Latvian Radio Choir sings all of Jānis Zālīts’ 20th century choral music

Choir music is an essential element of Latvian music, so it is no surprise that, throughout the last century and a half, hundreds, if not a thousand Latvian composers have composed in the choral music genre. With many distinguished choirs, both amateur and professional, not to mention the regular Song and Dance Celebration events, it could be argued that choral music is the most frequently performed form of music in Latvia’s history.

With so many composers having contributed to this genre, it was perhaps inevitable that the works of some composers have been forgotten or neglected. The Latvian music label Skani, with its regular release of Latvian academic music albums, has spotlighted modern and contemporary Latvian choral works, as well as opuses from earlier times, and the choral recordings most often feature the Latvian Radio Choir. The early 20th century in Latvia was one of multiple golden ages for Latvian choral music, with names like Jāzeps Vītols, Emīls Dārziņš, and Emilis Melngailis securing their place in Latvian music history with their memorable and timeless works.

One name from that same era that is, undeservedly, mentioned less frequently is Jānis Zālīts (1884–1943). Recognizing that Zālīts made a significant contribution to the development of Latvian choral music, the Latvian Radio choir and conductor Sigvards Kļava endeavored to record all of Zālīts’ songs for choir, and, in 2019, released Jānis Zālīts: kopotas kora dziesmas, a 2 CD collection of 44 recordings – thirty-six songs for mixed choir, seven compositions for men’s choir and one song for women’s choir.

In many ways, Zālīts was very much like his contemporaries, expressing a kind of Latvian national romanticism in his works, displaying a particular skill with textures and layering voices, such as in the dreamy ‘Kad nakts’, with words by Rainis. The undulating ‘Birztaliņa’, with words by Kārlis Jēkabsons, creates in music the swaying of a grove of birch trees.

Though most of the works are choral miniatures, Zālīts did compose a few more expansive works, like ‘Biķeris miroņu salā’, with the poetry of Jānis Poruks, a fantasy about a goblet on the Island of the Dead. Zālīts captures the fantastical elements of this story in the soaring voices of the choir, and the Latvian Radio choir gives a particularly dramatic and ethereal performance of the work.

Many of the songs are imbued with Latvian patriotism and celebrating Latvian heroes, such as the rousing ‘Varoņu dziesma’ and the inspiring ‘Ceļš uz dzimteni’. Zālīts also composed odes to Latvian soldiers, including the heroic ‘Kareivji drošie’ and ‘Kareivju dziesma’, both for men’s choir.

As the goal was to record all of Zālīts’ choral output, the collection also includes a few political works of that era, including more than a few works dedicated to Latvian dictator Kārlis Ulmanis, such as ‘Tautas himna Vadonim’ and ‘Vadoņa suminājums’, which are perhaps more historical curiosities, giving a musical view of a past era. There is also the brief (thirty seconds) ‘Sveiks, Vadon, sveiks!’ which repeats ‘Leader, We Salute You!’ a few times, then ends, and seems like a superfluous inclusion in this collection.

The CD booklet includes an extensive biography of Zālīts in Latvian and English by Elīna Selga, which includes some fascinating notes about the composer, such as how he was regularly rewriting his choir works, and that, in his work as a music critic, he published more than two thousand articles. Still, the booklet contains very little information about the songs; one would have liked to read more about the compositions themselves.

The Latvian Radio Choir and conductor Sigvards Kļava have not only done a great service to Latvian musicology by making a comprehensive collection of the recordings of Jānis Zālīts, but also shed new light on many rarely heard gems of early 20th century Latvian choral music. Zālīts proves to be an equal of the better-known names of that era, and this collection will reveal Zālīts’ talents to many new listeners.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Jānis Zālīts: kopotas kora dziesmas

Latvian Radio Choir

Skani, LMIC 077, 2019

Track listing:

