© Valdis Muktupāvels

Latvia

 

Latvia is a country in northern Europe on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, neighbouring with Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Belorus. It is generally flat and forested, with uplands in the north-east and in the east, where numerous lakes are placed. The original inhabitants were Balt tribes - Indo-European speaking Curonians, Semigallians, Latgalians and Selonians, and, besides, Finno-Ugric Livs, of whom only a small group has survived on the north-western shore and in some towns. Nowadays in the Latvia's territory of 65 791 square-kilometres there is a population of more than 2.5 million, of whom almost a million live in its capital Riga.

Ethnogrphically Latvia is subdivided in four regions: Kurzeme (Courland) - western part, Zemgale (Semigallia) central and southern part, Vidzeme (Liefland) - central and northern part, and Latgale - eastern part. After German crusaders' conquest in the 13th century, for the next 300 years Latvia and Estonia were ruled - under the name of Livonia - by the Livonian Order and the Catholic Church. Livonia was dissolved in 1561, and three parts of what is now Latvia, experienced diverse development: Kurzeme and Zemgale - as the Duchy of Courland, Vidzeme - as a part of Latvian-Estonian province Liefland, ruled by the Swedes, and Latgale - as a part of Polish-Lithuanian State. After Russian conquest in the 18th century they became three separate provinces within the Russian empire. Latvia achieved its independance in 1918, was incorporated in the USSR in 1940, and regained its independance in 1991.

Due to natural and historical conditions Latvian traditional culture has been quite conservative. Thus even after Reformation Christian faith failed to reach all social strata, and some forms of paganism were still practiced in the beginning of the 20th century. Latvian language has changed very little within millenia, and together with Lithuanian language are regarded as still surviving dialects of primitive Indo-European. Before World War II majority of Latvians (64%) were Lutherans, whereas Latgale and a small conclave in western Kurzeme - suiti region (4 villages - Alsunga, Gudenieki, Basi, Jūrkalne) - were Catholic (26%). Half a century later those two main confessions almost equalled by number. The sense of religious identity tends to strengthen in 1990s.

 

2. Singing styles and vocal genres

 

Musical practices in the Lutheran and Catholic part are much the same, yet major differences in musical style and repertoire exist between Vidzeme and Kurzeme on one side and Latgale on the other. On the whole, traditional singing is preserved much better in Latgale, especially in its eastern part, in suiti region and south western part of Kurzeme. Recent lyrical and other popular styles are common in most of Vidzeme and Kurzeme, particularly in central, northern part and along the Riga Gulf.

Singing in Latvian rural vicinity is mostly women's domain, though men know repertoire and style in no less degree than women. Communal singing is characteristic for calendar and family celebrations, and for joint field works, when many members of the community participate.The situations of solo singing, except lullabies, are not so strictly defined by tradition.

 

2.1. Traditional terminology of vocal music

 

There is no general term in Old Latvian for "music", most of the "musical" activities have their own names. Two terms - dziedāt and gavilēt - cover all expressions of vocal music. Dziedāt "to sing" stands for most musical forms with text, melody and average, not too energetic, expression. Gavilēt "to cheer, to exult, to shout, to howl" refers to vocal forms, usually sung solo, outside, in a loud voice and with characteristic cheering/howling formulas in the middle or end of phrases. Gavilēšana (substantive form from gavilēt) was practised mostly by shepherds, ploughmen and fishermen, it could as well substitute "singing" in an actual or emotional culmination of, let's say, calendar festivity celebrations.

It is not usual in folk tradition to identify songs by title, however, the first text line serves occasionally for this purpose. In some cases the kind of singing is nominated after the specific refrain or after the event, when the respective tune or melodic formula balss is applied; thus, the term godu balss "tune of life-cycle (usually - wedding) rituals and communal feasts" is known in many parts of Latvia. A good set of such terms is used in Latgale: there is pavasara balss "spring tune", talku balss "tune of joint field works", rudzu balss "rye-field tune", ogu balss "forest-berry tune", kāzu balss "wedding tune", etc.

 

2.2. Song texts and two kinds of singing

 

The basic form of the Latvian folksong text is daina - a term used to denote a short self-contained quatrain of two non-rhyming couplets; when sung, the couplet or each line of text is usually repeated. There is a striking metric uniformity of texts of dainas - about 95% are octosyllabic trochaic, and the rest - dactylic. This unbelievable uniformity is set against a great variety of metres in melodies, from simple or compound duple metres to complex asymmetrical and mixed metres (5/8, 5/4, 7/8, 6/4=2/4+4/4, 7/4 and others). Such metres are common, as are changes of metre within a melody (e. g. in midsummer solstice celebration songs, the texts are sung in 2/4, while the līgo refrains are often in 3/4). <CAP>1.

During the process of singing a quatrain is followed rather freely by other quatrains. The choice of the following dainas is up to the singer; it depends on his/her ability, skill, knowledge, and is determined by the situation, local habits, textual associations, etc. Though each quatrain is short, the singing can go on for hours.

