Latvian Snapshots: Amber, Rīga Central Market, The Melancholic Waltz

As part of Latvia's centenary celebrations, the Latvian Institute produced a book called Latvia 100 Snapshot Stories. Over the next few weeks we will be reproducing a selection of the entries to give you a few flavors of the country. If you would like to read the whole thing, a free downloadable PDF is available at the Latvian Institute website.


Finding pieces of amber on the beach after a storm is thrilling! We know that it is millions of years old and we can’t help 
but look for that poor imprisoned insect each time. We are secretly proud of the Amber Road that started from the Gulf of Rīga and supplied the Roman, Greek, Minoan and Egyptian civilisations with the treasured “sun-stone”, as if we somehow had something to do with it.

Edgars Iltners. Dzintara meklētāji. 1959

We smiled at those who said we were becoming part of Europe when we joined the European Union, because what we really wanted to say was – we were a part of a pan-European marketplace long ago! Medieval alchemists were certain that amber had magical properties. We may not go that far, but, nevertheless, amber continues to draw us in.

Rīga Central Market

In the case of Rīga Central Market, no-one would accuse you of going too far if you applied the term “cathedral of 
commerce” to describe it, as it combines clever design thinking and imposing architectural form. The German army built several air ship hangars at the Vaiņode airfield in Latvia during WWI, but after the war, airships didn’t quite “take off” as expected. When it came to building a new market for a rapidly developing new city, a local design, incorporating an unused piece of exemplary modern engineering, won the international design competition.

Using the airfield’s iron hangar constructions, the market pavilions were clad in the new fashion of the time, Art Deco, an elegant and understated backdrop for the colorful, bustling life of traders and consumers in what was to become one of the biggest markets in Europe.

The Melancholic Waltz

The Melancholic Waltz (1904) by Emīls Dārziņš is one of the most popular Latvian symphonic music pieces. The use of  “melancholic” in its title is only partly true, as the 7-minute piece in A major creates an atmosphere of light wistfulness, embracing simplicity, sincerity and romanticism.

The story goes that the music came to the composer as a vision on a summer night. In the morning, he sat down by the piano trying to capture the melody he heard during the night. That was the beginning of the Melancholic Waltz.

Either speaking to the Latvian soul or illustrating it, the melody certainly resonates.

Text reproduced by kind permission of the Latvian Institute from Latvia: 100 Snapshot Stories
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