From A Song to Symphony: Musical Activities of Jeronimas Kačinskas in the DP Camps in 1945-1949

Danutė Petrauskaitė (Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre)

Jeronimas Kačinskas (1907-2005) was one of the most famous Lithuanian conductors and modern composers in the interwar years, a graduate of the Prague Conservatoire, a member of the ISCM. During World War II, he conducted the Vilnius Radiophone and Philharmonic Orchestras. His concerts were attended by a wide range of audience, including Wehrmacht soldiers; therefore, when the Red Army approached, he was forced to leave Lithuania.

His journey to the West was difficult and long. It led through the Curonian Spit, Königsberg, and finally, in October 1944, he reached the Czech town of Lednice. However, six months later he had to flee again from the approaching Soviet Army. Eventually, the composer managed to reach American-controlled German territory and stayed in the Landshut refugee camp. When the performers heard about Kačinskas arrival, they approached him with a request to accompany them on piano at the concerts. From there, Kačinskas’s musical activity began. The first concert took place in Deggendorf, and the second one in Regensburg. He also agreed to play the organ in the local church during Lithuanian service and even composed simple masses for the men’s choir. In the autumn of 1945, Kačinskas moved to Hochfeld, a suburb of Augsburg. It was a place of intensive Lithuanian cultural life, where the composer worked until he moved to the USA.

At the beginning, Kačinskas acted as an accompanist and church organist only, but a few months later, at the request of his compatriots, he agreed to direct a mixed Lithuanian choir. It was difficult to prepare concert programmes because of the lack of sheet music. Kačinskas established contacts with Juozas Žilevičius, a former teacher living in the US, and received from him popular Lithuanian church hymns and songs. He also continued writing music himself. Five songs he composed during this period became some of the best examples of Lithuanian choral music. The Baltic Symphony Orchestra led by Kačinskas was also formed. Although the conditions for concerts were unfavourable, he succeeded in organising three concerts of symphonic music in 1947-1948, with the participation of Estonian violinist Hubert Aumer and Latvian cellist Atis Teichmanis. These programmes were based on the classical repertoire but also included Kačinskas’s symphonic poem Song to Light composed in Augsburg.

In 1948, when the mass emigration started, the choir and the symphony orchestra began to shrink and finally broke up; however, Kačinskas’s efforts were not in vain. He helped refugees to survive the difficult years in exile, and his compositions were later performed not only in America but also in free Lithuania. In March 1949, Kačinskas left unstable Europe and successfully reached North America.