About this Recording
8.573618 - NARBUTAITĖ, O.: no yesterday, no tomorrow / La barca (Vaškevičiūtė, Pavilionis, Lithuanian National Symphony, Lyndon-Gee)

Onutė Narbutaitė (b. 1956)
no yesterday, no tomorrow


The Lithuanian composer Onutė Narbutaitė (b. 1956) is one of the most outstanding Baltic artists of the last several decades. Making her debut in the early 1980s, she found herself behind the Iron Curtain in the cultural environment of silent resistance. Artists of this period adopted a subtle world view keeping their distance not only from the official socialist realist doctrine of the time but also from finding inspiration in the folklore or historicism that strongly affected the generation of Baltic composers such as the Lithuanian Bronius Kutavičius, the Estonian Veljo Tormis, and the Latvian Pēteris Vasks during the stylistic breakthrough of the 1970s.

Onutė Narbutaitė came on the scene as an individualist and a reflective lyricist; her musical language, influenced by avant-garde techniques, demonstrates a judicious selection of components, combined with an intuitive search for an authentic style. This was a time when female composers were still regarded with some reserve and, even if their work was not considered to be of lesser value, no breakthrough work or the discovery of new continents was expected of them. Rather, what was left to them were small, non-prestigious islands of chamber music. However, chamber music at the time experienced an upsurge, with new and unconventional ensembles searching for a different kind of sound, and fresh artistic spaces attracting composers with a moresubtle expression. Narbutaitė’s world view allowed her to find a mooring on the shores of an island of quiet resistance. This was determined not only by her nature but by her family’s traditions: among the composer’s family were those active in the creation of an independent Lithuanian state in the first half of the 20th century, as well as members of the elite.

A particularly important role in the development of the composer’s world view was played by her mother, the musicologist Ona Narbutienė, who, while still a school girl, was deported with her mother to Siberia by Lithuania’s Soviet occupiers. The composer’s maternal grandfather found himself in England as a result of the events of World War Two. This family tragedy left an indelible impression with resistance to the Soviet system expressed not politically but culturally. On her return from exile, Narbutaitė’s mother dedicated herself to the historical research of Lithuanian music, and to the preservation of the nation’s cultural identity and dignity. Even under the conditions of occupation she managed to form ties with Lithuanian expatriate artists. It was in this environment that the composer matured—her world view, as well as her ethical and aesthetic values, were formed, and her artistic images derived—often masked in their expression, as markers that were more felt than visible, and as intimations of emotions and thoughts.

Narbutaitė is the consummate artist: in her younger days, she not only composed polished chamber works with attention to the smallest detail, but also turned her hand to painting and writing poetry. Various creative expressions work together and for this reason her artistic thinking is so distinctive, harnessing a host of insights and connotations.

An important part in the composer’s creative selfawareness was played by her first composition teacher, Bronius Kutavičius. She continued her composition studies under Prof. Julius Juzeliūnas at the Lithuanian State Conservatoire (now the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre). Her creativity was influenced by literature and art, as well as the impulses in new music—as evinced by her chamber compositions: Open the Gates of Oblivion (String Quartet No. 2, 1980), Vijoklis (‘Climbing Plant’, 1988), Poem by Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas (1990), Opus lugubre (1991), Sketch for String Quartet and the Returning Winter (String Quartet No. 3, 1991), Mozartsommer 1991 and Autumn Ritornello (1999).

The scope and structural elements of Narbutaitė’s compositions developed gradually. This was determined by both the composer’s inner dynamic and the changed political situation. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, her compositions began to be heard more frequently outside Lithuania: at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (1992), Music Harvest (Odense), Helsinki Festival (1992), Artgenda (Copenhagen, 1996), EstOvest (Turin, 2006), MaerzMusik (Berlin, 2003), Klangspuren (Schwaz, 2004), ISCM World Music Days (Bern, 2004, Vilnius, 2008) and musica viva (München, 2005). A significant push with regards to a wider recognition of her work was given by the Warsaw Autumn Festival, at which her compositions began to be heard regularly from 1994 on. Later, the four recordings of her music issued by Finlandia Records and Tres Dei Matris Symphoniae released by Naxos made her name even more widely known and put her on the map of new music.