A limited body of Latvian folksong texts is the so-called "long songs"; they have at least 8 lines of text and are not composed of separate quatrains.

Dainas are mostly lyrical in tone, and they only rarely tell stories, but rather comment on performed rituals, express feelings, or condense folk wisdom into pithy epigrams. Remarkable is the parallelism between a full cycle of human life and the calendar cycle of a year with its big festivities linked to the major stations of the sun - the summer and winter solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes.

 

2.2.1. Recited songs

 

Two terms are used in scholarly writings, in regards to melodic style of Latvian folk songs: teicamās dziesmas "recited, declamatory songs" and dziedamās dziesmas "sung songs". The recited songs are a part of traditional events and celebrations; the recited style occurs in family celebration songs, especially at wedding, in lullabies, in a good portion of calendar festivity songs and in tunes associated with field works and cattle breeding. This style is characterized by the domination of text over melody, and actually the melodic formula, which is in the base of a recited song, is varied according to prosody of the text. The "spoken" character of the recited songs is reinforced by narrow tonal range, usually not exceeding a fifth, by the lack of melodic ornamentations and by syllabic structure of the chant, that is, each syllable corresponds to one tone. When celebrations and other gatherings of people take place, the recited songs are performed by many, usually by a group of participants of the celebration in a certain way. It can be a kind of responsorial singing, performance of which may differ from place to place.

The "spoken" character of the recited songs is not so evident in Latgale, especially in its eastern regions. A peculiar style of traditional calendar and other tunes exists in south-eastern Latgale: sung in a narrow tonal range, melodies are rhythmically rather free and highly ornamented. Therefore they are sung by a few skillful singers or even by soloist.

 

2.2.1.1. Vocal drone and its varieties

 

In certain areas vocal drone is practiced as a part of the recited style singing, and above all, in the suiti region in Kurzeme. The singers are some elderly women. Among them there is at least one recognized soloist - teicēja "the one, who says, recites", who starts the singing: a period, usually a half of the four-line stanza, is sung. This period is repeated by one or several countersingers locītājas "those, who twist, inflect, variate", while a vocal drone part is performed by vilcējas "those, who drawl, pull (a tone)". Soloist and countersinger sometimes, but not necessarily, overlap as they sing together the last few syllables of each other's phrases, and besides, countersinger repeats the period in a manner ar uzviju "with surplus", which means, that the last four or more syllables are repeated again. The drone is sung on a vowel "e" (as in there), in unison with the last tones of the soloist, and in the end is raised one tone up to make a unison with the countersinger. The vowel quality of the raised drone is also changed from "e" to "o" (as in more). <CAP>2.

Other varieties of vocal drone are known throughout Latvia. Thus, even or monotonal drone is characteristic for southern Kurzeme, eastern Zemgale, central and northern Latgale. In few recordings from southern Zemgale the drone starts higher and then is lowered one tone down. In southern part of Vidzeme and Latgale syllabic drone is used, that is, the same text is sung both in the melodic and in the drone part. There are few cases of even/monotonal and syllabic drone both being sung simultaneously in Kurzeme and eastern Zemgale, etc.

Having been mentioned in some 17th-19th century sources, vocal drone singing can still be heard in western Kurzeme and in northern and central Latgale.

 

2.2.2. Sung songs

 

On the contrary, the sung songs are not so closely connected with traditional festivities or, if they are as, for instance, wedding songs, their functionality is not so evident. The sung songs are performed mostly solo, but other singers can join as well, thus resulting in a unison, two- or multi-part singing. Two- or three-part singing, resembling that of western Lithuanian homophony, is characteristic for south-western Kurzeme. Singing in thirds with the melody in the upper voice can be heard all over Latgale, and this style is certainly influenced by liturgical singing. Besides, there may occur more or less frequently added thirds up from the melody, thus resulting in triadic sequences.

Melody of the sung songs, with its range often exceeding an octave, is basically as important as text, and lyrical character of those songs can be reinforced by some musical refinements: ornamentation, short vocalizations, refrains. Most of the sung songs' texts are the "long songs", though some quatrain sequences might be used as well.

 

2.3. Vocal genres and contexts

 

Vocal genres dominated in Latvian rural life over the instrumental music making. Singing accompanied different episodes of everyday life, field works, labour. It was indispensable part of all ritual and religious events. Singing and dancing were, in fact, forms of socializing and entertainment; besides they offered creative and aesthetic challenges.

In the past two ritual cycles were crucial for the community's survival - seasonal rituals and rituals marking the progression of family members through major stages of life. Many themes and symbols of these cycles overlapped, in that participants intended each to assure wealth, fertility, and continuity.

 

2.3.1. Seasonal rituals and their music

 

As the result of the changing social and economical situation in the second half of the 19th century, traditional contexts of singing disappeared from more developed and urbanized areas. Nevertheless in most rural districts traditional calendar was still observed, and it would seem that singing was intended to assure efficacy of seasonal rituals.

