Mikalojus K. Čiurlionis (10.09.1875–28.03.1911)
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis worked as a musician, composer and painter. He studied in Leipzig, among other places.
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis was born on September 10th, 1875 in Orany, Russia, (today Varėna) in the southeast of present-day Lithuania, as the eldest of nine children. His father was Lithuanian and worked as an organist; his mother came from a family of German origin, but Polish was spoken in the family. M. K. Čiurlionis' musical talent was recognised and encouraged at an early age. He received his first lessons from his father. At the age of 14, he began training at a private orchestra school in Plungė in northwest Lithuania. From 1892, at the age of 17, he was a flutist in the court orchestra of Polish Prince Michał Ogiński. M. K. Čiurlionis studied piano and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory from 1894 to 1899 with financial support from Ogiński.
Immediately after his years of study in Leipzig (1901–1902), he began training as a painter in the autumn of 1902 – first at a drawing school until 1904, and from 1904 to 1906 as a student at the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw. To earn a living, he gave music lessons. M. K. Čiurlionis' combination of music and painting still influences both art forms today. Throughout his life, both arts were part of his creative work.
In the spring of 1905, paintings by Čiurlionis were shown for the first time at an exhibition. In the years that followed, more important exhibitions were held in Warsaw, Paris, Moscow, Kiev, St. Petersburg and Vilnius. His enormous workload, constantly pushed to his physical limits, is also shown by the fact that he created about 50 paintings in the first six months of 1907.
Even if at times his musical work took a back seat to his painting, he was tirelessly active in both the musical and the visual arts throughout his life. His painting inspired his compositions and vice versa. "I imagine the world as a painted symphony," he once wrote.
The years from 1907 until his death in 1911 – he first lived in Vilnius and then settled in St. Petersburg in 1909 – were marked by numerous symphonic works and his work for Lithuanian folk music, for "his" Lithuania in general. He was instrumental in founding the "Lithuanian Art Association", of which he became vice-president.
These years of creative activity and constant material deprivation dramatically undermined Čiurlionis' health.
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis died on March 28th, 1911 in the Czerwony Dwor sanatorium in Pustelnik. His grave is in the Rasy cemetery in Vilnius.
2. Private Life
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis' childhood was shaped by music, nature and also by the old customs of his homeland. When he saw the Baltic Sea for the first time with Prince Ogiński's school orchestra in Palanga, it probably made the most lasting impression on his entire life. From then on, the sea shaped his artistic work as a painter and composer.
"I want to compose a symphony from the sound of the waves, from the mysterious language of the hundred-year-old forest, from the twinkling of the stars, from our folk songs and from boundless homesickness. I want to climb the highest peaks inaccessible to mortals and weave a wreath from the most beautiful stars for my Zose – my wife," he wrote in 1908.
In 1909, Čiurlionis married the writer Sofija Kymantaité. Despite his great diligence and tireless attempts to earn a living for his family with his art, he was always dependent on his wife's financial means. Presumably, the heavy workload and the loneliness he often felt led to increasing health problems and depression. Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis died shortly after the birth of his daughter Danutė, who was born to his wife on May 30th, 1910.
3. Connection to Leipzig
From October 16th, 1901 to July 14th, 1902 Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis was a student at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Leipzig. His teacher there in music theory and composition, Carl Reinecke, certified him on the final Teacher’s Certificate: “Mr. C. was always very diligent and has acquired a respectable compositional technique.” Another important teacher during his studies in Leipzig was Salomon Jadassohn, who died in 1902 – probably one of the reasons for Čiurlionis to leave the city.
Čiurlionis was a frequent visitor to concerts at the Gewandhaus during his time as a student in Leipzig. He studied works by Berlioz, R. Strauss and others in the libraries of the conservatory and the publisher C. F. Peters.
Only thanks to the financial support of the doctor J. Markewicz and Princess Ogińska was Čiurlionis able to complete his studies in Leipzig and graduate with a teacher's diploma in 1902.
In Leipzig he not only received a sound musical education, but also important stimuli in the field of fine arts, especially through the work of Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger. In addition, he attended philosophy lectures by Wilhelm Wundt as well as seminars in aesthetics and history.
Although Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis can be considered a pioneer in both modern painting and music, he was not perceived as such at the time. As a Lithuanian, he was denied an international reception for a long time. Significant for his work was the strong connection and mutual inspiration between painting and composition, including stylistically. The emerging development from a formal simplicity, for example in his early piano pieces, to a more complex polyphony and musical thinking in series and cycles is reflected in the perspective of his paintings or the recurrence of various motifs in his painting cycles.
Čiurlionis created almost 300 pictures. Of these, two thirds are paintings. The true extent of his musical oeuvre was not recorded or even archived during his lifetime. Much of it was lost over time, a considerable part probably during the war years. Today, about 400 of his compositional works are archived. Of these, over 200 works for piano make up the largest part. Vocal works are also part of Čiurlionis' musical heritage, his many folk song arrangements for choir being among the most important.
His complete works also include graphics, photographs, vignettes and initials. It is also known that Čiurlionis was intensively engaged in his own literary attempts. However, he did not publish them. Only a few fragments from publications by others in journals have survived. The originals of his diaries and manuscripts were probably lost.
Mikalojus K. Čiurlionis is revered in Lithuania and far beyond the borders of his homeland. In 1969, a gallery of his artworks was opened in the then-new rooms of the M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art. On January 1st, 1997, the museum received the status of a national museum.
His paintings are now shown at international exhibitions. His music is played in concert halls all over the world. Renowned musicologists and art historians publish books and essays on Čiurlionis. In the 1980s, Edition Peters Leipzig/Dresden published an edition with selected piano works by the composer (editor Dorothee Eberlein).
Miške (In the Forest), symphonic poem (1900/01)
Jūra (The Sea), symphonic poem (1903–07)
Kęstutis, overture (sketches, 1902)
Jūratė, opera (sketches, 1908/09)
De profundis, cantata for choir and organ (1899)
Various sacred choral pieces (1898–1902)
Piano Sonata in F major (1898)
Piano Sonata in C sharp minor (1898, lost)
Jūra (The Sea), cycle (1908)
16 cycles of preludes
Preludes and fugues
Sonata of the Spring (1907)
Solar Sonata (1907)
Sonata of the Serpent (1908)
Sonata of the Summer (1908)
Sonata of the Sea (1908)
Sonata of the Pyramids (1908)
Stellar Sonata (1908)
Funeral Symphony, 7 pictures (1903)
Creation of the World, 13 pictures (1905/06)
The Zodiac, 12 pictures (1907–09)
Fugue of the Fir Tree (1907/08)
Miške, symphonic poem (1900/01) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BSqYLFSq4s
Jūra, symphonic poem (1903–07) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kGTf5yXW1g
Prelude in F major/A minor (from 1896) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chsY8jtT_i0
6. Sources and Links
Andriušytė-Žukienė, Rasa: Das Schaffen von Mikalojus Konstantinas C̆iurlionis im Zusammentreffen zweier Kunstepochen, Vilnius 2008
Burokaitė, Jūratė: Musikerbriefe als Spiegel überregionaler Kulturbeziehungen in Mittel-und Osteuropa. Briefe von M. K. Čiurlionis und anderen Musikern aus Leipzig nach Litauen (1901-1924), Vilnius & Leipzig 2003.
Sabina, Stefana: Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis und die neuromantische Fantasie, http://faustkultur.de/226-0-MK-Ciurlionis.html