually, by the Lacrymosa of the Dies irae, and the Agnus Dei. Interestingly the structure here is very close to that of Mozart’s Requiem.

Balakauskas’s Requiem is an intimate chamber work in character and scoring, performed by a mezzo- soprano, choir and chamber orchestra. The composer himself claims to have created an emphatically traditional work, though it would appear that here he upholds the old division between the spheres of musica sacra, with its cultivation of true-and-tried values, and that of the innovation-seeking musica profana.

The musical language of the Requiem, compared with Balakauskas’s earlier works, is more restrained, the modal structure based on medieval principles. The very first sounds of the Requiem are representative of its style: a characteristic succession of parallel fifths on the underlying D in the strings, the functional centre of the whole work, and choir voices moving in the spirit of a twelfth-century Léonin organum. As the work develops, the pedal point moves through a circle of fifths, and returns once again to D in the last part of the Agnus Dei (finalis in Dorian mode). In the Confutatis the composer introduces bitonality, as if to illustrate the text. There are other illustrative sections in the work as well, such as the shout of the trombone in the Tuba mirum. Yet, according to the composer, the relationship here between the music and the text is objective, and the music is as it is supposed to be when speaking the word of God.

The soloist and choir parts maintain a comfortable range, and are based on the old psalmodic principles of antiphonal and responsorial singing, with the occasional inclusion of the orchestra, as when instrumental sound blocks play against the choir, as at the beginning of Sanctus. The choir melodies are frequently sung in a homo-rhythmic organum. Meanwhile the solo part, first heard in the Tuba mirum, is given embellishments, in the spirit of Gregorian chant melismata, which give the music its distinctive elegance. Among the various unexpected connections, there is the beginning of the Rex tremendae, men’s voices accompanied by low strings, reminiscent of the composer’s reference to yet another source, Georgian hymns. The rhythmic structure of the Requiem is related to the technique of the ars nova mensuralists; according to the composer, the score could even be non-metered. The whole of the composition has no characteristics of culminative development, and the soft contrasts are derived by combining parts of diverse character, once again with an orientation to the aesthetic of the Renaissance and earlier times.

In conjunction with the old forms, there is here a rebirth of a medieval, God-directed spirituality, and a peaceful understanding of death and mourning. “I do not believe that death is a problem, for we do not solve it; it is unyielding and always resolved for us […] It is a condition of life,” the composer once said in an interview.

Beata Leščinska
translated by Vida Urbonaviãius

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