Category Archives: Musicology

Was Singing Necessary?: A New Estonian National Epic

Guntis Šmidchens (University of Washington)

On Estonia’s 90th birthday, 650 Estonians wrote 6,500 lines of poetry as a
gift to their country.  Out of this corpus,  folklorists created “Viru
regi,” a 373-line poem whose metrical form stems as much from the literary
national epic, Kalevipoeg, as from oral regilaul. This “written oral poem”
(J.M. Foley’s terminology) became a “voiced text” when it was sung for the
first time on February 24, 2008.  Its genre is not difficult to determine.
It is a long song (40 minutes!).  It tells a heroic national history.  It
presents beliefs and worldview (a singer commented, “if you need to pass
the citizenship exam, read this song– It’s all there”).  It is an epic
song.  As a new national epic, it may be more effective than Kalevipoeg.
Performers note that the “power” of this song comes from both content and
sung form.  Its roots in oral poetry and folk creativity entail an open
ended text that may change in performance.  The song’s effect on future
Estonian national culture remains to be determined.

Keyword: Smidchens

Latvian Music, Jewish Music

Kevin C. Karnes (Emory University)

It is common now among scholars of Baltic history and culture to regard the region’s historical Latvian and Jewish communities as separate and distinct—even, as Wohlfart and Oberländer put it in 2004, as “isolating themselves from each other” (Sich-Voneinander-Absondern). In my talk, I consider an array of archival and published musical sources that complicate and challenge this view. I consider folk songs transcribed in the 1920s and 1930s that attest to personal and communal encounters and exchanges between the region’s Latvians and its Yiddish-speaking Jews. I examine manuscript traces of varieties of cultural hybridity that proliferated in Latvia’s public and private spaces prior to the Second World War, spaces where the musics of Jews and other peoples could coexist and intermingle in a single concert, even in a single song. And I consider folk songs and published broadside ballads that reflect as well upon cultural distance, in which Latvian singers and composers regarded their Jewish neighbors as exotic and unknowable. In conclusion, I propose a complex picture of vernacular Latvian music making prior to 1941, in which much of Latvian musical culture bore marks of encounter with those Jewish peoples with whom Latvians shared land along the Baltic coast.

Arvo Pärt in Digital Culture

 Jeffers Engelhardt (Amherst College)

This talk examines the digital circulation of Pärt’s work in sample-based musics, remixes, and other forms of musical repurposing. In documenting how artists like Lupe Fiasco, Sigur Rós, Mogwai, Murcof, Ricardo Villalobos, Björk, The Arcade Fire, Nick Cave, and Radiohead draw upon and invoke Pärt’s music, I draw attention to the discrete sonic qualities of Pärt’s tintinnabuli music that inspire these kinds of genre-crossing translations. The qualities of tonality, temporality, vocality, form, and expressive discipline that these artists hear in Pärt’s music resonate with the values and aesthetics of post-rock, hip-hop, minimalist electronica, glitch beats, post-punk, and indie rock. That Pärt has such pride of place in these milieux points to the extensive range of ways musical producers and consumers relate to the sound of Pärt’s music per se, apart from its ambiguous yet widely touted genre associations and discursive connections to place, history, religion, and biography. Ultimately, the sounds of Pärt’s digital circulation illustrate how global technocultures and trans-local music scenes can attenuate (as much as they intensify) the significance of place or region.

The Polish Connection: Lithuanian Music and the Warsaw Autumn Festival

Lisa Jakelski (University of Rochester)

 Since its inception in 1956, the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music has facilitated cross-border contact. Standard accounts of the Warsaw Autumn highlight its status as a unique zone of aesthetic liberalism and East-West cultural exchange during the Cold War. Yet the festival has linked more than the Cold War’s opposing realms of geopolitical influence. This paper considers how the Warsaw Autumn contributed to the formation of transnational ties among the Baltic States during the late socialist period. I focus on a specific moment in Warsaw Autumn history: the 1983 performance of Bronius Kutavičius’s Last Pagan Rites (1978), a work that was quickly proclaimed a masterpiece after its premiere in the composer’s native Lithuania. Drawing upon archival documentation, journalistic reception, oral history, and published memoirs, I trace the informal, personal connections that bypassed official channels of Polish-Soviet interaction to bring Kutavičius’s work to Poland. I also explore the complex responses Last Pagan Rites received at the Warsaw Autumn, where critics heard the piece both as exotic and as a political metaphor. Based upon this case study, I will suggest that the performance of Lithuanian music at the Warsaw Autumn reconfigured older Polish-Lithuanian cultural connections while presaging the ties of the post-Cold War era.

