Cantata “God, Your Land Is Burning!”

Marc Gaber
In 1944, Lūcija Garūta premiered her emotive cantata, “God, Your Land Is Burning!” amidst Rīga's wartime backdrop. Silenced during Soviet occupation, its haunting melodies re-emerged, echoing Latvia's resilience and Garūta's enduring artistic legacy.

Lūcija Garūta’s cantata “God, Your Land Is Burning!” (Dievs, Tava zeme deg!) was composed under dramatic circumstances, as the Soviet Army was drawing closer to Rīga and its second occupation of Latvia was imminent. The premiere took place on 15 March 1944 in the Old St. Gertrude Church, which was filled to capacity and the crowd of listeners flowing out into the street. The author of the lyrics, poet Andrejs Eglītis (1912−2006) had to listen, standing by the door and squeezed by the dense crowd. For many of the listeners, including Eglītis, this was one the last concerts in Rīga, as shortly after they began their long and arduous journey west as refugees.

The premiere of the cantata was performed by the Teodors Reiters Choir with Reiters himself conducting, and soloists Mariss Vētra, tenor, and Ādolfs Kaktiņš, baritone. Shortly before the concert it occurred that composer Alfrēds Kalniņš, who was to play the organ part, had fallen ill. He was replaced by Lūcija Garūta herself, for whom, as a trained pianist, this was her first concert at the organ.

The cantata was performed several more times in Rīga, but it was the premiere that was broadcast live on the Latvian Radio and also recorded. The legendary recording, with the noises of war from outside the church walls, has been preserved to this day published abroad by the Rainis and Aspazija Foundation in 1982. After the war, in Soviet occupied Latvia, the composition was relegated to forced obscurity, as if it had never even existed. Yet parts of it were being performed abroad by Latvian choirs. The full version of the cantata was ‘rehabilitated’ and heard again in Latvia only in 1988, performed by the choir “Ave Sol” with Imants Kokars conducting.

Since then, this dramatic musical masterpiece has been performed many times, with the Lord’s Prayer, an emotional culmination of the cantata, also sung by the thousands of singers of the great Song Celebration Choir. A particularly beautiful performance was heard at the 26th Latvian Song Celebration in 2018, conducted by Edgars Račevskis. Choirs in Germany and Japan have also performed the piece.

With the exception of time spent in Paris in the 1920s studying with renowned classical musicians Alfred Cortot, Isidor Philipp, and Paul Le Flem, Lūcija Garūta spent all her life in Latvia, performing as a pianist, writing music, mostly vocal pieces, and teaching music theory at the Conservatory. Garūta died in 1977, never again having heard her most famous piece performed.

Old St. Gertrude Church, Gertrude street, Riga