A History of the Organ in Latvia

July 23, 2007

Alexander Fiseisky, born in Moscow, is one of the most famous and influential organists in Russia. He graduated with distinction from the Moscow Conservatoire as pianist and organist. He is an organ soloist of the Moscow State Philharmonic Society, head of the organ class at the Russian Gnessins’ Academy of Music in Moscow, and president of the Vladimir Odoyevsky Organ Center. He organized and served as artistic director for organ festivals in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Tallinn, among others. In 1997 he was honored by President Yeltsin with the title ‘Honoured Artist of the Russian Federation’.
Fiseisky has given concerts in more than 30 countries. In the Bach Anniversary Year of 2000 he played J. S. Bach’s entire organ works, twice in the context of EXPO 2000 in Hannover, and once in a single day in Düsseldorf as a Bach Marathon. As a result of that event, in 2002, in Moscow, an entry was put in the book Records of the Planet Earth.
Sought after as a juror in international competitions both at home and abroad (Calgary, St. Albans, Kaliningrad), he has directed seminars and masterclasses in Europe (Vienna, Hamburg, Hanover, Warsaw, London) and the USA. He is the dedicatee of numerous compositions, including works by Mikhail Kollontai, Vladimir Ryabov, Milena Aroutyunova, and Walther Erbacher. A musicologist, he has edited anthologies of organ music of Russia and of the Baltics (Bärenreiter-Verlag). He has many recordings to his credit, including the complete organ works of J. S. Bach.

Historical sketch
While the history of the organ in the territories of modern Latvia stretches back to the Middle Ages, Latvian organ music itself (as well as classical Latvian music in general) emerged only in the last quarter of the 19th century. This anomaly arose from the history of the country, which was almost always under foreign rule and, accordingly, influenced by different cultural traditions.
Since the ninth century, those who lived in the territories of modern Latvia were often attacked by Scandinavians, and later by Germans, who wished to control and use the old Viking trade routes. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church had missionary designs on the indigenous peoples—the Kurs (or Curonians), the Zemgals, the Latgals, the Selonians, and the Livs (or Livonians)—who were still pagan. From 1164 onwards these objectives attracted a succession of representatives of different groups of German society: soldiers, merchants, and missionaries. Overcoming resistance of the local peoples, German crusaders in 1201 established Riga as the residence of an archbishop, the whole region being occupied by them by the end of the 13th century. From that time until the early 20th century, Latvia was under foreign rule: German (1290– 1581), Polish (1581–1621), Swedish (1621–1710), and Russian (1710–1917). In Latvian cultural life, developing under the ruling nations, the dominant influence was German. The Baltic German elite, although never amounting to more than about ten per cent of the population, maintained its privileged position in Latvian society, even when the Baltic territories were controlled by Poland, Sweden, or Russia.

Organs in Latvia in the 13th–16th centuries
Historical sources record that in the winter of 1205–1206 a liturgical drama (ludus prophetarum) was performed in Riga. From 1216 there existed a musical guild in the Livonian Order and from 1240 a “Domkapelle” also. The guilds took part in festivities, ceremonies, and processions, in which it is highly likely that portatives were used. However, the first documented reference to organs in the Baltics dates from 1329: in the small towns of Paistu (Paisten) and Helme (Helmet) (northern Livonia, now Estonia), the organs were destroyed by enemy action.
The 14th–15th centuries were characterized by a permanent struggle between the Livonian Order and the Archbishop of Riga for political domination. The documents of this time describe organs, mostly in the large churches of Riga. The church of St. Peter in Riga was known to provide musical instruction in the 14th century, in which perhaps positive organs were used, while the church of St. Catherine was known to have an organ in 1392. The best performers (trombonists, cornettists, trumpeters, drummers) received the title of Town Waits. These posts were given only to Germans.
According to Magister Brotze1 there was in the chancel of the church of St. Johannis in Cesis (Wenden) the tombstone of a councilor, Symon Schotdorn, and his wife Gerdrut, from the year 1441; it indicates that they were the donors of the church’s first Praising Sounds. As Paul Campe correctly noted, “it is uncertain whether, under the Praising Sounds, the carving on the tombstone was meant to indicate a particular musical instrument or a special kind of church music.”2
At the beginning of the 16th century, immediately after the “Augsburger Reichstag” (the Confessio Augustana of 1530), the Protestant liturgy was established in the Baltic territories. The first churches to be converted to Protestantism (already in 1522) were those of St. Jakobi and St. Peter in Riga. The latter received in 1520 a new organ built by Balthasar Zcineken, the first organ builder in Latvia known by name.3 This organ replaced the older one, which had existed since 1465.
In 1530 Nicolaus Ramm made the first translation of a liturgical text into Latvian, No szirdes dubben buus töw titczet (The Ten Commandments).
The music for the majestic and dignified services in the churches of Riga was provided by choir, solo singers, and organ. Documents from the Inneres Rigaer Ratsarchiv mention an organist, Lasserus, who received several payments for playing in the services in 1542 and 1543. One of them reads: “Dito noch anno 43 denn andern Mydewecke [Mittwoch] Inne [in] der Faste[nzeit] für den Laßerus demme [dem] organisten—20 Mark” (“The same again in ’43 on the other Wednesday in Lent for Lasserus, the organist—20 marks”).4
In the second half of the 16th century church services followed both the traditional German and the local order. By the end of the century the first printed compositions—masses, motets, spiritual songs (including Missa Rigensis)—by the Riga cantor Paul (Paulus) Bucaenus (?–1586) had been published (Sacrae cantiones, Riga, 1583).
Soon they were followed by the first collection of music with Latvian texts, Undeudsche Psalmen und geistliche Lieder oder Gesenge welche in den Kirchen des Fürstenthums Churland und Semigallen in Lieflande gesungen werden (Königsberg, 1587), based on Die Korte Ordeninge des Kerkendienstes der Cöfflichen Stadt Riga (Lübeck, 1530).
After the great fire of 1547 that destroyed the organ in Riga Cathedral, a new instrument was built there (1594–1601, III/P/42), which cost 5,685 thalers and 3 marks. This instrument was built by Jacob Rab(e) (d. 1609), an organbuilder from Lübeck who established his workshop there in 1598.
In the Duchy of Courland there existed organs before 1600 in the following churches: Holy Trinity in Jelgava (Mitau), 1586; St. Catharine in Kuldiga (Goldingen), 1593; the Church of the Holy Spirit in Bauska (Bauske), 1595.
From the middle of the 16th century, the Baltic territories became a subject of contention between Lithuania and Russia. In the year 1558 the army of the Russian Tsar Ivan “The Terrible” reached Riga. The army of Lithuania, together with that of Poland, went to war against Russia. As a result of the Livonian War (1558–1583), the Russians left the Baltics, and Latvia was divided and brought under Swedish and Polish-Lithuanian rule.

