Lessons of the Avant-garde


Benjaminas Gorbulskis

Concerto for Clarinet and Symphony Orchestra No. 1 (2nd mvt. - Heartbreak), 1959

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Concerto for Clarinet and Symphony Orchestra No. 1 (2nd mvt. - Heartbreak), 1959
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Algirdas Budrys (clarinet), LSSR State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Balys Dvarionas (conductor)
Lithuanian National Radio and Television

Julius Gaidelis

Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Bassoon, 1961

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Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Bassoon, 1961
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Rusnė Mataitytė (violin), Andrius Žiūra (clarinet), Šarūnas Kačionas (bassoon)
Music Information Centre Lithuania

Feliksas Bajoras

Variations for Double Bass and String Quartet, 1968

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Variations for Double Bass and String Quartet, 1968
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Vytautas Sereika (double bass), LSSR State Philharmonic String Quartet: Paulius Juodišius (I violin), Algirdas Deksnys (II violin), Petras Radzevičius (viola), Arūnas Palšauskas (cello)
Vilnius Recording Studio

Vytautas Barkauskas

Poetry, Op, 1, 1964

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Poetry, Op, 1, 1964
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Jurgis Karnavičius (piano)
Music Information Centre Lithuania

Vytautas Montvila

Triangles, 1968

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Triangles, 1968
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Algirdas Vizgirda (flute), Aldona Radvilaitė (piano)
Lithuanian Composers' Union

Osvaldas Balakauskas

Cascades-1, 1967

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Cascades-1, 1967
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Birutė Vainiūnaitė (piano)
Lithuanian National Radio and Television

Bronius Kutavičius

Clocks of the Past I, 1977

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Clocks of the Past I, 1977
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Sigitas Šilinskas (guitar), Vilnius String Quartet: Audronė Vainiūnaitė (I violin), Petras Kunca (II violin), Donatas Katkus (viola), Augustinas Vasiliauskas (cello)
Vilnius Recording Studio

Eduardas Balsys

Dramatic Frescoes, 1965

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Dramatic Frescoes, 1965
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Alexander Livont (violin), Olga Šteinbergaitė (piano), LSSR State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Juozas Domarkas (conductor)
Vilnius Recording Studio

Eduardas Balsys

Don't Touch the Blue Globe (2nd mvt. - Winter), 1969

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Don't Touch the Blue Globe (2nd mvt. - Winter), 1969
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Boys' Choir Ąžuoliukas, Nijolė Ambrazaitytė (mezzo-soprano), Pranas Zaremba (baritone), Gražina Ručytė (piano), Giedrė Lukšaitė (piano), percussion group of the LSSR State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Juozas Domarkas (conductor)
Vilnius Recording Studio

Julius Juzeliūnas

The Game (final scene), 1968

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The Game (final scene), 1968
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Tomas Ladiga (bass), Mindaugas Zimkus (tenor), Rafailas Karpis (tenor), Arūnas Malikėnas (baritone), Egidijus Dauskurdis (bass), Jovita Vaškevičiūtė (mezzo-soprano), Joana Gedmintaitė (soprano), Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, Gintaras Rinkevičius (conductor)
Music Information Centre Lithuania

Mindaugas Urbaitis

Tail-piece, 1972

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Tail-piece, 1972
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Aušrinė Stundytė (soprano), Živilė Karkauskaitė (piano)
Lithuanian National Radio and Television

Vytautas Bacevičius

Graphique, Op. 68, 1964

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Graphique, Op. 68, 1964
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Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, Vytautas Lukočius (conductor)
Music Information Centre Lithuania

Feliksas Bajoras

Stained-Glass (Vilnius - the Capital of Lithuania), 1968

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Stained-Glass (Vilnius - the Capital of Lithuania), 1968
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LSSR State Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, Feliksas Bajoras (conductor)
Vilnius Recording Studio

Vytautas Laurušas

Voices of the Night, 1969

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Voices of the Night, 1969
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Estonian National Male Choir, Risto Joost (conductor)
Lithuanian National Radio and Television

Vytautas Barkauskas

Intimate Composition, Op. 15, 1968

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Intimate Composition, Op. 15, 1968
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Juozas Rimas (oboe), LSSR State Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, Jonas Aleksa (conductor)
Vilnius Recording Studio

Osvaldas Balakauskas

Studi sonori, 1972

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Studi sonori, 1972
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Rūta Ibelhauptienė, Zbignevas Ibelhauptas (piano duo)
Music Information Centre Lithuania

Antanas Rekašius

Metaphony, 1971

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Metaphony, 1971
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Raimundas Katilius (violin), LSSR State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Juozas Domarkas (conductor)
Vilnius Recording Studio

Antanas Rekašius

Segments (Symphony No. 5)

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Segments (Symphony No. 5)
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LSSR State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Tarasov (drums), Arnoldas Gurinavičius (double bass), Juozas Domarkas (conductor)
Vilnius Recording Studio

Vytautas Montvila

Gothic Poem, 1970

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Gothic Poem, 1970
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LSSR State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Juozas Domarkas (conductor)
Vilnius Recording Studio

Mindaugas Urbaitis

Inventions, 1976

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Inventions, 1976
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Juozas Rimas (oboje)
Lithuanian National Radio and Television

Bronius Kutavičius

Two Birds in the Shade of the Woods, 1978

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Two Birds in the Shade of the Woods, 1978
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Giedrė Kaukaitė (soprano), Eugenijus Piličiauskas (oboe), Julijus Andrejevas (piano), Jurgis Banevičius (piano)
Vilnius Recording Studio

