On the road between Limbazsi and Vidrizsi, some 60 km north-east of Riga, lies the village of Igate, where the parish school in which Emilis Melngailis was born in 1874 still stands. The original single-storey building of 1868 had a further storey added in 1904. The school closed in the 1950s; now it commemorates the composer, who died in 1954, and at the same time serves as a local history museum, re-creating a classroom and incorporating the surrounding fields and a barn displaying farm implements. The museum opened in 1984.


Melngailis is as important in Latvia for his pioneer collecting of folk music as for his work as a composer. His life is chronicled in the exhibition that lines the classroom walls and overflows into three further rooms. Music was important to his father, who taught there. On display are photographs; documents of all sorts, including correspondence and his own newspaper articles and reviews; his Latvian folksong field notebooks and a map of where he collected folk music; his own collection of folk instruments together with his detailed drawings of instruments he saw and heard; his editions of folksongs and dances; programmes from all over the world of Latvian song festivals in which he took part, and awards he received; his chess set and fish-scaler (he was a keen angler) and his baton.

In his many roles – as composer, ethnomusicologist, professor at the Latvian Conservatory in Riga and conductor of his own choir and numerous folksong festivals – he played an active and nurturing role in the cultural life of his country during a period when it was struggling to gain its own identity. On the centenary of his birth a plaque was erected on the school, and nearby a small memorial garden adorned with a characterful bust of Melngailis was dedicated to his memory.

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