1945 was one of the most traumatic years in world history, particularly in Latvia. The Soviet occupation, which had already begun in 1944, added to the misery of many years of war which left Latvia and many other nations devastated. Much of Latvia, Rīga in particular, was in ruins, with rubble remaining where many buildings once stood.
Many composers have found inspiration for their composition from the years of war, and two Latvian composers have created works influenced specifically by the year 1945. The first was the renowned 20th century symphonist Jānis Ivanovs, who entitled his 5th symphony ‘1945’. Also, composer Juris Karlsons gave his music for symphony orchestra the title ‘1945’ (the work itself was composed in 1985). Recognizing the significance of these two compositions in the canon of Latvian symphonic music, as well as the musical and historical links between the works and the composers themselves, the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andris Poga, recorded these two works, which were then released by the Latvian state record label Skani on the album Ivanovs. Karlsons. 1945 in 2018.
Nearly forty-five minutes in length, Ivanovs’ 5th symphony is a monumental work, weaving together weighty themes of war and destruction, of terror and hopelessness. Ivanovs himself said little about the work, save for the laconic comment “This contains everything that had accumulated over those years.”
The first movement has frequent bursts of sounds, similar to alarms, and the brass instruments provide a dark, pulsating sound to contrast with the shrill strings, while the slow and somber 2nd movement begins as a kind of funeral music, with the flutes and clarinets playing what sounds like a melody of confusion, of something difficult to understand. There is a rise in tension over the course of the movement, and a general ominous sense of unease.
The 3rd movement features a section with a solo trumpet, which then leads into an almost sentimental melody, which briefly becomes a waltz, perhaps recalling a time before the war began. The 4th movement then brings the work to a thunderous close with a kind of emotional upheaval that bursts forth, a cataclysmic finale to this emotionally strained opus.
According to the extensive and fascinating historical notes by musicologist Orests Silabriedis in the CD booklet, the work initially enjoyed praise and recognition from the Soviet authorities. However, beginning in 1948, there was an extensive reevaluation of music in the Soviet Union and the work was now condemned, and Ivanovs was even forced to repent publically for composing the work, and then, to ‘rehabilitate’ himself, had to compose a more ‘appropriate’ work – his 6th symphony, which was considered as something that could be ‘understood by all’. It was only much later when Ivanovs’ 5th symphony was spoken of positively again. There are many historical details and anecdotes in the booklet, and the text is in both Latvian and English.
Juris Karlsons, born in 1948, was a student of Ivanovs, and even completed Ivanovs’ final symphony. In 1985, to honor the 40th anniversary of the end of the war, Karlsons was asked to compose a work to mark the occasion, and he provided the symphonic work 1945. Further strengthening the link between these two works, the premiere of Karlsons’ work also included a performance of Ivanovs’ 5th symphony. Drawing inspiration from meeting actual survivors of the siege of Leningrad, Karlsons’ 1945 is a similarly fateful and dramatic work. It even begins with the representation of the year in musical form (1st – C, 9th – D flat, 4th – F, and 5th G flat). There are brief moments of lightness and even tenderness in the work, and an accordion makes an appearance in the middle of the work, perhaps to indicate a farewell event for soldiers leaving for war (and perhaps even homage to the similar waltz section of Ivanovs’ work). The work comes to an expansively dramatic conclusion, perhaps to signify the victory of the Soviet forces.
The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andris Poga, has created memorable and evocative performances of these two major works. The deft and precise performance of the orchestra brings out the artistry in both of the symphony works, creating detailed musical imagery that reveals the many sonic facets in these works, from terror and fear to a fragile sense of peace, and even triumph. Ivanovs. Karlsons. 1945 is an affecting and moving document of these works inspired by the tragic events of 1945.
Ivanovs. Karlsons. 1945
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra
Skani, SKANI062, 2018
- 1. Jānis Ivanovs • Symphony No. 5: I Moderato. Maestoso – Allegro
- 2. Jānis Ivanovs • Symphony No. 5: II Andante
- 3. Jānis Ivanovs • Symphony No. 5: III Allegro
- 4. Jānis Ivanovs • Symphony No. 5: IV Moderato
- 5. Juris Karlsons • Music for Symphony Orchestra 1945