Stanisław Moniuszko’s Ecclesiastical Music Composed in Vilnius: Songs, Compositions for the Organ, and Masses

Publikuota: 2019-06-10 Autorius: Laima Budzinauskienė
Stanisław Moniuszko’s Ecclesiastical Music Composed in Vilnius: Songs, Compositions for the Organ, and Masses

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Laima Budzinauskienė, musicologist, head of the Department of Music History at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, researcher of the Lithuanian Culture Research Institute


Due to objective historical reasons and subtleties of the artistic life of the 19th century, the repertoire of Vilnius church chapels and organists was highly diverse: in the churches, works of foreign professional composers were performed along with music written by local amateur composers and chapel leaders. The spread of creative thought in the city was troublesome, too: during the ceremonies, the musicians were not always willing to share their repertoire and a good organist was hard to find.

While living in Vilnius, Stanisław Moniuszko (1819–1872) was composing music bearing in mind certain conditions and specific performers. Most of his church music created in Vilnius later served as motivation for the composer to work further on the well-tested genres. It is unfair that, until now, in the general context of S. Moniuszko's work, his liturgical works composed in Vilnius have been considered to have a somewhat background role (except for The Litanies of the Gate of Dawn). As an author of ecclesiastical music, Moniuszko was, first and foremost, a cosmopolitan. He had no compatriot church music inspirer or learners who would follow in his footsteps. Also, we need to point out that because of the already-mentioned complicated migration of creative thought among Vilnius churches, Moniuszko’s works were not adequately appreciated by the Vilnius clergy, publishers or chapel leaders[1]. Yet, one can observe numerous thematic, structural and compositional similarities between the church works by Moniuszko and those by other Vilnius liturgical music composers of the 19th century; there seemed to be a somewhat peculiar, typical of Vilnius, 19th-century tradition of composing ecclesiastical music which, looking from the present perspective, also influenced the works of S. Moniuszko.

Moniuszko created about 90 ecclesiastical works and about 60 (!) of them were composed in Vilnius. These are hymns (more than half of them written in the Polish language), Masses (3?), The Litanies of the Gate of Dawn (4), various compositions for the organ, etc. The number of the performers for each of these pieces varies greatly from solo (with the organ accompaniment or, less often, with the piano accompaniment) to vocal instrumental compositions. It is hard to identify the chronology of Moniuszko’s church music works written in Vilnius as, unfortunately, the composer did not record the appearance of all compositions. In addition to this, we can barely observe any consistent trend of creative development or thematic patterns in Moniuszko’s liturgical works created during the Vilnius period.

In Vilnius, Moniuszko wrote 16 church songs [2]. These are psalms, hymns, prayers, songs to Virgin Mary, and Christmas songs. Of all of these, we could distinguish six songs composed for baritone solo. Apparently, they were dedicated to Achilles Józef Bonoldi (1821–1871), a close friend and companion of Moniuszko’s, a soloist and performer of many works of the composer. The melodic line of the vocal part of these six songs is broad, expressive and reminds of opera arias while the role of the accompaniment is highly diverse: at times, the accompaniment merely supports the vertical harmony whereas sometimes it is complex, with a broad texture, like that of Fryderyk Chopin’s (1810–1849) music.

While living in Vilnius, Moniuszko created dozens of liturgical compositions, all of various volumes and themes, for a mixed choir a capella to the accompaniment of an instrumental ensemble. There are three hymns written for this particular performance that are worth emphasising, i.e. Boże Coś Polskię ... (of which only a fragment has survived), Chwała Bogu, and Powstańcie, Powstańcie. Manuscript sources evidence that Moniuszko wrote one of the hymns (also known under the title of Benedictus) to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vilnius.

when working as an organist in the Church of Sts Johns, could directly witness the feeble Vilnius organ music repertoire. Apparently, such a repertoire hardly existed at all. Moniuszko happily welcomed every new work composed for the organ by the contemporaries and he, too, created harmonisations of popular hymns, preludes, but unfortunately did not write the score for all compositions. It is worth noticing that almost all of Moniuszko's works for the organ were written in Vilnius. Eventually, this "forced” way of composing established a goal — to enrich and alter the repertoire of organists. On his own initiative, the composer published two collections of music for organists, Pieśni naszego Kościoła z harmonią Stanisława Moniuszki, na organy ułożone i do grania przy Mszy czytanej przeznaczone (The Songs of Our Church...) and Nieszpory i Pieśń ostrobramska Witaj Święta, ułożone na Organy z harmonią Stanisława Moniuszki (The Vespers and Song of the Gate of Dawn Be Honoured...) Moniuszko included all his works for the organ into the two collections. The first collection, which received more appreciation and was purchased more actively, consisted of 14 compositions, organ harmonisations of popular songs of that time (from short several-bar compositions to well-elaborated preludes, similar to choral fantasies). Considering the context of the two collections and even all Moniuszko’s works for the organ, we could distinguish two pieces — Gorzkie Żale and the prelude Idzie, Idzie Bóg Prawdziwy — for their elaboration and scale.

Moniuszko composed Mass cycles throughout his life. While living in Vilnius, he wrote three (?) Masses in the Polish language, in А-minor, Е-minor and a funeral Mass (?) in D-minor[3]. Should we compare these to the Masses composed in Warsaw, we will acknowledge that the Vilnius cycles had not yet revealed all Moniuszko’s professionalism. It should be noted that in the latter we do not recognise any hint of the national character. On the contrary, these works are like an example of most musical pieces of pseudo-classicism: Masses in A-minor and E-minor are comparable to the Masses by amateur composers Florjan Bobrowski (1779–1846?) and Adalbert Dankowski (1760–1814), both coming from the Vilnius surroundings, as well as by Polish composer Józef Krogulski (1815–1842), Józef Elsner (1769–1854) and Karol Kurpiński (1785–1857).

