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Latvian music

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Author Topic: Latvian music  (Read 8951 times)
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« on: August 18, 2012, 08:02:55 am »

Actually, Skulte is clearly one of my top favourites among Latvian composers. I think his sense for colour and atmosphere is most remarkable, highly imaginative and, in a way, also pictorial music. Here are some thoughts about his symphonies:

I would regard Nos. 1-4 as one group. Probably, Skulte is nearest to Socialist Realism here - while I want to emphasize that for me, there is nothing pejorative about this. All four symphonies are related to special themes (Peace, Nature, Space Flight and Youth). While I would be ready to admit that No. 1 might still have certain lengths (though much of it is very attractive in my view), I do think that No. 2 is a magnificent portrait of nature, with bright, blossoming colours, a brilliant hymn to the sun.

No. 3 is more compact, it's a portrait of space and Skulte inserts some very interesting features here, like working with the harmonic series or using flageolet effects, to illustrate the universe in music. It's a magic moment when the symphony finally drifts away into space. No. 4 is one of the greatest youth symphonies I know, since Skulte manages to evoke a certain atmosphere of sparkling lightness, the music almost seems to float in some passages.

No. 5 was written almost 10 years later and it is really a totally different work in terms of mood: all of a sudden, we now get a dark and depressive piece, full of struggle and grief. The climaxes of this symphony are highly impressive as a bell joins the orchestra. Near the end of the finale, the opening theme of the music is picked up again and transformed to something like a tragic hymn, before the music collapses and fades away into silence. Skulte's Sixth Symphony is more positive again, on the one hand he obviously wanted to try out some more harmonic effects here (beginning), on the other hand the finale is pretty lighthearted. For me, that's a work of transition.

Skulte's last three symphonies are from the 1980s and show his late mastery. The Seventh's title is "Preserve Nature!", and thus, the music depicts the beauty of nature (you can even hear birds at times) as well as it worries about its conservation. A choir joins the orchestra in the last two movements (of three). The ending is very characteristic: a broad and glorious tune is heard in form of a climax, but in the end, a dissonant chord is heard, maybe to be regarded as some kind of appeal.

The Eighth does not have a title but as Maris once explained, it's a symphony about the sea, quoting two Latvian folk songs. I heard the symphony several times with this background in mind, and I now think it really makes a lot of sense, I could really hear the morning mist above the water, large waves and quiet sea, the sun, and finally maybe the sunset, when everything gets calm again. Magnificently done, a great piece.

The atmosphere of farewell which is already in the Eighth up to some point is then totally obvious in the Ninth, which I would even characterize as a symphony of farewell. Grey colours of autumn, a mood of melancholy and retrospective, interact with elements of reminiscence, e.g. subtle waltz tunes which are heard several times. There are some very special moments in this symphonies, at which the music seems to come to a halt and just views back. The end presents once again one of Skulte's great, golden orchestral climaxes with a catchy tune, but it finally vanishes (really in such a way that its gets fragmented bit by bit), and the closing bars are most elegiac and silent.

Especially Symphonies Nos. 8&9 are very conservative of course (they were composed in 1984 and 1987, respectively), but for me, this doesn't matter if a composer is able to create such strong images, has such a great command of orchestral colours and moods and also a distinctive voice.

What escapes me a little about your statement, Greg, is why you think this music is not memorable. Quite on the contrary, it's highly memorable in my view. Each symphony contains passages and tunes which I could recall at any time by heart!
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