Skandinieki CD features wedding songs from the Sēlija region

The traditional Latvian folk ensemble Skandinieki has a long and rich history. Founded in 1976, for more than forty years the group has been playing and singing not just Latvian folk songs, but also Liv folk songs – the Stalts family, the core of Skandinieki for its entire existence, are of Liv descent. Today, Skandinieki is led by Julgī Stalte.

Their most recent recording is of wedding songs from the Selonia (Sēlija) region of Latvia (today, the eastern section of the Zemgale administrative district, around the city of Jēkabpils). Though the Selonian language may have died out, the songs have not, and, recognizing the cultural wealth from that area, Skandinieki released the album Kāzas sēļu zemēs in 2018. The songs on the album are arranged somewhat chronologically – from songs about the couples meeting, then the wedding itself, and then concluding with songs about the wedding night.

A lot of work was put into reproducing the Selonian dialect, and the group enlisted the help of linguist Maija Poiša to make the recordings as authentic as possible. There are some comments from Poiša in the CD booklet about this challenge. Reproducing Selonian was particularly difficult, as this comparatively rarely spoken dialect had, depending on which town you were in, different pronunciations for different words.

There is a touch of the mystical in the song ‘Àiz upeites’, a young girl’s song about her journey across a river – a symbolic travel that leaves her past on one side (her family remains crying on one side) and her future awaits on the other side. Accompanied by the kokle, the women of Skandinieki provide an enchanting performance of this song about a young girl coming of age. The men of Skandinieki follow that up with the lively ‘Ogri müni goíļi dziéd(i)’, a story of sailors travelling to Prussian lands to find brides.

An important part of any Latvian wedding is mičošana, or traditions and rituals performed late in the evening to celebrate the union of the pair. ‘Mi:čuošänas dziésma’ is about this ritual, and includes wisdom from the older, married women, and also mentions the symbolic change of the bride’s headwear – from the unmarried girl’s vainags (crown) to the married woman’s galvas rota (head ornament).

There are more mystical elements in the vigorous ‘Nätìšām(i) as ìegàju’, a prayer to the Latvian goddess Laima to bless the marriage and protect the newly married couple, and the album concludes with the quiet, single-voiced ‘Gulāt ìrbe, gulāt sluóka’, the song of the grandmother as she leads the newlyweds to their bed.

As with many releases from the Lauska record label, the CD booklet is full of information about the songs and the performers. Each song features notes for the melody, as well as a brief explanation of the song in Latvian and English. There are also Selonian folk beliefs, such as the belief from the town of Birzgale, where if the bride and groom have similar noses, they will be a good match for each other.

Besides being a well performed and enjoyable listen, Kāzas sēļu zemēs is also a valuable folklore document, as comparatively little from the Selonia region has been recorded or released. Though the region is small, it still has a great wealth of folklore and folk songs, and, on Kāzas sēļu zemēs, Skandinieki have provided authentic and engaging performances of these wedding songs.

For more information, please visit the Skandinieki Facebook page.

Kāzas sēļu zemēs


Lauska, CD077, 2018

Track listing:

    1. Àiz upeites
    2. Ogri müni goíļi dziéd(i)
    3. So:rkonais duábùeliņč
    4. Ķìrveleíc
    5. Iétan mu:n goàjējam
    6. Ziéduošana
    7. Kùodeļa spreslìca
    8. Jaúnas mäítas
    9. Malni vērši, bòlti rogi
    10. Mi:čuošänas dziésma
    11. Nätìšām(i) as ìegàju
    12. Pùra dancs
    13. Gùoda dziésma
    14. Valberģu polka
    15. Sēlpils bukurags
    16. Àisskrējä vanädzìņč
    17. Treís mäítiņ’s doàrzā
    18. Gulāt ìrbe, gulāt sluóka

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. 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.

