Master Of Improvisation

Dzintars Gilba
Numerically, there is a small group of Latvian musicians who graduated from both composition and piano classes at the Latvian Conservatory, often playing their works in concerts - Arvīds Žilinskis, Lauma Reinholde, Pēteris Plakidis. And, of course, Lūcija Garūta, because it was her concert activity in Latvia between the wars that was the most active and the most extensive, giving both solo concerts and performing the duties of concertmaster.

“Neither among the old nor the new Latvian composers will we find another subjectively lyrical talent like Garūtas Lūcija. Dārziņš was also a lyricist par excellence, but Garūta Lūcija differs from him in the narrow subjectivism of his compositions. Dārziņš’s lyre is deeply sensitive and wonderfully echoes the emotions of others (“Mother’s song”, “Vēl tu rozes plūc”, etc.), his lyrics are objective, enlightened. Garuta, on the other hand, draws only from himself. If the creative “I” of Dārziņas could be compared to a lake, which takes in streams roaring from many sources and causes their waters to flow out of itself into a calm river, then Garūta is such a source that calmly roars, boils, bubbles and chokes on a narrow pebbly bed further,” writes Jēkabs Graubiņš in the magazine “Daugava” after the third composition evening of Lūcija Garūta held in 1929.

Lūcijas Garūtas compositions cover various genres – from piano etudes and solo songs (and there are most of them) to opera and symphonic scores. Although the circumstances and causes of the creation of these works are different, most of them have one thing in common – they are the echoes of the emotions experienced by the composer in music, influenced by several waves of strong experiences.

One of them is related to her dreamed-up future man, the winged, flying man (solo songs “Man of the Future”, “The Wonderful Seagull”, opera “Silver Bird”, cantata “He flies”). The second – with the people close to the composer and their departure. The “Variations in F-diez minor” written in 1921 are dedicated to the memory of a friend and fellow student, future composer Ādolfs Komisar. In 1951, in memory of his niece Laila Reinvalde, who died prematurely, “Concert for piano with orchestra” was created (composed at the instigation of Alfred Kalniņš). The third is related to the destinies of the nation during the Second World War (the cantata “God, Your Earth Is Burning!”), – solo songs dedicated to the exiles and fatherhood (mainly with the poetry of Andrejs Eglītis).

In his article, Jēkabs Graubiņš reveals the behind-the-scenes behind the creation of Lūcija Garūta’s works:

“The first internally perceived sound complex or melodic movement, be it ordinary, used a lot or less heard, is decisive for Garūta. The composer cannot refuse it anymore, because she wants to remain true, faithful to herself. I well remember how unhappy the current composer was, on the other hand, my special theory classmate under prof. Willow, when the latter ordered this or that to be corrected, redone (for the most part for the good of the form) in the presented works. “How can I redo it when it rang in my ears from the very beginning!” said the infamous young author. An award-winning, technically educated composer and pianist, Garūta is a very good improviser, instantly realizing what “sounds in her ears” on the piano. And the phenomenal musical memory (Garūta plays the entire concert program – including the accompaniments – by heart!) helps the composer to remember it all even after a long time. The music born without the greatest pains of creation is known to truly reflect the tremors of the author’s soul. It only needs to be written (which, as far as I remember, is again a much more difficult task for a composer than creating the music itself) in order to make it available to the player.”

Unfortunately, the composer did not record all of her compositions on sheet music. Sometimes the work was only sketched, and when playing at concerts, the performance was supplemented with new nuances. If the work was not written down, it faded from the composer’s memory after some time. This is what almost happened with the etudes written for the third pedal of the “Steinway & Sons” piano – the most unusual compositions of Lūcija Garūta, composed in 1933, but written down only thirty years later.

The composer really liked to improvise at the piano. When the modern “Steinway & Sons” chamber grand piano came into her possession, Lūcija Garūta began to study the technical possibilities of the new instrument and discovered new, hitherto unknown worlds of sound. Pianos usually have two pedals (one prolongs the sound, the other mutes it), but advanced and modern ones, such as these, already have three pedals. Lūcija Garūta was so excited by the sonic possibilities opened up by the use of the third (long-tone; also sostenuto) pedal that he wrote four pieces for it – “Sēru Meldija”, “Zvani”, “Teika” and “Traucētā pērēka”. Because each of them uses a certain technique of the long sound technique, they were called etudes, although they are actually four small depictions. The composer regularly played these pieces in concerts, but in April 1933, she published their descriptions together with a technical explanation in the magazine “Mūzikas Apskats”. Musicologist and music critic Jēkabs Vītoliņš praises these works and notes that “they have their undeniable place in international piano literature”.

Later, Lūcija Garūta writes another fifth etude, “The Boy with a Miracle Little Girl”, replacing “Disrupted Prayer” with it. Unfortunately, after Lūcija Garūta, almost no one has played these etudes in concerts, only in 2010 pianist Dzintra Erliha immortalized them on the CD “Kvēlot, liesmot, sadegt”.