26.04.–05.05.2024 / Tartu
Jāzeps Vītols

Jāzeps Vītols (1863 Lavtia, Valmiera –1948 Lübeck, Germany) was a Latvian composer, pedagogue, pianist and music critic. He is considered one of the fathers of Latvian classical music. He studied composition 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 honour, and he ran the composition classes there between 1919 and 1944. 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.

Vītols was active not only as a composer, pedagogue, and conductor, but was also a pianist and prolific music critic. 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.