Dr. Kris Rizzotto

Official website of the Latvian Brazilian organist Dr. Kris Rizzotto




October 16, Sunday, 4 PM
Claremont UCC, California




Kris Rizzotto – Deus Vult and three other wedding marches for my sisters

It has become a tradition in my family that a new wedding march composed by me will be heard for the first time ever as the bride walks down the aisle, as a gift to my beloved sisters. This has already been the case with four of my five siblings (more to come!).

The first to be composed was the Coronation March for my sister Smaida Māra and her husband Daniel on their wedding day in 2020 in Minnesota. The name “coronation” is a play on words – their wedding day was the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who is traditionally regarded by Catholics as the Queen of Heaven, but the composer couldn’t resist the opportunity to give the piece that name, given the world event that started in 2020… The piece is regal and extravagant, with all the pomp and circumstance to counterbalance the jubilation of this celebration against the many limitations imposed by the height of the pandemic lockdowns.

The other three bridal marches were written this year. My sister-in-law’s name, Isabella (English equivalent: Elizabeth), means God is my oath in Hebrew. This title and evocations of the famous batallas, glorious gems in the Iberian baroque organ repertoire, inspired the character of the piece I composed for her wedding with my brother João Marcos in Rio de Janeiro. My sister Laila Māra married this year in Latvia in an intimate ceremony, and with much love I created for her a tender prayer (in Latvian, Lūgšana).

Finally, Deus Vult, Latin for God wills it (a Christian motto relating to Divine providence), the extravagant opener of today’s concert, was the most recent of these wedding marches. I dedicated it to my sister Dr. Amanda Māra, who was married this summer just a few miles from here in Orange County. She is a talented vocalist and harpist with a DMA in music performance and I am so happy to have her here with us today in the audience.


Ethel Smyth – Du, O schönes Weltgebäude! (You, O beautiful building of the world!)

Dame Ethel Mary Smyth DBE was an English composer and a member of the women’s suffrage movement. Smyth tended to be marginalized as a “woman composer”, as though her work could not be accepted as mainstream. In recognition of her work as a composer and writer, Smyth was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1922, becoming the first female composer to be awarded a damehood.

Smyth studied composition with Carl Reinecke at the Leipzig Conservatory, and privately with Heinrich von Herzogenberg. She received honorary doctorates in music from the Universities of Durham and Oxford.

Overall, critical reaction to her work was mixed. She was alternately praised and panned for writing music that was considered too masculine for a “lady composer”, as critics called her. Eugene Gates writes that “Smyth’s music was seldom evaluated as simply the work of a composer among composers, but as that of a ‘woman composer’. This worked to keep her on the margins of the profession, and, coupled with the double standard of sexual aesthetics, also placed her in a double bind. On the one hand, when she composed powerful, rhythmically vital music, it was said that her work lacked feminine charm; on the other, when she produced delicate, melodious compositions, she was accused of not measuring up to the artistic standards of her male colleagues.”

Other critics were more favorable: “The composer is a learned musician: it is learning which gives her the power to express her natural inborn sense of humor… Dr. Smyth knows her Mozart and her Sullivan: she has learned how to write conversations in music… [The Boatswain’s Mate] is one of the merriest, most tuneful, and most delightful comic operas ever put on the stage.” (The Illustrated London News)

In 1910, Smyth joined the Women’s Social and Political Union, which agitated for women’s suffrage, giving up music for two years to devote herself to the cause. Her “The March of the Women” (1911) became the anthem of the suffragette movement.

Smyth had several passionate affairs in her life, most of them with women. Her philosopher-friend and the librettist of some of her operas, Henry Bennet Brewster, may have been her only male lover. She wrote to him in 1892: “I wonder why it is so much easier for me to love my own sex more passionately than yours. I can’t make it out, for I am a very healthy-minded person.” Smyth was at one time in love with the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. At age 71, she fell in love with the writer Virginia Woolf – herself also having worked in the women’s suffrage movement.


Kris Rizzotto – Three Chorale Preludes
World première

I recently entered the Lutheran world as director of music at an ELCA parish after serving the Catholic Church for almost 14 years. As I started learning and experiencing more of the Lutheran Church, I felt the longing to offer my humble contribution to the long tradition of chorale preludes so enriched by the foundations of Bach, Walther, Pachelbel, and many others – and because I live in Minneapolis it would be impossible not to mention the vibrant legacy of Paul Manz. All my chorale preludes are created as Gebrauchsmusik, “music for use” in concert or church service, as a hymn introduction or solo piece. These and many more are available as PDF downloads on KrisRizzotto.com.

Hyfrydol sur La Canarie combines the tune to Love Divine, All Loves Excelling with La Canarie, a dance which comes from the Canary Islands and was brought to Spain in the sixteenth century, and whose choreography features jumps, leaps, and percussive footwork. In the Canary Islands it was associated with both funeral rites and courtship. This melody was famously included in Michael Praetorius’ Terpsichore, a compendium of more than 300 instrumental dances published in 1612.