Reinis Zariņš releases album of Lūcija Garūta’s piano works

One of the most notable Latvian composers in the first half of the 20th century was Lūcija Garūta. Taught by Jāzeps Vītols, the father of Latvian academic music and the founder of the Latvian Conservatory, she was one of the first professional female composers in Latvia, and she achieved a significant amount of success in Latvia in the period between the two World Wars.

During World War II, Garūta used her music to demonstrate against the Soviet occupation, and during this time she composed her best known work – the monumental oratorio Dievs, Tava zeme deg! (God, Thy Land is Aflame). Even today this work remains one of the most powerful large-scale choral works in Latvian music – the performance of her arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer – ‘Mūsu Tēvs Debesīs’ – was one of the most memorable moments of the 2018 Song Festival.

Garūta also composed extensively for piano. Recognizing her significant contribution to Latvian piano music, pianist Reinis Zariņš recorded an album Lūcija Garūta. Music for Piano, which includes both symphonic and solo piano works. Released by the Latvian national record label Skani in 2017 (40 years after Garūta’s death in 1977), this collection is a valuable and welcome addition to the comparatively few recordings of Garūta’s works.

Unlike many of her colleagues and members of the intelligentsia, Garūta remained in Latvia after World War II. Even though during the war she was hostile to the Soviet regime, Garūta was still allowed to compose, and perhaps her most significant post-war composition is her Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, composed in 1951. The work is dedicated to her niece Laila, who died tragically at a young age. Due to these circumstances, the work is both emotionally rich and vivid, at times even stormy, perhaps due to the wide range of emotions Garūta must have felt after Laila’s passing.  The somber second movement is particularly moving, as it includes elements from Latvian funeral songs, while the third movement adds elements of playfulness and vitality, concluding the work on what could be a hopeful, positive note. Zariņš is joined by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Atvars Lakstīgala, and in their hands, the Piano Concerto, at times a requiem, at other times a tender remembrance of a young girl, makes for a deeply personal and intimate work.

As many Latvian composers have done throughout the years, Garūta also uses elements of Latvian folksongs in her works, such as in her variations on the Latvian folk song ‘Karavīri bēdājās’, composed in 1933, and still today remains one of her most popular works. As the title would indicate, this is a more serious work, about soldiers going to war and all the difficulties they face – from leaving their families to harsh conditions on the battlefield. At nearly twenty minutes, this expansive piano work is a showcase for Zariņš’ talents at not just skillfully performing the work, but also painting a captivating and engrossing portrait of the travails of soldiers.

The collection also includes four preludes written in the 1920s, as well as ‘Meditation’, written in 1935.

The CD concludes on the very tender ‘Lellītes aiju dziesmiņa’ (The Little Doll’s Lulling Song), also dedicated to niece Laila, and provides a quiet epilogue to this collection. This heartfelt work is given the appropriate emotion and feeling by Zariņš, and is a memorable performance of this deeply personal lullaby. In the CD liner notes, Zariņš shares a story of how he unexpectedly discovered the sheet music for this – it happened to drop out of one of Garūta’s photo albums that Zariņš was perusing.

The CD booklet features extensive information on Garūta and Zariņš, as well as the works performed, in both Latvian and English.

Lūcija Garūta. Music for Piano confirms again the significant contribution of composer Lūcija Garūta to Latvian academic music, particularly in the field of piano music. Channeling the many emotions Garūta displayed in her music, pianist Reinis Zariņš provides masterful and nuanced interpretations of her works, both the intimate solo works, as well as the sweeping Concerto for Piano. As has been the case in all of their releases so far, the Skani label has done an excellent job of highlighting not just notable Latvian composers, but Latvian performers as well. Music for Piano is a vital document of one of the most significant composers in Latvian history.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Lūcija Garūta. Music for Piano

Reinis Zariņš

Skani, SKANI056, 2017

Track listing:

    1. Concerto for Piano and Orchestra – 1stmovement
    2. 2ndmovement
    3. 3rdmovement
    4. Prelude in B minor
    5. Prelude in E major
    6. Prelude in C sharp minor
    7. Prelude in D flat minor
    8. Variations on the Latvian folk song ‘Karavīri bēdājās’
    9. Lellītes aiju dziesmiņa

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. 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.

