Schlager and popular (entertainment) music culture in the 1920s and 30s on January 31-February 03, 2023 in Riga, Latvia

Schlager and popular (entertainment) music culture in the 1920s and 30s

An international conference dedicated to the 130th anniversary of the birth of Riga’s Tango King Oscar Strok

Dates: January 31 – February 3, 2023

Organiser: Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music (Riga, Latvia)

Venue: Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music (Riga, Latvia)


January 6, 2023, will mark the 130th anniversary of the birth of Oscar Strok (1893, Daugavpils –1975, Riga). Strok was a pianist and composer who, in present-day Latvia, has been given the informal title of Riga’s Tango King.

Strok was born into a Jewish family in the second-largest city in Latvia, Daugavpils (former Dünaburg/Dvinsk). In 1904 he left his hometown and moved to Saint Petersburg. In 1922, Strok and his family moved from Saint Petersburg to Riga, the capital of Latvia. In the 1930s, he became one of the best-known composers of schlager (a term adopted from the German language to describe current trends in popular culture) in northeastern Europe, especially with his tango songs in the Russian language: “Black Eyes” (Chyornye glaza), “Light-Blue Eyes” (Golubye glaza), “My Last Tango” (Moyo poslednee tango), “Tell Me Why?” (Skazhite, pochemu?), “Blue Rhapsody” (Sinyaya rapsodiya), “Sleep, My Poor Heart” (Spi, moyo bednoe serdtse). It should be noted that, in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, German language and culture, as well as the Russian language, were of great historical influence in the area of modern-day Latvia. Apart from his native Yiddish, Strok’s second main language was Russian.

Strok revealed to the world the bright talent of the legendary singer Pyotr Leshchenko, who became very popular in the Russian emigree society in Europe and the United States in the 1930s. Strok also collaborated with well-known singers and musicians in Riga (Latvian National Opera singers Mariss Vētra, Arturs Priednieks-Kavara, Sergey Aldyanov and his jazz orchestra, etc.), Warsaw (Mieczysław Fogg, Jerzy Siemionow), Berlin (Marek Weber and his dance orchestra, Otto Dobrindt and his ensemble), Vienna (Frank Fox and his dance orchestra), Bucharest (Nikolay Chereshnya and his dance orchestra) and elsewhere.

Several of Strok’s tango songs vividly illuminate the process in which tango music travelled to and was adapted in Europe in the first half of the 20th century. In northeastern Europe, it interacted with current popular music trends and stylistics from Germany (schlager), Russia, France, Italy, the United States and other countries. Of course, it is also intriguing to discuss whether specific countries or regions nurtured a special national schlager (popular) music style, in other words, whether a process of interaction between the local and the global, the cosmopolitan, took place.

The 130th anniversary of Strok’s birth provides an excellent opportunity to focus research on the processes of schlager and, more broadly, popular (entertainment) music culture in the 1920s and 30s in northeastern Europe as well as other countries in Europe and around the world. It also provides a stimulus for analysing the impact of this period’s entertainment music on popular culture in the second half of the 20th century and the 21st century.

The conference organisers welcome submissions within (but not limited to) the following areas:

- usage of the terms (notions) ‘schlager’ and ‘popular music’ in the study of 1920s and 30s entertainment culture in different countries around the world and various aspects of this issue;

- representation of schlager music (including its interaction with jazz) in Germany and central and northeastern Europe in the 1920s and 30s;

- representation of schlager-equivalent popular music genres and styles (including their interaction with jazz) in the 1920s and 30s in countries without previous long-lasting influence from the German language and culture;

- contribution of vivid figures (composers, musicians, singers, producers, managers) in the schlager and, more broadly, popular music flourishing in the 1920s and 30s around the world;

- the importance of the music industry (publishers of sheet music, shellac record companies, dance clubs and other entertainment venues, radio, press) in the boom in popular (entertainment) music in Europe and other countries around the world in the 1920s and 30s;

- the influence of schlager and other characteristic entertainment music genres and styles of the first half of the 20th century on the development of pop music in the second half of the 20th century;

- echoes of schlager and other pre-Second World War popular music styles and aesthetics in modern pop music;

- contribution of Riga’s Tango King Oscar Strok to popular (schlager) music culture in the first half and second half of the 20th century.

The official conference language is English.

A publication of select contributions is planned.

Programme Committee:

Jānis Kudiņš (chair, Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music)

Anda Beitāne (Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music)

Lauma Mellēna-Bartkeviča (Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music)

Indriķis Veitners (Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music)

Alberts Rokpelnis (Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music)

Yuiko Asaba (University of Huddersfield, The United Kingdom / Osaka University, Japan)

Rūta Stanevičiūtė (Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre)

Kevin C. Karnes (Emory University, College of Arts and Sciences, USA)

Special guest of conference: Dmitri Dragilew (Oskar Strock & Eddie Rosner Heritage Society, Germany)

Proposals must be submitted by September 30, 2022, in online format and must include the following:

- name, surname, title of the presenter/s;

- institutional affiliation;

- a title and written summary of the proposal (300 words maximum);

- curriculum vitae (150 words maximum) and contact information.

Please submit your abstract through the online submission form:

The proposals will be peer-reviewed. Please note that all successful applicants must register for the conference.

The timetable for this process is as follows:

April 10, 2022: circulation of the call;

September 30, 2022: deadline for submissions;

October 15, 2022: results communicated to the applicants and launch of registration.

Registration opens on October 20, 2022, and closes on November 10, 2022.

There is a registration fee of EUR 120.00 for participation in the conference. The registration fee must be transferred to the organiser’s bank account within the specified terms during the registration process.

The registration fee covers the following items and events during the conference for participants (not including the conference itself):

- conference materials (programme, additional up-to-date information);

- coffee and refreshments during official breaks (between conference sessions);

- concert and conference reception (dinner) at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music.

The conference is planned as an in-person event. In the case that an in-person conference will not be possible, the conference will take place online and the conference registration fee will be reduced.

Further information, including recommendations for travel and accommodation, will be provided later.

For additional information, please contact: [email protected]

Name: Jazeps Vitols Latvian Academy of Music
Address: K. Barona Str. 1

Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music/JVLMA/brings together talented students, erudite teachers, scientists and supportive employees in a dynamic and highly innovative environment, where creative energy and the spirit of experiment abound. Each second signals a targeted performance by young music professionals focused on achieving an increasingly high-quality result. The main activities of JVLMA are the performing arts, pedagogy, sound engineering, musicology and research.