There are quite a few musical families in Lithuania. Among them is Balys Dvarionas' family, which for the fourth generation actively participates in the country's musical life. The family's tradition began with organist Dominic Dvarionas, whose fate often led him wandering through the world, as it did for many other Lithuanians at the time. He moved from Mosėdis to Saratov (where married Barbora Kniukštaitė) and afterward to Simferopol. The young family returned to Lithuania in 1892 where Dominic Dvarionas worked as an organist in Ylakiai. After a year, the Dvarionas family established themselves in Liepaja, where one of the largest Lithuanian communities in Latvia formed at the beginning of the 20th century. Dominic Dvarionas played the organ at the Catholic Church and was a well-known authority on musical instruments. Of the twelve Dvarionas children, eleven grew up, seven of whom became musicians.
Balys Dvarionas was born on June 19, 1904. Like his brothers and sisters, he was taught music from his very childhood: the violin, organ, and piano.
He completed a middle school of commerce, played the organ at a church, for several years headed a Lithuanian choir and tasted the life of a silent movie pianist. He had a wonderful music teacher - the well-known Latvian composer Alfred Kalninsh, who advised him to study composition under Jaseps Vitolis at the Riga Conservatory. However, in 1920 Balys Dvarionas went to Leipzig. There he studied piano under Robert Teichmuller at the Conservatory and attended special music theory and composition courses held by Stephan Krohl and Sigfried Karg-Elert. He graduated the Conservatory in 1924 and afterward spent two years studying piano in Berlin under Egon Petri.
Balys Dvarionas was a synthesis of talents in piano, teaching, conducting and composing. They bloomed almost all at once and Balys Dvarionas soon became one of the most famous personalities in Lithuanian music. From 1924 on he performed throughout Lithuania, and in 1928 he began to perform abroad. In 1926 he began teaching at the music school (later at the Conservatory) and from 1949 until the end of his life he taught at the Music Academy in Vilnius. Over 50 pianists graduated Prof. Balys Dvarionas' class.
He started his conducting activities in 1928, working with the music school orchestra. In 1931 he conducted a concert for the first time at the Philharmonic (the soloist was Egon Petri). In 1934 he went to Salzburg to attend conductor's courses led by Bruno Walter and his assistant Herbert von Karajan, and in 1939 he graduated Conducting classes he took as an external student under Herman Abendroth at the Leipzig Conservatory. From 1935 to 1938 he was the Kaunas Radiophone Orchestra Conductor. In 1939 he arrived at the newly-regained [territory, the city of] Vilnius and together with architect Vytautas Landsbergis - Žemkalnis established the Vilnius City Orchestra, where he worked as at head conductor, as well as at the later-established Philharmonic Orchestra. The last time Balys Dvarionas appeared on stage, May 12, 1972, with the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra at the Philharmonic Hall, he played Mozart's Concerto and conducted Schubert's Mass. He was tormented by a harsh illness and died on August 23, 1972.
His first attempt at composing was for the play Varnalėšos (Burdock) written by Vytautas Bičiūnas and produced in 1924 at the Vilkolakio Theatre. Later he wrote the music for two dramas produced by the State Theatre. Together with the single-act ballets by Vytautas Bacevičius and Juozas Gruodis, the Balys Dvarionas Piršlybos (Matchmaking) ballet was produced in 1933; this ballet was later performed by the State Ballet Company during their extensive 1935 tour in Monte Carlo and London. He began to compose intensively once reaching the fifth decade of his life. The Symphony in E-minor appeared in 1947, followed by the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in B-minor in 1948 which instantly became a classic and was performed throughout the world by violinists, after which two piano and one French horn concertos were written. In 1959 Balys Dvarionas' opera Dalia, was produced (libretto - John Mackonis and story according to the Balys Sruoga historical drama, Apyaušrio dalia (The Duty of Early-Dawn).
The composer created pieces for violin as well as for cello, oboe, bassoon and piano, songs for solo and choirs, harmonized folk songs for choirs and vocals with piano, and more. Balys Dvarionas compositions for solo piano: two sonatinas, the Little Suite, the Winter Sketches Suite, Preludes, Intermezzi, the short, poetically named pieces (Nendrės [Reeds], Pėdos/Lašai [Footsteps/Drops], Toluma [Distance] and the like). Broad genres in Balys Dvarionas' work include pathos and strong dramatic heights while at the same time his piano and other Chamber compositions are dominated by lyricism and subtlety expressed imaginativeness. The composer endlessly valued folk songs (he has made a record of about 150 himself). All of Balys Dvarionas' creations are truly penetrated by the spirit of folk songs which gives his overall style of music immense originality. The composer himself commented his style like this in 1971:
My aesthetic ideals were formed under the influence of 19th-century romanticism, and I believe in the musician's vocational call to spread beauty, good, harmony, to educate people and to raise them above the routine. I believe that people who say this type of view is behind the times are wrong. The ideals of human good have remained unchanged over many thousands of years: love, truth, freedom, and friendship. To serve them is not a step backward.
Prof. Balys Dvarionas
Dr. Jonas Bruveris, Vilnius, 1997