Volume 36, No.3 - Fall 1990
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas, University of Rochester
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1990 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.




Because many gifted and erudite composers left Lithuania during and after World War II, the history of Lithuanian (as well as Estonian and Latvian) music is divided into the work of those who remained in the homeland and that of the émigrés. Nonetheless, the work of the émigrés still belongs to Lithuania and Lithuanians because they were born in Lithuania, studied there, and were preparing to advance the musical culture of their land. Their roots are in Lithuania, wherever they may now live, driven from the homeland by fate.

It is regrettable that the work of these composers is almost unknown both in Lithuania and among American Lithuanians. Their manuscripts, letters, and articles lie scattered and uncollected, useless and ignored in attics and basements. Some of this material was, however, gathered by Juozas Žilevičius and Juozas Kreivėnas, whose archive is in the Lithuanian Studies and Research Center in Chicago. This archive enables us to evaluate the history of twentieth-century music as an entity and to place it, as befits, in the context of Lithuanian music.

It is impossible to discuss all the aspects of the development of twentieth-century Lithuanian music in an article such as this. We shall thus present only the most general outline of its stylistic development as the first coherent comment after a brief acquaintance with the material in Žilevičius's and Kreivėnas's Musicological Archive.

At the commemorative conference entitled "Čiurlionis's Creative Work and the Function of Lithuanian Art" the Polish musicologist Stefan Jarocinskij stated that "the concept 'the world of reality' describes the present economic, social, and political structure, while 'the world of ideas/ at least from a historical perspective, almost always appears to be in conflict with that 'world of reality.' By their very nature, ideas are dynamic phenomena, while reality is passive, given to stagnation in forms which are at first superimposed on it, but later actually created by it. Hence the discrepancy between the history of ideas and the history of reality. Rarely are their chronologies or periodizations one and the same, and all attempts at synchronization are usually doomed to failure in advance."1

The conflict between ideas and reality has often been highly acute in Lithuanian professional music. A few negative examples of this should be mentioned. For instance after the partition of 1795, Lithuania lost all political rights, its press, and even its name at precisely the time when the Romantic esthetic of Europe nurtured new nationalistic schools of composition. Understandably, then, the musical world of Lithuania was at the time vegetating, oppressed by two influences—Polish and Russian. Later, at the turn of the century, a Lithuanian nationalistic musical school had begun to form, but the maturing implicit convergence of the spheres of ideas and reality was brought to a halt by World War II. A large number of established composers found themselves in the West, while those who remained in Lithuania experienced the brutality of the era of the cult of Stalin. Even those in the West had great difficulty in bringing forth their creative efforts because they felt rejected, misunderstood by most of the conservative émigré community and unable to enter the mainstream of American musical life and to gain its support. They survived only by believing in the reality of their own creative world.

"Fractured cultures cannot compete with healthy ones, and neither can they reflect their potential in the realm of world culture," stated musicologist Mart Humal at the twenty-first Baltic Conference of Musicologists in Piarnu last fall.2 (As a sidenote: this Estonian musicologist was one of the first to treat the musical history of the Baltic nations as an integral process, which includes émigré composers outside the homeland. It should also be noted that only the Estonians have published a comprehensive book about their work in English—Estonian Music by Harry Olt.3 As far as I know, neither the Lithuanians, nor the Latvians have a volume of this sort.) We cannot, therefore, discuss the history of Lithuanian music according to geography because many of the best contributions to Lithuanian musical culture originated in Lithuanian societies scattered around the world.

Today, at the end of the twentieth century, three periods of Lithuanian professional music are discernible: 1) Late Romanticism (with some Impressionism), 2) Neoclassicism and Expressionism, and 3) some tendencies toward modern avant-garde music.

Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, unique and timely, represents the first period. Although there is disagreement even today about his style of painting, his music is universally acclaimed as Romantic. At the time of national rebirth he felt responsible for the future of Lithuanian art. He grasped the problem of ethnicity dialectically—as a natural synthesis of both folk and professional music. Like the group "The Five" of Russian composers, Čiurlionis considered it essential for Lithuania to have its own opera and symphony. During the period of Lithuania's political . and national revival, the esthetic ideas of Romanticism were also most appropriate. At that time (and even to this day) the folk song was considered the sole most important basis of an original national style. This tenet was qualified of course, because the folkloric style should not conflict with the prevalent musical tradition and had to be capable of transformation. Čiurlionis enriched the Romantic style with the element of Lithuanian folk rhythms and cadences. In this sense he was an originator of Lithuanian ethnic professional music.