Shall We Gather at the River is a delicate and joyful trio, reflective of the image, evoked by the hymn, of a shining river with a crystal tide, flowing by the throne of God and causing the pilgrims’ hearts to quiver with the melody of peace.

As these other chorales, my Toccata on All Creatures of Our God and King was created to be a hymn introduction, so I now invite you to sing together the following verses in gratitude for the love of God who created us all wonderfully made and forever inseparable from God’s love:

1. (All) All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing, alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
thou silver moon with softer gleam,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

2. (Sopranos and altos) And everyone, with tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part, alleluia, alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
sing praise and cast on God your care,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

3. (Tenors and basses) And thou, most kind and gentle death,
waiting to hush our final breath, alleluia, alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
as Christ before that way hath trod,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

4. (All) Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship God in humbleness, alleluia, alleluia!
To God all thanks and praise belong!
Join in the everlasting song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!


Clara Schumann – Prelude in G Minor, Op. 16, Nº 1

Clara Josephine Schumann (née Wieck) was a German pianist, composer, and piano teacher. Regarded as one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era, she exerted her influence over the course of a 61-year concert career, changing the format and repertoire of the piano recital from displays of virtuosity to programs of serious works. She also composed solo piano pieces, a piano concerto, chamber music, choral pieces, and songs. She married the composer Robert Schumann, and the couple had eight children. After Robert’s early death, she continued her concert tours in Europe for decades.

As part of the broad musical education given to her by her father, Clara learned to compose, and from childhood to middle age she produced a good body of work. She wrote that “composing gives me great pleasure… there is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.”

Clara produced one to eight compositions every year beginning at age 11, until her output stopped in 1848, producing only a choral work that year for her husband’s birthday and leaving her second piano concerto unfinished. Five years later, however, when she was 34 in 1853, the year she met Brahms, she engaged in a flurry of composing, resulting in 16 pieces that year.

As she grew older, she became more preoccupied with other responsibilities in life and found it hard to compose regularly. Her husband expressed this concern when he wrote: “Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.”

For the next 43 years of her life, she only composed piano transcriptions of works by her husband and Brahms. Most of Clara Schumann’s music was never played by anyone else and largely forgotten until a resurgence of interest in the 1970s. Today her compositions are increasingly performed and recorded.


Hugo Distler – Partita und Satz Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der von uns den Gotteszorn wandt
(Partita and Verse on Jesus Christ, our Savior, who turned God’s wrath away from us)

Born in Nuremberg, Distler attended the Leipzig Conservatory from 1927 to 1931, first as a conducting student with piano as his secondary subject, but changing later, on the advice of his teacher, to composition and organ. He became the organist at St. Jacobi in Lübeck in 1931. In 1933 he reluctantly joined the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, as his continued employment depended on his doing so. In October 1933 Distler was appointed head of the chamber music department at the Lübeck Conservatory, and at about the same time he began teaching at the Spandauer Kirchenmusikschule.

In 1937 Distler was appointed as a lecturer at the Württemberg Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart, where he also directed its two choirs. In 1940 he moved to Berlin to teach and conduct at the Hochschule für Musik there, and in 1942 he was named the conductor of the State and Cathedral Choir.

Distler became increasingly depressed owing to the deaths of friends, aerial attacks, restrictions placed upon his teaching, a sense of isolation, and the constant threat of conscription into the German Army, all of it culminating in his suicide in Berlin at the age of 34, on All Saints Day, 1942. However, his suicide was probably not a direct result of antagonistic government pressure; rather, according to author Nick Strimple, “it appears that he saw the futility of attempting to serve both God and Nazis, and came to terms with his own conscience unequivocally.”

Distler composed his partita on Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der von uns den Gotteszorn wandt in 1933. The first movement is a polyphonic chorale harmonization of the Luther tune in the tenor. The bicinium, in two voices, is an imitative polyphonic movement with the tune in the tenor. The tradition of including a choral ricercar in Magnificat settings was common in the earlier North German School. The ricercar, which like the bicinium is also a late Renaissance and mostly Baroque instrumental composition, was a genre viewed as a study piece with the function of “searching out” the key or mode of a piece to follow, exploring the permutations of the hymn tune. The piece concludes with a stanza of the hymn, in the form of another chorale with the tune in the soprano.


Kris Rizzotto – Six Chorale Preludes

Lobt Gott den Herrn, ihr Heiden all (Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above) is in the style of a baroque trio. I paired the tune Wir hatten gebauet (When Christmas Morn is Dawning) with the Latvian folk song Seši mazi bundzinieki (Six little drummers), with the cheerful sound of the piccolo. While Richmond (Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes) is pure joy, Distress (O Christ, the Healer, We Have Come) is not distressful but comforting, featuring the languid intertwine of a canon between the ornamented flute with tremolo and a reed stop in the tenor range. The Trio on Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How Lovely Shines the Morning Star) is light and bright, in the contrapuntal style of a baroque trio, with the melody on the pedal.

The pedal point on the Pastorale on This Joyful Eastertide using the tune VRUECHTEN represents the tranquility brought to the soul grounded in the faith in the Resurrection of our Lord and what it ultimately means to humanity. The inspiration for this piece came after a phone conversation with my mentor and friend Dr. John Schwandt, who instilled in me a deeper love and understanding for the organ, for which I am forever grateful. This piece is dedicated to him and his wife Kristin.