After winter the first occasion for singing was in Easter. Young girls greeted spring and the "jumping Sun" with singing in the morning. On the second day of Easter young people walked around from house to house, collecting eggs and expressing their good wish in songs. A certain singing situation emerged at swings, which were erected for the occasion and where gathered mostly young people.

A specific singing which started after Easter and could continue until Whitsun, was rotāšana. It was practised on still, not cold evenings by young girls. They gathered on a hill side, from where their singing could be heard afar. The respective songs usually had a refrain rotā, which was sung after each line of the text. Rotāšana with the vocal drone was characteristic for Sēlija - left-bank lands of the Daugava river in southern Latvia. Spring songs with vocal drone, but without refrain rotā were sung in western Kurzeme. Spring singing traditions were different in Catholic Latgale - every evening in May until Whitsun women and girls gathered by a road-side crucifix, where they sang psalms and religious folk-songs.

There are no specific songs of St. George's day (April 23), unless as such would be regarded shepherds' singing by the bonfire in the night pasture, where horses were let for the first time. Shepherds of cows and sheep developed their specific genre gavilēšana. They also knew and made use of different herding calls. Some notated tunes of gavilēšana are found in folklore collections, but this art seems to be lost in live tradition by the beginning of the 20th century.

One of the most developed vocal genres - līgotnes - is connected with Jāņi - midsummer solstice celebration on June 23. Jānis is the central mythological figure of this orgiastic feast of midsummer night, the celebration of which has the features of solar, phallic and fertility rites alltogether. Singing of līgotnes can start a fortnight before and can continue a week after the midsummer, but the culmination is reached on the evening and the subsequent night of the celebration. A specific feature is the refrain līgo, which is sung once or twice after each line of the text. Līgotnes are sung in a manner, when a chosen soloist sācēja or ievilcēja starts with the first line of the text, while others join with the refrain līgo and then sing the quatrain all together. Melodies of those songs vary from place to place, while several different melodies might be used in one place during the celebration. Different forms of the refrain like līgā, līgo Jānīti, leigō, leigū etc. are known throughout Latvia. Midsummer songs with the refrain rūtō are specific for eastern Latgale. <CAP>3.

A rite of "catching of Jumis (a fertility god, living in fields)" was performed during apjumības "a festive conclusion of talka "joint autumn field works"", thus ensuring the maintenance of the fertility of fields for the next year. Jumja balss "tune of Jumis" or talku balss "tune of joint field works" was sung during the rite and on the way home, where the feast started.

Some autumn activities were connected with singing. Thus grinding, which used to be a hard women's job, was accompanied by grinding songs with their characteristic mythological motifs, narrow tonal range and some fermated (long) tones in the end of phrases. Another situation, where singing was indispensable, was vakarēšana "joint needle-works and handicraft in autumn and winter evenings".

The masked processions started on St. Martin's day in Lutheran part and on Christmas in Catholic part. Christmas carolers in a noisy crowd walked from house to house, asking gifts, making jokes, and often pulling a log with them, which they burnt afterwards. During those processions Christmas songs were sung, melodically similar to līgotnesof narrow tonal range, but with specific refrain after each text line. Thus, kaladō, kalandō, kaladū, kolandō were characteristic for Latgale, eastern Vidzeme and Sēlija. Other refrains like olilō, kūčo, toldarā, judabrū, tōtari had rather local distribution. Budeļi "masked revellers in Kurzeme and western Zemgale" used quite primitive responsorial singing: a monotonously recited couplet was repeated one forth lower. A name for the masked revellers, common to all parts of Latvia, was čigāni "Gypsies", and čigānu dziesmas "Gypsy songs" were quite popular. Those songs have longer refrains like ai džindžallā, ai džindžallā, čāri māri rallallā, which are sung once or even twice after each couplet and are meant to sound like "Gypsish".

 

2.3.2. Life cycle events and their music

 

All major life-cycle events were primarily observed with a church service, but their informal part is so elaborated, that its significance seems to overwhelm Christian contents. It concerns mostly wedding, while christening and funeral to less degree.

After christening in the church some singing started at home during the feast, which in south-western Kurzeme was followed by dīdīšana "ritual swinging and rocking of baby by all participants of the celebration, accompanied by special songs". That was also a way, how to express wishes for the baby's future.

Rural wedding started in the bride's house, where used to be some farewell party. Girl-friends of the bride used to sing, and in Latgale and eastern Vidzeme those songs resembled much of the funeral songs.