Lessons of the Avant-Garde is a retrospective of the explorative music pertaining mostly to the 1960s and 1970s. It presents the music of those composers who undertook a ‘private courses’ in their explorations of the avant-garde techniques. The sound recordings in the compilation demonstrate some early avant-garde experiences and ventures (often pioneer in Lithuania) and are grouped into two categories: 1) twelve-tone music and serialism, 2) aleatoric music and sonorism. The immersion into these soundscapes calls for a different kind of listening – it asks to treat this music as a historic and perhaps even social phenomenon, while the creative, compositional, conceptual and aesthetic facets should be of the secondary importance. Such is the opinion of the ‘outside oberver’ Matthieu Guillot who discourages from focusing on a particular avant-garde technique (hitherto unused in Lithuania), and instead prompts to consider the socio-political consequences, which were imposed on such compositional techniques. In other words, this compilation is not so much a ‘lessons of the avant-garde’, but rather a ‘step-by-step history of the humankind,’ encompassing all its traumas, seizures, anxieties, breakdowns, obstacles, quarrels and illicit affairs.

The concept of the second avant-garde will most likely trigger a controversy and frustration and will raise a series of radical questions, such as when did this avant-garde happen in Lithuania, how did it happen, did it take place at all, and if yes, whether it was ever fully comprehended as such? It is possible that the notions of the first and the second avant-garde entered into the discourse on Lithuanian music culture when attempting to synchronize its course with the Western canon, juxtaposing the New Vienese School (Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, etc) against the Lithuanian interwar avant-garde (Vytautas Bacevičius, Jeronimas Kačinskas), and the Darmstadt School (Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, etc) against the Lithuanian avant-garde of the 1960s and the 1970s whose works are being introduced in this selection. It is unclear whether this juxtaposition is positive and constructive, whether the link exists, and if it is appropriate and valid? Perhaps the numeration of the Lithuanian avant-garde should not be a topic in music history, but rather a question in the field of cultural post-colonialism studies investigating the notions of universalism and binarism, that is to say, the view that the same models can be found and applied everywhere, and at the same time looking into the power struggle and the division between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ the ‘civilized core’ responsible for innovations and the ‘backward periphery’ that merely adopts them. One may only wonder what the history of Lithuanian modernity would look like if written from the perspective of decolonization, where the parallels between the ‘belated’, the ‘delayed’, ‘the-oddly-manifested’ and ‘the-never-happened’ peripheral avant-garde and the ‘central’ one are put to rest.


Modernism and National Identity: The Peculiarities of Serialism in Lithuania

Vita Gruodytė

The value of music also pertains to the way it evinces the spirit of its time.
Osvaldas Balakauskas

For what reasons specific musical style or aesthetic becomes manifest in a certain time period and within a certain circumscribed territory? Does the environment in which it had emerged affects the forms of its manifestation and does this new style or aesthetic have any impact on the existing context and later musical developments?

Context

Most of the compositions included in this collection as specimens of serialism in Lithuania embrace the decade from 1959 to 1969 (except Praeities laikrodžiai I (The Clocks of the Past I) by Bronius Kutavičius, a piece written almost ten years later, which reflected a rather different epoch). These works emerged almost immediately after the official rehabilitation of composers who had been denounced for ‘musical formalism,’ in 1958. Even though their ‘wrongdoings’ were formally ‘purged,’ cultural repressions continued, albeit in somewhat mitigated forms. Various reactionary opinions were then voiced from the podium of the Lithuanian Composers’ Union, questioning whether “innovation is indeed necessary in every artistic endeavour”; considering the “folk character of music” to be “a prerequisite for the work’s excellence”; observing the “growing dominance of folkloristic and realistic elements in music” and asserting that “innovation is to be bound to the spirit of one’s nation,” “it is the works’ content that must determine its formal features and means of expression,” and “excellence is not to be found in dissonances, strife for originality and innovation.”[1]

Two imperative regulations often occurred in the official assessments of new works by Lithuanian composers written at the time: firstly, music must have a direct connection to the realities of the time and reflect changes in the socialist society (hence it must be programmatic and politically engaged); secondly, its thematic material must have a national colouring (hence it must bear folk music influences as its tangible resource). Regardless of the relative stylistic freedom and slightly increased tolerance towards modernism (even under the constant threat of denunciation for formalism), which came with the beginning of Khrushchev’s thaw, these two main precepts remained of prime significance in the minds of cultural policy makers and executives, official critics and censors, commissioners and purchasers[2] of musical works.

Musicologist Ona Narbutienė was absolutely right, stating that “post-war years thrust our music … back in time” and describing the period between 1962 and 1971 as “a return to the condition of the 1930s when various stylistic trends became differentiated in Lithuanian music.”[3] In other words, having experienced a forced retardation and relapse to the outdated musical styles in post-war years, Lithuanian music was only starting to get back on its feet and look for its direction in search for the expressive means that would help shape its distinctive features.

