Personalities listening

From folk songs in the fields to opera arias in the opulent halls of the Paris Opéra. What did museum personalities listen to, what did they sing and play?

Elli Rozentāle and her sister, violinist Anna Forsell’. 1905. Unknown photographer.

Rūdolfs Blaumanis circa 1901-1903. Unknown photographer. RTMM 372955

Rūdolfs Blaumanis understood and had a deep feeling for music. In the twilight hours, the writer liked to sit at the old grand piano in the Braki room and let ‘the chords shake up his feelings’. In the quiet of the evening, Schumann ‘caressed’ his soul, Wagner ‘made it tremble’, and Beethoven came as an affectionate but somewhat gloomy and nervous guest.

Rūdolfs Blaumanis in Janis Rozentāls’s apartment. Beethoven’s death mask in the background, 1906. Photo: Jānis Rieksts. RTMM 3500

Blaumanis not only indulged in the works of ‘sound geniuses’, but also composed melodies and words for special occasions, such as a congratulatory song for his mother’s 70th birthday. He loved music and singing. His tenor voice was heard in the Emilis Melngailis Choir, founded in St Petersburg, and in the Ērgļi open-air dance across the Ogre. Blaumanis is said to have joked that he would have made a good third-rate singer.

🎧 Rūdolfs Blaumanis listening. Spotify playlist.

Janis Rozentāls and Elli Forsell-Rozentāle, c.1905-1906. Photo: Hinschheydt. RTMM 367877

It was music that brought about one of the greatest changes in the life of Janis Rozentāls.

In November 1902, Rozentāls attended a solo concert by the Finnish singer Elli Forsell. After the concert, the Grosvalds threw a party in honour of the Finnish artist, and Rozentāls was invited as well.

Janis and Elli Rozentāls with their children in the Alberta Street apartment. 1908. Unknown photographer.

The story goes that Rozentāls went to the 24-hour flower shop on Vaļņu Street and bought a bouquet of red roses for Elli. To the singer’s joke: “Also – Rosenthal mit Rosen?” Rozentāls is said to have replied that they were not the sad roses Elli sang about in Jan Sibelius’s “Black Roses”, but red roses of joy.

Elli Rozentāle and her sister, violinist Anna Forsell’. 1905. Unknown photographer. RTMM 391468

After his marriage to Elli, music became more than ever an important part of Rozentāls’s life. Elli continued to give concerts, and the works of Finnish composers and Western European classical composers were complemented in Elli’s repertoire by solo songs by Alfrēds Kalniņš, Jāzeps Vītols, and Emīls Dārziņš. Moreover, according to a letter written by Janis Rozentāls, one of the songs was supposedly written for Elli by Dārziņš in 1908.


The Rozentāls often held musical parties in their apartment at 12-9 Alberta Street, where both Elli and the Rozentāls’ guests performed.

🎧Janis Rozentāls listening. Spotify playlist

Ojārs Vācietis at the piano as a 2nd year student of the Faculty of Philology, State University of Latvia, 1954. Unknown photographer.OV 6879

For Ojārs Vācietis, music was an absolute necessity. He said, “I love many different composers and all genres of music, except operetta. But in this respect, I am probably just unlucky.”

Ojārs Vācietis in the 1950s at 48-60 Maskavas Street. Unknown photographer. OV 4097-2

In childhood, his favourite song was about a monkey, and later he listened to a lot of classical music. There are many folk song motifs in Vācietis’s poetry. One of his collections of poems is called Gamma (Scale), another Si minors (B-Minor). And when there was no music around him, he listened to the voices of birds.

🎧 Ojārs Vācietis listening. Spotify playlist

First Latvian Youth Festival. Krišjānis Barons and Antonija Jasinska (spouse of Aleksandrs Dauge, Minister of Education) (centre) sit in the audience on the Esplanāde. 1922 [18-19 June]. Photo: P. Zonvalds.

The meetings of the Moscow Latvian students’ group were held in the apartment of Krišjānis Barons’s family and were accompanied by mighty singing. At first it was folk songs and Jānis Cimzes’s folk song interpretations, but later the 13-strong student choir prepared for the 3rd General Song Festival (1888). Thanks to the rehearsals, Barons also knew the repertoire.

The Song Festival continued to play a major role in Barons’s life – at the 1922 Youth Song Festival Barons was on the presidium of the festival. It featured compositions by Emilis Melngailis, Jāzeps Vītols, and others, as well as a sports festival, which Barons watched from the front rows of the audience.


Latvian cultural figures at the Burtnieki House in Vecmīlgrāvis. Photo: Mārtiņš Lapiņš. RTMM 80114

When Barons first arrived at Burtnieki House, he was greeted by the choir, performing folk songs and compositions by Jurjānu Andrejs and Jāzeps Vītols. Krišjānis Barons and Emilis Melngailis, who lived next door, shared a special friendship. The composer had great respect for Barons and his contribution to Latvian culture, and two portraits – of Modest Mussorgsky and Krišjānis Barons – were on the wall in his study.

However, Barons’s heart belonged to Latvian folk songs. “Dark Night, Green Grass” and “Crossing Stars in the Sky” were the songs that he found refreshing to the soul.

🎧 Krišjānis Barons listening. Spotify playlist.


Andrejs Upīts, late 1920s. Photo: Gustavs Vilciņš. UM 16606

“I used to sing a lot when herding cattle – mainly because so did my colleague, and I could not allow him to sing better and louder than me,” wrote Andrejs Upīts in his childhood memoirs.

