(Joseph Wihtol), distinguished Latvian composer and teacher, was born in Valmiera, Latvia on 26th July, 1863. He died in Lübeck, on 24th April,1948. His remains were returned to Riga in 1993.
Jazeps Vitols grew
up in a schoolteacher's family. His parents' support made it possible for him
to study at the famous St Petersburg Conservatory at the age of seventeen. In
1886 he graduated in composition from the St Petersburg Conservatory, where his
principal teacher was Nikolay Rimsky- Korsakov. Immediately thereafter he
joined the faculty of the Conservatory , where from 1901-1918he was full
professor. Among his students were Sergey Prokofiev, Nikolai Miaskovsky, and
Vladimir Shcherbachov. During his 32 years in St Petersburg he became intimate friends with Anatoly Ladov and
Alexander Glazunov. From 1897 to 1914 he was music critic and correspondent of
the St. Petersburg Zeitung - and director of the Latvian Chorus in St Petersburg.
Vitols returned to
Riga, now part of the newly independent Republic of Latvia. He became director of the Latvian Opera
and in 1919 founded the Latvian Conservatory of Music. From 1919 until1944 he
was rector of the Conservatory and head of its composition department. Renamed Ji1zepa
Vftola Latvijas Muzikas Akademija, it is still the only music establishment
of its kind in Latvia today. In addition to his full-time
position at the Conservatory, Vitols found time and energy to write music
criticism. He also devoted much time to composing, and promoting national
folk-song festivals throughout Latvia. In 1923 he was one of the founders of the
Latvian Composers' Society. He continued to appear in concerts frequently as
both pianist and choral conductor. At the time of his death, Vitols had
completed his autobiography, Memoirs of My Life, which
unfortunately did not appear in print until1963. The first complete edition of
this book was finally published in Latvia in 1988.
Vitols' 850 compositions are one oratorio, two cantatas, a ballad for chorus
and orchestra, one symphony, overtures and symphonic poems, 103 works for a capella
choir, a string quartet, piano sonata and some 80 other works for the piano, 92
songs for voice and piano, over 300 arrangements of Latvian folk-songs, works
for band, violin, viola, cel1o and organ. Jazeps Vitols' scores are
characterized by their balance of classical forms, expanded dramatic
development, programmatic content, subtle instrumentations and their
sophisticated contrasts. These outstanding characteristics can be attributed to
his association with Rimsky-Korsakov at the St Petersburg Conservatory, and are
evident in the music recorded on this disc.
The Dramatiska Uvertira
(Dramatic Overture), Opus 21, is dedicated to Anatoly Ladov.
Composed in 1895, it received its premiere on 9th March, 1896 under the baton
of Rimsky-Korsakov. The Overture is written as a ballad in the form of a
sonata allegro. Although clearly influenced by the "Mighty Five"
Russian composers, Borodin, Cui, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky,
Vito1s brings to this work his own forms of self-expression.
par Latviesu Tautas Dziesmam (Latvian Folk-Song Fantasy) was composed in
1908 as Fantasy for violin and piano and dedicated to his friend and
col1eague from the St Petersburg Conservatory , Ovanes Nalbadjan. In 1910
Vitols orchestrated the Fantasy and published it as his Opus 42. The Fantasy
in form resembles a concerto. The concerto genre was practical1y unknown in
Latvia at the time, and the prominent violin part in this Fantasy
established a precedent for concerto writing. Vitols incorporated his love
for Latvian folk- music in this work, utilising some folk melodies he had
arranged earlier in his career. The first movement of the Fantasy is
built as a contrast between two themes -folk melodies: romantic Apkart kalnu
gaju (I went to the mountain) and the contemplative nocturne Tumsa nakte,
zala zale (Dark Night). The second movement is both tragic and melancholic,
using an orphan's song Ej, saulite, driz pie Dieva (Take the sun, I pray
to God). The final movement of the Fantasy is again based on two songs,
only this time they supplement each other rather than contrast. Brave and
vigorous Redz, kur jaj div bajari (Look at those two lords) and the
joyous peasant song Gani dzina, govis mava (Shepherds) melt together
towards the coda where brilliant passages for the violin and orchestra reflect
the enthusiasm and optimism of Latvian peoples.