However, in the context of this study, Čiurlionis's music is more interesting not in its Romanticism, but in its incipient departures from the Romantic tradition. Čiurlionis differed from other Romantic composers in his treatment of nature and in his attitude toward human mood. His symphonic poem Jūra (The Sea), for example, contains pictorial fragments; his later compositions for the piano reveal concentrated aphorisms about man's many moods. The work of this first classic Lithuanian composer stands between Romanticism and newer esthetic movements, quite clearly approaching Impressionism.

During the first few decades of this century Lithuanian music slowly pursued new creative directions. For various social and historical reasons, a strong pseudo-Romantic esthetic developed among Lithuanian musicians. This group produced such a voluminous output of decadent music that later Baltic musicologists, attempting to rationalize that fact, began using the term "normative esthetic" for its description. This so-called national-normative-Romantic trend in Lithuanian musical history continued into the mid-century.

From about the 1920s, however, the opposition in the aforementioned direction began to form. The composers Juozas Gruodis, Vladas Jakubėnas, and Kazimieras Banaitis retained many more elements of Romanticism than Jeronimas Kačinskas and, even more, Vytautas Bacevičius, although almost all of them were, at the outset of their careers, under the influence of Scriabin. Each hoped to find his own path, and all placed this hope in harmony. Kačinskas, Bacevičius, and Gruodis treated dissonance innovatively. Kačinskas began with quartertonical music; Bacevičius—with seventh-cord accord; and Gruodis—with abundant modulations of harmony. Gruodis tried to introduce folkloric themes into dissonant harmonies, but his experiments did not change the system of harmony itself, which remained similar to other examples of proto-Romantic works circulating in the orbit of dissonant esthetics. It is interesting to note that in Lithuania since 1960 Julius Juzeliūnas, formerly a student of Gruodis's, repeated this method of convering two stylistic dimensions again. In this case, however, Baroque themes, recognizable by their rhythmic structures, confronted folkloric dissonant intervals in the harmony.

Of course, all the stylistic movements of the twentieth century beginning with the prefix "neo-" were born from the paradoxical juncture of elements of historically different styles. In the quest for new modes of expression many Lithuanian composers both in the homeland and in exile experimented with Neo-Classicism. Neo-Romanticism prevailed, for example, in the instrumental sonatas of Julius Gaidelis and Kazimieras Banaitis, and in the concertos of Balys Dvarionas, Stasys Vainiūnas, and Edvardas Balsys. Some chamber music of Vytautas Bacevičius, Jeronimas Kačinskas, Feliksas Bajoras, Bronius Kutavičius, and Osvaldas Balakauskas displayed characteristics of the Neo-Baroque. Some composers adhered to the "neo-" stylistic principles for quite some time, while others, like Kačinskas and Bacevičius, considered them a passing phase, since they were concerned primarily with musical architectonics.

The most original and distinct examples of Expressionism were the mature works of Bacevičius and Kačinskas. The object toward which their energies were directed was not, however, the heart-rending maximalistic cry of Schoenberg or Berg. A singular, contemplative state was more characteristic of Bacevičius and Kačinskas. Through musical language they addressed themselves to something higher, indivisible:

the universe, the cosmos, or perhaps to the essence of love and longing. This gave rise to the ritualistic, non-conflicting, spontaneously pulsating character of their music, whose ideas are close to the spirit of Webern.

Besides the aforementioned Expressionism, in America the Lithuanian-American composers Jonas Švedas and Darius Lapinskas created their conflicting, tensely contrastive music, while in Lithuania such music was written by Feliksas Bajoras (string quartets and opera—Dievo Avinėlis— (Lamb of God), Osvaldas Balakauskas (first Symphony and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra), Vytautas Barkauskas (Concerto for Viola and Orchestra) and others.