After practising his voice, Upīts continued to play the violin at home. “I gave no thought to scores and lofty things like that. Who would have introduced me to them?” the writer recalled. Later, while taking violin lessons, Upīts dreamt of playing in the village orchestra at a dance. The dream did not come true, but the lessons he learnt were very useful when he taught violin lessons at schools in Mangaļi and Riga.


Andrejs Upīts, 1923. Unknown photographer. UM 25532

Upītis’s powerful voice has also been heard in the ranks of a choir, and his lyrics became a mainstay of Song Festivals for decades to come. The quintessence of all the music created with the lyrics by Andrejs Upīts is the oratorio “Rīta cēliens” (“The Morning Hour”), whose best-known parts are the hymnic “Wait for the Hero”, which is regularly heard in the combined large choir at Song Festivals, and the triumphant finale “The Gate Opens!”, announcing that “”he hour has struck” and “the old Babel has fallen”.

🎧 Andrejs Upīts listening. Youtube playlist


Līze Pliekšāne, circa 1880. gadu. Unknown photographer. RTMM 120746

Rainis’s sister Līze was sociable and keen to get involved in the life of the neighbourhood, but her father, renting two estates at the same time, often left the running of the household to Līze, which meant that her dreams of travelling and seeing with her own eyes what she had read in books and newspapers or heard in stories were not to come true. Music was also one of Līze’s interests.

Composer and organist Ādams Ore. Photo from the magazine Atpūta, No. 32 (12.06.1925)

In January 1883, the violinist Pablo de Sarasate visited Riga with a concert programme. In letters from Vasilova to her brother, Līze wrote: “Brother, you must certainly hear him play, and also learn something more about his person, and then tell me some bits of it.”


Rainis did not attend that concert, but instead went to a concert by the Latvian organist Ādams Ore, about whose appearance and abilities he wrote rather amusingly to his sister before the concert.

🎧 Līze Pliekšāne listening. Youtube playlist

Rainis and Aspazija in their Baznīcas Street apartment in Riga, 1927. Photo: Krišs Rake. RTMM 120430

“My entire childhood was filled wonderful sounds and colours; it was like swimming in a great sea of poetry,” Rainis writes in the preface to his collection Nemierīga sirds (Restless Heart).

Rainis loved music and it accompanied him throughout his life: from the folk songs sung by his mother to piano concertos and magnificent opera premieres seen from the front rows of the auditorium.

Rainis in his summer house in Jūrmala, 1905. Unknown photographer. RTMM 17563

Rainis’s diaries and letters, as well as memoirs of those close to the poet also often speak of music. Sometimes they are words of praise for a concert, sometimes they are criticisms, for example, “I listened to Aida. All feelings and states of mind are expressed with great noise. […] The opera is particularly shallow, because most of the performance is taken up with side matters. […] There can be no musical drama if the music is lyrical and epic, there is no development, no action.”


Above all, however, music was an inspiration, because it, like the sea, infused Rainis’s thoughts and feelings.

🎧 Rainis listening. Spotify playlist

Aspazija, circus 1897. Unknown photographer. RTMM 138430

Music permeated both Aspazija’s private and professional life.

Aspazija’s first love, a young Russian officer who “always sang Russian romantic songs” to Aspazija’s piano accompaniment, was enveloped in music, but together with Rainis, she listened to operas as well as Chopin’s piano concertos.

Aspazija in Zurich, 1912. Photo: E. Links. RTMM 74220

Aspazija loved the opera genre. In her autobiographical novel The Autumn Nightingale, she portrayed herself as a young opera singer, Arta Augstkalna. Her first great role, with which she appears on stage, is Salome. In her poetry, the theme of Richard Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” appears.

One of her favourite songs, Franz Schubert’s “Withered Flowers”, was sung at Aspazija’s funeral.

🎧 Aspazija listening. Spotify playlist

Jānis Akuraters, turn of the 1920s-1930s. Photo: Mārtiņš Lapiņš. RTMM 372686

Jānis Akuraters enjoyed music not only at home and in concert halls in Riga, but also in the best European music houses and in the company of friends abroad.

There is a story involving the French anthem and the song of the Revolution, “Marseillaise”. It was sung in Finland in the autumn of 1907 by a member of Albert Traubergs’s group as a farewell to his comrades, the day before he committed his terrorist act, after which he was arrested and sentenced to death.

In a completely different vein, the Marseillaise was performed at the Elysée Palace in 1925, when Akuraters accompanied the Reiters Choir on a European tour, and the choir was invited to a reception by French President Pierre Paul-Henri Gaston Dumergue.

Cups presented to Jānis Akuraters by Kārlis Skalbe and Antons Austriņš. They are currently on display at the Jānis Akuraters Museum.

Jānis Akuraters also loved to sing, and his repertoire was quite extensive – from folk songs sung with his daughter Laima, to German songs such as “Der König in Thule”, which writer Kārlis Skalbe remembered him singing.  


Kārlis Skalbe and Antons Austriņš gave two cups to Jānis Akuraters with a note: “Dear friend! In memory of our old song “Der König in Thule”, drink and forget about time. 10 Jan. 1925. K. Skalbe, A. Austriņš.”

🎧 Jānis Akuraters listening. Spotify playlist

Materials from the collection of the Museum of Literature and Music, The Andrejs Upīts Memorial Museum and Ojārs Vācietis museum.

The authors of the story: Maija Laimīte, Dace Vosa, Mārtiņš Bērziņš, Ilze Puķe, Arnis Koroševskis, Agnese Timofejeva, Astrīda Cīrule, Maira Valtere, Andris Ērglis, Zane Grudule.