Moniuszko’s Masses in A-minor and E-minor were written to the texts by poet Antoni Edward Odyniec (1804–1885). In Vilnius of that time, the composer's ambition to create a Mass in the Polish language had to appear absolutely innovative; it was not merely because of employing new texts in a liturgy but because of the search for original melodic forms and means of expression. Even the whole structure of the text of the Mass cycle was modified. For instance, in Mass in E-minor, the first part of the cycle titled Kyrie opens with the words "Panie! Panie! Zmiłuj się nad nami!” (“Domine! Domine! Miserere nostril!”).

When discussing Moniuszko’s Masses composed in Vilnius, it is their laconism, simplicity in musical forms and means of performance that become exceptional: duplication of vocals in thirds and sixths, domination of uncomplicated rhythm, frequent syllabic relation between the word and melody. The composition of performers is unusual: Mass in A-minor is written for two-voice, while Mass in E-minor is written for three-voice female (children?) choir and the organ. We may assume that the Masses were written for the children ensemble, occasionally led by Moniuszko himself, at the Charity Society School. In Mass in E-minor, we could distinguish the organ party: it is more independent, more complex and is not confined to the duplication of vocal parts (the composer was likely to be playing the organ himself when performing the Mass).

Written sources evidence that in 1854, S. Moniuszko’s Mass in E-Minor was performed by an amateur choir and an orchestra in the Church of Sts. Johns. According to music historian Mariam Azizbekova, the same performance was given again in Vilnius Cathedral, in 1855. "After a few days, the press wrote that Moniuszko composed and together with amateurs performed wonderful music.” [4] Vitoldas Rudzinskis, the author of a monograph dedicated to S. Moniuszko and a musicologist, states that in 1855, Mass in E-minor was published in Vilnius[5]; however, no information confirming this fact is available. Apparently, the musicologist was misled by a letter written by Moniuszko to a friend, in which the composer is considering to publish the Mass[6].

In the works of the Polish composers of the 19th century, the genre of Requiem could be rarely encountered. Few examples can be found in the survived musical manuscripts of Vilnius churches. In the 19th century, “a specific variety of missa solemnis was emerging — a religious non-liturgical branch of a dramatic, concert-like Requiem, and also of secular Requiem created to poetic texts — and obliterated the ecclesiastical branch.”[7] It is this variety that the composition of the funeral songs written by Moniuszko in 1850 were close to: the composition appeared shortly after the funeral of the composer’s mother, Elżbieta Moniuszkowa, who had died in the same year. It was titled Pieśni Żałobne do Mszy Świętej za Dusze Zmarlych (Mournful Songs for a Mass for the Souls of the Dead) written in the D-minor tonality that is symbolically chosen for and typical of the Requiem genre. Again, the text of the funeral songs is in the Polish language — this time by poet Alojzy Feliński (1771–1820); the composition of the performers consisted of 4-voice mixed choir, an orchestra and the organ. It is interesting that the genuine Requiem (in the Latin language), written by S. Moniuszko in 1870, was composed for the same composition of performers.

On concluding our review of S. Moniuszko’s songs, works for the organ, and Masses composed in Vilnius, we should emphasise that almost 300 years after the works by Renaissance composers Wacław Szamotulczyk (Venceslaus Samotulinus ?1535–1609?), Marcin Leopold Lwowczyk (16th century) and Mikołaj Gomółka (?1535–1609?) and many others appeared, it was Moniuszko, a composer who, after a long break, sought to bring back professional music to churches. The Vilnius period was crucial for Moniuszko’s ecclesiastical works; they contain strong faith, solemnity of religious experiences, and unique depth of prayer expression. It is also obvious that the Vilnius environment did not put any constraints on the composer’s ideas. If in terms of the musical context, Moniuszko’s compositions written in Vilnius were cosmopolitan, then the text in the Polish language employed in the majority of his works is evidence of Moniuszko's ambition to keep up with the emerging creative tendencies of the 19th century.



It should be emphasised that among the music manuscripts that have survived or are being kept in Vilnius Capitula and other archives, one will find very few ecclesiastical works by S. Moniuszko. Nor are they mentioned in the lists of notations of Vilnius church chapels of the late 19th century. Apparently, S. Moniuszko's church compositions were performed in the Church of Sts Johns and the chapel of the Gate of Dawn, and their music archives of which have not yet been discovered.

[2] See more: Budzinauskienė, L. Stanisławo Moniuszkos Vilniaus laikotarpio bažnytinė kūryba. I dalis: bendra apžvalga, giesmės ir kūriniai vargonams, Menotyra, 2011, T. 18, Nr. 3, p. 214-226.

[3] See more: Budzinauskienė, L. Stanisławo Moniuszkos Vilniaus laikotarpio bažnytinė kūryba. II dalis: „Aušros Vartų litanijos“ ir mišios, Menotyra, 2012, T. 19, Nr. 3, p. 200-216.

[4] Aзизбекова, М. Фортепианное искусство в музыкальной жизни Вильнюса (1-я половина ХIХ века). Вильнюс, 1976, c. 150.

[5] Rudzinskis, V. Stanislavas Moniuška. Vilnius, 1993, p. 103.

[6] See more: Moniuszko, S. Listy zebrane. Warszawa, 1969.

[7] Kalavinskaitė, D. Bažnytiniai žanrai šiuolaikinėje lietuvių kūryboje: tarp bažnytinės muzikos paveldo ir atnaujintos liturgijos poreikių. Lietuvos muzikologija. 2011, T. 12, p. 65.

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