After marriage ceremony there should be much noise and joy, therefore singing, playing, dancing etc. was essential part of the celebration. The central musical event at the wedding, as well as at the feast, which was given after joint field works, was apdziedāšanās - antiphonal, humorous, competitive singing, involving two opposite parts of singers (boys and girls, relatives of bride and of bridegroom, house-people and guests); each group sang in turn, teasing or making fun of the other, with texts largely improvised. A melodic formula godu balss "family celebration tune" or kāzu balss "wedding tune", characteristic for certain location, was used in this case. In recent decades, when the traditional terminology is partly lost, people still refer to this special tune as to "melody, with which one sings all songs (that is, song texts)". In most cases this is the recited style tune, usually a ten-bar period; in suiti region it is sung with the vocal drone.

Semi-professional women singers were invited to the wedding party in Latgale. Apart from singing at the entrance into the house, at the table, they performed apdziedāšana - witty, humorous, sometimes sexual songs (quatrains) were sung to the new couple and in turn to every guest.

Another important event was about midnight, when the bride's crown was taken off and woman's head-dress was put on instead. At this point all participants embraced the new couple in circle and sang mičošanas dziesmas "songs of replacing bride's crown with a woman's head-dress".

The singing in funeral has the strongest relation to Christian ceremonial, as mostly psalms and parts of liturgy were sung in the house, on the way to the cemetary, and by the grave. Funeral was anticipated by vāķēšana "praying and singing by the corpse the night before funeral", which was still observed throughout the country in the end of the 19th century, but nowadays - only in Latgale.

 

2.3.3. Dance and games songs, lyrical songs

 

In addition to ritual contexts, both men and women sing at the table during feasts, in pubs, as well as in other social occasions. Courting and wedding motifs are the most common, nevertheless certain mythological, orphan, recruiting, soldiers', humorous, sailors' or drinking songs are important as well. A peculiar feature of those songs is the lack of reality, concerning time, place and persons, even if the story is told from/in the first person.

When youth gathered on certain occasions, a popular pastime was iet rotaļās "to play games, usually circle dances with singing". This singing focused on courting and wedding, and quite usually it was expressed through the symbolism animals or plants.

Some communities in western Kurzeme practiced a special kind of games - vāķu rotaļas "games performed by the corpse the night before funeral" as long as until the beginning of the 20th century. Characteristic features of such games are recited-style melodies, often comprising two or three pitches, and the action, when a specially chosen person is replaced by another one in the course of the game.

 

3. Musical instruments and instrumental music

 

Most traditional musical instruments are common throughout the Baltics and the neighbouring regions of Northern and Eastern Europe, though there may be local or regional peculiarities regarding the way and purpose of use, symbolism, history, etc. Dance music is the main field of instrumental playing, besides, musical instruments were significant in certain economical and ritual activities.

 

3.1. Shepherd instruments

 

Herding was the most familiar situation, when svilpes "bark or clay whistles", stabules "wooden flutes with 6-7 fingerholes or reeds", ragi "horns, as well as hornpipes", taures "wooden and birch-bark trompets with mouthpiece or with a single reed" were made and played. The purpose of it was not merely pastime, players say they have used their trompets to collect the herd in the morning and to signal about the returning in the evening. Hornpipes were used to calm the herd or to direct its movement.

The style of the known flute or pipe tunes is purely instrumental - it is not an instrumental version of vocal or dance music. In some cases short tetrahordic or pentatonic motifs are repeated with variations. Bark whistles, about 50-70 cm long and without fingerholes, were used as overtone instrument; playing techniques involved overblowing combined with the stopping and opening of the end hole with a finger.

 

3.2. Ritual and ceremonial instruments

 

Horns, with metal mouthpiece and bronze or silver fittings, as well as trumpets were used for signalling, particularly to announce about the forthcoming wedding and to signal in important moments of the wedding ritual. Goat-horns, usually with three finger-holes, were played during mēslu talka "joint field works of spreading/scattering manure on the fields" or within matchmaking ceremonies; thanks to the role as a messenger about the initiation of sexual relations, goat-horn has obtained a kind of phallic symbolism in folklore texts. There are a few melodies of two goat-horns playing antiphonically, but usually the music is solo variations within a range of a tetrachord.

A curious situation of several goat-horns playing together with bagpipes is documented in 1892: musicians from suiti region played, as the Russian emperor Alexander II visited Liepāja - seven with bagpipes and eight with goat-horns.

Making and playing of instruments, except that of the shepherds' instruments, was basically men's business. However, there is a group of rattle-sticks, which are used mostly by women: trīdeksnis "a wooden stick with hanging bells and jingles", eglīte "a fir-tree top decorated with coloured feathers and with hanging bells and jingles", puškaitis "a wooden stick heavily decorated with coloured feathers, strips of cloth, and with bells". They were used to accompany singing of godu balss in wedding or winter solstice rituals: the rhythm was marked by hitting table surface with the stick.