Thus the first attempts to apply serial technique in Lithuania occurred in the background of prevalent neo-romantic, neo-classical and expressionist trends, which seemed to affirm their place within the tradition of Western European modernism. Unfortunately, when we speak of an interest in serialism, which arose in post-war Lithuania, we have to limit our discussion to the twelve-tone technique and not in its strictest form. At that time there were neither theoretical sources, nor sound recordings available in the country, through which composers could learn about the new wave of serialism spreading in the West. It was introduced by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez who extended the dodecaphonic principle (strict ordering of 12 pitches), devised by composers of the Second Viennese School, to all other musical dimensions. In spite of the fact that there were noticeable signs of budding avant-garde music in pre-war Lithuania, no dodecaphonic tradition had formed in Lithuanian music of the time; therefore the first experiments with the twelve-tone technique were limited to fragmentary and episodic construction of the series, based, in most cases, on merely atonal ordering of pitches.

To take a broader perspective, or Europe in particular, one must conclude that composers had very different intentions and possibilities. For example, France has also gone through the period of politicised music, when the community of leftist composers formed around the ideas proclaimed by The Popular Front (Front populaire), an alliance of left-wing movements officially established in 1936. This community comprised members of perhaps the most politically engaged group of French composers called Gloxinia, the Association of French Musicians Progressists (L’Association des musiciens progressistes), and some members of Groupe de Six, who “had earlier expressed their views only in aesthetic terms and declared their modernism only with respect to the tradition of Ravel.”[4] In the aftermath of World War II, when tremendous political pressure on artists exerted by Stalinist authorities was also felt in France, Charles Koechlin published a rather symptomatic article on dodecaphonic technique, in 1947. In its concluding lines, the author argues: “even if we could endorse criticism of some works by Shostakovich, it is totally unthinkable that politics in France would interfere with judgements on music’s quality.”[5] Regardless of differences in opinion between three groups of composers, which formed in France immediately after the war and expressed diverging positions towards atonal and dodecaphonic music,[6] some aesthetical and political discrepancies, “at no point there arose a question about the composers’ freedom to devise new forms of composing” (emphasis added).[7]

When serialism became mainstream in Western Europe, the search for new coherent tone systems became an immanent attribute of modernity. This search was propelled not only by intuitive, but also by intellectual endeavours to create much more radical art than the twelve-tone music of the early 20th century Viennese School, which sought to demolish the hegemony of major-minor tonality. Lithuanian artists who had earlier fostered collective aspirations towards modernity were forced to curtail their ambitions to the extent of their individual efforts, struggling to survive (as artists) in the atmosphere of political hostility towards all kinds of modern art and take a step forward in the country, which, being cut off from its cultural roots (that is, from all contacts with Western Europe), now reminded more of a ‘desolate island’ where both the history and the future of its nation were forbidden. For this particular reason in the dodecaphonic pieces written by Lithuanian composers at the time, ‘politically correct’ attempts to speak the new language on the basis of old syntax predominate over endeavours to construct new morphology based on abstract tonal systems. Of course, there were some exceptions to this tendency; for instance, the work of Osvaldas Balakauskas who looked for the new ways of tonal organisation as an alternative to the established conventions. There were also compositions like Trikampiai (Triangles, 1968) by Vytautas Montvila, which fall into the category of works that merely form a background for such exceptions. Even its opening passage, whose melodic contour resembles a Lithuanian folk song, possesses no apparent individuality and can be seen as a plain ‘tribute to the epoch.’ On the other hand, one must admit that such ‘tributes,’ appearing under the guise of rather insipid anonymity, were not the local territorial peculiarity and did not entirely depend on the political climate; the majority of neo-serialist works written all over Europe at that time might be categorised as such too.

Dodecaphony as a thematic contrast

Eduardas Balsys, one of the first Lithuanian composers to apply serial method in his works, has gone through all the main stages along the epoch’s stride towards modernisation: he began with arranging Lithuanian folk songs in post-war years before he realised, as a student in Saint Petersburg, the threat of falling into the trap of Russian musical tradition (“I don’t like to be coerced into writing something which I absolutely dislike”)[8] and emphasised the necessity “to break free from the influence of Tchaikovsky’s symphonism.”[9] Of course, many creative impulses to modernise his musical language came from his frequent travels across Europe – a great privilege at that time, granted to the most loyal and reliable cultural workers of the political system. Thus, in 1967, he became preoccupied with the “importance of new expressive means in the creation of contemporary musical works”[10] and began teaching a course for composers at the Lithuanian State Conservatory, introducing them to Ernst Křenek’s Zwölfton-Kontrapunkt-Studien and Olivier Messiaen’s Technique de mon language musical.[11]

Twelve-tone technique appeared to be a logical choice for Balsys, because stylistic integrity and monothematic principle were fundamental objectives in all of his music. A tone row that would help organise the whole musical material seemed just a perfect means to control the unifying element and to provide a more contemporary sound to his symphonic writing. However, the serial technique Balsys applied in his works cannot be qualified as an integral use of serialism; even in his last major work, opera Kelionė į Tilžę (A Journey to Tilsit, 1980), he drew inspiration from Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (1922) more than from any other contemporary work. Balsys had certain limitations in absorbing the novelties of his time, which he made clear in some of his writings:

The young … enthralled by the possibility to use whatever means of expression they like without much discretion, in many cases were caught in their inability to gear those means for the expression of their own ideas and emotions. Such tendency of fetishising means was also encouraged by our musicologists who limited their analysis to mere description of forms, colours, sonorities and novel performing techniques, without bothering to base their judgement on more essential matters, without inquiring whether the idea of a work is meaningful and vital; whether the means employed help convey this idea to the listener; whether the author makes his civic beliefs explicit; whether the work displays genuine originality or but a jumble of gleaned and borrowed novelties.[12]

