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Art and culture - Lithuania


States emerge as cultural phenomena and disappear with the loss of their cultural memory and the inability to create a new one. 

The Small Lithuanian nation has managed to preserve national identity, culture, language, literature, art and traditions throughout recent centuries of occupations. Lithuanians preserved the land and culture they had inherited from their ancestors. They call it Lithuania and do not want this word to disappear from the world map. They would like other people to utter it with respect.


The birth of the written language marks the birth of the Lithuanian nation; the birth of literature inaugurates national professional fine arts. The development of Lithuanian literature remains inseparable from the national self-emancipation movement. This tradition continued unbroken even during the years of Soviet occupation.


Lithuanian Old and Classic Literature

The beginning of Lithuanian writing is marked by the Chronicles of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, written in the official East Slav language. The first book in Lithuanian was the Lutheran Katekizmas, (Catechism) with an alphabet and songs, published in Prussia in 1547, by Martynas Maûvydas. Thus the Lithuanian language came to be written in Latin alphabet. One of the greatest consolidators of the Lithuanian language was Mikalojus Dauköa. Konstantinas Sirvydas published the first Dictionary of Lithuanian, Dictionarium trium linguarum (1629). The Bible was translated into Lithuanian and published in 1701-1727. Metai (The Seasons) by Kristijonas Donelaitis, written in hexameters, which has been translated into the principal languages of the world and acknowledged as an unparalleled masterpiece, marks the beginning of Lithuanian literature as an art form in the 18th century.

Contemporary Lithuanian Literature

The Iron Curtain fell on Lithuania after World War II and the majority of the Lithuanian writers fled to the West. Lithuanian writers worked within the censors guidelines of the values of "socialist realism"; transgressing them could cause different sorts of "repression", even treatment at psychiatric clinics and imprisonment. Although freedom of speech was proclaimed by the Soviet constitution, it was really fictitious. Some writers refused to conform, and went underground, their work only seeing publication after the reinstatement of Lithuanian independence. The young generation of writers who have not known censorship and restrictions entered the arena of literature after 1991. However, this generation knows post-Soviet economic hardship, a censor of a different nature.

Lithuanian theatre

Since the 16th century, theatre performances were held at the Rulers' Palace, in the estates of the nobility and in the city streets. In 1785 municipal theatres functioned in Vilnius and in Klaipeda. The Polish national opera, Moniuszkos Halka, was premiered in Vilnius in 1848. The first Lithuanian language performance Amerika Pirtyje was given in 1899, at Palanga. In 1914, there were 24 travelling theatre troupes in Lithuania. When Kaunas became the provisional capital in 1920, the main professional Drama and Opera theatres, youth studios and theatrical institutions were established. Historical Lithuanian drama came into existence, and this tradition went on unbroken during the years of Soviet occupation. Lithuania became one of the most famous centres of theatrical life in the Soviet Union. Theatre currently represents Lithuania abroad in a very positive way.

Lithuanian Ballet

Lithuanian ballet is a source of great national pride. The art of dancing has been practised in Lithuania for many centuries. Art historians mentioned it as early as 1636, when operas and musical plays with dancing were held in the Vilnius Lower Castle. At the opening of the Vilnius City Theatre in 1788, the well-known French dancing teacher Le Doux was invited to lead a group of 33 dancers. By 1925, Lithuanian opera was already established. During the staging of various operas, dancers were needed to fill in the performance. The theatre administrators invited P. Petrov, a well-known dancer from the Maryinski Theatre, to start up a ballet school. The year 1925 is considered the year of the birth of Lithuanian ballet. In 1948 the theatre moved to Vilnius.


Musicians have always played the most significant role in presenting Lithuanian culture abroad. Lithuanian musicians made Lithuania noticeable on the cultural map of Europe even at the time when Lithuania disappeared from Europes political map. The Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, the Kaunas State Choir, and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra are sometimes called the second diplomatic Corps of Lithuania.

