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PĒTERIS VASKS. "MUSICA DOLOROSA"

"This is the most tragic of my opuses, the only one that contains no optimism, no hope, only pain" – these are the words with which  Pēteris Vasks (1946) released his composition in 1983, dedicating it to his sister Marta. Paradoxically, it may be because of this intimate dedication that it has obtained such power of generalization in the composer’s career at large. Neither the choice of genre (there was already  "In memoriam" and "Music for a Deceased Friend"), nor the choice of performers (strings are Vasks’s favorites whose "fragrance and taste" he had fully appreciated writing "Cantabile per archi"  and playing base in the orchestra of the Latvian National Opera).

"Musica dolorosa" was created shortly after a composition whose title "Message" became key to any work by Vasks and shortly before the trio for piano "Episodi e canto perpetuo", in whose title, "Episodes and Perpetual Singing" features a dramaturgical code for all his subsequent compositions; it was created however quite a long time before Vasks’s message from Latvia became known in the wider world along with Pärt’s Estonian, Gorecki’s Polish, and Kancheli’s Georgian "messages".     "I am a part of my nation. For the nation, however, it was a difficult and tragic time when it seemed that even the greatest idealists and optimists are beginning to lose hope for our nation’s survival. Everything taken together hurt and I wanted that the listeners feel that same pain. I wanted this open canto of pain, addressing you, purify you, show you the existence and potential of another dimension. That after all is what music is all about."

Requiem and purgatory, music of pain whose fate has been very happy because it has been recorded many times and played even more after the premiere by the chamber orchestra of the Latvian Philharmonic under Tovy Lifshic.

At that time there were yet to be created all these other compositions definitive of Vasks, as "Summer Cantos", "Laudas", "Voices". His high voltage musical vocabulary was created for "Musica dolorosa" where three lines of narrative cross: the constant, eternal foundation (organ point, ostinato, the tonal support that changes only a little); the lamenting intonation rooted in the tradition of the genre, falling glissando,  and the drive upward so characteristic of Vasks’s music – toward the sky, toward confirmation of an answer already known. The interaction among these three is most dramatically played out in the middle part of the composition: the dynamic and harmonic tension reaches an aleatoric culmination here whose counterpoint, the cello monologue can be perceived as a quiet, double culmination. The reprise of the composition brings back the initial mood: a deep and therefore quiet lamentation. And even though there is no consolation in the finale – it is all an open, non-healing wound, just as everything else in this world, pain too comes from love in this world.

Sandra Ņedzvecka

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