Narbutienė was right once again by characterising Balsys as “an artist of the ‘middle ground’ approach who sought novelty, but only to a limited extent. … Whereas for the young generation of the time it [his novelty – author’s note] was just a starting point.”[13]

The oratorio Nelieskite mėlyno gaublio (Do Not Touch the Blue Globe, 1969) was the composer’s second attempt to employ serial principle in his work after the Dramatinės freskos (Dramatic Frescoes) for violin, piano and orchestra, written in 1965. Both works were cast in the mould of programme music, reflecting the woeful events of the recent past: “the Dramatic Frescoes is dedicated to those who were killed in the battle; to those who believed in victory; to those who survived,”[14] while the oratorio Do Not Touch the Blue Globe was based on the alleged bombing of the Lithuanian seaside summer camp for children in the beginning of World War II. The oratorio was commissioned by Hermanas Perelšteinas, a leader of the Ąžuoliukas Boys’ Choir, who was looking for a contemporary piece for children. He suggested the composer to write a composition that would reveal the theme of war and peace through the eyes of a child.

Musicologist Algirdas Ambrazas remarked that “dodecaphonic structures … mainly occur in the episodes related to the images of war, destruction and death.”[15] These structures stand in sharp contrast with the folkloric themes. The composer, according to Ambrazas, “had to tackle an intricate problem of combining the distinctly folkloric character of the main themes with … dodecaphony.”[16] In an attempt to integrate two different systems – the modality of folk music and the atonality of modern serialism – Balsys found solution in diatonicism: “the main tone row is expressly diatonic,” “it is largely composed of the same fundamental tones as those found in the folkloric themes,” and thus “the interval structure of the series is closely linked with the intonational characteristics of the folkloric themes used in this oratorio.”[17]

We will return to diatonicism at some point later, but now we are more interested in the principle of contrast that Balsys had employed since his earliest pieces. This is what has been said about his Piano Sonata in the discussion, which took place after the audition of composition students’ works at the Lithuanian State Conservatory in 1949:

Technically, this sonata is quite agreeable. The first theme is national in character, while the second is less so. But this should not be taken as a reproach (emphasis added). He wanted to show a contrast and I think it is not so bad.[18]

As a matter of interest, we find very similar instance of structuring, based on the principle of thematic contrast, in the Concerto for Clarinet and Symphony Orchestra by Benjaminas Gorbulskis (1959). Its second slow movement, based on the twelve-tone series, stands a glaring contrast to the outer movements marked with ebullient ‘Soviet’ optimism and the representational nature of thematic material. Such antithetic juxtaposition would naturally call for descriptions like “reprehensible anti-Soviet pessimism.”

It must be reminded, in passing, that the principle of contrast in the organisation of musical material and overall dramaturgy of music acquired a strong political colouring when the Bolshevik and Nazi movements came into power in interwar Europe. In his discussion of works by Hanns Eisler, who started composing “utilitarian music for the proletariat and social revolution” in 1927, Pascal Huyuh aptly notes that his music was based on “the dialectic of distance: there is nothing but contrasts embodied in sound.”[19]

The programmatic quality of music, which entailed contrast as its indispensable element, was the main distinguishing feature of Balsys’s work where cinematographic inspirations and a penchant for writing film music played an important role throughout his career. As noted by Narbutienė, he was absolutely “averse to static, minimalistic and overly subdued chamber character” [20] in music.

It is quite surprising to note, however, that dodecaphony was given the role of negative thematic element. First of all, this subverted the very intent of atonal music as it was understood by its founders Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern. Secondly, it was turned into a kind of ideological instrument and put in the context of extraneous sound material, where it could not secure its modernist position, but served as an offset to the positive side of the contrary material. In other words, instead of helping to undermine the prevalence of Neo-Romanticism and Expressionism in post-war years, dodecaphony gave them a boost in both above-mentioned instances.

Even more remarkable is to observe that at the time when Boulez devised the new morphology of sounds and the new syntax of musical language in Paris, when Iannis Xenaxis had already proclaimed (in 1955!) the crisis of serialism and proposed a still more avant-garde method of composing based on mathematical organisation of sound masses,[21] the twelve-tone technique was being used in Lithuania as a mere functional element in the context of programme and expressionist music. Does this indicate that the essence of dodecaphony was not fully understood here? Or maybe it shows that dodecaphony’s relation to tradition, which Schönberg always declared,[22] was really a leak through which various foreign concepts could penetrate its homogeneous system and transform it into a subsidiary element of past traditions, this way depriving dodecaphony of its role as a guide “to the new music,” which was of utmost importance to Webern.

Rhythm: with the beat lost, we enter modernism; with the beat regained, we enter post-modernism

The Poezija (Poetry) for piano (1964) by Vytautas Barkauskas also bears the influence of expressionism (or even of Dmitry Shostakovich); but there is one more curious feature that relates this work to the above-mentioned works by Balsys and Gorbulskis – namely, the astounding incongruity between the dodecaphonic organisation of pitches and other musical parameters, especially rhythm, which appears to be rather plain and with poorly disguised sense of pulse.

The treatment of the series solely as a principle of pitch organisation has in effect precluded Lithuanian music from entering into the phase of serialism. If other parameters of music, such as timbre, rhythm, intensity, not to mention the spatial dimension (Boulez wrote about the organisation of spatial dimension as early as in 1963)[23] are not rendered according to the same principle as pitches, then the serial technique remains a mere accessory, which makes no essential difference in the context of some individual work, composer, or epoch.