Lithuanian Orchestras

Until the 25th of December 1961, the date of the debut of the present Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, there was no regular orchestra in Lithuania. Its first concert coincided with the opening celebrations of the Philharmonic Society (now the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society). The concert was conducted by the famous composer and conductor Balys Dvarionas. The Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra was the first orchestra to give concerts abroad. It was also the first Lithuanian orchestra to appear in the West. Since its dbut at the Echternach Festival in 1976, it has given seven concerts at this prestigious event, and in 1992 was awarded the Grand Lion Medal. The Student Orchestra of the M.K. Ciurlionis School of Arts (now the Ciurlionis Arts Gymnasium) won the gold medal at the Herbert von Karajan Youth Orchestra Competition in Berlin in 1976.

Music Festivals

International festivals take place in all parts of the country; there is not a single month without an important initiative being launched on the Lithuanian musical horizon. World-famous superstars take part in various creative projects: Justus Franz, Mstislav Rostropovich, Riccardo Mutti, Lord Yehudi Menuchin, Gidon Kremer, Yuri Bashmet, Krzysztof Penderecki and many more celebrities. The artists of the highest order not only come to our country but also take part in various creative projects with Lithuanian musicians. This is only possible because the Lithuanian artists' guild has been integrated into the European cultural context. Gaida, Jauna Muzika, Mariu Klavyrai, the Paûaislis Festival, Summer Season at Trakai Castle, St.Christopher Summer and Winter Music festival, and the Vilnius Festival: the list of music festivals in Lithuania is really impressive.

Jazz in Lithuania

Restaurants and cafes in Kaunas became the cradle of Jazz in Lithuania before World War II. The country's first professional jazz band, the Kaunas Polytechnic Big band, was formed in 1957. Lithuania is inconceivable without jazz now. The birthday of modern Lithuanian jazz is considered to be the Christmas of 1961, when the Lithuanian Music Academy, (formerly the State Conservatoire), held the first jazz concert, crowning a three-day conference devoted to the history and theory of jazz and its most famous personalities. Jazz festivals in Birötonas (the first was held in 1980 and was considered to be not just a musical but also a serious political event, since the Soviet Union had considered jazz to be the music of capitalists), Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda became very popular. Many interesting international projects and groups were formed during the last decade of the 20-th century.

Lithuanian School of Modern Music

The Lithuanian school of music began to form at the turn of the 20-th century. The starting point of any account of modern Lithuanian music must surely be the composer and artist Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis. Three periods in Lithuanian professional music are discernible: 1) Late Romanticism with some Impressionism (M. K. Ciurlionis, J. Gruodis); 2) Neoclassicism and Expressionism (V. Bacevicius, J. Kacinskas, J. ävedas, and J. Juzeliunas, E. Balsys); 3) Some tendencies (minimalism, collage, new spirituality, and so on) toward modern post-war avant-garde (O. Balakauskas, V. Barkauskas, A. Rekaöius, D. Lapinskas) and postmodernism (. Bajoras, B. Kutavicius, O. Narbutaite, V. Bartulis, M. Urbaitis); Composers F. Bajoras, B. Kutavicius, A. Martinaitis represent the so-called Lithuanian-style "Sprechgesang" as a synthesis of the essentials of Lithuanian folk music and modern European music.

Modern art

The symbiosis of all art genres is the main feature of Lithuanian art today. Melting boundaries between painting and photography, textile and sculpture, fine and applied arts mark the dominant tendency in contemporary Lithuanian art.

There are two main trends in Lithuanian photography: photojournalism and artistic photography. Artistic photography has an old (relatively old: 19-th century) tradition of artistic portrait.

The year 1909 is seen as the birth of Lithuanian cinema: V. Starevicius shot Near the River Nemunas and A. Raciunas, a Lithuanian American, filmed the sights of his native village for Lithuanian ÈmigrÈs. In 1927 "The Careful Father", a three-minute advertising feature film, was made by the Lietfilm Cinema Company and Akis made The Doctor in Spite of Himself. In 1947 the feature film "Maryte" was produced by Moscowës Mosfilm, although the actors and the composer were Lithuanians. During the Soviet period, every year, three of four feature films, about 40 documentaries and 30 to 40 newsreel journals "Soviet Lithuania" used to be produced at the Lithuanian Film Studio. In 1987, the first independent studio, Kinema, was founded. After 1991, however, state funding drastically decreased. During the last decade, only about two feature films and ten documentaries were made each year.