Cultural, religious, and musical life in the 17th and 18th centuries
If during this period cultural activity in Latvia continued to be mostly a product of the German-speaking elite, the Latvian peasantry had a vibrant oral folk tradition in their own language. As early as the 16th century, when Baltic German clergy supplied religious writings in Latvian to the peasantry, these two cultural lines began to converge, aided by Ernst Glück’s publication in 1694 of his Latvian translation of the Bible.
Seventeenth-century sources describe organs in Durbe (Durben), Valmiera (Wolmar), Cesis (Wenden), Edole (Edwahlen), Piltene (Pilten), Ventspils (Windau), and other places. Most at that period were positive organs. Master Moritz (Mauritius) Wendt, who lived in Riga from 1608 to 1633, made a positive organ for Grobina (Grobin). He also received some orders from Königsberg (1622) and Danzig (1623).5 In 1609 he was given the task of renovating the organ in the church of Kuldiga, but, as by 1611 he had failed to fulfill this commission, another organbuilder was engaged: Johannes Pauli (Paulus),6 who worked in Riga in 1611–1614, in 1630–1633 (when he built the new organ in the church of St. Johann), and in 1642. In January 1642, Jakob Wendt, the son of Moritz Wendt, finished a new organ in Jelgava.7
The collaboration of important cities in the Baltic area can also be traced in the activities of such organbuilders as Christopher Meinecke (Christoff Mencke) from Lübeck (who worked in Riga in 1674–1675), Martin Siewert (Sievert) from Danzig (in Riga 1676–1687), Gabriel Branditius (Brenditius) from Köslin in Pommern (in Durben and Riga 1674–1698), and Bartholomäus Schumann from Königsberg (in Riga 1695–1705).8
During the reign of Duke Jacob (1642–1682), and especially that of his son Duke Friedrich Casimir (1682–1698), Jelgava became the cultural center of Courland. The court orchestra and the court wind instruments, which normally included 12 trumpets with drums, were used on many occasions.
It can clearly be seen from the contract between Duke Friedrich Casimir and his “Musikdirektor” Maximilian Dietrich Freisslich how important the position of director of music had become and how many obligations had to be fulfilled:

We, Friedrich Casimir, by the Grace of God, Duke of Liefland in Courland and Semgallen, document and acknowledge by this our sealed open letter that we have appointed and confirmed our dear faithful Maximilian Dietrich Freisslich to be our director of vocal music in our church and organist, and we do so herewith and with all our might, in the expectation that he should be first of all loyal, gracious, and attentive, giving warning of avoiding our most terrible anger, but should promote, preserve and aid our best purposes, and then should also present music in our church when there should be made music and singing, and when banquets are held, he, being also experienced in composition, should have care of the pieces heard and should compose, and should inspire the vocalists to practice much, so that each of them will be able to perform his part properly, should play the organ when the parish enters the church and when they leave, but also for concerts and singing, and at banquets and for singing should play the harpsichord, and should allow himself to be a willing and unwearied, faithful, and diligent musician and servant. For such service we promise and order that he should receive for all together as a fee and board per year one hundred and fifty Rthl (Reichsthaler) Albertus, which should be given to him each time from Our Chamber.

Certificated by Our Signature in Our Own Hand and stamped with Our Princely Seal. Dated at Mitau, the 18. Augusti Anno 1694.9

The first hymnbooks in the Latvian language had already appeared in 1587 and 1615. During the 17th century the tradition of simple liturgical music steadily developed. The congregation sang in unison, accompanied by the organ. As a result of this, remarkable collections of music appeared in Riga in 1686, composed by Gustav von Mengden (1625 or 1627–1688), who was born in Riga (or in Sunzel Castle) and later became a district official.
These were two collections of liturgical songs, published by Georg Matthias Nöller (Riga, 1686), for soprano and basso continuo on Mengden’s own texts, Sonntages Gedanken eines Christen, So sich an Gott Ver-Miethet and Der Verfolgte, Errettete und Lobsingende David—outstanding monuments to German-Baltic Protestant church music.
Another talented musician of the next generation was Johann Valentin Meder (1649–1719), born in Wasungen on the Werra. From the catalogue of his sacred works made by his son Erhard Nikolaus, a notary in Riga, in the year of his father’s death, he was an extraordinarily prolific composer. This catalogue lists about 130 compositions, including 12 Masses, four Passions, five Magnificats, and many concertato motets. Apart from this, his secular music comprises a “Singspiel” (Die beständige Argenia), two operas, and one opera-ballet, plus vocal and instrumental chamber music. He was esteemed by Mattheson, Buxtehude, and others. From 1701 to 1719 he was cantor and organist at Riga Cathedral, where under his direction his St. Luke and St. Matthew Passions were first performed.
At the beginning of the 18th century a new style in art, Courland baroque, appeared in the cultural life of Latvia, first in evidence in Courland, which maintained close contacts with Germany, Holland, and Poland. An important role in establishing this new style was played by the workshop of the Sefrenss family. Nikolass Sefrenss “the younger” (1662–1710) finished in 1697 the altar of the church of St. Anna in Liepaja (Libau).

Cornelius Rhaneus
One of the next commissions that came to his workshop was the organ case in the church of Ugale (Ugahlen). The case was built by his future son-in-law Michael Marquardt, who worked in the Sefrenss workshop as a woodcarver. The instrument itself (1697–1701, II/P/28, featuring a Rückpositiv), the oldest organ in the Baltics still preserved in its original form, was built by Cornelius Rhaneus (1671–1719) from Kuldiga—the most famous Latvian organbuilder of his time.

Ugale (Ugahlen)
Cornelius Rhaneus, 1697–1701

Hauptwerk (CDE–c3)
16' Bordun
8' Principal
8' Hollflöt
8' Quintade
4' Octava
4' Rohrflöt
3' Raußquint
2' Superoctava
2' Waldflöt
13⁄5' Sexta
Mixtur 3 fach
8' Zincke

Rückpositiv (CDE–c3)
8' Flötte
4' Principal
4' Blockflött
4' Salicional
2' Gemshorn
2' Offenflött
1' Sedecima
8' Schalmeij

Pedal (CDE–e1)
16' Subbass
8' Gedactbass
8' Viola di Gamba
4' Octave
3' Quinte
2' Octave
16' Posaune
8' Trompete

Manual coupler
Pedal coupler
Pedal for Flying Bird and Angel (makes the wooden ornamental angel on the Rückpositiv conduct and the bird above the organ appear to fly)

Rhaneus also built organs for the castle chapel in Jelgava, 1695–1697; a church in Lestene, 1707–1708, 33 stops with a Rückpositiv (the case of this organ, which was finished in 1707, as well as the decoration of the church, was built in 1704–1709 by Nikolass Sefrenss with assistants); and the church of St. Catharine in Kuldiga, 1712–1715.

