Sixteen songs from a national treasure

Dziesmu izlase

Imants Kalniņš is one of the most beloved composers in Latvia. His music is listened to and appreciated by all types, whether they are casual music fans or devout music theorists. What is it about his music that seems to strike a chord within most every Latvian? Perhaps it is the variety of styles he can compose in, or how his music can convey just about any emotion—from happy rejoicing to being stranded in sadness to exuberant nationalism.

The past few years have seen Kalniņš once again take center stage in the public musical eye. Popular works in recent times include the re-recording of the film score to the movie "Pūt, vējiņi!" and the success of the rock group Autobuss debesīs, whose music was composed entirely by Kalniņš.

This year also saw the release of the retrospective Dziesmu izlase, containing an assortment of his popular music, recorded by the many artists who have worked with Kalniņš’ music throughout the years: Menuets, Turaidas roze, Jauns Mēness, Aigars Grāvers of Jumprava, and Renārs Kaupers of Prāta Vetra.

The disc conntains 16 tracks, compiled by Kalniņš and Ainars Mielavs. Coincidentally enough, seven of the 16 songs are songs that involve either Mielavs or his dormant group, Jauns mēness. But no matter…

The album starts off with two songs by Menuets, "Viņi dejoja vienu vasaru" and "Alvas zaldatiņi," both of which have lyrics by Māris Čaklais. The first song is a very pretty but sad piece about two lovers who had a brief romance. The chorus to the song reminds me a bit of "Memory" by Andrew Lloyd Weber. "Alvas zaldatiņi" (Tin soldiers) is one of Kalniņš’ more popular songs. It is a "military" style song about children who are playing with tin soldiers. It also offers the advice that "a dead Napoleon should be buried so he doesn’t smell, but a cat should be fed with warm milk"!

Another group that played songs by Kalniņš was Turaidas roze, and they have four songs on this release : "Svētku diena," "Nelaid, māte, bērnus mežā," "Apvij rokas" and "Mežā." Of the four, my favorite is "Svētku diena" (for which Kalniņš also wrote the lyrics), a celebratory song about the return of a loved one: "Every time that you are next to me is day of celebration!"

Another favorite on the album is "Es šodien jūku prātā," featuring Jauns mēness and lead vocals by Renārs Kaupers. I especially like the mandolin part, as well as the lyrics by Mielavs: "Nav vērts ja tikai tāpat par velti zvaigznes krīt" (It’s not worth if it if the stars fall for no reason).

Many of Kalniņš’ compositions are richly textured, a good example being the very beautiful song "Es redzēju sapnī," with its very lush keyboard part. It is almost symphonic in its style, and it is complemented well by Mielavs’ vocals. However, the very next song, "I Love You," is a straight ahead rock song that makes the listener want to sing along with its very simple but effective chorus in English, "I love you, do you love me too?"

The new "sensation" in Latvian music these days is Autobuss debesīs, who had the honor of closing out the day of rock music at the Rīga 800 festival on Aug. 18 (they played right before the amazing fireworks display). Part of the reason the are so popular is Kalniņš’ music. The group’s lead singer is Marts Kristiāns Kalniņš, the composer’s son. Dziesmu izlase contains two Autobuss songs, neither of which are on their album Logs puspavērts. They are "Sitiet bungas, mani mīļie" and the song called "Autobuss debesīs," another favorite of mine on this record. The lyrics for both songs were written by Viks (just Viks—no other name given!). The Autobuss songs are also a good example of how Kalniņš is capable of writing music that appeals to a younger generation. Kalniņš truly has cross-generational appeal.

The final song on the album, "Apturi mani," is a beautiful duet between Ainars Mielavs and Rēzija Kalniņa (who, besides being a well-known Latvian actress, is also Imants Kalniņš’ daughter).

Of course, you couldn’t possibly fit all the great Kalniņš songs onto one CD. One song that I particularly missed on this release was "Veltijums LTF" (dedicated to the Latvian Popular Front), probably my favorite Kalnīņš song.

The major disappointment in this release is the packaging: besides the CD cover, there isn’t any! You’d figure that with an artist with the popularity of Kalniņš, UPE Recording Co. could have at least included the lyrics and maybe a bit of history about each band (what albums they released, who were the members of the band, etc.) since it is not just Kalniņš music itself that is important. Besides, Kalniņš being such an interesting person, a bit of biographical information wouldn’t have hurt either. For those interested in more about Kalniņš the composer, I would recommend reading the book Jaunā mūzika pēc divdesmit gadiem by Ingrīda Zemzare and Guntars Pupa.

This CD is essential listening for anyone interested in Latvian music. There is good reason Kalniņš is considered a national treasure, and this CD goes a long way in confirming that standing.

As for the lyrics being absent, I think a Latvian friend of mine had the best explanation for that. "Why would you need the lyrics?," she asked. "These songs are already such a part of the Latvian culture that everyone knows all the lyrics by heart anyway!"


Dziesmu izlase

Imants Kalniņš

UPE Recording Co.,  2001

UPE CD 027

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 “Sixteen songs from a national treasure

  1. hello! I rather enjoy your articles on Imants Kalniņš, and am happy you have them in English, as I cannot speak Latvian. I found a 7″ record called “PUT VENJINI!” at a local thrift shop(i’m in London, Ontario Canada) and fell in Love with the sounds on the record, the sweeping orchestral arrangments sprinkled with Acid Fuzz guitar ! I was blown away. I understand this is an annotated version of what is on the Movie, was there and LP released in 1973 of this too? I am now in search of his discography and am thankful of your resource. Music transcends all boundaries! Can you email me if you have any english links to more info on him? English Lyrics, ect? Thanks!

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