The tone-poem, Spriditis
(a little boy named Spriditis (Tom-Thumb)), Opus 37, was composed in
1907 and dedicated to the famous Latvian sculptor, Gustavs Skilteris. It
received its first performance on8th March, 1908 in St Petersburg under the direction of Felix Blumenfeld. In 1911 this
piece received the Glinka Prize. The programmatic content for this tone-poem
comes from the play by the Latvian writer Anna Brigadere. On the face page of
the score the composer provides a synopsis of the plot: "Once upon a time
lived a little boy named Spriditis. He lived in his grandmother's hut.
Spriditis becomes bored with carving wooden spoons and tending sheep, and
dreams of foreign lands and carefree life. The overture shows us the heroic
moments of the boy's adventures after he decides to leave the hut. While
searching for hidden treasures, Spriditis is attracted by wood fairies with
their tiny lights. He has to fight demons to gain the favours of the princess.
Discouraged by their magic tricks, he dreams of his homeland and finally rushes
home to grandmother where the little boy finds real happiness in the tiny
hut." From the exposition, the overture develops in the form of a
classical sonata allegro with the sad folk melody Ik vakarus dziedat gaju (Every
night I went to sing). The energetic main theme and the poetic sub-theme
characterizes the little boy himself. The development brings fantastic shades
and contrasts, showing the courage of the little hero. The reprise shows the
boy's cheerful return home. No doubt the idea of this fairy-tale is deeply
rooted in the composer's longing for his homeland while living in St Petersburg.
The suite, Dargakmeni
(Jewels), Opus 66 was composed in 1924 and dedicated to his friend
Alexander Glazunov. The first performance took place in Riga on 6th November, 1924, under the direction of Teodor
Reiter. The suite consists of five short contrasting movements, colourfully
orchestrated. Vitols' handling of the colours and contrasts shows his ability
to imbue his music with sophisticated and scintillating expression. The
movements are as follows:
I. Ametists (Amethysts)
- softly flashes its beauty as a lyrical melody.
II. Smaragds (Emeralds)
- catches the ear as a zesty and impassioned dance.
III. Perles (Pearls)
- gracious miniature along with noble aristocracy.
IV. Rubins (Rubies)
- reveals the composer's ability to build up an enchanting sonic world full of
oriental dances, wonders and mystery. V. Briljants (Diamonds) - bright, legant
waltz where in the middle section the composer flashes back all the material
from previous movements. In this particular movement the composer masterfully
plays with a rondo form showing how one builds up the rondo using only one
theme as a basis.
The presence of
choreographic ideas in this suite is more obvious than in any other of Vitols'
works. The famous Latvian dancer and choreographer Beatrise Vignere asked the
composer to write the music in the form of a suite, so that it could be
transformed into a dance piece. However, the idea of producing this suite as
dance piece in "lights and movements" did not materialise during the
The ballad, Rudens
Dziesma (Autumn's Song) was composed in 1927 and dedicated to the Latvian
composer Janis Medins. It was first performed in Riga
on 18th November, 1928, under the direction of Emil Kuper. The ballad Ruden5
dzie5ma is written in sonata allegro form and certainly ranks as one of
Vitols' greatest symphonic compositions. Broad and expansive is the sound of
the orchestra in this score. However, the composer's psychologically meditative
mood prevails in this piece along with the dramatic elements found in earlier
works (such as the Dramatiska uvertira, the Symphony (1886-88),
and the tone poem, Ligo).
Notes by Olgerts
Gravitis Dr.art., Professor, LatvianMusicAcademy