18th-century organbuilders
At the beginning of the 18th century Swedish and Polish-Lithuanian rule came to an end in Latvia. Swedish political domination of the Baltic world was challenged when Russia under Tsar Peter the Great deprived Sweden of her Livonian territories in the Great Northern War (1700–1721). The rest of the Baltic coastal region came under Russian jurisdiction when Catherine the Great purchased the Duchy of Courland from the ducal family in 1795. By the end of the 18th century all Latvian speakers had become subjects of the Russian Empire.
At that time, after Riga, Kuldiga became the second center for organ building in Latvia. The following organbuilders worked there: Mal. H. Erasmus, 1694–1744; Albrecht Jordan (b. 1689), 1746–1772; and Paul Frölich (1720–1775) from Frauenburg (East Prussia), 1758–1775.
Gabriel Julius Mosengel (Moosengel), the son of the famous organbuilder Johann Josua Mosengel (1663–1731) from Königsberg, also worked there from 1719 to 1730. In 1786 the church of Edole received a richly decorated organ by Christoph Wilhelm Braweleit (Braveleit) (1752–1796) from Labiau (East Prussia)—a pupil of Adam Gottlob Casparini (1715–1788).
The organbuilder Johann Heinrich Joachim (1696–1762) from Schafstädt (Thuringia), who settled in Jelgava, became well known in the first half of the 18th century. He renovated the organ in Sabile (1752) and built new instruments in the church of St. Gertrude in Riga (1753) and in the church of St. Anna in Jelgava (1755). Apart from his activities in Latvia, at the recommendation of the Duke of Courland, Ernst Johann Biron (1690–1772), he built an organ in the Lutheran Church of SS. Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg (1737). His most important work was the organ in the church of the Holy Trinity in Liepaja (1758, 36 stops), which he was not able to finish because of increasing deafness from 1753.
Gottfried Clossen (Kloss, Klossen, Kloos, d. 1740), an organbuilder from Danzig, built an organ in the church of St. Peter in Riga (1728–1731, 1734, III/P/43) and repaired the organ of the cathedral in that city (1738).10
The rich appearance of organs in Latvia at that time often featured in contemporary reports. In the “Church register” of Rujiena (Rujen), for example, we find a wonderful allegorical description from the middle of the 18th century of the organ case, given by pastor Matthias Philipp Vorhuf (d. 1761):

On the Positive, which is placed in the gallery, you will find various pictures, figures, and inscriptions neatly carved in wood. At its highest point there is a sphere with two wings topped by the statue of Saturn who has an hourglass on his head and a scythe in his right hand, and an angel on each side. On the left where the ten stops may be drawn, Potiphar’s wife can be seen sitting on her bed trying to prevent Joseph in his attempt to escape. The inscription here reads FUGA AMBRIS. To the left near the bellows are the words POTPHE RAHI PRAESDES ONIORUM UXOR.
At the back, on the right, above the positive, there is a panel with various allegorical representations, e.g., a two-winged hourglass set on a skull decorated with a laurel wreath. Close to the ears one can see a tube emitting smoke and steam. The skull itself is placed on an anvil to the right of which lie the wheel of a gun mount, a mirror, a burning glass. On a pedestal we see two masks with a snake coiling itself round them, a hemisphere with four stars and the last quarter of the moon together with another mask. To the left of the anvil there are a helmet, a sheathed rapier, a retort with a glass to collect the liquid, and underneath the flask we see two books. Right above the hourglass the Latin text reads EXITUS ACTA PROBAT and at its foot:
In the four corners of the panel on which all this is shown are four small genii holding leafed branches. At the top of the Positive lies a MULIER UMBILICO TENUS DENUDATA MUNPO; behind this ‘woman’ lies a man at her head and two others at her feet. One of them seems to be tearing at his hair while screaming loudly, whereas the other one is holding a flask in each hand.11

The most famous organbuilder in the Baltics in the 18th century was Heinrich Andreas Contius (1708–1792) from Halle/Saale, to whom J. S. Bach gave a laudatory mention in 1748.12 Besides renovating smaller instruments, he constructed an organ in the church of St. Jakobi in Riga (1760/61, II/P/25; the case is preserved).
At the suggestion of the organist of Riga Cathedral, Johann Kristian Zimmermann, he enlarged the organ there in 1773–1776 by adding two stops to it: a Fagott 8' in the Oberwerk and an Untersatz 32' in the Pedal. He also extended the right and left hand cases, constructed new bellows, and renovated the Positive organ in the cathedral school.
In the instruments of Contius, features of a new style are noticeable—a Rückpositiv was not used, and the decoration became more restrained.
In 1773–1779 he worked in the Holy Trinity church in Liepaja, where he constructed within the existing case a new instrument (II/P/38). Here he began working with his son-in-law Johann Andreas Stein (1752–1821), who came from a family of organbuilders from Augsburg. On the occasion of constructing the organ in the church of St. Simonis in Valmiera (1779–1780), they founded a workshop there from which the organ for the Reformed Church in Riga (II/P/14) came in 1783. Stein also built new organs in the churches of St. Johann in Cesis (1786-1787) and Evele (Wohlfahrt, 1788). At the end of the century he established his own workshop in Pärnu in Estonia.
Around 1800 domestic organbuilders began to appear. At first they were self-taught, mainly constructing positives for private residences and schools. Later some attained regional importance.
Born about 1743, Theodor Tiedemann worked from 1778 to 1806 in Riga; from 1807 to 1835 his son Johann Theodor Tiedemann was active in Courland, and later in Lithuania.