In terms of rhythm, Feliksas Bajoras stands out as one of the composers whose consistent search for rhythmic irregularity yielded quite interesting results at that time. It is precisely for this reason that his Variations for double bass (1968) – one of the rare instances of twelve-tone music in his work – appeared as a truly avant-garde composition. Bajoras later confessed:

I never returned to this style. I felt it was necessary to try out other things. Years between 1965 and 1970 seem to encompass the most productive period in my entire work. The following period, marked with constant change of stylistic features, … has extended into a decade of more diversified creative endeavours, in which there was a little bit of everything.[24]

After experimenting with various styles, Bajoras became preoccupied with folkloric inspirations for quite a while. The Lithuanian musical folklore, with its manifold, original and rich manner of performance, became his main source of musical ideas and encouraged the quest for novel forms, especially in the field of rhythm.

During the period in question Bajoras was still in search for his individual style, but one thing remained invariable even in his dodecaphonic works – namely, the diatonic pitch structure. There was perhaps no Lithuanian composer at the time who would ultimately relinquish diatonicism, precisely because it allowed to link, in an easy (technique-wise) and integral (acoustic-wise) way, the modal folklore and the twelve-tone series, just like Balsys demonstrated in his works.

A short period characterised by attempts to escape pulse-based rhythm was soon succeeded by the tidal wave of repetitive minimalism. Lithuanian composers were eager to adopt this new style, primarily because of its semblance to the specific genre of Lithuanian folklore – the sutartinės. Bronius Kutavičius, who has now achieved the status of a cult figure, was among its chief advocates whose works of the time presented an integral blend of the most disparate and incongruous musical elements: diatonic pitch structures and syncopated rhythms characteristic of the folk music; modern atonality and segmented structure of the twelve-tone series; aleatoricism and sonorism; minimalism of Western origin and that inherent in the sutartinės, along with repetitive complexes of different rhythmic layers characteristic of these ancient Lithuanian folk hymns. Kutavičius brought back rhythmic pulse to Lithuanian post-war music, in his peculiarly effective manner, even though the complete eradication of pulse-based rhythm was never accomplished here despite all temporary forays into the twelve-tone technique.

Dodecatonics: theoretical legitimation of Lithuanian modernism

Music is as much science as it is art.
Pierre Boulez

From the very first day Balakauskas appeared odd and unfamiliar due to stylistic integrity, originality, and incredible consistency of his musical structures … . He had no roots in post-war Lithuanian modernism, which followed Čiurlionis’s and Gruodis’s dictum that every composer must derive his or her modern art from the folk songs, and what’s more, he dismissed the notion of modernism and style imported from the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival by some of our composers, which predominantly featured sonorism, aleatoricism and hence the newly popularised eclectic style. On the whole, the understanding of style in new music was rather vague and fairly amateurish before his arrival in Lithuania.[25]

Quoted lines from the article by musicologist Donatas Katkus is perhaps the closest description of Osvaldas Balakauskas, a most consistent post-war Lithuanian modernist and most devout serialist, who must be credited, according to Katkus, with “wrenching Lithuanian music out of certain parochialism.”[26] An epithet ‘modern composer’ written next to his name was very pleasing to Balakauskas: “With no regard to modernism in its narrow sense, the ability to occur in the forefront of one’s time (this is how I understand being modern) is by all means a sympathetic feature.”[27]

Balakauskas is the only Lithuanian composer to have made use of the serialist technique in the most consistent and thorough manner, unlike fragmentary and casual applications by his fellow composers. For him it was not a mere means of composing, but rather a method of thinking. Kaskados-1 (Cascades-1), written in 1967, marked the new beginning both in Balakauskas’s work and in Lithuanian music at large: “I tried to embrace all basic musical parameters, to mould them in a deliberate manner.”[28]

Balakauskas is also the only Lithuanian composer who felt the necessity to provide a theoretical framework for his creative intuition: he wrote programme notes for most of his works and published comprehensive overviews of the latest artistic achievements by his fellow composers; moreover, his treatise Dodekatonika (Dodecatonics)[29] that sets forth his unique compositional and analytical system of tonal organisation provided, and still provides, a theoretical legitimation for Lithuanian modernism, without which it would have been qualified merely as a temporary sideline, a playground for episodic technical exercise.

It was not his contemporaries, though, with whom Balakauskas had a genuine affinity, but the composers of the Second Viennese School who sought to build a new tonal order on the basis of centuries-old traditions. His role model was Anton Webern, a composer for whom “invention” was related to “the art of making transformations” and “novelty” derived solely from the “transformations, arrangement, or combinations of the most basic units.”[30] In Webern’s writings, there is no contradiction in terms between “the logic of progress and return the origins”[31]: he wanted to bring the musical language back to its “pre-linguistic, physical state.”[32] Balakauskas seems to have followed the path of Webern very closely by building his dodecatonic system around a projection of fifths. In the introduction to his Dodecatonics, he insisted that it is in no way that the propositions set forth in this treatise “would imply any revolutionary ambition.”[33] As a matter of interest, Webern was also an inspiration to Boulez, but the latter soon moved on towards quite different matters.

