ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2007 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 53, No 3 - Fall 2007
Editor of this issue: M.G Slavėnas

CD Review

Vladas Jakubėnas. LMIPC CD 029 (1997–2003 @ Lithuanian Music Information and Publishing Centre, 2005.

The First CD by Vladas Jakubėnas
starts a New Series of Lithuanian Classics 

The CD under review was released in the spring of 2005 by the Lithuanian Music Information and Publishing Centre in Vilnius on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lithuanian composer Vladas Jakubėnas (1904–1976). It is the first CD in a new series under the label Lithuanian Classicism, designed to present previously unknown music by Lithuanian composers. During the last decade or so, Lithuanian musicologists have rediscovered exciting compositions by distinguished composers who, due to various circumstances, remained unknown in Soviet Lithuania and are only now receiving the attention they deserve and their rightful place in the history of Lithuanian music. The purpose of the new series is not only to acquaint the wider public with the music for its own sake, but also to inspire new performances, discussion, comparative analysis, and reconstructions of contextual frameworks. 

Vladas Jakubėnas is a good choice, as he fits all of the above criteria: he is a good example of a pre-World War Two composer relegated to obscurity for political reasons. The CD is an excellent introduction to Jakubėnas’s most popular instrumental chamber music, selected from several decisive periods of his career, each performed by Lithuanian musicians distinguished in their respective category and known for their own distinctive style. 

The five compositions appear in the following (not exclusively chronological) order: 

1. Two Images. (Du vaizdeliai) Op. 2. Riga, 1926–1927.
From the Land of Fairy tales (Iš pasakų krašto) Op. 2, No. 1.
Legend (Legenda) Op. 2, No. 2.
Performed by Kasparas Ušinskas, Piano. 

2. Melody–Legend for Violin and Piano (Melodija–Legenda). Biržai–Berlin: 1930–1931.
Performed by Rusnė Mataitytė, Violin, and Albina Šikšniūtė, Piano. 

3. Serenade for Cello and Piano (Serenada). Kaunas: 1936. 

4. Quartet in A Minor (Styginis kvartetas) Op. 4. Berlin: 1929–1930. Allegro
Adagio non troppo. Allegretto scherzando. Andante mosso. Adagio.
Performed by the Vilnius String Quartet (Valstybinis Vilniaus kvartetas), featuring Audronė Vaniūnaitė, first violin; Artūras Šilalė, 2nd violin; Girdutis Jakaitis, viola; Augustinas Vasiliauskas, Cello. 

5. Prelude and Triple Fugue in D Minor for String Orchestra (Preliudas ir triguba fuga). Berlin: 1928–1929.
Performed by the St. Christopher’s Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Donatas Katkus. 

In pre-World War II Lithuania, Vladas Jakubėnas was a widely respected rising young composer and critic deeply involved with modern European trends and movements. In Soviet Lithuania, Jakubėnas, who withdrew to the West at the end of World War II, was at best known as an émigré music critic and author of religious choral music. It is only now, after nearly a half century of silence, that Jakubėnas is becoming known and admired in Lithuanian music circles, both as a composer and a music critic, holding an important place in twentiethcentury Lithuanian music. As Jakubėnas’s work is gradually returned to Lithuania from archives in the United States and Germany, it is the subject of numerous national and international conferences. 

Vladas Jakubėnas was born on May 15, 1904, in he northern town of Biržai, and grew up in a privileged multicultural, multilingual and multireligious environment. He began his musical studies in neighboring Riga, Latvia, at the Riga Conservatoire of Music. He studied piano and composition with Jazeps Votls, the patriarch of Latvian music, who espoused the conservative St. Petersburg school of composition. During his time at the Riga Conservatoire (1926–1927), Jakubėnas wrote his first small lyric compositions. He first two selections in this CD, Du vaizdeliai (Two Images), are two miniatures for piano that gained him immediate popularity and remain popular to this day. Historically, they are good examples of Lithuanian Romanticism and show a remote affinity with the piano compositions of Čiurlionis. Kasparas Ušinskas does a fine job capturing the romantic lyricism that marks Jakubėnas’s early period. He never completely abandoned it, developing a style he coined “temperate modernism,” a blend of late romanticism and impressionism that he viewed best attuned to the musical traditions of his “remote lyrical” homeland. 

After Riga, from 1928–1932, Jakubėnas continued his studies at the Berlin Staatliche Akademische Hochschule für Musik as a student in the Meisterklasse for Composition taught by the renowned German composer and conductor Franz Schreker. The four years in Berlin were the most decisive influence in the young composer’s career. In Berlin, he was exposed to the “New Music” of the times and wrote his most modern works, which were performed at public concerts in Berlin before his return to Lithuania. The Prelude and Triple Fugue in D Minor for String Orchestra, his String Quartet in A Minor Op. 4, and Melody-Legend for Violin and Piano are from the “Berlin period.” 

The second selection on the CD, Melody-Legend for Violin and Piano, composed in Biržai–Berlin in 1930 to 1931, is Jakubėnas’s most poetic instrumental work. It is characterized by a transparent texture and elements of imitative polyphony. Within a more traditional outer section is the folkloric middle section, whose melodic contour and harmonic structure is characteristic of the oldest folk songs form the Dzūkija region in the south of Lithuania. 

The String Quartet in A Minor Op. 4, composed in Berlin between 1929 and 1930, is now viewed as a gem of Lithuanian quartet music. In Berlin, it was Jakubėnas’s first composition to be included in a program of concerts organized in March, 1932, 88 by ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music) and conducted by Professor Scheker himself. It was rediscovered in Chicago in 1998 and introduced to Lithuanian audiences by the acclaimed Vilnius String Quartet in February of 1999. This quartet in two parts consists of Allegro (non troppo), in sonata form, with clear traditionally developed themes, and Adagio (non troppo), a polyphonic movement in three sections using dirges from Dzūkija and alternating with allegretto scherzando episodes in the middle section. The use of plaintive folkloric modes slows the movement down and gives it a modal rather than major/minor system of tonal organization. A frequently alternating meter and widely spread instrumental parts evoke the feeling of sound soaring into space.

Prelude and Triple Fugue in D Minor for String Orchestra, 1928–1929, recently rediscovered, belongs to the beginning of the Berlin period. It is a neoclassical opus combining neoclassical features with romantic traditions and incorporating themes from Lithuanian folk music. The Prelude, half the length of the Fugue, introduces the latter with motoric movement and imitative polyphony. The first subject of the Fugue is scherzo-like, the second is characterized by long notes and wider leaps, and the third by an overall liveliness. Emphasizing one or another of the subjects, the composer crates a complex dramatic development. The structure of the Fugue is based on the combination of all three subjects in their original form without inversion or retrograde. The leitmotif is a downward chromatic passage within the span of the sixth and is applied to all three subjects, serving as the only stable counterpoint. This opus was found in Germany only a few years ago by the German musicologist and performer Kolja Lessing, who brought it to Lithuania for its first performance. 

Serenade for Cello and Piano, 1936, Kaunas, is a ten-minute composition also known as Serenade-rhapsody, a title which better reflects its form. It is a sparkling, elegant piece, using quasi-Spanish dance rhythms and melodic turns, each section marked by changing meter and tempo and abrupt contrasts in dynamics and registers. The piano texture imitates a guitar. This popular composition dates from a later time than the Berlin works and marks a departure from Jakubėnas’s usual style. 

Rita Nomicaitė