Organ music in the 18th century
During the 18th century the organ became increasingly popular. The standard of playing also improved. An important role in this process was played by the German composer Johann Gottfried Müthel (1728– 1788), who was invited to Riga by the Russian Privy Councilor Otto Hermann von Vietinghoff (1722–1792). Vietinghoff, a great lover of music and theatre, who had his own private orchestra of 24 musicians, gradually established between 1768 and 1782 the City Theatre of Riga, which became the center of cultural life in that city.
Johann Gottfried Müthel was born into a family of musicians. He received his first music instructions from his father, organist of St. Nicolai in Mölln. Later he studied with Paul Kuntzen, organist at the church of St. Mary in Lübeck, and in 1747 he was appointed chamber musician and organist at the court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. In 1750 he visited J. S. Bach, lived in his house in Leipzig, and received some lessons from him. After Bach’s death, Müthel continued his studies with Bach’s son-in-law, Johann Christoph Altnickol, in Naumburg. Later he visited Johann Adolph Hasse and Johann Baptist Georg Neruda in Dresden, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach in Potsdam, and Georg Philipp Telemann in Hamburg. In 1753 he settled in Riga and there directed the Kapelle of Otto Hermann von Vietinghoff. From 1755 he worked as the assistant organist at Riga Cathedral, and in 1767 he was given the post of principal organist in the church of St. Peter, which he held until his death. His output includes works for organ and harpsichord, chamber music, and vocal compositions. He was one of the first to compose for fortepiano: Duetto für zwey Claviere, zwey Fortepiano oder zwey Flügel (Riga, 1771).
Musical life in Latvia became very active, especially after the Riga Music Society was founded in 1760. Performances were given by local musicians, as well as by guest troupes and recitalists. The music of Haydn, Mozart, Cherubini, Grétry, Paisiello, Salieri, and others was regularly performed.
Among foreign recitalists, Abbé Georg Josef Vogler should be mentioned, as he is known to have given organ recitals in Riga and Liepaja in 1788. In Riga he performed with great success in the building of the Brotherhood of Black Chieftains (Bruderschaft der Schwarzhäupter) on his own instrument the Orchestrion, which he had brought with him. The popular Johann Adam Hiller (1728–1804), the founder of Singspiel, lived in Jelgava from 1782 to 1785.
At the turn of the century the most important figures in church music in Latvia were Julius August Fehre (1745–1812), August Jenisch (1766– 1811), and above all Georg Michael Telemann (1748–1831), a grandson of Georg Philipp Telemann.
In 1773 Georg Michael Telemann was invited to become the cantor and Musikdirektor at the churches of St. Petri and St. Jakob, and the cantor at the cathedral in Riga. In addition, in 1813 he was given the post of the organist of the cathedral. He held all those posts until 1828. From 1773 until 1801 he also served as a teacher in the cathedral school in Riga. In 1785 he published Beitrag zur Kirchenmusik, bestehend in einer Anzahl geistlicher Chöre, wie auch für die Orgel eingerichteter Choräle und Fugen (A Contribution to Church Music, Consisting of a Number of Spiritual Choral Works as well as Chorales and Fugues Arranged for the Organ) (Königsberg). Another important publication was the chorale Auferstehn (Riga, 1809) on the text written by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803). In 1812 he published in Riga (or Mitau) a collection of chorale melodies (Sammlung alter und neuer Choral-Melodien).

Latvia in the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century
The 19th century brought momentous changes to Latvia. At the instigation of Emperor Alexander I, during 1816–1819 the Baltic barons freed their serfs. As a result, between 1860 and 1890 many peasants finally possessed the farms on which their families had worked for generations. Those of them who remained landless moved to the cities, which put a certain political pressure on the German burghers there. Latvian nationalist activists, particularly in Riga, grew in number, with their leaders coming from the ranks of young university-educated Latvians.
In 1886 they founded the Riga Latvian Association and hoped that their campaign against German Baltic control would gain support from the Russian government. As their hopes failed to be realized, political rhetoric in Riga during the Russian Revolution of 1905 included calls for an independent Latvian state. However, it took the collapse of the Russian Empire to create the conditions for the emergence of an independent Latvia, eventually proclaimed on the 18th of November 1918.
Against this background the intensity of musical life during the 19th century gradually increased. Many compositions from the central repertoire of European music were performed in Latvia, among them Haydn’s The Seasons (1802), The Creation (1803), The Seven Words on the Cross (1804), and Mozart’s Requiem (1811).
Famous recitalists performed in the country, primarily in such centers as Riga and Jelgava: John Field, Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein, Sigismund Thalberg, Clara Schumann, and others. The visits of Franz Liszt (1842), Hector Berlioz (1847), and especially Richard Wagner’s activities during his stay in Riga and Jelgava (from August 1837 to July 1839), were of enormous value in establishing a national school of Latvian music.
An important figure in improving the art of choral singing in the country was Heinrich Dorn (1800 or 1804–1892), who arrived in Riga from Hamburg in 1832 and in 1836 established the Düna Musikfest. His activities were continued through the Latvian musicians Janis Cimse (Zimse, 1814–1881) and Janis Betins (Behting, 1830–1912), who devoted themselves to the development of musical education in Latvia, and through Karlis Baumanis (1835–1905), one of the first Latvian composers to have a higher formal education, whose Dievs, sveti Latviju (God bless Latvia), written in 1873, became the Latvian national anthem after the declaration of independence in 1918.
After the establishment of the Russian Theatre in Riga in 1883 (known from 1902 as the Russian Opera), the influence of Russian culture in Latvia became stronger. Although the First Music Institute had existed in Riga from 1864 and despite the Riga Latvian Society having established the Music Commission (Muzikas Komisija) in 1888, most of the professional Latvian musicians continued to receive their instruction at the conservatoires of St. Petersburg and Moscow. So it was also for the founders of Latvian classical music, Jazeps Vitols (1863–1948) and Andrejs Jurjans (1856–1922), who were the pupils of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire.
Musical education also continued through the participation of the population in church services. During the 19th century evangelical hymnbooks were published to meet the needs of the Baltic Lutheran parishes.
In 1839 the Evangelical Chorale Book Appropriate to German, Latvian, and Estonian Hymnbooks in the Russian Baltic Provinces (Evangelisches Choralbuch zunächst in Bezug auf die deutschen, lettischen und estnischen Gesangbücher der russischen Ostsee-Provinzen) was published in Leipzig by Johann Leberecht Ehregott Punschel (1778–1849)—a Latvian Lutheran pastor of German extraction. It included 363 chorales. Its second, enlarged edition was issued in 1844. By the end of the century two other collections of chorales had appeared, one by Wilhelm Bergner (the younger) (1883, Riga, 171 chorales), and the other by Rudolf Postel (1820–1889) (1884, Jelgava, 235 chorales).
At the turn of the century a new generation of Latvian composers entered upon the scene: Emils Darzins (1875– 1910), Emilis Melngailis (1874–1954), Alfreds Kalnins (1879–1951), Janis Zalitis (1884–1943), and brothers Jazeps Medins (1877–1947), Jekabs Medins (1885–1971), and Janis Medins (1890–1966).

