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:


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.

2 thoughts on “Latvian Radio Choir sings all of Jānis Zālīts’ 20th century choral music

  1. I believe the image used here is not the Latvian Radio Choir, but rather the State Choir Latvija, conducted by Māris Sirmais.

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