Non-promised Land: Vytautas Bacevičius in New York


  • Rūta Stanevičiūtė Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre


Vytautas Bacevičius, 20-century Lithuanian music


In the Lithuanian music of the twentieth century, one can clearly notice a caesura drawn by sociopolitical events which split the national culture in two parts both in terms of time and space. In the 1940s, most of the pre-war modernist composers appeared in exile. Graduates of the Paris, Berlin, and Prague schools and founders of the ISCM Lithuanian section who mainly settled down in the USA tried to adapt to the different musical and sociocultural reality which strongly affected the change in their creative orientations. Due to the broken relations with European centres of modern music, the conservative cultural environment of Lithuanian emigrants and subsequent unsuccessful attempts to participate in the influential American music scene resulted in cultural isolation that significantly influenced the post-war music development, among others, that of composer and pianist Vytautas Bacevičius (1905-1970), the most prominent figure in Lithuanian emigration. An offspring of a mixed Lithuanian-polish family and a representative of the Paris school moved to New York in 1940 and lived there as a refugee almost till the end of his life (he was granted citizenship as late as in 1967). Like many other European emigrant composers, being brought up in the cult of elitist art, he perceived egalitarianism of American art as a personal menace. Since late 1950s, Bacevičius abandoned the strategies to adapt to American cultural environment and turned towards a unique conception of cosmic music, thus rethinking his early experiences of atonal music during the era of second avant-garde inspirations. The opus magnum of his late creative period Graphique for symphony orchestra (1964) is an emblematic composition devised as the first opus of the never-completed series of nine symphonic compositions entitled Sahasrara Chakra. The article focuses on the discovery of the conceptual and sonic analogies of the late cosmic music developed by Bacevičius in the pursuits of the twentieth-century musica mundana, obviously associated with Olivier Messiaen and Edgard Varèse, the figures venerated by the Lithuanian composer. In addition, Bacevičius’ late cosmic music is discussed as a cultural strategy of escapism symptomatic of European emigrant composers of the same generation settled in USA.