In 1997 Narbutaitė composed the monumental oratorio Centones meae urbi with an original structure, dedicated to her native Vilnius, and in the new millennium perfected a symphonic style which could be described as conceptually concerto-like. We can find in Narbutaitė’s music all the parameters characteristic of traditional concert music—harmony, polyphony, rhythm, melody, the typical instruments and the use of their technical possibilities, without breaking boundaries. She does not resist the influence of earlier musical worlds, sometimes introducing motifs from past epochs into her scores. But most often they are only allusions—as if she is bowing her head to the composers that have formed her inner world and artistic taste. The composer provides an explanation for the ideas behind her work and because of her sensitivity to the art of writing does it skilfully and convincingly. For that reason, her programme notes are often reminiscent of small poetical essays. According to the German music critic Albrecht Thiemann, ‘The effect of Onutė Narbutaitė’s compositions … is linked to a rare, paradoxical inner balance: they sound at the same time simple and complex, personal as well as universal, both meditative and analytical. The listener does not have to study the programme booklet or look at the score to understand what is going on in Onutė Narbutaitė’s compositions. What she has to say is conveyed directly.’

La barca (2005) was written to a commission from Bavarian Radio and the musica viva concert series. Narbutaitė writes: ‘A ship, a boat—this image flowed into the score as if of its own accord. Sometimes spreading its sails caught by gusts of wind, sometimes slowly sinking under the heaviness of bass tones, and almost stopping for a moment at a bay with clear calm water, ultimately it is the music itself which chose this name. And I liked its capaciousness, the endless chain of possible associations. It is enough to recall the mythological, biblical meanings of this word (e.g. the ship as a symbol of hope), or imagine a gondola sliding along dark canals at night and turning towards San Michele… The continuously reappearing sound of the harp is a possible allusion to a barcarole. There are no melodies to be easily grasped here, almost no developed instrumental solo parts, what is dominant are the sounds of homogeneous instrumental groups. However, sometimes short melodic motifs or instruments stressing separate sounds emerge. And in the continuous flow of the music perhaps one can feel a “melody” hiding in the folds of the textures.’

The composition kein gestern, kein morgen (‘no yesterday, no tomorrow’, 2012/2015) for mezzo-soprano, tenor and symphony orchestra is an episode adapted for concert performance from Narbutaitė’s opera Cornet (premiered at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre in 2014). The opera itself is freely based on the prose poem Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke (‘The Tale of the Life and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke’) by Rainer Maria Rilke. The opera ends with the death of the Cornet after his only night of love. According to Narbutaitė, ‘the dominant theme of this composition is the love between the Cornet and the Countess that catches fire in the oppressive atmosphere of war. Is this reality or a dream? It is night and the audience can sense how it will end. But for the lovers in the tower room they are in there is “no yesterday, no tomorrow, for time has been fragmented. And they are blossoming out of its ruins.”’

Narbutaitė’s fourth symphony krantas upė simfonija (‘riverbank—river—symphony’, 2007) was written to a commission from the 50th Warsaw Autumn Festival. The enigmatic name reflects the symbolism of static scenes and their relentless flow carrying them into distant places of memory. According to the composer, this one-part symphony could be called a continuation of the idea behind La barca: ‘On the still blank first page of the draft I also wrote down the Italian working title Il contorno dell’Angelo (‘Contour of the Angel’). There are some links between these works but at the same time quite a few differences, in form, as well as in the orchestral textures and sound colour. krantas upė simfonija is based on contrasts: from the tutti ‘flags flapping strongly’ and the wide unisons, uncharacteristic of my music up till then, to the absolutely intimate chamber music sound, when the orchestra is treated like a large ensemble of separate instruments. In contrast to the constantly undulating, multi-layered and at the same time monolithic La barca, in this symphony one can quite clearly differentiate between three emotionally and structurally different divisions of form, each of which is approximately twice as short as the one before it. I dedicated this work to my seriously ill, but remarkably strong, mother. Alas, she was never to hear it. Next to the dedication on the score, I wrote a passage from the poem Meditation by Czesław Miłosz (Berkeley, 1990): “A wanderer, camping by invisible waters, you would keep a little flame hardly visible in darkness.”’

Jūratė Katinaitė
Translated from the Lithuanian by Romas Kinka

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