“Spiewnik Domowy” by Moniuszko: prerequisites and achievements

Publikuota: 2019-06-10 Autorius: Alaksiej Fralou
“Spiewnik Domowy” by Moniuszko: prerequisites and achievements

Alaksiej Fralou, musicologist, bassoonist, assistant director of the Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater of the Republic of Belarus, artistic director of the soloists ensemble ‚Vytoki‘ and symphony orchestra ‚Capella Accademia‘


The first half of the XIX century was an era of a tectonic shift in cultures – both national and European, an era of the dislocation of many state and social systems and institutions, of the democratization of societies locked in a fierce combat with the old patriarchal and authoritarian monarchical system. It was a time of the Philomaths, early Romantics who grew up when the ruins of the freshly destroyed great state were still smouldering. They grew up listening to stories told by their parents and grandparents – outstanding teachers (such as Lelyavel) about their/our country, which was both majestic and beautiful, and was gradually becoming one of the most advanced countries in the world, thanks to the trends and reforms that so irritate authoritarian "royal neighbours." All those facts in the stories told by the parents and teachers of the future Philomaths showed them the beautiful ideal of the lost state.

The previous epochs of Enlightenment and Classicism gave the world a model of society that was partly utopian and idealistic but simultaneously desired for many just and fair people of different classes. The ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, charity, justice and truth will become the fundamental ones for future generations – the Romantics. The romantic souls of the future Philomaths eagerly took in these stories, and then their brilliant minds reworked them into socially progressive social and patriotic writings, creating not a formally national, but a locally oriented Romanticism of the Grand Duchy, which naturally coexisted with Rzeczpospolita-wide patriotism. The sons of Grandfather Stanislaw Moniuszko were excellent people of the same generation (slightly older than the Philomaths), the father and uncles of the future of the great composer who so strongly influenced by the formation of his personality.

Together with the social and patriotic values, of no less importance was the Christian self-identification of children and young people through education and training of their spiritual communities – church schools and monastery collegiums. It is impossible to overestimate the role of the Academies in Vilna and Polatsk – in raising a new generation of the elite that was to build upon the progressive trends in society. Formational moral standards and values were instilled at various levels and shaped noble philosophical ideals and models. Traditional Christian underpinnings and Enlightenment views and concepts formed at the turn of the centuries the progressive outlook of educated people, which created for the domestic public both a new pinnacle and a broad and broad, solid platform for the future.

The ideological and thematic content of the works by early Romantics conditioned and reshaped the genre palette in various art forms, especially music. Sometimes the previously "inferior" and unused genres for such situations were upgraded by the authors to the level and tasks and placed in a new context. Meanwhile, genre experimentation, the adaptation of forms and the renewal of expression means was taking place.

It was in such a cultural environment, in the first half of the XIX century, that the future great classic of Belarusian, Polish and world music, Stanislaw Moniuszko was born and grew up near Minsk, studied in Minsk and created his first musical opuses. He was influenced by both the general conditions for Belarusian boys and specific people in his family – his father, his uncles, especially Kazimierz, Dominik and Alexander – carriers of aristocratic culture. They formed his universe, composed of Belarusian, more narrowly, of local Minsk history and culture, and more broadly, of the shared heritage of the Grand Duchy, which belonged to many nations – the history of the multilingual and multifaith state, which remained a bright ideal during the era of domestic Romanticism. The context of the former joint Rzeczpospolita – a shared home for all our peoples – was the biggest universe inhabited by the young genius.

On these factors we dwelt in some detail, since it is them that became the mental, ideological, imaginative, thematic, amd genre foundations for the broad palette of "personal statements" by Moniuszko, which are found in his unique work under the title "Spiewnik Domowy" a "Home Songbook," which makes those collections an essentially a personal confession of the author and a musical encyclopedia of images.

Alongside opera and sacral music, "Spiewnik Domowy" is a particularly important part of the heritage of the composer. This is a collection of songs (over three hundred), prayers, "thoughts" and just songs that were intended to give to his people a "musical-poetic material" for singing in the private circle in their mother tongue (in the language they could understand). They were an expression of the thoughts of the author, a testimony to his ethical and aesthetic views and became a manifestation of his civic position and service to the people and a major innovative step in the development of national music.

However, on the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Litva "Historical songs" by Nemtsevich were highly appreciated. But Philomathss, as people with exceptional taste and feeling, had a rather ambiguous attitude to these works as songs. That's what Adam Mickiewicz wrote in 1823 in a letter to Ivan Chechetov: "What is not steeped in feeling is not suitable for singing. 'Historical Songs' by Nemtsevich are more suitable for reading than for playing and singing "(4, p. 347).

Perhaps because of natural fondness of casual friendly singing – Philomath poets begin to create their own "song fund", connected with their themes and aesthetic. Thus was born a cycle of songs, so dear and unifying for the Philomaths, which later was recorded by the wife of Tomasz Zahn, Brigita Sventazhetskaya (6, p. 97). The book was compiled in Zan's Belarusian family estate Zana of Kahachyn near Orsha in 1855 – the year of Zan's death.

