The centenary of Latvia, celebrated in 2018, inspired many artistic and cultural projects. Among them was an invitation from conductor Māris Sirmais and the State Choir Latvija to one hundred different Latvian composers to compose a new choir work. The only requirements were that the text should correspond to one of five ‘elements’ – fire, water, earth, sky, or love, and the work be at a level that an amateur choir would be able to perform it.
Seventy-seven composers answered the call, and all the resulting choir works were performed in concert by Latvija and Sirmais, throughout 2017 and 2018. In 2021, a selection of the works was released on the CD Aeternum. Over the course of sixteen choir compositions, from a varied group of composers including both well-known names and those still early in their careers, the State Choir Latvija reveals the many facets and layers of Latvian choir music.
Among the composers are names that have helped raise Latvia’s profile in the field of choir music in recent decades. Ēriks Ešenvalds, known for his skill with melody and harmony, contributed the gently flowing ‘Rasa’, with poetry by Rasa Maija Armale, who wrote a poem inspired by her own name Rasa (or ‘Dew’). Pēteris Vasks provided the somber ‘Mūsu kalni’ (or ‘Our Mountains’), based on a poem by Knuts Skujenieks, which is slightly ironically titled – in that Latvia does not actually have mountains. However, as per the poem, Latvia does have lofty and noble clouds, which are Latvia’s mountains.
There are several younger composers represented on this collection as well. Jēkabs Jančevskis’ dramatic, mysterious ‘Aeternum’, with poetry by Pēteris Brūveris, with its repeated phrase ‘mēs katrs sevī nesam mūžību’ (we each carry eternity within us), is at once a broad view of eternity and deeply personal. Anna Ķirse found inspiration in Latvian folk songs for her mystical ‘Bieza migla zemi sedza’. The folk song texts, full of rich, colorful imagery of the sun, fog, and clouds, inspires an equally rich musical setting for this ancient text. Irīna Mihailovska’s appropriately fiery ‘Uguns rituāls’, also based on Latvian folk texts, is full of mysticism and mythology, and alternates between energetic sparks and contemplative melodies.
Many of the composers are from a more academic background, but there are also representatives from the field of popular music. ‘Piesaukšana’, with music by Jānis Aišpurs from the rock group The Sound Poets, with poetry by Ojārs Vācietis, is inspirational and stirring, with Aišpurs’ music bringing an almost tangible electricity to Vācietis’ words of hope for the Latvian people. Juris Kulakovs, of the legendary rock group Pērkons, offers the tender and gentle ‘Mežā. Nakts…’, text by Jānis Audzespiedurs. The composition is like a lullaby, and the words describe night descending on a forest. Uldis Marhilēvičs, the author of many popular Latvian rock songs throughout the decades, along with prolific rock lyricist Guntars Račs, deliver the patriotic ‘Mēs esam’, a promise to always be with Latvia.
Many other distinguished and illustrious Latvian composers are also featured in this collection. The choir works include Raimonds Tiguls’ haunting ‘Griezes dziesma’, Andris Kontauts’ tragic ‘Jūras māte, Jūras māte, valdi savas kalponītes’, Maija Einfelde’s emotionally direct and honest ‘Krāsas’, as well as works by Valts Pūce, Andris Dzenītis, Rihards Zaļupe, Vilnis Šmīdbergs, and Ansis Sauka.
As a birthday gift, a collection of seventy-seven new choir songs is a particularly generous and memorable one. Latvian composers from all over the world contributed to this impressive endeavor and added even more riches to an already impressive national collection. Though Aeternum collects just a selection of those works, over the sixteen works contained on the album, the depth and diversity of Latvian choir music is fully apparent. As performed by the State Choir Latvija and conductor Māris Sirmais, this collection provides a vivid, picturesque celebration of both Latvia’s centenary and the exceptional Latvian choir music repertoire.
For more information, please visit the Choir Latvija website
State Choir Latvija
LMIC/SKANi 089, 2021
- Ēriks Ešenvalds – Rasa
- Irīna Mihailovska – Uguns rituāls
- Valts Pūce – Dziesmu svētkos
- Andris Dzenītis – No debesīm
- Pēteris Vasks – Mūsu kalni
- Rihards Zaļupe – Sauciens vējā
- Uldis Marhilēvičs – Mēs esam
- Vilnis Šmīdbergs – Tā lapa, tā lapa, kas lejup krīt
- Maija Einfelde – Krāsas
- Andris Kontauts – Jūras māte, Jūras māte, valdi savas kalponītes
- Anna Ķirse – Bieza migla zemi sedza
- Jānis Aišpurs – Piesaukšana
- Ansis Sauka – Ar zvaigžņu kluso gaismu…
- Juris Kulakovs – Mežā. Nakts…
- Raimonds Tiguls – Griezes dziesma
- Jēkabs Jančevskis – Aeternum