Unlike neo-serialists, Balakauskas did not depreciate the importance of communication:

In most cases modern music went astray from a certain natural law, which, once breached, makes it less intelligible or altogether unintelligible as music. … [T]hus music, I now tend to think, is not everything that is perceived as sound, but rather a specifically organised sound matter whose communicative qualities are determined by tradition, or more precisely, by its continuity (emphasis added).[34]

The Lithuanian version of modernism: an attempt at description

Perhaps it would not be erroneous to claim that post-war modernism in Lithuania was not the result of political engagement or protest. It possessed no aggression, which characterised the art of most Western and early 20th-century Russian modernists. What it did possess though, were reflections of inner tensions in the face of the period’s tragic reality (that is, post-war repressions and forced emigration, which had a detrimental effect on burgeoning pre-war modernism). This was not a critical stance towards current political regime, but rather an aesthetic posture that may be described as individual and at times purposely individualised attempts to develop one’s personal idiom by making use of the available means and preserving certain traditions, which allowed adapting to the given political situation. Such manifestations of compromised modernism might be justified by treating them as an earnest wish to amend, at least to some extent, the deformation of music’s natural development, precipitated by the period’s political change, and maintain identification with the Western European cultural context. This identification remained during the whole Soviet period.

It must be taken into account, however, that in the post-war years Lithuanian composers had little to choose from. Essentially, there were only two options for those who were determined to abandon tonality: to compose serial music or emulate folk-like modal atonality in the vein of Igor Stravinsky or Béla Bartók and the adjoining atonal-modal style of Érik Satie. But these styles were too individual to emulate, while Stravinsky’s was too closely bound to its local characteristics and therefore hardly possible to imitate in the context of Lithuanian music dominated with lyricism and intimate expression. Some later (that is, with regard to the period in question) works by Kutavičius, especially his oratorios, nonetheless feature rhythmic energy and affirmative vitality characteristic of primeval cultures, which were possibly derived from Stravinsky’s works (such as Le Sacre du printemps and Pétrouchka).

While in the meantime, during the immediate post-war period, serial technique appeared to be most suitable for digressing from major-minor tonality because it provided an opportunity to adopt tools of modern musical language and continue to evolve, without turning away from the local folk tradition, which still exerted powerful influence. The reasons for that choice were not only political (it was imperative to write music “comprehensible to common people” at that time), but also cultural: in a melting pot of national cultures, known collectively as the Soviet people, which threatened to level ethnic distinctions, Lithuanian composers were concerned with preserving the national identity of their music. But in a strange way (through the above-mentioned use of diatonicism and segmentation of the series), their endeavours to embrace dodecaphonic music served a twofold function: firstly, this helped them to turn aside from the neoclassical, neoromantic and polystylistic tendencies coming from Russia, and, secondly, come closer to the archaic Lithuanian modal music. On the other hand, such ‘bypass’ via twelve-tone music not only gave them a new opportunity to reconsider their own atonal tradition and, what’s most important, to feel comfortable with it in the sense of still being ‘modern,’ but also liberated them from the ‘politically correct’ dogmatic thinking and helped build a strong foundation for the young generation of composers who could experiment freely with the whole range of contemporary compositional techniques.

For the same reasons it was ‘the middle way’ – an attempt to fit together the individuality of one’s artistic expression and the folk tradition – that characterised the majority of Lithuanian music throughout the 20th century. That ‘middle way’ was actually the broadest ‘highway’ in Lithuanian music. Such stability, which would retain equilibrium and would not favour one side over the other, has been discussed by virtually every writer about Lithuanian music, be it a musicologist or a composer, starting with Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis and Juozas Gruodis, with the only difference being that the ‘folk tradition’ gained much more abstract characterisations in the second half of the 20th century. For instance, Katkus claimed that “it is most important to achieve the integral relationship between one or another technology and the spiritual-emotional structure of one’s nation,”[35] while Rūta Gaidamavičiūtė pointed out that “most of our artists have had an intuitive grasp of unforeseen possibilities that lie in the nation’s culture and sought their own ways by deliberate choice, without sacrificing the concept of modernity or losing their roots” (emphasis added).[36]

These two notions – ‘genuinely modern’ and ‘Lithuanian’ music, where ‘Lithuanianness’ was associated solely with the more or less recognisable influence of folk music – were seen as sharply contradictory, precisely because they were not directly compatible. Balakauskas, for example, solved this contradiction by plainly refusing to employ any folklore influences. He said folk music has no “appeal” to him (as the material) because “it represents things too complete and refined; why should one make something else out of it?”[37]: “For me folk music is the music of a nation, which has been created in response to certain historical circumstances. Nowadays we live in a totally different period … ; music is now being composed by professional composers.”[38] On the other hand, Balakauskas aptly remarks:

[W]hen it comes to discussing Lithuanianness in the composers’ work, little attention is paid to Lithuanianness in other fields of musical culture … .[39] I [would like to] draw your attention to the real context, in which one sometimes appraises a new symphonic or chamber work … .[40] … Is it not the European classical (non-Lithuanian) music tradition that makes the basis of our music school and conservatory curricula … ?[41] What we oftentimes consider unequivocally Lithuanian in a wider perspective turns out to be a mere tendency towards diatonicism or archaism, which may be encountered in many places around the world.[42]

Perhaps every composer in Lithuania had to cope with the issue of his or her attitude towards the folk music tradition and ‘Lithuanianness’ inherent in their own music, sometimes also looking into the work of their colleagues. Bajoras, for example, had this to say about the music of Balsys:

Some time ago I was fascinated with Balsys’s Second Violin Concerto, but now I came to view it in a different light. Is there anything truly Lithuanian in it? Nothing but the melody. And yet such melodies can be also found aplenty in the Arab folklore. Harmony here is plain academic (this is exactly what impedes the development of a distinctive culture) and rhythm is based on a rumba pattern.[43]

As Rūta Stanevičiūtė (Goštautienė) once pointed out, “emigration, in some paradoxical way, strengthened Feliksas Bajoras’s inner bond with the national tradition.” [44] The undeniable effect of emigration on the work of Julius Gaidelis might be evidenced by the inclusion of certain melodic features characteristic of Lithuanian folklore into his expressionistic atonal idiom. As a matter of interest, Vytautas Bacevičius, the foremost Lithuanian avant-garde composer of the interwar period, was least concerned with avant-gardism in Paris (where he began to compose his opera Vaidilutė (Priestess)), like many other émigré composers of Eastern and Central European origin who formed the École de Paris and discovered their ethnic roots only after moving to France. Thus preservation of one’s ethnic identity has been a strong driving force behind creative work both in emigration and in Soviet-occupied Lithuania: the national element has always come to the fore at certain moments in history or one’s life when it was at risk of becoming extinct.

One could raise a question whether dodecaphony was chosen in post-war Lithuania as an immanent tool of modernity or as a historically determined phenomenon? And wasn’t the imprint of folkloricity on the work of post-war Lithuanian composers, irrespective of political context, induced by fear to lose yet another element of nation’s continuity – its culture (once the political continuity was broken) and start composing music from scratch? In response to those questions one could argue that it was the same fear of “losing Lithuanian identity” that hindered further manifestations of modernism in post-war Lithuania. It is also worth reminding ourselves of rather scarce, but overtly pro-Soviet body of work – oratorios for the Party, songs dedicated Stalin or Soviet people and the like – which served the same purpose without having anything to do with ‘Lithuanianness.’ Perhaps here lies one of the main reasons why the period of post-war modernism (related exclusively to the deployment of serial technique) was fairly short in Lithuania: this was due to the unavoidable, albeit indirect, ‘conflict of interest’ between modernism, which sought to break with tradition, and the occupied nation, which sought to preserve it. The third force, indicated by Balakauskas, which may have prevented modernism from taking root in Lithuanian music, was the academic environment that neither inhibited nor encouraged proper training of musicians who would ensure the full-fledged existence of this musical trend in the society. Katkus noted that Lithuanian modernists soon found themselves in an “alien traditionalist environment,”[45] because Lithuanian identity appeared more at home with the post-modern forms of musical expression, which allowed for much freer manipulation between inspirations coming from diverse sources where various ethnic traditions were among equally acceptable choices.

The establishment of a specific style within certain environment is always a consequence of the natural process of growing in or out of that environment. Empirical findings based on the existing scholarly research, social conditions, cultural policies, general context, individual initiatives, etc. are all significant factors that can instigate such process because they enable the material expression of a specific style to gain meaning within certain environment, from which it has emerged and in which it starts to function. Speaking of serialism, Boulez noted that in order to prevent the exploration of coherent tonal systems from becoming an end in itself, “it is necessary to give meaning to all these methods.”[46] However, it is impossible to give meaning to the borrowed material unless one develops an intimate relationship with it, which would characterise modern thinking per se rather than transient aspirations towards modernity or simple adaptation to the current trends. Such intimate relationship with the ordering of tonal material at hand is most conspicuous in the work of three leading composers during the period in question – namely, Balakauskas, Bajoras and Kutavičius. It is therefore no coincidence that they were and continue to be regarded as the key authorities in constructing Lithuanian musical identity in the second half of the 20th century. No one before them has ever achieved such degree of authenticity in Lithuanian music.[47] It is also important to observe that they found different and sometimes even opposite ways to prove that authentic thinking and national identity can either have an intimate bond with the folk music, or not necessarily so.