Moniuszko, familiar with that line of work and having a close relationship with many of the abovementioned authors, went much further in this genre. He became one of the brightest stars of a new generation of philosophic romantics and enlighteners, first "romantic folklorists", who combined in his work the main trends of early Romanticism and went much further in knowledge and reflection of their land and its "mental code" through music, lifted its folk origins to academic heights.

It was chamber and vocal works that became the most convenient and appropriate form of expression for the author, enabled despite the imperfection of the semi-ruined "performance infrastructure" "their music", "our songs". Obviously, this idea was "overheard" by Moniuszko in Berlin, where he studied and observed the process of rapid formation of Romanticism in music and other arts. As Professor Skarabahatau points out, "while studying, Moniuszko thoroughly mastered the genre of song lyrics which, in the Austro-German culture was named Lied. Carrying the pictorial potential of lyrical songs, the German romantic songs stood out because of their accessibility and homeliness." Abstract intellectual "standards and stereotypes, developed by the epoch of Classicism and Enlightenment, they were overpowering in their elemental honesty and simplicity, revealing of something native, unique" (8, p. 73). Moniuszko himself writes: "German musicians are able to inspire with their selection of poetry, and their Schiller, Goethe and all the other famous poets repeatedly found the merriest melodies for themselves. It is sad to observe that we have none of those who compose music here have tried their hand at poetry, which has always been looking for its singer." (2, p. 157). However, having heard equivalent prototypes, Moniuszko reincarnates the idea using domestic material, adding a touch of his personal brilliance. With the intention "to create songs in the national spirit" and with the hope that the relevant texts, or, so to speak, singing verses will not be in short supply at home, Moniuszko turns to works by his fellow countrymen from central Belarus – Jan Chachot (his "peasant songs", that is, Belarusian songs – the crown jewel of the "Home Songbooks"), Uladzislaw Syrokomlya and others. The ballads also reflect the high poetry of Mickiewicz. And genre works by Vincent Dunin-Marcinkiewicz prove especially useful for creating a "comic operettas" – the Belarusian composer's early operas. Here is what he wrote in an article for "Home songbooks": "... I tried to draw lyrics from the best of our poets ... being convinced that these poems contain the most local character and flavor" (3, 9. ).

Indeed, the "Home Songbooks" are mostly composed of music to poems by famous Romantic authors who recreated popular Belarusian poetry, figurative content as academic literature, usually in Polish, which was then used in dealings with the educated class, and which was allowed to be used in printing by the tsarist censorship (the Belarusian language was virtually banned).

The main themes and characters, stories and images of the works are "a kind of diary of the composer, his musical book of lyrical sketches of Belarusian rural life" (8, p 74.). Reflected in it are prayers and work, "wedding, harvesting, war, orphanhood and much more. The songs feature not only people, but also Belarusian nature, spiritualized and and humanized," lovingly depicted, often using clear melodic intonational formulae of the Belarusian folklore and the sounds of nature (8, 74 c.). Especially characteristic of this series of works are the following ones: "Dubrova" (Oak Grove), "Myadzvedzik" (Little Bear), "Zyazyulka" (Cuckoo), "Salowka" (Nightingale), "Perapyolka" (Quail), "Zalataya Rybka" (Goldfish), "O, Byarozka Mila" (Oh, Dear Birch Tree) "Shto Tam Za Kvetka?" (What Flower Is That?) "Kalasok" (Ear of Wheat), "Akh Dalyoka" (Oh, It's Far), and others.

The famous professor, composer, musicologist Witold Rudinski (a graduate of Vilna University) and other leading Polish Moniuszko scholars do not deny "the thesis of Moniuszko's Belarusian origin, the Belarusian nature of his talent and distinguishing features of creative expression" (3, p. 11). Obvious facts of biography and the musicological analysis of the characteristic features of his works, including the comparative method of comparing it with folklore data, confirm these theses. And Moniuszko himself, as if to explain more clearly his music "... what is it national, native, local, what is like an echo of our childhood memories and will never stop being liked by the inhabitant of the land where they (the songs) were born and raised " (3, p. 9).

Naturally, parts of the genius's "Home Songbooks" published during his lifetime and after his death also contain other thematic pages, but they should rather be considered as an ornament and an indication that their author is not fixated upon one theme, for all its priority importance. And indeed, the Romantic era "brings into the European music world many new creative ideas and artistic phenomena, demonstrating the infinite diversity and at the same time the unity of the fundamental stylistic phenomena" (1, p. 175). As noted by a leading researcher of Belarusian music, doctor of art history, Professor V.U. Dadziyomava, "they share a common dominant mental and aesthetic feature for Romanticism – their individualized nature, manifested in the emancipation of the internal emotional impulses and subjective experiences at the level of personality, and in the incarnation of the national peculiarities of composers' schools at the level of regional musical and cultural communities (that is, at the macrolevel). For its part, the unique identity of the latter was crafted precisely by those creative people who in their music embodied the national pecualiarities of arts and became symbol of certain cultures (1, p. 175)."


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