EVENTS. Baltic Musicological Conferences: Cultural Mission and Political Machinery

The 40th conference will be held in Vilnius, on 17-20 October 2007

The cultural space of the Baltics–is it reality or fiction, a spontaneous cultural tradition or an artificial geopolitical construction? On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Baltic Musicological Conference these questions are not rhetoric at all. The regional cooperation of musicologists probably does not have too many traditions of such long standing. Such endurance of the tradition demands due respect, but at the same time it also encourages constant critical reflection and new comprehension thereof. Such diverse approaches are, beyond doubt, determined by the political and cultural context of the conferences of Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian musicologists. Starting from 1967, when the first conference took place, the annual meetings of the countries’ musicologists have not been limited solely to the pursuit of professional goals. The Soviet method of ritual dedications was employed when founding the conference four decades ago: the assembly of musicologists from the three Baltic States was formally dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the October revolution, thus founding the tradition defiant to the Soviet centralisation.

The 1st Baltic Musicians' Conference in Kaunas, 1939

Even then some musicologists were convinced that they were continuing the pre-war cooperation of the Baltic musical communities. During the interwar years, a number of factors encouraged the development of cultural relations between Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. On the one hand, the regaining of independence in 1918 after long years of oppression caused the national cultures of the Baltic States to flourish and head towards modernisation, encouraging international cultural exchange. On the other hand, the new political threats caused the young republics to strengthen the solidarity determined by the geographical proximity, similar historical experience and cultural affinity. The first pre-war conferences of Baltic musicians were held in 1939 and 1940, during the Baltic Friendship Congresses. When the last sounds of music and last words of the speakers sounded at the second meeting, the Soviet tanks were moving through the countries’ territories–it was 17th June 1940.

Time and again, political reforms and cultural ruptures would leave their marks in the history of the Baltic musicological conferences. This conference tradition is unique not only in its longevity, but also as a historical document of the region’s cultural self-awareness. The subjects for discussions at the Baltic meetings were determined by an attempt of the three musicological communities to reveal the pressing issues and directions of the national musical cultures’ development, and to exchange the latest information about musical events and cultural discoveries. Every year, the conferences were held in a different capital city–Tallinn, Riga or Vilnius (other cities were included later), complemented with new music concerts and events dedicated to Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian classics. The interaction of new music and critical interpretations had formed several generations of Baltic musicologists, who acquired greater cultural self-awareness and interpersonal communication experience.

The Baltic conferences were founded by the old generation of musicologists–the post-war authoritative figures, such as Juozas Gaudrimas (Lithuania), Jēkabs Vītoliņš (Latvia) and Avo Hirvesoo (Estonia). Soon the conferences became a scene for the professional self-expression of the young musicologists of the sixties. This generation deserves most praise for establishing the institutional status of Baltic musicology in the second half of the 20th century and for their research in the fields of musical heritage and contemporary music. The establishment of the canons of national classics and modern music, as well as the modernisation of musicology itself are among the undeniable merits of this generation. Consequently, several decades later the following names were most often referred to as the most active participants of the Baltic conferences: Arnolds Klotiņš, Jonas Bruveris, Mart Humal, Ona Narbutienė, Vytautas Landsbergis, Algirdas Ambrazas and others.

An extraordinary uplift was experienced by the participants of the Baltic conferences during the years of political and cultural revival, which have inspired discussions about the more general search for Baltic cultural identity and the possibilities of institutional establishment thereof. Some of the old-timers and activists of the conferences, like Estonian musicologist Mart Humal, called for the institution of the association of Baltic musicologists and a centre for regional culture studies. These initiatives, however, were not destined to be realised. The Baltic unity idea seemed to have lost its past appeal, and the international integration of Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian music cultures and musicology became the key incitement for the renewal and further development of the conferences. Certainly, the music and musicological self-reflection of these countries did not disappear from the agendas of the now international Baltic Musicological Conferences. In recent decades, new theoretical and cultural contexts that stimulated the rethinking of the national music culture phenomenon were introduced. The diversity of the conferences’ participants increased significantly since 1990-ies–during that time, musicologists from most European countries and the USA have attended the conferences. All this encourages the search for not only similarities, but cultural differences as well–even within the three musical cultures of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which have declared cultural unity for quite a long time.

The 40th anniversary conference will be held in Vilnius, on 17–20 October 2007. This forum for Baltic musicologists, organised for the first time in cooperation with the International Musicological Society, represents both the traditions upheld by the organisers and the search for new future prospects. The intersection of past reflections and future insights is also mirrored by the title of the conference Poetics and Politics of Place in Music. The conference will be attended by the musicologists from 13 European countries and Israel. They will discuss the relationship of music and performance practices within the social and cultural contexts; cultural identities of music and musical soundscapes; representations of the national, local, global and other aspects in music, as well as the challenges posed by global migration and cultural mixture and the infl uence thereof upon the contemporary musical culture. A special session in the conference programme, entitled Hommage à Vytautas Landsbergis: Music, Culture, Politics, will be devoted to the notable Lithuanian musicologist and politician Vytautas Landsbergis (b.1932). The forgotten pages of Lithuanian musical modernism will be brought to light in the special event commemorating the anniversaries of Jeronimas Kačinskas (1907–2005), the representative of interwar Lithuanian avant-garde and the father of national quartertone music, and Lithuanian modernist composer Jonas Nabažas (1907–2002). During the gathering held in memory of eminent researcher and promoter of Lithuanian music culture Ona Narbutienė (1930–2007), the chamber works by these composers will be performed for the first time in Lithuania, along with the presentation of unpublished fragments from Jonas Nabažas’ Diaries.

What are the future prospects of the Baltic Musicological Conferences? Obviously, their future will be determined by the professional ambitions and understanding of cultural mission by today’s middle and younger generations of Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian musicologists. One of the most attractive paths lies in the revival of the idea of Baltic regional music studies. Foundations for broader regional music research projects have already been laid, and this is not limited to the tradition of the Baltic Musicological Conference and other lasting initiatives of cooperation between musicologists of neighbouring countries. In the 21st century, special sessions dedicated to Baltic music and musicology at various international musicological congresses (IMS 2002, 2007; ICTM 2007) have triggered international response and have consolidated the musicologists from different countries. Yet the most important thing is that, over several decades, the musicologists of these countries, strengthened by political perturbations, have acquired unique knowledge: the cultural mission of musicology is conceivable only when the professional community gets involved in a dialogue stimulating new challenges.

© Rūta Stanevičiūtė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 15