July 26, 1863|
Valmiera Russian Empire
|Died||April 24, 1948
Lübeck Allied-occupied Germany
Vītols, the son of a schoolteacher, began his studies in composition in 1880 at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. After graduating in 1886, he remained at the Conservatory to teach composition and reached the rank of Professor in 1901. His pupils there included Nikolai Myaskovsky and Sergei Prokofiev. Vītols was a close friend of fellow professors Alexander Glazunov and Anatoly Lyadov; he would regularly participate at Mitrofan Belyayev's "Weekly Fridays" — regular meetings of prominent Russian composers at Belyayev's home. At the time, Belyayev was Vītols' primary publisher. Besides academia, Vītols also spent time as a music critic for the St Petersburger Zeitung from 1897 to 1914.
In 1918, Vītols returned from Russia to his newly independent Latvia to conduct the Latvian National Opera. The following year, he established the first Latvian Conservatory of Music, which was later renamed the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music in his honor, and he ran the composition classes there between 1919 and 1944. His most prominent students during his tenure were Jānis Ivanovs and Ādolfs Skulte. He also helped co-found the Latvian Composers' Society in 1923. In 1944, he moved to Lübeck in Germany and lived there until his death in 1948. His remains were returned to Riga in 1993.
His choral music, especially Gaismas pils (The Castle of Light) is very popular with Latvian choirs, and is often included in the repertoire of the Latvian Song and Dance Festival. Vītols vocal and choral works are published by Musica Baltica Ltd in Riga.
Taking his cue from his Russian colleagues, Vītols became the leading exponent of national romanticism in Latvia. He is considered to be the father of a distinctively Latvian classical music, being the first Latvian composer to achieve international stature. His work reveals the undeniable influence of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, not least in the brilliance of its orchestration, an assessment which was shared by Vītols' friend and fellow composer Alexander Glazunov. During his time in Russia, Vītols became deeply interested in Latvian folklore and conducted the Latvian Choir in Saint Petersburg. His melodies clearly draw upon his heritage, and often directly feature Latvian folk tunes. In striving to forge a musical style for Latvia, Vītols emulated the processes of the Russian national school. His large-scale works, which are mostly cast in sonata form, are often characterized by impressive dramatic development. Overall, in comparison with many other 20th-century composers, he tended to be rather conservative but nonetheless possessed a masterly composition technique.
- Symphony in E minor (1886–88)
- Dramatic Overture, op. 21 (1895)
- Sprīdītis, op. 37, symphonic poem (1907)
- Fantasy on Latvian Folk Tunes, op. 42, for violin and orchestra (1908–10)
- Rudens dziesma (Autumn Song), symphonic ballade (1928)
- Beverīnas dziedonis (The Bard of Beverīna), op. 28, ballade for baritone and orchestra (1891, rev. 1900)
- Dziesma (The Song), op. 35, cantata for soprano, choir, and orchestra (1908)
- Ziemeļblāzma (Northern Lights), op. 45, cantata (1914)
- Kalna sprediķis (Sermon on the Mount), Easter cantata for baritone, women's choir, organ, and orchestra (1943)
- ca. 100 lieder
- ca. 100 choral songs
- ca. 300 folk song arrangements
- String Quartet in G major, op. 27 (1899)
- Sketch for Cello and Piano, op. 12
- Récit for Viola or Cello and Piano, op. 14 (1894)
- Piano Sonata in B-flat minor, op. 1 (1886)
- Piano Sonatina in B, op. 63
- 8 Latvian Folk Tunes for Piano, op. 32
- numerous character pieces
- Naxos profile.
- "Jazeps Vitols (1863-1948)". Composers. Naxos. Retrieved 2007-03-08.
- Braun, Joachim and Klotiņš, Arnold. "Vītols, Jāzeps". Grove Music Online (subscription required). ed. L. Macy. Retrieved on March 8, 2007.
- Homepage of the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music
- Homepage of Musica Baltica Ltd
- Gaismas pils (The Castle of Light) on YouTube
- Jāzeps Vītols digital collection
- Free scores by Jāzeps Vītols at the International Music Score Library Project