Baškīrijas latviešu folkloras ansamblis svin Mārtiņus Sibīrijā

Šis ir brīnišķīgs gads! Katram gadam savs skaistums. Šis ir Latvijas simtgades gads, un tas bija viens no iemesliem, kas palīdzēja radīt un piepildīt ideju. Tā radās šī gada maijā Sanktpēterburgā, kad kopā sanāca visi Krievijas latviešu diasporu pārstāvji. Dzīvojot vienā viesnīcas stāvā ar Omskas un Augšbebru latvietēm, Baškortotānas latviešu valodas skolotājai radās doma par to, ka Mārtiņi jāsvin Sibīrijā. Pie tam Baškīrijas latvieši sen nav bijuši ciemos pie sibīriešiem, pie tam latviešu valodas apguvējiem būs lieliska iespēja uzlabot savu senču valodas prasmes. Domāts, darīts! Latvijas Republikas Ārlietu ministrijas diasporas atbalsta projektu konkursā “Arhlatviešu vidusskolas skolēnu motivācijas veicināšanas un pieredzes apmaiņas braucienam uz Mārtiņdienas svinībām Omskas apgabala Augšbebru ciemā” tika piešķirti līdzekļi, un nu mēs jau braucam vilcienā no Ufas un Omsku. Kādam no skolēniem tas ir pirmais brauciens ar vilcienu, turklāt tik tālu no mājām.

Latviešu folkloras ansamblis “Atbalss” vienmēr ir dzirdams un pamanāms. Arī šoreiz vilcienā “Atbalss” dzied, tā dzied visur, un mūsu dziesmu repertuārs ir plašs.

Pēc 24 stundu brauciena nokļūstam Omskā. Ir vakars. Stacijā mūs sagaida Omskas Latviešu biedrības direktors Andris Tupesis. Dodamies uz autoostu, lai nokļūtu līdz Augšbebriem, mums vēl piecas stundas jābrauc ar satiksmes autobusu. “Atbalss” kļuvusi pavisam klusa, nogurusi, taču tas ir tikai mirklis, ceļā uz autoostu, bērni “atdzīvojas”. Par Sibīriju līdz šim domāts pavisam maz, tā asociējas ar aukstumu un lielu salu, un novembra sākumā sals te tik tiešām jūtams.

Pēc piecu stundu brauciena ar autobusu mēs esam sasnieguši gala mērķi. Esam Augšbebros – mazajā latviskajā ciematā! Jau ceturto reizi esmu Augšbebros, un mani vienmēr pārņem vienas un tās pašas sajūtas – miers un siltums. Ir labi te būt!

Svētki paiet ātri. Svētki sniedz gandarījumu, taču prieku un piepildījumu dod gatavošanās lielajam notikumam. Koncerts, gatavošanās Mārtiņdienas gadatirgum – vafeles cepot un putna pienu brūvējot. Pucēšanās, mēģinājumi un latviešu danču vakari ar vietējo jaunatni – tā paiet divas dienas Augšbebros, un mēs attopamies vien tad, kad viss jau ir beidzies. Jau atkal tiek krāmēts koferis, pēc tam 5 stundu garais ceļš līdz Omskai. Aizbraucot no Augšbebriem bija 19 grādu sals, Omskā – mīnuss viens, Baškīrijā – plus viens.

“Kaut varētu Mārtiņdienu aiz ausīm noturēt!”, tā teic latviešu tautas dziesma, un taisnība vien ir. Spilgti bija Mārtiņi Augšbebru ciemā, spilgta un spraiga gatavošanās tiem. Šķiet svētki rodas tad, kad tiem gatavojamies un gaidām tos, pati Mārtiņu norises diena bija kulminācija mūsu darbam, bet vispirms jau iecerei, kura izdevās.



Ilona Saverasa ir skolotāja, kas māca latviešu valodu un kultūru Baškortostānā.