The eighties and the nineties of the last century marked the beginning of a new period in Lithuanian art history, which induced artists to take an active part in the creation of a new art language. The Art of performances and of installations and creation of objects became one of the most popular movements of Lithuanian art in the nineties.

Lithuanian national costumes

The term national costume refers to clothing unique to a nation and worn by its people on a daily basis or on special occasions, i.e., holidays or celebrations. Festive garments are usually more elegant, colorful and elaborate than ordinary clothes worn every day.
Over the course of centuries, nations continually changed the style of their clothing. These changes occurred due to people's economic situations, living conditions, concept of beauty and ability to produce clothing. In all nations, the attire of men varied from that of women, was made and decorated differently. Distinct national religions also influenced the way people dressed, Industrious nations and those with a keener sense of beauty wore more elegant clothes.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries most distinctions in clothing between nations disappeared. People began to wear more or less similar garments due to increased communication and contact between various countries. Textile factories assumed the task of weaving cloth for apparel. Europe and other countries began to create "fashions" which were increasingly adopted particularly by urban residents. National garments were collected into museum and served as models for new articles of clothing used for national holidays and to illustrate national customs.
The old national costumes were made by the people who wore them. They were woven and decorated with various patterns, then embroidered and finally stitched together. In modern times, national costumes are usually woven by textile factories according to old patterns.
Lithuanian national clothing is divided into pre-historic, historic and folk. An approximate image of prehistoric attire has been reconstructed based on remnants of clothing and various articles of adornment found at archeological sites, Garments from historic period have been collected into museums in Lithuania and other countries, and are depicted in ancient engravings and drawings.
Lithuanian folk national costumes, those worn by the rural population, are extremely varied and homespun. The patterns are complex and the color combinations subtle, Lithuanian national costumes are classified according to geographic region: Samogitia, Highland, Kapsai, Dzûkija, Zanavykija, Vilni us region and Lithuania Minor. Although all Lithuanian national costumes are similar in appearance, they also differ in the diversity of patterns, color selection, different articles of clothing and method of wear.
In ancient times these garments were worn daily, as well as for visiting, holidays, weddings and other occasions. The weave, patterns, colors and style of current Lithuanian national costumes are adapted from models of old peasant garments. Ancient Lithuanian national attire had certain characteristic traits:
a) all pieces of clothing were made by the peasants from homespun yarn, bleached and dyed mostly with plant dyes;
b) the .weaving methods are traditional; the. yarn varies in thickness thus diversifying the weaving technique.
c) the motifs used in every article of clothing are greatly diversified;
d) the colors are extremely varied and contrasting, for instance warm with cold;
e) the cut of the garments is unique and every piece is finished differently. in overcast, crochet, with tassels or cord, etc.;
f) the garment fasteners are metal, leather , string or wood.
Women's national costumes have more diversity than those of men. They incorporate more patterns, the colors are more varied, the weave, style and method of wear are established by tradition. Of utmost importance is that married and unmarried women wear different headcoverings. People dressed one way for a wedding and another to go visiting or to church, National garments have never been a uniform, they were used for festive occasions, individual pieces were frequently changed creating new combinations and method of adornment.
The coordination of separate pieces of attire was also determined by certain esthetic rules: if one piece is very colorful, it is combined with a quieter, plainer piece. if one is darker in color, the other is lighter; if one is from the cold color family, the other is from the warm.
The basic pieces of a woman's national costume consist of. a long patterned or striped skirt, an apron, a shirt (white with embroidered sleeves, cuffs, shoulder tabs, front and collar, the amount of embroidery differing according to region where worn); a bodice in a smaller pattern or striped to match the skirt; a headcovering and amber beads (though earlier other materials were used) as neck ornaments. The legs are covered with patterned or striped stockings and shod with soft-sole leather, wooden or low-heeled black shoes. The women of certain regions wore a long wide patterned sash tied around the waist and left hanging on one side.
An adult married woman wears a wimple or a patterned, checked (even white) kerchief. The heads of young girls are adorned with crowns made of plaited narrow sashes. From the headdress hang ribbons or sashes coordinated to the crown and national costume.
Men's national costumes are also homespun festive garments. The basic pieces consist of: long striped, diagonally striped or checked trousers onto whose lower portion darker stripes or patterns have been woven. The trouser legs are tapered and fastened at the bottom or stuffed into socks. In certain areas of Lithuania men wore a loose waist-length vest, in others a long jacket sometimes tied at the waist with a sash. A wide sash is also worn with the vest, tied around the waist and to one side with the ends hanging to the knees. The shirt is made of thin white linen with long wide cuffed sleeves and an inverted collar. The cuffs, collar and at times the shoulder tabs are decorated with a narrow patterned sash or embroidery. A patterned sash or checked scarf is tied under the collar. The headcovering is a wide-brimmed straw hat, The socks are striped and soft-sole leather shoes are worn. In certain regions of Lithuania men's attire is more colorful and patterned while in others more subdued and darker.
Boys' national costumes are similar to men's but they usually do not wear vests or jackets. Girls' garments are similar to women's. Young girls wear short checked or patterned skirts and white aprons embroidered with traditional motifs. The beads they wear are smaller, plainer and they usually do not tie sashes around their waists. Adolescent girls wear calf-length skirts. Girls wear small crowns with ribbons hanging down their back or flower wreaths.
A more detailed description of Lithuanian national costumes (from different regions of Lithuania) can be found in Lithuanian National Costume by Antanas and Anastazija Tamosaitls and Volume XV of Lietuviu Enciklopedija ("Lithuanian Encyclopedia").
It must also be remembered that a national costume cannot be simplified and worn without certain pieces of it. We often see girls (and especially women) wearing national costumes without a headcovering, or married women wearing girls' crowns with flowing ribbons. High-heeled shoes or colored and open sandals should never be worn with a national costume. If they do not have suitable footwear, women and girls may wear simple black closed shoes. Men must wear plain black leather (even high-top) shoes and their socks must be coordinated to the national costume.
Women may wear amber beads (along with broches) as neck ornaments. Earrings (even amber ones) absolutely cannot be worn with a national costume, nor can shiny rings, bracelets or other jewelry. National costumes should be worn with proper respect, decorum, pride and solemnity, A person wearing a Lithuanian national costume represents his or her nation. He or she should not promenade with buttons undone and shirts hanging out or behave in a disorderly fashion for this casts a shadow on the entire Lithuanian nation.