 

3.3. Kokles

 

The most characteristic and significant instrument in Latvian traditional music is kokles - a board zither with 5-12 strings. It is related to similar instruments in the lands east and north of Baltic sea: Lithuanian kanklės, Estonian kannel, north-western Russian gusli, Karelian kandeleh and Finnish kantele. Traditional instruments were carved from a single wooden plank, to which an ornamented sound board was added. Strings were made of steel, bronze or, possibly, of natural fibers, and tuned with the help of wooden pegs. An instrumental drone was characteristic in the case of 5-9 string instruments: the longest string was tuned one fourth below tonic and was often plucked or touched during play; therefore it was named dziedātāja "the singer". The tuning was a diatonic scale, thus, for 7-string kokles it would be a1, g1, f1, e1, d1, c1, g. When played, the instrument is placed on a table or on the player's knees. A special damping technique is used: some strings are damped with the fingers of the left hand; when the strings are plucked with the right hand, only undamped strings produce tone, while some slight-beat notes are picked up with the left hand fingers.

Though kokles' repertoire is mostly dance tunes and in a few cases song melodies, the instrument was never used for dance accompaniment and only seldom - for song accompaniment.

The Apollonic, heavenly aura and the fine, deeply touching tone quality have made kokles a symbol of national music for Latvians. The kokles' playing traditions diminished by the beginning of the 20th century, and 5-12 string instruments were in use only in some places in Kurzeme, particularly in suiti region, and in Latgale. Simultaneously, new hibrid forms, influenced by a variety of zithers, developed, usually with 17-50 or even more strings. <CAP>4.

 

3.4. Dance music instruments and dances

 

Historical sources bear witness to the special role of bagpipes in peasants' life in the 16th-19th century: it was often the only instrument played at wedding, and was used in other ceremonies and dancing. Folklore texts mention bagpipes with drums in wedding; this might be the result caused by a specific Livonian law, stating that "non-Germans" - Latvians, Livs and Estonians could have only (bag)pipes and drums as their wedding instruments. Latvian bagpipes have a chanter with 4-7 finger-holes and one or two drones, all with a single reed. The bag is made of a sheep or dog skin or seal stomach, and bellows could be attached. One can distinguish between two kinds of bagpipe tunes: uzsaukums "call" or "air" - slow tempo variations, and dancis "dance".

The oldest evidence of an ensemble with bagpipes is the engraving in Münster's "Cosmographey", published in 1598 (the engraving is made possibly in 1549): it shows devils and witches dancing and three musicians playing - a kind of lute, hurdy-gurdy and bagpipes. <CAP>5.

The spread of violin in Livonian lands started probably in the second half of the 17th century. Gradually replacing the old instruments, especially bagpipes, and partly overtaking their repertoire, violin became the most popular folk music instrument in the 19th century and later. Violin solo playing was the most characteristic, and not by chance the basic meaning of the Latvian term spēlmanis "player", but mostly "violin player / fiddler" points towards the Swedish spelman - traditionally "solo violinist".

In the second half of the 19th century and in the 20th century rural violinists used to play in ensemble with other instruments - zither, accordion, mandolina, guitar, hammer dulcimer, double bass and percussion. Frequently it was 1-2 violins, zither and drums or violin, zither and accordion. The domination of accordion increased in the 2nd half of this century, and it is still the main dance music instrument.

A favourite dance for four couples was četrpāru dancis. It used to be in four or more parts, with figurative walking and rondo-type repeating of certain parts. The third part usually was sudmaliņas "mill", which could be a separate dance as well. Walking was the most characteristic part of several other dances, among which diždancis "solemn couple dance, performed in the beginning of wedding feast", is the most important. Krusta dancis "dancing and jumping over crossed poles or swords" was a possibility for solo dancers to demonstrate their skill or to contest with others: the steps of the first part had to be repeated two times faster in the second part. Some couple dances became very popular in the 19th and 20th century: polka "dance with figurative walking in the first and whirling with polka-step in the second part", kadriļa "dance in 5-6 turns, a kind of četrpāru dancis", and others.

 

4. Music and the changing political, social and cultural conditions

 

A claim for the existance of Latvian music was made by Johann Gottfried Herder in his "Volkslieder" in 1778-1779. Though at that time Latvian music was, in fact, mostly peasants' music, various kinds of popular music were developing.

 

4.1. Popular music of the 18th and 19th century

 

Different popular music styles, which existed in Livonian towns and estates, were mostly of German origin. After the dissolution of Livonia, German musical domination preserved in Kurzeme and Vidzeme, while Latgale experienced Polish influence.

Oral tradition of Latvian popular music was to a great extent created with a help of printed sources. The first collections of ziņģes "Latvian popular songs of the 18th-19th century" were published by Lutheran priest Gothard Friedrich Stender - "Jaunās ziņģes" ("The new ziņģes"; 1774) and "Ziņģu lustes" ("The joy of singing ziņģes"; 1783). Intended to replace Latvian peasants' traditional repertoire with translations of popular German songs and thus "to enlighten peasants in a more gentle sentimental mood", "Ziņģu lustes" remained the most popular secular songs collection until the middle of the 19th century. This collection significantly influenced the spread of the new musical style, which was close to that of Flugblattlieder "flying sheets". Only texts with references to well-known German melodies of that time - lyrical songs and music of Singspiel - were published, whereas some advices on how to improvise one's own melody were added in later publications.