The composers in Lithuania were well-acquainted with the multi-dimensional style of Expressionism. It is quite possible that under its influence the hierarchy of creative dimensions was formed—namely, color, tension, and contemplation. During the last two decades (about 1968-1988) these dimensions have been related in various ways. The most impressive has been that form which prompted association of ritualistic musical images.

The first to speak of this phenomenon, it seems, was the Latvian musicologist Arnold Kluotinis after the premiere of Bronius Kutavičius's Paskutinės pagonių apeigos (The last pagan rites.) The reasons for the conception of this type of work can be discussed from the perspective of ethical and ideological discord that took place in Lithuania at that time (the longing for faith). The strengthening of ritualistic function in musical works can also be explained by the sudden interest in the typically Lithuanian predilection for the spiritualization of nature. In that case, a musical composition became like a variation of pantheistic prayer.

Another explanation of this phenomenon is also consistent: Lithuanians know the stylistic trends of contemporary international music and feel the intensifying of contemplative expression that has occurred during the last decades in the works of composers in many other parts of the world. A renewed apprehension of space and time formed a new and special concept, grounded in the symbols of sound and consonance. Repetitive sounds and sound groups transport the listener into a trance-like state. Thus a new esthetic forms. Famous representatives of this esthetic are Phillip Glass and Olivier Messiaen less well-known, but noteworthy in their own cultures, are Arvo Part of Estonia, Kančeli of Georgia, and Bronius Kutavičius of Lithuania.

Twentieth-century Lithuanian music thus traveled the road from Romanticized Impressionism (represented by Čiurlionis) through Expressionism (V. Bacevičius, J. Kačinskas, F. Bajoras, 0. Balakauskas, D. Lapinskas, and J. Švedas), ending in a new, contemplative period. In this process one level is noteworthy— that of Neo-Classicism.

In that development there is also a consistency in the evolution of musical technique. For example, from 1904 Čiurlionis used his own brand of serialism in his piano preludes, where his approach to polyphony was also unique. Prof. Vytautas Landsbergis states that the "serialism of Čiurlionis encompassed enriched modal formations and a thematic movie vocabulary (treating the motive as a germ for future motives) which gave rise to a new type of variational technique."4 He explains that, "As Debussy was freeing dissonance from functional resolution, Čiurlionis emancipated the horizontal line, creating a new tendency in linear thought, although remaining in the Romantic spirit."5 In the further history of musical theory this linear thinking was instrumental in freeing the dissonance, which legitimized the new system of atonality, the foundation of the work of Lithuanian Expressionists. Granted, this harmony never was purely dodecaphonic in the work of Lithuanians, but it was convenient to the athematic principles in the work of Bacevičius and Kačinskas. Both composers have been sorely neglected by musicologists in Lithuania and elsewhere and only recently has their music begun to be performed in Lithuania. Bacevičius's six symphonies, four concertos, and other major symphonic works have not been heard in post-War Lithuania. This is also true of the work of Kačinskas, Gaidelis, and Švedas.

After only a cursory acquaintance with the music of Bacevičius, the stylistic coherence of his work becomes apparent, even though the author himself divided his work into periods according to technical variations. After the period of his youth, Bacevičius's harmonies acquired a very specific atonal color, which they retained until the end. In his dissonant harmonies the interval of the fourth plays a very important role. This interval neutralizes the tension or leading effect of semi-tones. His chordal vocabulary had its own specific color, but was not in itself contrastive. Bacevičius sought intensity of development from variation in texture. Two textural devices become evident-linear counterpoint and metrorhythmic figurative ornamentation. Bacevičius spoke and wrote extensively, expecially during his later years, about reflections on the cosmos in his musical thematic material. This in part explains the impulsiveness of his textural details and the overall contemplative nature of his work.

Another representative of modern thought is Bacevičius's contemporary Jeronimas Kačinskas, who is still composing in Boston. At the beginning of his career he was very interested in the quarter-tone harmonic systems of Czech composer A. Habba. Kačinskas's second String quartet, Trio for Trumpet, Viola and Piano were based on this system. With time he rejected it, but almost all of his works retain the athematic principle of development. The composer himself has stated that "Motives, melodies, and ornamentations are not repeated in that style; new ones are constantly created according to the composer's imagination and the unifying factors of the work."6

One of those unifying factors is harmony. His exercises in quarter-tone music have fashioned a subtle feel for harmonic color. Kačinskas's harmonies unify the elements of the dodecaphonic chromatic system with the sonority of the augmented fourth. Chromaticism prevails in his thematic material, but because of the transparency of the linear texture, its effect is subtle and expressive.