CD1

1. Anužu himna

2. Apsveikums jubilāram

3. Ādolfam Kaktiņam

4. Biķeris miroņu salā

5. Birztaliņa

6. Ceļš uz dzimteni

7. Cildinām šodien varenos garus

8. Darbadaiņa

9. Dārgās ēnas

10. Dziesma Tautas Vienotājam

11. Jau no bērnu dienām

12. Kad nakts

13. Kā oši šalc

14. Kā sniegi kalnu galotnēs

15. Lai zemei sāpes nav

16. Lieldienu dziesma

17. Lielo pļaujas svētku noslēguma koris

18. Līgo

19. Līgo virkne

20. Pie koklētāja kapa

21. Preses himna

22. Profesoram J. Vītolam

23. Pūšat taures!

24. Rainim un Aspazijai

CD 2

1. Sirds tik grūta (1915 edition)

2. Sirds tik grūta (1917 edition)

3. Tautas himna Vadonim

4. Tā vēsma

5. Tev šie lauki

6. Tevi sveicam

7. Vadoņa suminājums

8. Varoņu dziesma

9. Vasara

10. Vasaras nakts

11. Vienības dziesma

12. Kārsēju, vērpēju un audēju dziesma

13. Kareivji drošie

14. Kareivju dziesma

15. Katordznieku dziesma

16. Kārlim Skalbem

17. Pūšat, vēji!

18. Rīta sveiciens

19. Varoņa sirds

20. Sveiks, Vadon, sveiks!

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

Centre for Diaspora & Migration Research launches study on collaboration with Latvian scientists worldwide

Surveys of researchers in 2017 and 2018 of Latvian origin living abroad conducted by the University of Latvia (UL) Centre for Diaspora and Migration Research show a steadfast interest in engaging in research activities in Latvia (diaspora.lu.lv). At the same time, there is a lack of instruments at the national level for promoting collaboration between scientists in Latvia and abroad. Therefore, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Latvia (MES) is working on networking solutions for scientists.

Currently, the Latvian National Research Information System (sciencelatvia.lv) includes information on Latvian researchers and their activities, but it lacks information on scientists of Latvian origin living abroad. To make it easier for scientists in Latvia and abroad to find out about collaboration opportunities and find each other – to identify similar research interests and areas – the Centre for Diaspora and Migration Research of the University of Latvia is conducting this research on behalf of MES.

This study includes a survey of scientists with links to Latvia living and/or working abroad to learn about their interest in being included in the Latvian National Scientific Activity Information System database. All scientists of Latvian origin living abroad who are carrying out research in the public, private or non-governmental sector, including studying for a doctorate or master’s degree, are invited to participate in the survey. The survey will be open until 25 June 2021 and can be accessed at https://aptauja.migracija.lvIt can be completed in Latvian or English. 

The aim of the previously mentioned research is also to deepen the understanding of the opinion of Latvian scientists working in Latvia and other countries on mutual collaboration. Therefore, in addition to the survey of diaspora scientists, the study also includes focus group interviews with researchers from various disciplines working in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries. These focus groups aim to gain a better understanding of the potential of specific collaboration solutions with partners in Latvia. To find out the views of Latvian researchers and organizations, the study includes a survey of Latvian scientific institutions and in-depth interviews with researchers in Latvia about their experience and vision for collaboration with Latvian researchers abroad.

The report based on the findings of the study will be available this autumn and will include an overview of how Latvian scientists abroad and colleagues in Latvia see solutions for mutual collaboration. The report will also include specific recommendations to foster collaboration and networking. The data controller for survey data generated in this research will be the Ministry of Education and Science, Republic of Latvia.

Inta Mieriņa ir projekta "Labklājība un integrācija migrācijas kontekstā" zinātniskā vadītāja, ieguvusi socioloģijas doktora grādu Latvijas Universitātes Sociālo Zinātņu fakultātē.

Tautumeitas rendition of songs from Auleja show power of ‘bolss’ singing tradition

The Latvian ethno-pop ensemble Tautumeitas, who provide modern arrangements and presentations of Latvian folk songs, all the while singing in a traditional Latvian style, have quickly become one of the most popular groups in Latvia. With their distinctive and powerful singing and harmonies, and songs focusing on the mystical and feminine elements of Latvian folk songs and folklore, the six women of Tautumeitas seamlessly meld modern and traditional elements.