19th-century organbuilders
From the middle of the 19th century up to the First World War, the art of organ building in Latvia reached its zenith. A large number of positive organs, very often built by self-taught peasants, appeared in the country districts. Besides positive organs, which continued to be the type of instrument most in demand, many new church organs also appeared. For example, Johann Christoph Christien—who worked from 1810 to 1839—is known to have already built 37 new organs in Katlakalns (Katlekaln) near Riga before 1831.
From the 1840s, in addition to Riga, Liepaja also developed as a center of organ building, the most famous builder in Riga being August Martin, and in Liepaja Karl Herrmann.
Karl Herrmann (1807–1868) moved to Liepaja from St. Petersburg, where he had worked as an organist. In 1830–1835 he constructed instruments in Kandava (Kandau), in 1836–1843 in Dobele, and in 1844–1868 in Liepaja. Altogether he produced about 80 church organs and more than 50 positive organs, of much variety in both construction and sound.
His son and successor Karl Alexander (1847–1928), after installing an instrument in the church of Jesus in St. Petersburg in 1877, stayed in that city from 1878 until 1893. Father and son enlarged the organ in the church of the Holy Trinity in Liepaja to 77 stops on four manuals and pedals during the period 1844 to 1874, while the nephew of Karl Herrmann, Karl J. Herrmann, worked in Jelgava from 1863 to 1883.
August Martin (1808–1892) from Dachwig (Thuringia) worked in Riga from 1837. He is known to have built about 67 church and 19 school organs in the Baltics, Russia, and Poland during 1840–1885. His largest instrument, originally built for the Old Church of St. Gertrude in Riga (1867–1876, III/P/31), was removed in 1906 to the New Church of St. Gertrude in that city. His son Emil Martin (1848–1922), who worked for four years under Friedrich Ladegast, installed the instrument in the Catholic church of St. Jacob in Riga (1913, II/P/35, Opus 322). Friedrich Weissenborn from Thuringia, who lived in Riga, Krustpils, and Jekabpils (Jakobstadt), produced 85 organs in Latvia and Lithuania during the period 1865–1894.
From the middle of the 19th century the large firms in Germany dominated Latvia: Friedrich Ladegast (five organs, the most sizeable being that in the church of St. Simonis in Valmiera, 1885–1886, III/P/33); Barnim Grüneberg from Stettin (Liepaja, Holy Trinity Church, 1884–1885, IV/P/130, to this day the largest tracker action organ in the world); Georg Friedrich Steinmeyer & Co. (Jaunpiebalga, 1914, Opus 1200, II/P/24); Wilhelm Sauer (1882–1906, ten organs, including the Old Church of St. Gertrude, Riga, 1906, III/P/45); Eberhard Friedrich Walcker & Cie. (1882–1913 and 1937, 25 organs altogether, including Riga Cathedral, 1882–1883, Opus 413, IV/P/124).

The Bergners of Riga
The primary representatives of the German musical tradition in Latvia were Wilhelm Bergner (the elder) (1802–1883) and Wilhelm Bergner (the younger) (1837–1907). The father worked actively in a number of spheres. In 1836–1882, as organist in the church of St. Peter in Riga, he organized many cultural events, including performances of oratorios and organ concerts. Apart from many other activities he became the director of the Riga Music Society and the founder of the Children’s Singing School in that city. He composed much, but not many of his compositions were published or performed. His most popular collections of music were Choralbuch (Riga, 1850), which was reprinted many times, and Preludes for the Most Frequently Used Church Melodies of the Evangelical Church (Vorspiele zu den gebräuchlichsten Kernmelodien der evangelischen Kirche) (Riga, 1861).
His son, also a tireless promoter of music in Riga, established the Riga Bach Society in 1865 and the Cathedral Choir in 1878. From 1868 until 1906 he held the position of organist at Riga Cathedral, and, among his many activities, his organ performances with the Helsingfors Symphony Orchestra under Georg Schnéevoigt should be noted. He also was responsible for the first performance in Riga of Anton Rubinstein’s religious opera Moses (1892), which took place under his direction in the City Theatre in February 1894. Altogether there were four performances, which were enormously successful. After the third performance Bergner received a telegram from Rubinstein: “Many thanks to all the participants for everything, especially to you. So disappointed not to have been present.”13
Bergner’s role in the history of the cathedral organ was also enormous. As a result of his activities, on September 14, 1882, the administration of Riga Cathedral finally accepted his proposal for yet again enlarging the cathedral organ, by adding 18 more stops to its then total of 102. It was confirmed that this commission should be given to the organ company Eberhard Friedrich Walcker & Cie., the contract with which was already signed on November 16, 1881. Karl Walcker suggested adding yet four stops more, and his proposal was finally incorporated. The instrument of 124 stops was finished in 1883, and at that time was the largest organ in the world. It was supplied with two consoles; the main one, from which the whole of the pipework could be played, was erected in the upper balcony; the second, from which 17 manual stops and eight pedal stops in the Swell box could be played, was erected on the lower balcony.

Riga, The Cathedral of St. Mary
Eberhard Friedrich Walcker & Cie, Opus 413, IV/P/124, 1882–83, Ludwigsburg (Germany)

Restoration: VEB Eule Orgelbau, Bautzen, 1961–62; D. A. Flentrop, Zaandam, 1982–84

I Manual: Hauptwerk (C–f3)
16' Principal
16' Flauto major
16' Viola di Gamba
8' Octav
8' Hohlflöte
8' Viola di Gamba
8' Doppelfloete
8' Gemshorn
8' Quintatön
8' Bourdon
8' Dulcian
51⁄3' Quinte
4' Octav
4' Gemshorn
4' Gamba
4' Hohlflöte
4' Rohrflöte
31⁄5' Terz
22⁄3' Quinte
2' Octav
1' Superoctav
51⁄3' Sexquialtera 2 fach
11⁄3' Scharff 4 fach
8' Cornett 5 fach (c–f3)
4' Mixtur 6 fach
16' Contrafagott
8' Tuba mirabilis
8' Trompete harmonique
8' Coranglais
8' Euphon
4' Clairon
2' Cornettino

II Manual: Brustwerk (C–f3)
16' Geigenprincipal
16' Bourdon
8' Principal
8' Fugara
8' Spitzflöte
8' Rohrflöte
8' Concertfloete
8' Lieblich Gedeckt
8' Viola di Alta
8' Dolce
4' Principal
4' Fugara
4' Salicet
4' Flauto dolce
22⁄3' Quinte
2' Superoctav
2' Waldflöte
13⁄5' Terz
22⁄3' Sexquialtera 2 fach
22⁄3' Mixtur 5 fach
8' Cornett 5 fach (g–f3)
16' Aeolodicon
8' Ophycleide
8' Fagott & Oboë
4' Oboë

III Manual: Oberwerk (C–f3)
16' Salicional
16' Lieblich Gedeckt
8' Geigenprincipal
8' Viola d’amour
8' Wienerfloete
8' Gedeckt
8' Salicional
8' & 4' Bifra
8' Harmonika
8' Bourdon d’echo
4' Traversfloete
4' Dolce
4' Geigenprincipal
4' Spitzfloete
2' Piccolo
22⁄3' Mixtur 4 fach
8' Vox humana
8' Basson
8' Clarinette

IV Manual: Schwellwerk (C–f3)
16' Quintatön
8' Floeten Principal
8' Unda maris
8' & 2' Piffaro
8' Melodica
8' Flûte d’amour traversière
8' Bourdon doux
8' Aeoline
8' Voix celeste
8' Viola Tremolo
4' Floeten Principal
4' Gedecktfloete
4' Vox angelica
2' Salicet
22⁄3' Harmonia aetheria 3 fach
8' Trompete
8' Phÿsharmonika

