Latvian Radio Choir’s “Daugava” bring Rainis’ words, Brauns’ music to life

It would not be an exaggeration to call the song ‘Saule, Pērkons, Daugava’ (music by composer Mārtiņš Brauns, lyrics by poet Rainis) one of the most popular, if not the most popular and beloved of modern Latvian songs. It is always one of the emotional culmination points of any Latvian Song Festival, and the song is so treasured that there have been serious efforts to establish it as the new official Latvian anthem. With its stirring music and triumphant words, it inspires and galvanizes not just Latvians, but others worldwide (the Catalonians have used Brauns’ music for their own anthem).

Rainis wrote most of ‘Daugava’ in 1916, and it experienced its first public performance in 1919. Rainis, observing the suffering of the Latvian people during World War I, intended the poem to inspire Latvians with ideas of freedom and independence. In an uncanny coincidence, Rainis even predicted the battles with the forces of Bermondt on the shores of the Daugava River at the end of 1919.

‘Saule, Pērkons, Daugava’ was initially composed by Mārtiņš Brauns as part of a larger choir suite, based on Rainis’ epic poem ‘Daugava’. Premiered at the height of the Latvian Awakening in 1988, Brauns’ music became a rallying cry during the era, and has remained one of the most significant musical achievements of that era.

Recognizing the significance and national importance of not just the song ‘Saule, Pērkons, Daugava’, but the entire Daugava suite, the Latvian Radio Choir, conducted by Sigvards Kļava, released a recording of the full composition in 2018, which also features the composer himself on keyboards and occasional solo vocal. The album, entitled Daugava, presents the full work, reaffirming again the significance of the whole of this composition. It is no surprise that the album won the best recording of academic music at the 2019 Golden Microphone Award ceremony.

Brauns, who also performed extensively with the rock group Sīpoli, brings much of the theatricality and intensity of rock music to the Daugava cycle with his keyboard performances, full of varied musical elements and even sound effects. The stirring ‘Sasaukšanās’, a call to all Latvians, begins the song cycle, and then Brauns’ keyboards bring a dramatic atmosphere to the subdued and somber ‘Tumsas māte’. Brauns himself provides a memorable and powerful vocal performance in ‘Ilgu vējš’. More theatricality can be heard in the appropriately angry ‘Dusmu dziesma’, where the choir literally growls phrases like ‘brīves vārdu traipījuši’ (they have stained the name of freedom).

The mournful ‘Daugavmāte’ is a song about the nurturing power of the Daugava River, and there are tender moments as well, such as the gentle ‘Sarkanbaltais karodziņš’, an ode to the three historical regions of Latvia.

‘Trimdas dziesma’ is a call for Latvians to unite, those in Latvia as well as those in Latvia, and it also provides a lament for the unfortunate Latvian tendency to devour one another in lyrics like ‘Kādi zvēri esam mēs? Kožam paši savu tautu!’ (What kind of animals are we? We tear each other apart!).

The work, of course, concludes with the appropriately anthemic ‘Saule. Pērkons. Daugava.’ Besides being the culmination of the larger work itself, it is also one of the pinnacles of Latvian music, a rare perfect meld of music and poetry. The Radio Choir’s performance of it is stirring and moving, and confirms the power of this song, no matter the performer – be it a smaller choir or tens of thousands of singers at the Song Festival.

Daugava is a true treasure, and this recording of it is not just a passionate, full spirited performance of the song suite, but also a valuable musical document, a triumphant and memorable achievement. The Latvian Radio Choir, along with conductor Sigvards Kļava, vividly bring Rainis’ words and Brauns’ music to life, creating an engrossing and dramatic interpretation that captivates the listener with its vision of the role of the Daugava River in the fate of the Latvian nation.

For further information, please visit the Latvian Radio Choir website

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.

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