Another important contributors to Latvian popular music repertoire in the 19th century were Ernests Dinsberģis with his books, published in 50s and 60s, and Jānis Kaktiņš and Juris Caunītis with their "100 dziesmas un ziņģes" ("100 songs and ziņģes"; 1858).

The popularity of the ziņģes style declined by the end of the 19th century, giving place to romances, student songs, theatre music etc. in cities and towns, whereas pub dancing and vocal and instrumental music-making in culture societies dominated rural musical life.

 

4.2. Choral and traditional music

 

After the abolishing of serfdom, social life of Latvians experienced unseen intensification in the middle of the 19th century. Among a variety of joyous gatherings, meetings, the greatest significance earned singing societies, that emerged all over the country. Having practised a kind of Liedertafel "singing society, literally - song table" singing in the early stage of their development, those societies searched for choral works, sharing a spirit of the emerging feeling of unity and Latvianness. Four-part harmonizations of the Latvian folk songs served this purpose well, so more and more composers used folklore materials as a source for their arrangements.

Jānis Cimze was the first whose efforts were recognizable in this field. Yet the style of his "Dziesmu rota" ("Garland of Songs") was more reminiscent of Protestant chorals. Andrejs Jurjāns’ activities as a composer were of great significance, as his choral works finally created and defined the so-called national style. Later this style of professional music was developed and perfected by Emilis Melngailis.

Choral singing, increasing in its scope, developed into a social process, that from time to time culminated in a broad musical event - Dziesmu svētki "choral song festival". The first Latvian Song Festival, held in 1873, became political event of the first importance, symbolising the reawakening and unity of the new nation. The next festivals, dramatically concentrating national aspirations and involving thousands of participants, won the status of central national musical event.

Development of musical culture after World War II was heavily influenced by the Soviet totalitarism and ideology of communism, which supposed disappearance of national essence. Yet a formal development of national musical culture was planned as the "improvement" of "folk music" (mixture of traditional and popular music, viewed through the prism of art music) to reach amateur (artistic activity of masses) or professional level. Choral singing fit well in this scheme as amateur art, as it involved broad masses, and, besides, its "folkishness" could be ensured by including arrangements of traditional music in repertoire. The Song Festival, being one of the most important symbols of the definition of national culture, was reinterpreted in the terms of the Soviet ideology and successfully included into the regime’s supported musical life. Having been of a mass character since the beginning and with some totalitarian taste during all the time of its existence, the Song Festival developed into a huge manifestation within the Soviets, just to think about a people of 2.5 million and a good 30 till 100 thousand participants of the Festival, that constitutes up to 4% of the population. Yet certain charm was added by sincere greeting and summoning of conductors, and, besides, an informal collective identity and nationalism was cultivated.

 

4.3. Modern folklorism

 

In the period between both world wars musical life in cities and countryside experienced a full-bodied life in its professional and popular forms. Traditional music had lost its significance in most of the country, and continued to exist in remote districts, especially in Latgale and western Kurzeme. Thus the need for the national identification of music intensified, and apart from choral activities, a variety of other phenomena developed on the basis of traditional culture in pre-war time, and in the following Soviet and renewed independance periods.

 

4.3.1. Folk music instrument orchestra and kokles ensemble

 

Though national style in Latvian art music, both vocal and instrumental, was established, some attempts to practice "more Latvian" music were undertaken. Dievturi, adepts of dievturība, which is a religious and cultural movement of the 20th century, having its aim the renovation of the Latvian pre-Christian or pagan religion and lore, for the needs of the ceremonial and social life used folklore materials in a special choral arrangement, which they labelled themselves as "the Latvian style". Avoiding of chromatisms, frequent use of drones and antiphonal singing, special musical functions of soloists or groups of soloists are some characteristics of this style. Dievturi tried to "improve" the old, forgotten instruments, especially kokles, to adapt them for the needs of harmonic style. Soviet occupation in 1940 and the following war stopped their activities.

Those efforts of "modernisation" of instruments were continued in post-war period and resulted in soprano, alto, tenor and bass modifications of kokles, hornpipes and box-shaped fiddles. Following Soviet pattern, numerous kokles ensembles, alongside with folk song and dance ensembles, emerged, and State folk music instrument orchestra existed from 1947 until 1961. Though it never gained such public support as in Soviet Slavonic republics, some attempts to revive an orchestra of this kind were done in mid 80s. On the contrary, kokles ensembles, just like folk song and dance ensembles, established in numerous Culture houses, Pioneer houses, music schools and conservatoire. Though their activities did not transcend the regime's supported cultural sphere, they were quite well accepted, and even in 90s those ensembles are recognized by broad audience as an expression of "national music" or "national dance".