Hauptpedal (C–d3)
32' Principalbaß
16' Octavbaß
16' Violonbaß
16' Contra Violonbaß
16' Subbaß
16' Floetenbaß
16' Gedecktbaß
102⁄3' Quintbaß
8' Octavbaß
8' Hohlflötenbaß
8' Gedecktbaß
8' Violoncello
62⁄5' Terzbaß
4' Octavbaß
4' Hohlflöte
2' Octav
102⁄3' Sexquialtera 2 fach
51⁄3' Mixtur 5 fach
32' Grand Bourdon 5 fach
32' Bombardon
16' Posaunenbaß
8' Trompete
4' Cornobaßo

Pianopedal (C–d3)
(in Swell box of IV Manual, except Bassethorn, Serpent)
16' Violon
16' Bourdon
8' Dolceflöte
8' Violon
4' Viola
2' Flautino
16' Serpent
8' Bassethorn

IV,III,II/I, II/I, I/P, “Noli me tangere” (P/I)

Auxiliary stops:
Tremolo for Vox humana 8' and Bourdon d’echo 8' (III)
Tremolo Oboë 8' = Fagott & Oboë 8' with Tremolo (II)

Temporary lock of the crescendo roller
Automatic drive for the crescendo roller: “Conductor”
Hand operated crescendo and decrescendo
Crescendo indicator dial: 0–124

I. Cancel tablet for Manual I
II. Cancel tablet for Manual II
III. Cancel tablet for Manual III
IV. Cancel tablet for Manual IV
V. Main Pedal Cancel
VI. Enclosed Pedal Cancel
VII. Manuals I, II, III General Cancel
Cancel tablet Omnia Copula

Second Console (on the lower balcony):
Manual (C–f3); Pedal (C–d1)
Manual = Manual IV of the Main Organ
Pedal = Enclosed Pedal of the Main Organ (except Bassethorn, Serpent)
Cop.: Manual to Pedal Coupler

All pipes in the organ case are decorative
Tracker action (with Barker levers)

The inaugural concert with Wilhelm Bergner, Rudolf Postel, and the head of the organ class of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, Lui (Ludwig) Homilius, took place on January 19 (in the old calendar), 1884. Besides other works, the first performance of Franz Liszt’s Nun danket alle Gott (which was dedicated to the new organ of Riga Cathedral) was given.
During the following years the Walcker organ was used a great deal for recitals in Riga. Most of the guest recitalists were German organists. Among them were the blind organist M. Nathan from Hamburg, Hugo Trötschel from Weimar, and Karl August Fischer (1828–1892), the “Saxon King of the Organ” who performed on the new Walcker organ and gave an excellent report of the instrument in the German press.14

Beyond Riga
The second important center of the organ world in Latvia continued to be Jelgava. There were both German and Latvian churches there. In the German Church of the Holy Trinity the instrument (II/P/26) by Johann Friedrich Schulze (1793–1858) of Paulinzella was in use from 1850. Rudolf Postel was its organist, and also the conductor of the choir and orchestra of the Jelgava German Music Society. His concert repertoire included the music of Johannes Brahms and Niels Wilhelm Gade. Among his pupils in Jelgava were Ludvigs Betins and Jazeps Vitols.
The Latvian congregation in Jelgava worshipped in the church of St. Anna, where Atis Kaulins (1867–1944) was organist.
The most famous Latvian organbuilder over the end of the century was Martins Kreslins (Martin Kresling, d. 1911) from Jekabpils, who built about 130–140 organs and harmoniums. Some of his instruments still exist today; for example, in Bauska (1891, III/P/36), in Araisi (1904, II/P/15), in the church of Usma (1879, II/6) (the church was transferred to the holdings of the Ethnographical Museum in 1936). Another creative figure both as organist and builder, Janis Betins, undertook many experiments in the art of organ building.

