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ClassicsOnline Home » CIURLIONIS, M.K.: Piano Music, Vol. 1 (Rubackyte)
One of Lithuania’s leading artistic figures, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis pursued a career as a painter as well as a musician, seeing all art as springing from the same source. His earlier works inhabit a romantic idiom, with the colorful influences of folk-music and the beauty of the countryside intermingled with pieces showing his development while at the Conservatoires of Warsaw and Leipzig. Mūza Rubackytė’s recordings of Čiurlionis have been described as ‘flawless’ (American Record Guide) and she herself as ‘one of today’s most important pianists’ (Chicago Tribune).
By Jed Distler
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911)
Piano Works Vol. 1
Lithuania has enjoyed a distinguished past. From the time in the mid-thirteenth century when the country, under its warrior leader, turned to Christianity and made peace with the Teutonic knights, there was territorial expansion that extended to the Black Sea. The union with Poland in the fourteenth century, under the Grand Duke Jagiello, lasted until 1795, when Poland was partitioned and Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. In 1917 Lithuania became an independent republic, a situation that lasted until the secret protocol of the Soviet-German treaty of 1939.
Lithuania was relatively late in developing its own culture. Union with Poland led to the use of the Polish language by the ruling classes and limited national artistic development, while absorption into the Russian Empire presented a threat of another kind. Music tended, in consequence, to be foreign rather than national in form, except for the indigenous art of the peasantry. The country shared in the music of Catholic Europe and of the Counter-Reformation, but, as in Russia itself, it was the nineteenth century that brought a new current of national feeling and a sense of national identity, in part through the work of the Polish poet Mickiewicz, friend and inspiration to Chopin, who made Vilnius the centre of romantic interest. He had studied at the university there, and based much of his earlier work on legends of Lithuanian epic heroism. Like Chopin, he chose exile in Paris, avoiding the Polish attempts at independence of 1830. The abortive rising against the Tsarist government in 1863 led to the banning of publications in Lithuanian, unless printed in Cyrillic, a prohibition only lifted in 1904. National music found expression in choral singing, and amateur orchestras, often in primitive surroundings, and in the foundation of organ schools.
A distinguished figure in the arts in Lithuania, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis was born on 22 September 1875 in the small southern Lithuanian town of Varena. Two years later his family moved to Druskininkai, where he spent his childhood and adolescence. A few years later another artist, the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, to be strongly influenced by Čiurlionis, was born in the same city. The latter studied piano and composition at the Warsaw Music Institute, followed by a period of tuition in composition at the Leipzig Conservatory. On his return in 1904, to the Warsaw School of Fine Arts, there followed exhibitions of his paintings in Warsaw, Vilnius and St Petersburg. At the same time he continued his parallel career in music, directing a Lithuanian choir in Warsaw and a choir in Vilnius, where he settled in 1907. He was the founder and director of the Union of Lithuanian Painters and international recognition of his work as a painter was assured by his membership of the Russian Mir Iskusstva, World of Art Society in St Petersburg. His manifold activities were brought to an end by his untimely death in 1911 at the age of 35.
The work of Čiurlionis was based on the view that all arts stem essentially from the same source, however different they may seem. Several of his paintings were based on musical structures, classified as cycles of fugues, sonatas, and so on. A poem by Čiurlionis has the form of a sonata, while much of his music is pictorial. His compositions include two symphonic poems, In the Forest and The Sea, a string quartet and a variety of pieces for piano or organ and choral works. His piano pieces are mostly short and lead from the romanticism of the nineteenth century to a more modern idiom, influenced by expressionism, serialism or neoclassicism, all of which may be found.
This first volume of piano pieces by Čiurlionis includes earlier compositions, representing a more romantic approach. These were written between 1898 and 1902 and give a clear indication of his development as a composer. The influence of the Warsaw Conservatory is apparent in the Sonata, VL 155, and of Leipzig in the Chansonette, Dainele, VL 199. There is also a constant influence from Lithuania itself, especially in the numerous pieces written in Druskininkai during the happy summer of 1901, when Čiurlionis was moved to daily composition by the natural beauty of the region and by traditions of Lithuanian folk-music.
— Vytautas Landsbergis
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CIURLIONIS, M.K.: Piano Music, Vol. 1 (Rubackyte)