 

4.3.2. Folklore movement

 

The earliest performances with "ethnographic singing" took place during the first Latvian ethnographic exhibition in 1896. Singers and musicians from Alsunga and from other Kurzeme regions came to perform to Riga in 20s and 30s. A few traditional singers' ensembles were organized in Latvia in 50s. Nevertheless folklore movement as socially significant body of activities, which was aimed at preservation and dissemination of treasures of Latvian folklore, started only from the late 70s, that is much later than in other Baltic countries.

In opposition to the latest strata of folklore, partly degraded by the folk music instrument orchestras and by the kokles ensembles, folklore movement concentrated on traditional music, and especially on its archaic forms. Numerous folklore ensembles emerged in the beginning of 80s, trying to practice local styles in an authentic manner.

Deliberate attempts were made to revive the old, forgotten instruments. As a result, 5-12 string kokles, bagpipes, zithers, pipes, reeds, and other instruments were made by enthusiasts and by just a few skilled masters, and were played in different occasions: calendar festivities, folklore festivals and concerts.

The process of dissemination of folklore became as important as the disseminated materials themselves. Folklorists arranged dance parties, singing, instrument playing and dancing workshops, clubs etc. An opinion, that everyone can participate in folkloric music-making, was cultivated. On the whole, new forms of music-making and new kinds of social relations emerged in the realm of modern folklorism

The attention of folklorists was aimed towards music as a part of celebration or ritual, therefore certain efforts were undertaken to preserve or to renew the ritual itself, or the traditional function. Folklore groups tried to create or mark symbolically this traditional context. Some of them, abandoning performance as a way of reproduction of the traditional function, came to real celebration of calendar or family festivities.

Thus the cultivation of the renewed ethnic music traditions in the 80s obtained a dimension of national resistance movement, as opposition to the Soviet totalitarism and russification. The most striking expression of this movement was the folklore festival "Baltica '88", during which the symbolics of the pre-war Latvia - national flag - was restored. Nevertheless, ethnic music did not become a symbol of the restored identity of national music, and in 90s its sphere narrowed more and more. <CAP>6.

 

5. History of scholarship

 

Extensive systematic collection of Latvian folksongs and instrumental melodies started in 1870s and resulted in the notation of a large number of tunes. The most outstanding collector was Andrejs Jurjāns. The result of his activities is the six volumes entitled "Latvju tautas mūzikas materiāli" ("Materials of Latvian Folk Music"), published in 1894-1926, which contain more than 1,100 items. Provided with descriptions of customs and traditional contexts together with field observations and comments, "Materials" remain up to the present one of the most significant sources of Latvian folk music. Almost simultaneously with "Materials" the fundamental six-volume collection of Latvian folk song texts "Latvju dainas" ("Latvian Dainas") was prepared by Krišjānis Barons and published in 1895-1914.

After the establishment of the independent Latvian State, an important event was the foundation of the Latvian Folklore Repository (Latviešu folkloras krātuve) in 1925. It organized the collection of folklore materials, basically folksong texts, beliefs, riddles, and similar verbal lore. Folk music was not counted among these priorities, although 155 wax cylinders and a number of discs were recorded from 1926.

Another important collector and publisher of Latvian folk music was Emilis Melngailis. His most active period of collecting was the 1920s and 1930s, but he continued collecting until 1941, by which time he had about 4500 tunes at his disposal. Later, from 1951 to 1953 three large volumes of Melngailis' "Latviešu mūzikas folkloras materiāli" ("Folklore Materials of Latvian Music"), containing thousands of items, were published.

After World War II Latvian Folklore Repository was gradually transformed into the Department of Folklore of the Institute of Language and Literature within the Academy of Sciences of Latvian SSR. It instigated systematic folklore collection field work. Though in 1940s and 1950s a special support was aimed at the collection of something that did not exist: so-called "Soviet folklore", namely, the "folk songs" about Stalin and Lenin, communism, revolution, one's happy life under communism, etc., between May 1945 and 1990 about 14,000 newly transcribed musical items were archived, the total number of transcriptions reaching more than 30,000. A large collection of recordings has also been built up by the Department.

From the early 1950s until 1977 the foremost authority in the field of folk music scholarship was Jēkabs Vītoliņš. A series "Latviešu tautas mūzika" ("Latvian Folk Music") was compiled under his guidance; until present (1997) five volumes have been published and the sixth is being prepared for publishing. Together, these volumes represent the largest edition of Latvian folk music.

