Even though Eduardas Balsys, one of the most talented Lithuanian composers of post-war generation, spent his most productive years in the period of Soviet regime, his music stood out for its high artistic standard, and still remains appealing and fresh-sounding. The leader of stylistic breakthrough of the 60s and one of the most influential figures in the post-Stalinist resurgence of Lithuanian music, the composer is ascribed to moderate modernist trend. The most important part of his output consists of large-scale compositions - a ballet, an opera, oratorios, and concertos. Balsys was one of the best masters of orchestration in Lithuania, and also an excellent teacher of composition. He has educated a number of today's leading composers and musicologists.
Eduardas Balsys (1919.12.20-1984.11.03) was born near Nikolaev, Ukraine. The Balsys family returned to Lithuania in 1921, and settled in Skuodas and later, in 1928 moved to Klaipėda. While studying at the Vytautas Magnus Gymnasium in Klaipėda, which he graduated from in 1939, he played althorn and tuba in Gymnasium's wind orchestra. In 1940 he entered Military School in Kaunas, which he graduated from as a lieutenant. Here, in cadet soirees his first songs were performed.
During the war Eduardas Balsys taught chemistry, physics, mathematics, physical training and music at the Gymnasium of Kretinga. At that time he decided to become a composer. He graduated from the Lithuanian State Conservatoire in 1950, where he studied with Antanas Račiūnas. In 1950-53 as a postgraduate student he studied with Viktor Voloshinov at the Leningrad Conservatoire.
Eduardas Balsys taught composition and orchestration at the Lithuanian State Conservatoire, since 1960 he chaired composition department at the same institution, and in 1962-72 served as a chairman of the Lithuanian Composers' Union. The composer was twice awarded the State Prize - for ballet "Eglė, Queen of the Grass-snakes" (1960) and oratorio "Don't Touch the Blue Globe" (1974). Balsys died in Druskininkai in 1984.
As a composer Balsys underwent a considerable evolution of style from the String Quartet, written in classical form, to expressionistic opera "Journey to Tilsit", based on dodecaphonic technique. His oeuvre reflects turns and twists of the development of Lithuanian music, from ideologically motivated 'folkloric' romanticism (until 1958) toward new stylistic trends and compositional techniques (such as dodecaphony and aleatory composition, starting from the mid 60s). His creative output can be divided into three periods.
1950-1958. In search for his idiom, Balsys was influenced by classical and romantic music, and had to comply with the requirements of 'folkloric' style, which can be easily traced in his String Quartet. Other important works of the period include Heroic Poem for symphony orchestra, Concerto for violin and orchestra No.1, and a new orchestration of M. K. Čiurlionis' symphonic poem "The Sea".
1958-1965. This period marks the stylistic change in Lithuanian music. The composer often employs elements of popular music (rhumba rhythm), quartal harmony and extended tonality. Concerto for violin and orchestra No.2 - the most popular Lithuanian violin concerto - is a perfect example of innovations of the period. The Concerto, and the subsequent ballet "Eglė, Queen of the Grass-snakes", display neoclassical features - vivid themes, concise development of the musical material, motoric rhythm and sharp contrasts.
1965 - to death. His music abounds with expressionistic elements and dodecaphonic procedures. Indeed, the latter unifies his markedly different works of this period, including "Dramatic Frescoes", oratorio "Don't Touch the Blue Globe", opera "Journey to Tilsit", orchestral poem "Reflections of the Sea" and Concerto for solo violin.
Balsys has also left a number of works for wind orchestra, popular songs, music for film and theatre.