27 September 2015

Julius Juzeliunas: Lygumu giesmes (Simfonija Nr. 5)

This week I will be tackling one of Lithuania's most influential composers, Julius Juzeliunas. A pupil of Juozas Gruodis, Juzeliunas had a broad career as a composer, and was one of the influential figures in Sajudis which led to the foundations of the independent Lithuania we know today.  Like many composers of his generation, his music started in a romantic style with an intense focus on folklore. But as he and his music matured, he drew on modernistic trends, as well as developing his own musical systems based on his research of Lithuanian folk music like sutartines. His music in the 80s shifted to what could be interpreted as a minimalist styling, but the intriguing layering of polyphonic lines and the sprinklings of Neoclassicism show there was something more curious happening in his music during this time.  His influence in Lithuania can be also seen in his tuition. In 1952 he gained the position of head of composition in the now Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, where he taught many of Lithuania's leading composers like Rytis Mazulis, Ricardas Kabelis, Felix Bajoras, Vytautas Montvila, and Onute Narbutaite.

The piece I will be Introducing is one of the first pieces of Juzeliunas I ever uncovered, his Songs Of The Plains (Symphony No. 5) (Lygumu giesmes(Simfonija nr. 5)). This curious two movement symphony is written for female choir and strings and was the piece that won Juzeliunas the inaugural Lithuanian National Prize in 1991. The opening starts off very serenely as the violins build the melodic material that circles itself. The introduction of the low strings adds an extra level of energy, with the sharp stabs. The second section is defined by the introduction of the voices, who reiterate their melody Sedauto.  Each circling of the folk song gets stronger and more energetic, until it suddenly dissipates into a section reminiscent of the opening. The fourth section is heavily focused on another folk melody treated in a manner very similar to the first. The movement continues  progressing and evolving motifs are reiterated in the string orchestra, in a way that could be seen as a link to sonata form. The 'recapitulation' comes in the form of Sedauto  being sung by the choir again, but this time only accompanied by a low B tremoloing sul ponticello,  drawing the movement to a close.

The second movement is a much shorter movement in comparison. The burst of energy, combined with the constant evolution and linear form make this a thrilling piece  listen to. The entrance of the voices in this movement starts with the altos singing, while the sopranos adding text speak theirs adding a harsh element to it. We reach a moment where we feel a moment of calm, but instantly feel the movement building more and more over time; evoking so many different colors and textures from the strings. Towards the close, motifs and ideas from the first movement reappear, it is then rudely interrupted by material that opened the movement; bringing the piece to an energetic and thrilling close.

The work is fascinating and Juzeliunas's music gets more fascinating the more you delve into it. His Cantus-Magnificat written to mark the 400th anniversary of the Vilnius university, is a large masterpiece which will amaze listeners.

Information on Juzeliunas has been sourced from the following:

CD Sleeve notes from - Julius Juzeliunas CD produced by MIC.LT (LMIPCCD010, 2000)

Lithuanian Music Information Centre

And Lygumu Giesmes manuscript.

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