J?ónis Ivanovs (1906-1983)
Symphony No. 8 in B minor (1956) Symphony No. 20 in E flatmajor (1981)
J?ónis Ivanovs is regarded as Latvia's most distinguishedsymphonic composer. He was born on 9th October, 1906, in the small Latvian townof Preili and graduated in 1931 from the Latvian State Conservatory in Riga,where his teachers for composition and conducting were J?ózeps V?«tols and GeorgSchneevoigt respectively. While continuing postgraduate studies in composition,he began a long association with Latvian Radio, eventually becoming artisticdirector of the Latvian Radio Committee. He joined the faculty of the LatvianState Conservatory in 1944 and in 1955 was appointed professor of composition.Ivanovs composed his Symphony No. 1 in B flat minor in 1933. Unfortunately themanuscript and all scores and parts have been lost. In 1936 his LatgalePictures was performed, followed by Symphony No. 2 in D minor (1937) andSymphony No. 3 in F minor (1938), both of which have been recorded with theLatvian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dmitry Yablonsky (Marco Polo8.223331). These early works, together with the tone-poem Rainbow (1939),although rooted in the old scales of Latvian folk-music, are essentiallylyrical compositions, showing the influences of impressionism and of Scriabin.During the war years Ivanovs produced Symphony No. 4 (The Legend of Atlantis)(1941) and Symphony No. 5 in C major (1945), the latter coupled with SymphonyNo. 12 in a similar recording (Marco Polo 8.223332). Symphony No. 6 (TheLatgale) (1949), and Symphony No. 7 in C minor (1953), although still pepperedwith folk-themes, show Ivanovs as a maturing symphonist developing his ownmusical language and style. The Soviet and Latvian musical establishment joinedin his praise as the composer celebrated his fiftieth birthday. \J?ónis Ivanovsis like thunder and lightning cleansing the air with his Luciferic sounds. Hissymphonies are like ancient Greek tragedies, filled with ecstasy andpurification", wrote the Latvian composer and music critic, Margers Z?órins.
This powerfully dramatic voice is very evident in hisSymphony No. 8 in B minor (1956). The first movement is one of psychologicalrumination, full of austere colours, conflict and tension, only occasionallyrelieved by a simple and tenderly caressing melody. The second, scherzo-like,movement expresses a more straightforward and clear outlook on the world, fullof wholesome humour and the play of nature. In it the musicologist LudvigsK?órklins hears "life-affirming joy". The third movement is noble in itsausterity and lyrical in a Bach or Handel sense. According to K?órklins, "theluminous idealism of the second movement is negated in the third movement". Inthe last movement the struggle between joy and austerity finally concludes in avigorous and life-asserting way, bringing this lyrico-psychological anddramatic work to a close.
Although Ivanovs composed three string quartets, numerousvocal, piano and chamber works, five symphonic poems and three concertos (oneeach for cello, piano and violin), it is the 21 symphonies that define hismusical output. From 1960 until his death in 1983 he wrote a further thirteensymphonies, of which Symphony No. 21 has only three completed movements. Ineach work Ivanovs provided the listener with an unusual sense of intimacy, asif he were speaking to us. His love of melody was evident in all his music. Heonce claimed that the melodic content was the essence of each of hiscompositions. Although he eventually stepped away from what he called the"precise, expressive, and nationalistic musical idiom", Ivanovs never reallystopped drawing upon the native songs of the Latgale district of Eastern Latviafor his inspiration. He wrote that Latgale's folk-music was particularlypoignant in that it "combined both Slavic sadness and restrained beauty..."Pathos, colour, intensity, dramatic ingenuity, an expansive musical language,and an extraordinary ability to create a powerful tone-painting, were hismusical fingerprints. Much honoured during his lifetime, he was president ofthe Latvian Composers' Union and was awarded the titles of People's Artist ofthe Latvian SSR in 1956 and People's Artist of the USSR in 1965.
The composer's last completed symphonic score and his mostpersonal work was his Symphony No. 20 in E flat major (1981). "These arememories", mused Ivanovs. "If you are willing to know what you are today, youshould remember what you have been and should know what road you havefollowed..." This is a deeply tragic work, more cycle than symphony. Thevisions of the past and the mournful mood of the first movement are repeatedlyrejected by orchestral recitatives full of Beethoven-like utterances and power.According to K?órklins, "these recitatives direct the musical development intothe road of impetuous seekings and struggles. Restrained chimes as if toconfirm the deeper meaning of the struggle and its place in eternity". Thesecond movement is even more tragic. It is a memorial narrative, deliberatelyaloof, but bright and lucid. According to his biographer, Ludvigs K?órklins,"this movement is the summit of Latgale's great music-maker's symphonicconfession -- the song of songs of his soul!" The third movement, Menuetto:Reminiscenza, is a poetic reflection, with a sad, and perhaps ironic smile. Themonolithic finale is full of majestic gestures and impetuous vigour. Throughgeneralised images the composer captures the swift pulse of our age and times.In summarising, K?órklins states: "The notation of the symphony seems to becovered by a kind of golden glitter. Texture and tone-colour couplings bloominglike muted, dispersed sunlight, sketch out many associative notions, reflectingthe world of the composer's ideas and feelings, and the reality of today".
Marina and Victor Ledin