Source: "Lithuanian customs and traditions"  by Danute Brazyte Bindokiene


Experiencing time and Eternity in Daily Life We have inherited the belief from our forefathers that time is informative, because our fate is already predetermined in its signs, figures and rhythms, as are future events; they can be experienced, seen, and felt while crossing the borders of years and eras, celebrating the calendar festivals. Time was experienced as not homogenous. The idea of time acting through Nature, taken from the ancient Baltic perspective of the world, folklore and agrarian rites, was this primal creative framework which can still be detected today in the work of contemporary writers of prose and poetry. Today we live according to another sort of time, that of culture and creative work, which enables us to transcend the limits of our biological age, to continue our existence by recreating past images, by meeting people who lived, created and thought many years ago. Cultural and artistic creation concentrates time, presses it into a page, a poem, a picture or a symbol, or compresses it in stone or metal. Admiring a piece of art makes time flow backwards, and that is the way nations start to remember about themselves, to become self-aware.

The gap between an ìelite cultureî and a ìculture for the eliteî is deepening in Lithuania. It is obvious that there is an exclusion of certain strata of the population (lower income groups, pensioners, unemployed people) from any regular social life, including cultural life. Unfortunately, writers and librarians, teachers and artists, musicians and scientists, all the strata of Lithuanian intelligentsia, belong to that lower income group today. The economic and political elite and the so-called masses (the masses still meet only one common criterion: a low income) diverge more and more as autonomous social groups which have fewer and fewer cultural and political values in common. Some priorities of the new Lithuanian economic and political elite (a crazed love for things, plebeian tastes) indicate a real basis for caution about the development of a real elite culture in Lithuania.

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