Still, even with all the modern elements and sounds, the foundation for the group’s music are ancient Latvian folk songs, and, on their 2020 release Dziesmas no Aulejas, the ensemble chose to present Latgalian folk songs in a fully traditional manner, eschewing all modern elements, and even instruments – all the songs feature only vocals.

The idea for this project came from group leader, Asnate Rancāne. Rancāne was performing research as part of her bachelor’s thesis, “Stylistics of Seasonal Bolsi from Auleja”, where she studied the archaic singing style known as bolsi that is from the small village of Auleja in Latgale, in the eastern part of Latvia. The word bolsi (from the Latgalian, the corresponding Latvian word would be balsis), means not just ‘voices’, but also indicates a certain type of song. For example, songs about work are called tolkas bolss, or mowing hay – sīna bolss, among many others.

These songs have been sung in Auleja for many years, and there is a women’s ensemble – Aulejas sievas – that was founded in 1940, and three generations of singers have been members of the group and who kept these songs and this particular singing style alive. Marija Vasiļevska, a long time member of the group, was extensively interviewed by Rancāne for her thesis.

The bolsi songs are also related to different seasons – the celebration of the spring season is heard in ‘Pavasars / Pavasara bolss’, a joyous ode to the rebirth and growth in the spring, as well as the work that begins in the spring. The soaring voices of Tautumeitas brings a particular vitality and energy to this performance of the song. Midsummer is heralded in ‘Lobs vokorsi, Juoņa tāvs / Juoņu laika bolss’, a song about the approaching Jāņi celebration.

Dziesmas no Aulejas also allows listeners to hear songs on other Tautumeitas albums in their ‘original’ form, such as the complex, almost percussive rhythms of ‘Aiz azara’, which is just as powerful with just vocals, as it was with instrumentation, as recorded on their debut album. ‘Dīzgon borgais rudiņs nuoca’, a song about the approaching autumn and winter, was the foundation for the song ‘Aulejas klezmers’, on their album recorded with drum and bagpipe ensemble Auļi, which was a more rapid, almost frantic, version of this song.

The songs have somber moments, such as the reflective ‘Ūguos guoju, ūdzeņuosi / Ūgu bolss’, but there are moments of levity, such as the ode to a drunkard, ‘Brosnej, puika, tū dzeršonu!’

The CD booklet, entirely in English, provides fascinating details about Rancāne’s research and the style of the Auleja bolsis, as well as the history of the Aulejas sievas ensemble. There are notes about the importance of ornamentation in the singing style, as well as how the singers add extra vowels to change single syllable words to two syllable words. There are several historical photographs, and stories about the folklore expeditions to the area to make a record of these songs. Still, one would have liked more information about the songs themselves – if not the lyrics (and translation), then a few words on what the song is about (listeners without knowledge of Latvian or Latgalian will likely not understand what the songs are about).

Dziesmas no Aulejas, even though it just contains vocal performances, confirms the strength of the voices of the singers of Tautumeitas. These authentic interpretations of songs from the village of Auleja reveal the power and richness of the bolss singing tradition, one that has been kept alive by generations of women from Auleja, and are now renewed again by the women of Tautumeitas.

For further information, please visit the Tautumeitas website.\

Dziesmas no Aulejas

Tautumeitas

SKU TM CD 001, 2020

Track listing:

  1. Anņeite
  2. Dīzgon borgais rudiņs nuoca
  3. Ar gūdeni dzīdit, meitys!
  4. Pavasars / Pavasara bolss
  5. Ūguos guoju, ūdzeņuosi / Ūgu bolss
  6. Tymsā mani tautys vede
  7. Kur, Jumeiti tu gulieji? / Juma bolss
  8. Lobs vokorsi, Juoņa tāvs / Juoņu laika bolss
  9. Klusit bārni vuornis krāc
  10. Kam, māmeņa, maņ auklēji?
  11. Ūsi, ūsi, kod lopuosi? / Lopu bolss
  12. Ūzals, ūzals, bārzsi, bārzsi
  13. Aiz azara
  14. As bej’ lela dzīduotuoja / Tolkas bolss
  15. Brosnej, puika, tū dzeršonu!
  16. Zaļā suodiņā

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.