19th- and 20th-century Latvian organists
In the organ classes of Russian conservatoires most of the students were representatives of the Lutheran confession. Johannes Kappel, Miina Härma, and Konstantin Türnpu from Estonia, Ludvigs Betins, Andrejs Jurjans, Alfreds Kalnins, Emils Darzins, Atis Kaulins from Latvia were students of Lui Homilius (1845–1908) at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. Jacques Handschin (1886–1955) was a teacher of Janis Zalitis, Teodors Reiters, Adolfs Abele, Eduards Kalnins, Teodors Kalnins, Rudolfs Vanags, Voldemars Liepins, Janis Turss.
Many Latvian organists achieved a high standard as recitalists, and from the 1880s regularly performed in the Baltics, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the Russian provinces, as Lutheran churches all over the Russian Empire had been increasingly used for concert purposes from the second half of the 19th century. Among them were: Oskars Sepskis (1850–1914), who also studied in Berlin and Dresden, and for the last 20 years of his life worked as the organist of the Old Church of St. Gertrude in Riga; Adams Ore; Ludvigs Betins; and Janis Sermukslis (1855–1913), who also studied in St. Petersburg. From the 1890s they were joined by Atis Kaulins, Pauls Jozuus, and Alfreds Kalnins.
Alfreds Kalnins lived in Liepaja from 1911 to 1915 and from 1918 to 1919. He was organist in the church of St. Anna and a conductor of the choir, which he himself organized. As a result of his activities, the new organ by Eberhard Friedrich Walcker was erected there (1913, Opus 1763, IV/P/56). The inaugural concert, the program of which included the premiere of Kalnins’s cantata Muzikai (To Music) for soloists, choir, and organ, took place on December 22, 1913.
The gifted virtuoso Nikolajs Vanadzins, who studied under Handschin from 1913 until 1917, played recitals in St. Petersburg during 1921–1922. His concert repertoire included major works by Bach, Reger, Widor, Glazunov, Lyapunov, and others. After Handschin’s emigration in 1920, he worked as the head of the organ class of the conservatoire until 1923.
For several years, from 1890 to 1900 and from 1910 to 1913 Ludvigs Betins (1856–1930) also held the post of the head of the organ class at the Moscow Conservatoire. It was on December 23, 1891, that the leading professors of the conservatoire met together in order to decide on the syllabus for the organ class. Together with Sergey Taneyev, Anton Arensky, and others, Ludvigs Betins was present at that meeting.15
Foremost among other organ students at the Moscow Conservatoire were such Latvians as Ernests Vigners (1850–1933), Marija Gubene (1872– 1947), and Elizabete Olga Francmane (1882–1967). The latter after Boris Sabaneyev’s death in 1918 for some time held the post of the head of the organ class there.16 From 1920 until her death she taught music theory at the Latvian Conservatoire.17
According to press reports,18 valuable organ compositions were written by Ludvigs Betins and Oskars Sepskis, who were also famous for their organ improvisations. Unfortunately, their organ music is lost, but one of the first Latvian organ compositions to survive was Vater unser (1875) for choir and organ by Karlis Baumanis.
The composer and organist Andrejs Jurjans lived in Khar’kov from 1882 to 1920 and was the first Latvian musician to collect and research Latvian folk music. Under the title Tautas muzikas materiali he published some 2,700 melodies that he had collected. He worked in Khar’kov in a music school and as the organist of a Latvian church, but he also took part in the concerts of the German congregation. As a composer, Jurjans composed the first symphonic works, the first cantatas, and the first instrumental concertos.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the first works for organ solo were written by such Latvian composers as Adams Ore, Nikolajs Alunans, Jazeps Vitols, Alfreds Kalnins, and others: concert pieces, chorale preludes for liturgical purposes, and miniatures for positive or harmonium. The organ was also often used as an accompanimental instrument or in ensemble, for example in Sapnojums (Dream) by Jazeps Medins for soprano, cello, harp, and organ (1901).
Adams Ore (1855–1927) received his first instruction in music from his sister and from August Pabst in Riga. He continued his studies in Stuttgart with Immanuel Faisst (organ and composition), and in Berlin with Theodor Kullak (piano). In 1882–1883 he visited Rome and Naples. In 1886 he began piano and organ concert tours in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Russia, and Finland. Soon he established his reputation as an international organ virtuoso, and critics reported upon his excellent pedal technique. He also played in Latvia, although quite seldom. Adams Ore never worked as a church musician, and most of his life was spent abroad, but he never lost his inner connection with his motherland. He became the first Latvian composer to have his organ music published. His organ compositions derive from the Romantic tradition of the 19th century.
His Andante Cantabile in F major, op. 15 (composed in the middle of the 1880s; Berlin, Simon, 1912), and written in two versions—for organ, and for harmonium—mirrors stylistically the liturgical organ music of the end of the century. His Pastorale Klusa nakts (Stille Nacht), op. 75 (Leipzig, Merseburger), follows the tradition of the lyrical romantic poem. Finally, his large-scale compositions, such as the Fantasia O sanctissima!, op. 25 (Leipzig, Merseburger), Concert Piece in D minor, op. 36, no. 1 (Baerenreiter 8421), or Choralfantasie Gaidi, mana dvesle! (Harre, meine Seele!), op. 76 (Leipzig, Merseburger), were written for a large Romantic instrument and require a skilful performer; they are characterized by touches of brilliance, pathos, and virtuosity.
Composer and conductor Nikolajs Alunans was born in Mazsesava in 1859, and his first organ lessons were from Rudolf Postel, organist of the Holy Trinity church in Jelgava. From 1882 to 1888 he studied composition with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and conducting with Anton Rubinstein at the Conservatoire in St. Petersburg. From 1893 until his death in 1919 he lived in Riga, where he gave lessons in music theory and piano, worked as a conductor at the Latvian Theatre (1898–1901), as music director of the New Latvian Theatre (1902–1905), and as the conductor of the first Latvian orchestra Eifonija (1907–1914). Besides this, from 1892 he wrote musical criticism for various newspapers. Alunans wrote a number of compositions for orchestra, choir, ensembles, and solo instruments, his only piece for the organ being Paraphrase on Robert Radecke’s Song ‘Aus der Jugendzeit’ (1908) (Baerenreiter 8421). He is also known as the author of a number of publications on different aspects of music theory.
The founder of classical Latvian music, Jazeps Vitols, after finishing his studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire (1886) was invited to teach there. In 1908 he became the head of the composition class of the conservatoire (a post he held until 1918), where among his students were Sergei Prokofiev, Nikolai Myaskovsky, and Igor Stravinsky; among his friends in St. Petersburg were Alexander Glazunov and Anatoly Lyadov. From 1897 to 1914 he was music critic for the German language St. Petersburger Zeitung and from 1918 to 1919 director of the Latvian Opera. In 1924 Jazeps Vitols published in Riga his collection of chorales Meldiju gramata, which included the harmonization of 143 church melodies. Among the large number of his compositions there are only two pieces for organ solo, Pastorale (1914) (Baerenreiter 8421), and Fugue (1937) (Baerenreiter 8421).

Latvia in the first period of independence (from 1918 to 1940)
Between the two World Wars, Latvian cultural life flourished. Poets such as Janis Rainis (1865–1929) and Aspazija (Elza Rozenberga) (1868–1943) achieved the height of their popularity. On January 11, 1920, the Latvian Conservatoire was established in Riga. According to the Decree of August 20, 1919, of the Latvian Government, Jazeps Vitols became the rector of the conservatoire. He held this post from 1919 to 1935 and from 1937 to 1944. Pauls Jozuus (1873–1937) became the head of the organ class of the conservatoire and was in charge of it from 1920 until his death.
Soon after that, People’s Conservatoires were established in Jelgava (1921), Daugavpils (Dünaburg, 1924), and Riga (1929). The Opera Theatre (known from 1919 as The National Opera) introduced Latvian operas as well as those of Wagner and Russian composers. Music programs with the Radio Symphony Orchestra were broadcast after its establishment in 1924.
The most famous organ recitalists of that period were Adams Ore, Adolfs Abele, Alfreds Kalnins, and Harald Creutzburg (1875–1946)—the successor of Wilhelm Bergner at Riga Cathedral (until 1933)—who also worked as the conductor of the choir of the Riga Bach Society.
At that time Latvian organ builders, as well as Herbert Kolbe (b. 1887) from Germany, built mostly small instruments. In addition to them there was August Terkmann from Estonia, who built an organ (II/P/16) for the Lutheran church of St. Anna in Kuldiga in 1927, and Waclaw Biernacki from Poland for Liksna (II/P/27+1 borrowed stop) in 1931. The latter organ was considered to be one of the best instruments in Lattgalen.
The last organ of Eberhard Friedrich Walcker & Cie. in Latvia was erected in the concert hall of Riga University in 1937 (Opus 2544, III/P/59+11 borrowed stops).
Among the most significant organ compositions at that time are: Introduction and Allegro (1928), Klosteridylle (Monastery Idyll) (1928), Skerzo (1928), Procession (1937), Variations on a Theme of Janis Kalnins (1938), and Agitato (1938) (Baerenreiter 8421) by Alfreds Kalnins (1879–1951).
Kalnins received his music instructions at the Music School (Schule der Tonkunst) in Riga and from 1897 to 1901 at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, where his teachers were Anatoly Lyadov (composition) and Lui Homilius (organ). As a church musician he worked in St. Petersburg (1900–1901), between 1903–1911 and 1915–1918 in Estonia (Pärnu, Tartu), in 1911–1915 and in 1918–1919 in Liepaja, and in 1920–1923 in the church of St. Jakob in Riga, where he became famous for his brilliant and thoughtful improvisations. In 1927–1933 he lived in the USA, working there as a choir conductor and organist. From 1933 he became the organist of Riga Cathedral and held that position until 1946. From 1944 to 1948 he was the rector of the Latvian Conservatoire. While Kalnins’s output includes two operas (his Banuta, 1920, in which he used the national idiom, became the first Latvian opera), a ballet Staburags (1943), many choral compositions, instrumental works, songs, and piano pieces, his organ works are of particular value. His knowledge of the organ and his experience in organ performance helped him to create fine music for his favorite instrument.
Jazeps Medins (1877–1947) graduated in 1896 from the Siegert Musical Institute in Riga as a cellist, pianist, and violinist, and became first a teacher and then, from 1901 to 1910, the director of that institution. He composed his first symphony in Baku (Azerbaijan), where he worked as the conductor of the Opera Theatre (1916-1922). From 1922 to 1925 he held the same position at the Latvian Opera Theatre in Riga. In the 1930s he wrote a number of compositions for orchestra, instrumental pieces, and vocal music. His only known organ pieces, Three Preludes: F-sharp minor (Baerenreiter 8421), G minor, and C major, were also written during this period (1939). From 1945 until his death he taught the piano at the Latvian Conservatoire.
Other important organ works created in Latvia during the first period of independence are Fantasy on the Latvian folk song ‘Arajini, ecetaji’ (1932) by Jekabs Graubins, Prelude in E major (1939) by Arvids Zilinskis, Gebet (Prayer) (1938) by Peteris Barisons, Pastorale in A-flat major (from the First Suite in E-flat major, 1937) by Peteris Zolts, and Meditation (1934) by Lucija Garuta.
As a result of the double occupation of the country by Germany and the Soviet Union during the Second World War, many musicians emigrated, among them Jazeps Vitols, Janis Medins, Janis Kalnins, and Wolfgang Darzins.