“Good morning, my precious little Estonian on the other side of the speaker”: Ethnolinguistic Nationalism and Estonian Hip-Hop

Triin Vallaste (Brown University)

Since the release of his first album in 2003, Estonian rapper Chalice has become one of the most prominent popular musicians in Estonia. In addition to praise from critics and successful record sales, the Estonian state has recognized him on the highest level: Chalice’s track “Minu inimesed” (My People) was included on the concert programs of the President’s celebration of Estonia’s Independence Day in 2006 and the countrywide Youth Song and Dance Celebration in 2007.

Across Europe, youth have re-territorialized rap to critique local social conditions and raise debates about racism, citizenship policies, unemployment, and poverty. Chalice, however, addresses social issues in ethnically divided Estonia in a circumspect way, choosing to celebrate more pro-state sentiments. Here, I track through ethnography and media analysis his rise from underground rapper to “the crown prince of national culture.” I argue that while he is often described as a musician who “unites the people, old and young,” Chalice’s production in fact intensifies the schism between ethnic Estonians and the state’s citizens who are not ethnically Estonian. In the Estonian context, the state has employed Chalice to represent a hegemonic ethnolinguistic state ideology. This kind of state appropriation offers an exceptional case study that contrasts with much of the global hip-hop that typically voices concerns and fights for the rights of marginalized groups. Furthermore, Chalice’s case offers a provocative example of the unusual ways in which genre indigenization alters not only musical sound and language, but also the ideological functions of a form of artistic expression.

The Musical Event as a Potential Tool for Integration of Ethnic Groups in Estonia

Triinu Ojamaa and Julia Sulina (Estonian Literary Museum)

It is a matter of fact in musicology that music, which is, first of all, a source of emotional enjoyment, also serves some social functions. According to Hargreaves and North, we use music to communicate with each other; it is possible for people from widely differing cultural backgrounds to establish contact through music, even though the languages they speak may be quite incomprehensible to one another.

Communication is primarily realized over the course of musical performances, and it can take place between performers, between members of the audience, and between performers and their audience. About 100 open-air music festivals take place every year in Estonia; the genres vary from folk fusion to global pop and classical music. The festivals—at least theoretically—have great potential to integrate music-lovers of different ethnic backgrounds. We argue that, in practice, most of the festivals do not function as tools for such integration, because their audiences consist primarily of ethnic Estonians.

Based upon observations of thirty such festivals, we analyze the attitudes of Russian-speaking minority groups toward such music festivals. Our goal is to identify those features of the festivals and of performances themselves that would make these events more attractive for audiences of different backgrounds, and thus offering possibilities for individual and groups to meet and communicate.

Some Recent Trends in Latvian Music: On the Boundaries between Paradigms

Ilze Šarkovska-Liepiņa (University of Latvia)

Significant changes have taken place since the 1980s and 1990s with respect to the function and significance of artists in society. In the latter decades, creative artists were directly involved in changes in the political process; their works evinced emotional pathos and consciousness of the artist’s mission in the consolidation of society. Now, paradigms have changed, from attempts to confirm through music a sense of national identity to the aesthetic of Neo-Romanticism, to creative investigations of new technologies, and to concern for sound as a personal value.

Today’s composers, many of whom work in the tradition of post-war Western avant-gardes, have assumed key roles in the environment of classic music making in Latvia. Many of their works exhibit elements of a Romantic aesthetic, particularly among the middle and later generations of composers, such as Pēteris Vasks, Pēteris Plakidis, and Maija Einfelde. Also vital are Neo-Classical trends, echoes of the “Folklore Wave,” and so forth.

In recent years, the works of Latvian composers have been notable for their great stylistic and technological diversity; there is no single identifiable Latvian school of composition. The heritage of the past and the interaction of tradition with new experiences enables one to perceive the coalescence of a new set of aesthetic values, already evinced in some musical works by a new generation of: such as Mārtiņš Viļums, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Santa Ratniece, and others.

Keyword: Sarkovska

Keyword: Liepina

Estonian Composers in St. Petersburg: Tobias, Kapp, Lemba, Eller

Nicholas L. Wallin (Lake Forest College)

The earliest compositions in the Estonian symphonic tradition can be traced to the composer Rudolf Tobias (1873-1918), as well as to his near contemporaries Artur Kapp (1878-1952), Artur Lemba (1885-1963), and Heino Eller (1887-1970). These four are credited with the first-ever Estonian symphonic work (Tobias, 1896), the first Estonian piano concerto (Tobias, 1897), the first Estonian cantata (Tobias, 1897), and first Estonian symphony (Lemba, 1908). Eller and Kapp were also among the founding teachers of composition at the Tallinn Conservatory (1919) and Tartu Higher School of Music (1919).

Although these four were among the most influential early Estonian symphonic composers, they were all educated in St. Petersburg. My presentation provides an examination of symphonic works by these pioneering Estonians, relating their works to those of their teachers and contemporaries from the St. Petersburg school, chief among whom was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The comparison will provide a framework for delineating a broad incipient style for the first generation of Estonian symphonic composers.