The number of institutions dealing with folk music has increased considerably since the end of the 1980s. The collection of folk music audio recordings at the Music Department of Latvian Radio was developed by the ethnomusicologist and music editor Gita Lancere. The archives of folk music recordings of the Latvian Academy of Music was founded in 1990 and was led until 1993 by Mārtinš Boiko. The Center for Ethnic Studies of the University of Latvia, founded in 1992 by Māra Mellēna, Valdis Muktupāvels and Ernests Spīčs, developed an approach towards traditional culture in modern education, integrating music, choreography, narrative genres, ceremonies, ornaments and symbols. An independant Folk Music Center, led by Māris Jansons, concentrates on collecting and disseminating good quality audio and video recordings. The Baltic Institute of Folklore has been founded in 1994 with the aim to co-ordinate and promote folklore studies and research in all three Baltic States - Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

 

 

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Audiovisual resources

 

Bendorfs, Vilis. 1984. Latviešu folklora. Briežuciems un Rekava [Latvian Folklore from Briežuciems and Rekava]. Melodija M30 46001 005.

Dāle, Raimonds. 1983--1988. Dūdalnieki. AU-ciems / "Off Beat Sudios".

Grasis, Austris. 1984--6. Ķelnes Prāģeri. Danco, lāci! [Folk Musicians from Köln. Dance, bear!]. Apaļais Mēness REL 503 and REL 503 MC.

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Jansons, Māris. 1992. Tautas mūzikas izlase I [Selected folk music I].Tautas mūzikas centrs.

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-------. 1992. Danču izlase I [Selected dances I]. Tautas mūzikas centrs.

-------. 1995. Danču izlase II [Selected dances II]. Tautas mūzikas centrs.

Kapusts, Andris. 1994. Balsis no Latvijas [Voices from Latvia]. Auss RS 001 and MC.

Klotiņš, Arnolds, and Vilis Bendorfs. 1986. Latvijas PSR muzikālā folklora [Musical Folklore of Latvian SSR]. Melodija M30 46913 005.

Lancere, Gita. 1994. Voix des Pays Baltes. Chants traditionnels de Lettonie, Lituanie, Estonie. Documents d'archives. INEDIT, Maison des Cultures du Monde W 260055.

Mežale, Benedikta, and Edmunds Goldšteins. 1986. Latviešu folklora. Auleja [Latvian Folklore from Auleja]. Melodija C30 24885 002.

Muktupāvels, Valdis, and Andris Kapusts. 1989. Pieśni Latgalii (Inflant Polskich) [Songs of Latgale]. Poljazz PSJ 231.

-------, and Andris Kapusts. 1991. Latgolas dzīsmes. Latgales dziesmas [Songs of Latgale]. RiTonis 3-001-C-3.

-------. 1993. Zelta kokles [Golden Kokles. Latvian Traditional Instrumental Music]. Micrec.

-------. 1993. Rasa. Saule deva savu meitu jānīts jāja katru gadu [Rasa group. Latvian Traditional Music of Solar Rites]. Micrec MRCC072.

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Musical Art of the Peoples of the USSR. Estonian/Latvian Instrumental Music. 1985. Melodija C90 23253-23254 / Le Chant du Monde LDX 74006.

Reizniece, Ilga. 1989. Pieśni łotewskie. Vedību dziesmas. Bāriņu dziesmas [Latvian songs. Wedding songs. Orphan songs]. Poljazz PSJ 230.

-------. 1993. Iļģi. Bāreņu dziesmas. Šūpuļa dziesmas [Iļģi group. Wedding songs. Orphan songs]. Plate Records TM001-93 and MC.

-------. 1993. Iļģi. Rāmi rāmi [Iļģi group. Calmly calmly]. Ritonis.

-------. 1996. Iļģi. Riti [Iļģi group. Roll]. Labvakar LBR 001.

Stalte, Helmī, and Dainis Stalts. 1982. Divi duči rotaļu kopā ar "Skandiniekiem" [Two dosen games with "Skandinieki" ensemble]. Melodija C30-18795-6.

Svečturis, Juris. 1986. Latvian Folklore. Ceļatiesi bāleliņi [Brothers, rise]. KGB Kultūras glābšanas biedrība LF 001.

Tāle, Iveta, and Velta Leja. 1991. Folkloras kopas. Klinči. Savieši [Folklore ensembles. Klinči. Savieši]. RiTonis 3-009-C-3.

Vītoliņš, Viesturs. 1981. Latviešu folklora. Alsunga [Latvian folklore from Alsunga]. Melodija M30-42327-8.

-------. 1981. Lībiešu folklora [Livonian folklore]. Melodija M30-42905-6.

 

List of captions

 

<CAP>1. A tune of midsummer solstice celebration and joint field-works with characteristic change of 2/4 and 3/4 metres, from Liepna, Latgale; transcribed by Valdis Muktupāvels.

<CAP>2. "Godu balss", tune of funeral rituals from suiti region, sung in vocal drone style; transcribed by Emilis Melngailis.

<CAP>3. Singing at Jāņi - midsummer solstice celebration.

<CAP>4. Jānis Poriķis, the last surviving kokles player.

<CAP>5. The oldest known picture of Livonian dance music ensemble with bagpipe, lute and hurdy-gurdy. Engraving from S. Münster's "Cosmographey".

<CAP>6. A street procession during folklore festival "Baltica '88" with old national flags publicly displayed for the first time under Soviet rule.