Jazeps Vitols


Born: July 26, 1863; Valmiera, Latvia   Died: April 24, 1948; Lübeck, Germany  
Outside the Baltic States, the name Jazeps Vitols is little known, but both his output and influence suggest he was an important figure in twentieth century music, especially in his native Latvia. Vitols is generally regarded as the father of the Latvian school, having been the first major Latvian composer to write a piano sonata (1885), string quartet (1885), and symphony (1888), and having made more than 300 Latvian folk song arrangements. His Read more credentials as a teacher are equally impressive: he taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory for 32 years, counting Prokofiev and Myaskovsky among his students, and established the Latvian Conservatory of Music, where he served as professor for 25 years. Vitols' style shows the influence of his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, though it also divulges Latvian folk elements, as well as a sense for clear forms and, in large works, brilliant orchestration. Beside Vitols' numerous arrangements, he produced over 500 other works, including more than 100 for a cappella choir, nearly that many songs and solo piano pieces, and a smattering of orchestral, choral, and chamber works.

Jazeps (Joseph) Vitols was born in Valmiera, Latvia, on July 26, 1863. His father was a schoolteacher and his family was musical in background. He enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1880 and graduated six years later as a skilled composer, having written a piano sonata, string quartet, songs, and other works.

In fact, Rimsky-Korsakov and other notables at the Conservatory were strongly impressed by Vitols, who was then asked to join the faculty. Vitols taught at the Conservatory from 1886-1918, serving as professor from 1901. During this time he also remained busy composing, as well as writing music criticism for the St. Petersburger Zeitung (1897-1914).

In 1918, in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, Vitols returned to Latvia, settling in Riga, where he took on directorship of the Latvia National Opera, and then, in 1919, established the aforementioned music school, which would later be renamed the Jazeps Vitols Latvian Academy of Music.

Among his students there was Janis Ivanovs, who is regarded by many as the most important Latvian symphonist from the mid-twentieth century. Among Vitols' last important works was his cantata Die Bergpredikt (1943), for baritone, chorus, and orchestra. In 1944, with the Soviet armies advancing, Vitols fled to Lübeck, Germany, where he lived in exile until his death on April 24, 1948. Read less

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