It should be noted that until 1970, the work of both Bacevičius and Kačinskas was most distinct in its expressionistic style. It was not until the 1970s that serialism and the dodecaphonic system found widespread acceptance in Lithuania. More about this may be found in Raminta Lampsatis's dissertation, Dodekaphone Werke von Balsys, Juzeliūnas und der jungeren Komponistengeneration Litauens: Dodekaphonie als integrierende Technik.7

At the same time new individual systems were created. Composers such as Julius Juzeliūnas and Osvaldas Balakauskas set up rigid formulas and adhered to them faithfully. The new musical language also saw a completely different approach to the introduction of folk elements. A so-called Lithuanian-style "Sprechgesang" appeared, with composers Bajoras, Kutavičius, and later Martinaitis as its main exponents.

During the last fifteen or twenty years Lithuanian musical language has noticeably revived. Its musical structures began to be controlled by some systems of modus of Lithuanian folk music.

New compositional techniques were tried and are still used. There was experimentation with aleatory, micropolyphony, repetition. The most distinct composers using aleatory are Antanas Rekašius and Vytautas Laurušas. This compositional technique was most useful for those who ascribed primacy to color in composition. In addition to the improvisatory elements a new organization of minimal structures crystalized in Lithuanian music. The most important element of this new form was repetition. The purposeful monotony of sound brings the structural segments' symbolism into the forefront. The repetitions suggest a ritualistic ceremonial mood. Since the principle of repetition is used on many linear levels, the scale of sonal possibilities is endless. Perhaps these techniques gained acceptance among Lithuanian composers because they are related to the unusual polyphonic folk genre of the "sutartinė," the round. B. Kutavičius consistently uses this technique; sometimes O. Balakauskas also masters it.

The minimalist technique in music begets contemplative forms. A younger group of Lithuanian composers found these attractive: A. Martinaitis, O. Narbutaitė, V. Bartulis, M. Urbaitis, among others. The youngest generation, however, the great-grandchildren of Lithuania's early twentieth-century composers are also attempting to meditate independently. It is difficult to predict what musical shape the thoughts of the young will take. Musicologist Vilija Aleknaitė writes in the book Jauna muzika that "The ritualization of music by older composers has not gone unnoticed. The younger composers strive to bring meaning to the musical process and to underline the authenticity of performance. They do not trust unorganized self-expression; you will not find random psychodramas. In their own way they long for a solid basis in form for their own crystal creation, which does not require ornamentation, but is beautiful in its natural perfection. In the words of an older colleague: in an atmosphere of schlock any perfectly made article rings of dissonance. We can add that when the environment contains much muck, cleanliness is dissonant. This is dissociation, a plan of action—as yet an unfulfilled intuition of the ideal."8

In music, as in the other arts, the ideal is constantly reborn in new form. We eagerly await what semblance it will assume in the hands of the youngest generation of Lithuanian composers.

Translated by Emilija Sakadolskis and Maria Stankus-Saulaitis


1 Stefanas Jaročinskis, "Lūžio laikotarpis Europos mene ir kultūroje (1908-1914)" in Čiurlioniui 100 (Vilnius: Vaga, 1977), p. 113.

2 Mart Humal, O modernizimie v pribaltyjskoj muzykie serediny XX vieka (Manuscript), p. 1.

3 Harry Olt, Estonian Music (Tallinn: Perioodika, 1980).

4 Vytautas Landsbergis, Čiurlionio muzika (Vilnius; Vaga, 1986), p. 220.

5 Ibid., p. 219.

6 Jeronimas Kačinskas, letter to the author, May 1988.

7 Raminta Lampsatis, Dodekaphone Werke von Balsys, Juzeliūnas und der jungeren Komponistengeneration Litauens: Dodekaphonie als integrierende Technik, PhD diss., Berlin, 1977.

8 Vilija Aleknaitė, "Ar pajėgsime šviesti?" in Jauna muzika (Druskininkai: Jaunimo kamerinės muzikos dienų leidinys, 1987), p. 15.