From 1940 until the end of the 20th century
With the establishment of “The Union of Latvian Composers” in 1944, the creative work of composers in Latvia received official support from the government. Many valuable compositions were written soon after the end of the war, among which we should mention the Fifth (1945) and Sixth (1949) Symphonies of Janis Jvanovs (1909–1983), the Piano Concerto (1951) of Lucija Garuta, and Partita in Baroque Style (1963) of Margeris Zarins.
Between 1940 and 1991, just as in the other territories of the former Soviet Union, many organs (approximately 80) were destroyed. Nevertheless, the Wilhelm Sauer organ (II/P/17) was installed in the Latvian Conservatoire in 1973, and Eberhard Friedrich Walcker & Cie’s organ in Riga Cathedral was restored twice, first by Hermann Eule (Bautzen) (1961–1962) and then by D. A. Flentrop (1982–1984). This organ had an enormous role in the cultural life of the USSR, being a kind of flagship in the organ landscape of the whole country.
More than one generation of Soviet composers was awakened to writing for the organ by its exquisite sound. Latvian composers also produced a number of valuable organ compositions. Some interesting organ works were written by Jekabs Medins (1885–1971), Indulis Kalnins (1918–1986), Romualds Jermaks (b. 1931), Pauls Dambis (b. 1936), Peteris Vasks (b. 1946), Imants Zemzaris (b. 1951), Ligita Sneibe (Araja, b. 1962), and others.
The most renowned Latvian composer nowadays is Peteris Vasks. After graduating from the Lithuanian State Conservatoire in Vilnius (Lithuania) in double bass (1970), Vasks continued his musical studies in the composition class of Valentin Utkin at the Latvian Conservatoire in Riga (1974–1978). During the 1990s his music gained wide popularity, being performed and recorded by orchestras, soloists, and ensembles in Europe, the USA, and Canada.
Vasks has been awarded several international prizes, including the Herder Prize (in Vienna, 1996) and the Baltic Assembly Prize (1996). His compositions include a number of symphonic scores, chamber music, and works for choir. Besides ‘Cantus ad pacem’, concerto per organo solo (1984) (Baerenreiter 8421), he has created two more works for organ solo: Musica seria per organo solo (1988) and Te Deum pro organo (1991). The composer’s own words, “The organ seemed to me the most suitable instrument with which to communicate the main problem of humankind—that of life and annihilation,” probably can well explain his deep interest in this instrument.
One of the most talented Latvian musicians of his generation, Aivars Kalejs was born in Riga in 1951. He studied at the Latvian Conservatoire in Riga (1969–1977), from which he graduated in 1974 as a composer (class of Professor Adolfs Skulte) and in 1977 as an organist (class of Professor Nikolajs Vanadzins). During the succeeding years his international reputation as a recitalist, composer, and musicologist steadily continued to grow.
At present Aivars Kalejs holds the posts of organist at both the New Church of St. Gertrude and Riga Cathedral, participates in major international organ festivals, continues his researches in the field of the organ history of Latvia, and works intensively as a composer. Although his works include compositions for orchestra, choir, and different instruments, organ music occupies the central place among them. Many of his colorful and brilliant organ pieces have already been performed, recorded, and published, among them: Per aspera ad astra (Baerenreiter 8421).
The organist of the church of St. Paul in Riga, Atis Stepins, belongs among the most gifted Latvian musicians of the younger generation. Born in Liepaja in 1958, he graduated from the Latvian Conservatoire as a pianist (1977–1982, in the class of Professor Konstantin Blumenthal) and organist (1977–1982, in the class of Larisa Bulava and Dozent Peteris Sipolnieks) and as a composer (1983–1987, in the class of Professor Adolfs Skulte).
His reputation as a concert organist was established after he won Second Prize in the Vincenzo Petrali organ competition in Ragusa, Italy in 1990. Besides his activities as a recitalist he works as the dozent of the organ class at the Jazeps Vitols Latvian Academy of Music.
Stepins is the composer of a string quartet, piano pieces (among them Twenty Four Inventions), and chamber music: Variations for Violin and Organ (1988); Trio for Alto Saxophone, Percussion, and Organ (1997). Apart from the Variations on the Christmas Carol ‘Alle Jahre wieder’ by Johann Christian Heinrich Rinck (Baerenreiter 8421), his other pieces for organ are: Fantasia in A major (1984), Three Little Preludes and Fugues (1985), and Symphonic Poem for Two Organists (1986).
The organ class of the Latvian Conservatoire (known from 1990 as the Jazeps Vitols Latvian Academy of Music) was directed by Nikolajs Vanadzins from 1938 to 1978, and many graduates from it became known as concert organists: Peteris Sipolnieks (1913–1984), Olgerts Cintins (1935–1992), Jevgenija Lisicina, Professor Talivaldis Deksnis (currently head of the organ class of the academy), Larisa Bulava, Vita Kalnciema, and others.
Finally, as a fitting tribute to the long developmental path of the organ and its music in Latvia, the Latvian Association of Organists and Organ Builders was established in Riga in March 1998.