Andris Balodis – Mākoņi (Clouds)
US première

Andris Balodis was born in Riga, Latvia. He studied at the Emīls Dārziņš College of Music in the piano, composition, and theory classes (1980-1991), and studied at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music in the composition class of Ādolfs Skulte (1991-1995), where he received his bachelor’s degree. The center of his creative work is music for children, as well as choir and solo songs. The majority of his works are self-published compositions and recordings. Mākoņi was his first organ composition, a tranquil depiction of rolling clouds in the summer sky, after a suggestion by Tālivaldis Deksnis (1946- 2018), then chair of the organ department at Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, and who later recorded this piece at Rīgas Doms Cathedral.


Kris Rizzotto – Fantasia
World première

Fantasia came together as a compilation of joyful melodies which kept dancing inside of my head for years. I envisioned it as an orchestral dance with Slavic flavors, with crisp strings, shepherd’s flutes, a pizzicato waltz with mellow cellos and a singing oboe, culminating in a triumphant gallop of the cellos and basses, when the brass and piccolo gradually join in for a final display of fireworks. Can you hear it all? Also, once more, my Latvian roots make an appearance towards the end of the piece, as the folk song Kur tad tu nu biji, āzīti manu (Where have you been, my little goat?) found its natural way into this musical extravaganza.


Aivars Kalējs – Per aspera ad astra

Aivars Kalējs is one of the most important Latvian musicians of his generation. He studied composition and organ at the Latvian Conservatoire in Riga (1969-1977), under Ādolfs Skulte and Nikolajs Vanadziņš, respectively. Having performed in almost all the European countries, Japan, U.S. and Canada, he is internationally known as a recitalist, composer, and a musicologist with published articles about organ history.

Kalējs worked on the monument board of the Latvian Ministry of Culture between 1980 and 1985. He focused on the history and preservation of the organs in Latvia and was able to add 250 organs to the country’s index of protected cultural monuments. He has been the organist at the Dome Cathedral in Riga for almost forty years. Kalējs also holds the position of organist at the New Church of St. Gertrude. He wrote pieces for orchestra, and for different instruments, but his organ works occupy the central place among his compositions.

Right before Christmas in 1989, when Latvia was claiming for its rightful independence from the Soviet occupation, Kalējs finished writing Per aspera ad astra, which has become known as one of his most colorful and impressive organ works. In the composer’s words, this piece is “dedicated to the memory of the children of Latvia who died during the Soviet deportations.”

The two largest waves of mass deportations happened in 1941 and 1949. According to the Latvian State Archive, 15,424 people were arrested and deported from Latvia to the prison camps called Gulags in June 14, 1941. This was a heavy blow to the country because those deported were people of national relevance such intellectuals and important members of the middle class. The objective was to destroy all those who supported nationalistic and democratic ideals within Latvians in order to cease any possible resistance. To this day, black ribbons are added to the national flags on the anniversary of this event.

The Soviet mass deportation from the Baltic states in 1949 sent about 94,000 Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians to inhospitable regions of Siberia. Latvians were almost 50% of them, and 72% of the people deported were women or children under the age of 16. This operation aimed to forcefully collectivize rural households, and to eliminate all support to those who were against the communist occupation.

The prisoners were sent to the death camps “forever,” with no passports, only identification cards. Because the Soviet authorities failed on providing housing and clothing, and because conditions of forced work were so hard, the death rate among deportees was very high. The Soviet deportations are considered an act of genocide. According to Heinrichs Strods, “Soviet prison camps could also be called death camps. Unlike the Nazi camps where people were killed systematically, the Soviet camps took their prisoners to slow painful death by imposing hard work and life conditions. Mostly the male prisoners died, families lost their fathers. A large number of children spent their childhoods in Siberia.”

Per aspera ad astra (from Latin, “through hardships to the stars”) is a programmatic and very powerful piece. It depicts the story of exile with a growing sense of despair, through mostly downward motions and descending figures, that culminates on an apotheotic stretto that shifts the direction of the phrases and melodies upwards, towards the stars in heaven, where the dream of lost childhood fades into birdsong on a lonely 1′ flute in ppp.


Aivars Kalējs – Tokata par Korali Gods Dievam augstiba

Nikolaus Decius wrote the text to Allein Gott in 1552 as an adaptation of the Catholic Gloria for the newly created Protestant church:

To God alone on high be glory
and thanks for His mercy,
since now and forever more
no harm can touch us.
God is pleased with us,
now there is great peace without cease,
all feuds have now an end.

This hymn is especially associated with Easter because the melody is an adaptation of the plainsong Gloria of Mass I, Lux et origo (tempore paschali), after the words “Et in terra pax.”

Written in 1998, Kalējs’ Toccata presents the chorale unornamented and continuous in its entirety three times, first on the tenor, then bass, then in canon between the soprano and the pedal. The improvisatory-like and sparkly accompaniment is often quintuplets plus quadruplets (5+4) alternating with 4+4.


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