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(1863 - 1948)

Jazeps Vitols (Joseph Wihtol), distinguished Latvian composer and teacher, was born in Valmiera, Latvia on 26 July 1863. Vitols 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 Scherbachov. During his 32 years in St Petersburg he became intimate friends with Anatoly Ladov 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 Jazepa Vitola 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 Vitols’ 850 compositions are one oratorio, two cantatas, a ballad for chorus and orchestra, one symphony, some overtures and symphonic poems, 103 works for a capella choir, a string quartet, a 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. Vitols’ scores are characterized by their balance of classical forms, expanded dramatic development, programmatic content, subtle instrumentations and their sophisticated contrasts. He died in Lübeck, on 24 April, 1948. His remains were returned to Riga in 1993.

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