There are only two examples in Latvian classical music where it has joined the global flow of thought and emotion: the Fourth ("Atlantis") Symphony of Jānis Ivanovs and the Fourth Symphony of Imants Kalniņš.     The former was imbued with premonitions of World War II, the latter inspired people to free themselves of the noose of totalitarianism and respect their own individuality.

As Imants Kalniņš explains in an interview, he felt it was possible to compose such a piece in 1973 because his teacher, Arvo Pärt, had told him: "Write the craziest thing that occurs to you. Only then your work will be worth something. And I did."

"Craziness" in this case means not only the introduction of electric base in the symphonic orchestra but also subjecting the dramaturgy of a symphonic piece to the democratic principles of rock music.

Ostinato, the prolonged repetition of one melody or rhythmical figure familiar since Ravel’s "Bolero" is prominently featured in the first part of the symphony where Kalniņš repeats the melody of his song "Seven Sad Stars" reaching a brilliant, moving culmination.  The second part conjures up an idyllic oasis of beauty whereas the third seems to ask with Hamlet: "To be or not to be?" The fourth part used to generate critical remarks as supposedly too "chaotic" and "fragmented". This was a commonly shared opinion until 1997, when the original version was played for the first time by Detroit Symphony under Neeme Järvi, featuring songs with lyrics by the American poet Kelly Cherry. In 1973 the servants of the ruling ideology had required that the American texts be removed if the composer wanted to hear his work performed. Kalniņš acquiesced only to triumph 24 years later.  Ever since, the Fourth Symphony has two finales: one with and one without singing; one quiet, one more exuberant. In part, it depends on the listener which he prefers as more adequate for the concept of the symphony, yet without any doubt this is a symphony that celebrates freedom.

Guntars Pupa

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