The tradition of the Gregorian music week in Latvia
started in the year of 1993, when a group of about 30
young people who took a great interest in Gregorian
music, which until then was something unheard of in
Latvia, got together for the first time in a picturesque
village of Āraiši, about 70 km away from Riga.
Since then, the Gregorian music week has become a living
and enduring tradition and every summer around 100 participants
take part in it from all over Latvia and even abroad.
The Gregorian music week is always opened with a thanksgiving
service of Light (Lucernarium), which follows the ancient
order of church services and includes a beautiful procession
with candle light and incense.
Fifteen years ago, the Gregorian Music was something distant,
beyond reach and full of mystery…
In 1991, Gerhard Jungst, a clergyman from Germany, arrived
in Latvia to give lectures on Liturgy and Gregorian Music
at the Faculty of Theology of Latvia University. A year
later, he returned to give lectures at the Music Academy.
At that time I was a student and thanks to my good knowledge
of the German language, I had the honour of being an interpreter
for Gerhard Jungst. In this way I got involved.
Later, when studying in Germany, I had the opportunity
to live in a Benedictine monastery for three months and
experience how the Gregorian singing was practiced in
everyday prayers of the monastery. For those people, it
was like breathing and I joined in breathing together
with them. Step by step, the Gregorian music revealed
itself to me not just as music from ancient times, but
it also showed me the way to God.
How did the Gregorian music week start in Latvia?
A lot of different people attended these lectures at University and Music Academy and their interest in Gregorian music was obvious. So Gerhard Jungst had a wonderful idea to start the tradition of the Gregorian Music Week in Latvia, too. At that time this tradition was already practiced in many countries round the world. That was truly a moment of great spiritual wisdom. He was sure that the Gregorian Music Week could develop into a tradition in Latvia. He was undoubtedly the initiator and soul of the first Gregorian Music Week and I was glad to get involved, too. The following year, I took it all over and since then the organization of Gregorian Music Week has been in my hands. Gerhard Jungst deliberately passed it on to us and said that we had to find our own way of organizing this event in Latvia.
From what I hear, neighbouring Estonians have been inspired
by our idea of the Gregorian Music
Estonians joined us in the year when there were almost
a hundred participants. They were deeply impressed by
what was going on, especially, by the presence of so
many young people who with great enthusiasm and joy
were singing and praying together, at the same time
living in very modest conditions. When the time came
to say goodbye, we used an old Jewish saying – See you
next year in Jerusalem. The Estonians paraphrased this
proverb saying “See you next year in Āraiši”. Their
experience in Āraiši served them as an inspiration and
They organized their first Gregorian Music Week four
years later and that was a great event. Then, three
years ago, I was invited to give lectures during their
week. However, this tradition is not so strongly established
in Estonia and has quite an elite touch about it. Every
year about 15 people come together and they really take
Gregorian music very seriously, almost scholastically.
The participation fee is quite high which permits high
living standards. So they have developed their own way
of organizing this event. We, in our turn, consistently
try to stay democratic and modest making this event
accessible to everybody. We consider this the greatest
value of the Gregorian Music Week. It is open to anybody
who is interested in Gregorian Music.
How did the Gregorian Music Week come to Āraiši?
I think it was part of God’s plan from above. We were looking for a place and the Latvian rector Janis Ginters suggested Āraiši. We went there to have a look and were pleasantly surprised - it was really a beautiful place and still is. Today, it is almost impossible to imagine the Gregorian Music Week taking place somewhere else. The place and the music have literally become one. At that time the rector Janis Begis served there and he was almost 80 then but still ministering in six parishes. He liked the idea right from the start and welcomed us with arms wide open. He even called us Gregorians. He was a man of true faith. By the way, at one time he was a churchwarden in St. John’s church in Cēsis and during the Soviet times he kept some of the most valuable church stained glass panels hidden in his shed because in those days many such valuable pieces were destroyed. When Atmoda or the National Awakening started, he brought them all out and the stained glass panels were put back in St. John’s church in Cēsis. Regrettably, he passed away five years ago.
How could you explain the great interest about the Gregorian music?
Don’t you think it has become a sort of a craze nowadays?
Gregorian chants certainly have nothing to do with being ostentatious or affected. To my mind, through a Gregorian chant you have an opportunity to get closer to God, His Word and prayer through which you can attain peace and balance. I would never agree with those who consider it as something elite for the chosen few. Just like the people more than two thousand years ago lived and breathed with it, the same can be true for us nowadays. During the Gregorian Music week we give people an opportunity to experience it, in a way, as an alternative to the regular practise and worship in churches. We do not try to enact monastic traditions and practises. Anyway, the rhythm of these prayers is not really meant for a modern working man. So during one year cycle we give people an opportunity to get away from the hectic daily routine and immerse into peaceful and meditative atmosphere of Gregorian Music Week.
The Gregorian music seems to be enjoying some kind of renaissance.
Is that true only in Latvia?
It is likely that in other countries where faith has never been banned, the Gregorian music has never been forgotten either, but generally speaking, the Gregorian music has been neglected in other places of the world, as well. In fact, starting with the late Middle Ages it was increasingly left to oblivion. There are several objective reasons explaining this trend, like the development of the polyphonic music and rhythm. Only in the second part of the 19th century, the Gregorian music experienced its revival parallel to the renewal of monasteries. As we know, during the Napoleon times, monasteries were abolished. There were monks who rediscovered ancient books and manuscripts and acknowledged them as a great value and an essential part of their identity. In the 19th century serious research on Gregorian music began in France at the Benedictine monastery of Solesmes. Eugene Cardine is considered to be the best-known teacher of all the acknowledged authorities of the Gregorian music nowadays. The Second Vatican Council established the Gregorian music as a church standard.
The interview was conducted by Inese
Cepleniece in August, 2004.