Translated from the Lithuanian by Veronika Janatjeva


[1] Muzika 1940–1960 (dokumentų rinkinys) [Music in 1940–1960 (a collection of documents)], Vilnius, 1992, p. 146–149.
[2] The Ministry of Culture was then the only purchaser of musical works from composers.
[3] Ona Narbutienė, Eduardas Balsys, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1999, p. 128.
[4] Michèle Alten, Musiciens français dans la guerre froide (1945–1956), Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000, p. 9.
[5] Ibid., p. 48.
[6] 1. Composers who thought that dodecaphony was outdated and detrimental to the future of music. 2. Those who found it interesting but too complicated and incapable of ensuring the future of music. 3. Those who unreservedly held it synonymous with modernism (Michèle Alten, op. cit., p. 43).
[7] Michèle Alten, op. cit., p. 50.
[8] Ona Narbutienė, op. cit., p. 57.
[9] Ibid., p. 63.
[10] Ibid., p. 76.
[11] Ibid., p. 77.
[12] Eduardas Balsys, “Gyvybiškai svarbios temos” [Some Vitally Important Topics], Kultūros barai, 1971, No. 1 as cited in: Ona Narbutienė, Eduardas Balsys, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1999, p. 124.
[13] Ibid., p. 126.
[14] As cited in: Juozas Domarkas, “Tiems, kurie tikėjo pergale” (For Those Who Believed in Victory), Vakarinės naujienos, 21 October 1965. Such laconic dedication, Narbutienė notes, seems abstract enough to assume it could be also addressed to Lithuanian partisans who found refuge in the forest and continued guerilla warfare for the country’s independence in the post-war years (op. cit., p. 104).
[15] Ona Narbutienė, op. cit., p. 201.
[16] Ibid., p. 200.
[17] Ibid., p. 200–201.
[18] An excerpt from the speech of Jēkabs Graubinš from Latvia as cited in Ona Narbutienė, op. cit., p. 52.
[19] Pascal Huyuh, La musique sous la République de Weimar, Paris: Fayard, 1998, p. 305.
[20] Ona Narbutienė, op. cit., p. 123.
[21] Iannis Xenakis, “La crise de la musique sérielle”, Gravesanner Blätter, Nr. 1, 1955, p. 2–4.
[22] In a letter to Webern written in 1931 (Anton Webern, Chemin vers la nouvelle musique, Paris: J. C. Lattès, 1980, p. 8).
[23] Pierre Boulez, Penser la musique aujourd’hui, Paris: Gallimard, 1999.
[24] Feliksas Bajoras, “Autobiografija” [Autobiography], in: Feliksas Bajoras: Viskas yra muzika [Feliksas Bajoras: Everything is Music], ed. by Gražina Daunoravičienė, Vilnius: Artseria, 2002, p. 60.
[25] Donatas Katkus, “Osvaldo Balakausko fenomenas” [The Phenomenon of Osvaldas Balakauskas], in: Osvaldas Balakauskas. Muzika ir mintys [Osvaldas Balakauskas. Music and Thoughts], ed. by Rūta Gaidamavičiūtė, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2000, p. 213–214.
[26] Ibid., p. 220.
[27] Rūta Gaidamavičiūtė, “Už horizonto ir toliau” (pokalbis su Osvaldu Balakausku) [Beyond the Horizon and Further Away (A Conversation with Osvaldas Balakauskas)], in: Osvaldas Balakauskas. Muzika ir mintys, op. cit., p. 267.
[28] Ibid., p. 258.
[29] Dodecatonics, as a compositional and theoretical system, is based on a projection of fifths. As a potential methodological instrument, it can embrace “all ‘diatonic’ systems (qualified as such within the framework of this method) from the monotonic to the dodecatonic” and “all modal and harmonic phenomena.” It can be also applied as an analytical method, which would “allow to detect harmonic elements in the music of any historical period, stylistic trend, or textural arrangement” (Osvaldas Balakauskas, “Dodekatonika” [Dodecatonics] as cited in Osvaldas Balakauskas. Muzika ir mintys, op. cit., p. 170–171).
[30] Anton Webern, op. cit., p. 17–18.
[31] Ibid., p. 19.
[32] Ibid., p. 21.
[33] Osvaldas Balakauskas, “Dodekatonika” [Dodecatonics] as cited in Osvaldas Balakauskas. Muzika ir mintys, op. cit., p. 171.
[34] Linas Paulauskis, “Introdukcija ir provokacija Osvaldui Balakauskui” [Introduction and Provocation to Osvaldas Balakauskas], in: Osvaldas Balakauskas. Muzika ir mintys, op. cit., p. 224.
[35] Donatas Katkus, “...Lyg liaudies dainos tąsa” […As If a Continuation of a Folk Song], in: Feliksas Bajoras: Viskas yra muzika, op. cit., p. 183.
[36] Rūta Gaidamavičiūtė, “Felikso Bajoro muzikos ritmas (sutartinių tradicijos atšvaitai)” [Rhythm in Feliksas Bajoras’s Music (Reflections of the Sutartinės Tradition)], in: Feliksas Bajoras: Viskas yra muzika, op. cit., p. 99.
[37] Rūta Gaidamavičiūtė, “Neieškokite naujo, ieškokite amžino” (pokalbis su Osvaldu Balakausku) [Do not Search for the Novelty, but Search for the Eternal (A Conversation with Osvaldas Balakauskas], in: Osvaldas Balakauskas. Muzika ir mintys, op. cit., p. 301.
[38] Rūta Gaidamavičiūtė, “Už horizonto ir toliau” (pokalbis su Osvaldu Balakausku) [Beyond the Horizon and Further Away (A Conversation with Osvaldas Balakauskas)], in: Osvaldas Balakauskas. Muzika ir mintys, op. cit, p. 259.
[39] Osvaldas Balakauskas, “Praradimai ir atradimai” [Losses and Discoveries], in: Osvaldas Balakauskas. Muzika ir mintys, op. cit., p. 318.
[40] Ibid., p. 319.
[41] Ibid., p. 318.
[42] Ibid., p. 317.
[43] Feliksas Bajoras, “Autobiografija” [Autobiography], in: Feliksas Bajoras: Viskas yra muzika, op. cit., p. 55.
[44] Rūta Goštautienė, “Felikso Bajoro literatūrinė kūryba: tarp išpažinties ir pamokslo” [Literary Output of Feliksas Bajoras: Between Confession and Homily], in: Feliksas Bajoras: Viskas yra muzika, op. cit., p. 73.
[45] Donatas Katkus, “Osvaldo Balakausko fenomenas” [The Phenomenon of Osvaldas Balakauskas], in: ed. by Rūta Gaidamavičiūtė, op. cit., p. 212.
[46] Pierre Boulez, op. cit., p. 166.
[47] The music of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, especially his piano preludes, shows attempts, albeit in their germinal stage, at similar authenticity, which he failed to accomplish and integrate into his individual style because he devoted himself to art in his final years and apparently ran out of time.

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