Osvaldas Balakauskas

"Modernism is losing ground as a revolution, as a denial of tradition par excellence. [...] It can be said that I reject the principles and techniques of modernism, as I have already tried them and know how this kind of music functions," asserts composer Osvaldas Balakauskas, the winner of the Lithuanian National Prize, who has been occupying a strong position on the top of modern Lithuanian music since the mid-1960s as one of the most remarkable artists and leading authorities. Balakauskas has made a great influence on several generations of composers: solely by the charm of his music as well as a composition teacher. Balakauskas is one of the most prolific Lithuanian composers; his oeuvre includes five symphonies, more than ten concertos, a chamber opera, a ballet and numerous other, mostly chamber instrumental compositions. He has also distinguished himself as an insightful and accurate music critic and theorist.


Osvaldas Balakauskas (b. 1937) trained in the Music Faculty of the Vilnius Pedagogical Institute (1957-1961), and later studied composition with Boris Lyatoshinsky at the Kiev Conservatoire (1964-1969). Since 1972 he has lived in Vilnius. From 1988 to 1992 he was a member of the council of the "Sąjūdis" (Lithuanian independence movement). From 1992 to 1994 he served as the Ambassador of Lithuania - the first after 50 years of foreign rule - to France, Spain and Portugal (residing in Paris). From 1988 to 1992 and from 1994 to 2006 he was Head of the Composition Department of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. Balakauskas was awarded  the Lithuanian National Arts and Culture Prize, in 1996, and decorated with the Order of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas (3rd class) in 1998. In 2012, in recognition of his merits in support of the cultural dialogue, ethnic and religious tolerance in Lithuania, Balakauskas was awarded the honorary insignia "Carry Your Light and Faith" by the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture.


His music is regularly performed at various festivals in Lithuania and abroad: Moscow Stars (1982), Warsaw Autumn (1987, 1993, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2002), 3rd International Festival of Leningrad (1988), Berlin Biennale, Zagreb Biennale (1989), Berliner Festwochen, Prague Spring (1991), ISCM World Music Days (1992, Warsaw), Schleswig-Holstein Festival (1992), Europa Musicale (1993, Munich), Wratislavia Cantans (1995), New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas (1996), Vale of Glamorgan (1996), MaerzMusik (2003, Berlin), ISCM World Music Days (2008, Vilnius).


In 1997 the Cracow Academy of Music published a collection of essays "W kręgu muzyki litewskiej" ("Within the Circle of Lithuanian Music"), which included first publication of Osvaldas Balakauskas' theoretical study "The Method of Progression by Fifths", the first of four parts comprising his "Dodecatonic. Modal and harmonic possibilities of the equally tempered 12-tone scale". The same part was reprinted in the book "Osvaldas Balakauskas. Music and Thoughts" published in 2000 by "Baltos lankos", Vilnius, a comprehensive collection of articles, interviews and essays dedicated to the personality, musical and literary output of the composer. To date, Osvaldas Balakauskas' discography includes 6 portrait CDs of his music.


Osvaldas Balakauskas belongs to those composers, not very numerous nowadays, whose ambition is the creation of their own precise musical system. His career has been significantly influenced by his period of studies in Kiev in the 1960's and the circle of the Ukrainian avant-garde of the time. His fascination with Stockhausen, Boulez, Xenakis and especially Webern and Messiaen also dates back to those years. His technique of composition developed in two directions:

towards a specific serialism when series is merely a regulator of transpositions, so that the question of what is being transposed becomes fundamental. For Balakauskas, a group of tones, a chord, a group of chords, special scales, or even a fragment of already written (stylistically recognizable) music may serve as an object of transposition;

towards new diatonicism by exploring 8-, 9-, 10- and 11- tone diatonic systems with their inherent structure. This is elaborated in Balakauskas' theoretical study "Dodecatonics", the first part of which has been published by the Music Academy of Cracow.

New harmonies (particularly on the octatonic and enneatonic patterns) in combination with the rhythmic systems originating from Blacher, generate a peculiar, intriguing sound-climate, which is recognizable as "Balakauskas' tonality".