The Lithuanian Dimension of Stanisław Moniuszko's Works

Publikuota: 2019-06-10 Autorius: Vida Bakutytė
The Lithuanian Dimension of Stanisław Moniuszko's Works

Dr. Vida Bakutytė, musicologist and theater historian, chief researcher of the Lithuanian Culture Research Institute


Stanisław Moniuszko is a distinguished representative of the national trend of the European Romanticism in music. His works and all further music activities are a phenomenon of paramount importance to the musical environment of Lithuania in the 19th century taking an exceptional part in the history of the Lithuanian music. Especially significant, both for Lithuania and the composer himself, was Moniuszko’s work in Vilnius.

The creative credo of the composer was enormously influenced by the history and customs of the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania where Moniuszko lived; in particular, the Belarussian, Polish and Lithuanian folklore and mindset. In this regard, it is the Lithuanian dimension that is important when it comes to defining the peculiarity of Moniuszko's work.

As we know, the national aspect of professional music is not determined by citation of folk music (Moniuszko hardly ever cited folklore), especially when a considerable part of the musical folklore share features common for many nations. In the 20th century, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, too, wrote about this phenomenon emphasising that in Lithuania “when singing, we can often hear songs that are fairly the same as we would hear in Poland, Ukraine or Russia. These songs are not clearly Lithuanian, but not Polish and Russian either — they are international” [1]. In the works by Moniuszko, as is typical of Romantic-era music, the citation of folklore is not as meaningful as the idea of the musical piece, the choice of its theme, the spirit of the piece that can be occasionally recognised from its intonations, melodic line and rhythm. Numerous works by Moniuszko echo the melodies or rhythms of Polish or Belarusian folk music; the latter, however, will not be encountered in the music of The Lament of Vytolis and The Lithuanian Marching Songs whereas in the cantatas Milda and Nijolė one may even distinguish the sounds of Samogitian songs.

Already in his first works during the studies in Berlin, Moniuszko revealed his romantic worldview by choosing his land's symbols - the genre of ballad favoured by Romantic composers, Adam Mickiewicz, and the historical themes of the homeland — as signs of the artistic identification. An example of this is the ballad Three Budris (as the autograph says, “Die drei Budrise. Litauische Ballade”). The ballad narrates about the three sons of a Lithuanian named Budris who went to fight in the regiments of Algirdas, Kęstutis and Skirgaila and what they brought from the war was not silver or amber, but Polish wives. This piece is close to Franz Schubert's ballad Erlkönig: its reserved mood suggests the Lithuanian war songs, historical songs and ballads. It is worth emphasising that the Lithuanian translations (by Liudvikas Adomas Jucevičius, Stanislovas Dagilis, Mečislovas Davainis-Silvestraitis (Vyturys), Petras Arminas) of the ballad Three Budris appeared in the 19th century[2]. By this we could make an assumption regarding a possible performance of the ballad in the Lithuanian language, especially when the song was included in Moniuszko's Home Songbook (Śpiewnik domowy) that one could find in almost every home.

For some of his works, Moniuszko as a Romantic composer employed scenes from the Lithuanian history and mythology. While travelling to Samogitia, not only was the composer searching for emotional renewal and creative inspiration, but also, as we might expect, for the sound of the spoken or sung Lithuanian Samogitian word. The evidence of this is Moniuszko's own statement that was written by Teodor Tripplin, a Polish physician and writer, whose diary was published in Vilnius in 1858.

The outcome of this quest becomes particularly noticeable in one of the most prominent works by Moniuszko, the cantata Milda based on the composer's favoured literary source – The Lament of Vytolis, the first part of Józef Ignacy Kraszewski's trilogy of the Lithuanian songs titled Anafielas. The composer's wife, Alexandra, wrote to J.I. Kraszewski that Milda was "his [Moniuszko’s] beloved child in whom he collected all the pearls of the longing Lithuanian melodies." The cantata was performed in Vilnius in the same year and in the same place as the two-act opera Halka — in the Müller Hall in 1848. The music in Milda surprised the contemporaries with its distinctiveness, innovative harmony and melody: this impression was reinforced by the Lithuanian words saule (the sun), dungus (the sky), and the names of Lithuanian mythological characters that could be heard in the performance. Several authors, who have written about this musical work, have acknowledged the spirit of Samogitian folk songs it contains.

Milda is written for soloists, a mixed choir and orchestra. It has an orchestral introduction and epilogue. In the first edition of the musical score, each episode is followed by a scene titled A Story (Opowiadanie). The first scene (No.1, A Story) sings: “On the banks of the Nemunas river, are the sacred woods, old as Lithuania, old as Lithuania’s gods” [3]. In the Allegretto of this scene, we can hear music of dance character which is close to the Lithuanian intonations.

scene titled Peasant Choir (Chór wiejski), No. 2, also known as Lithuanian Choir) features a group of Lithuanian peasants who put out the fire in their home and came to Milda’s consecrated forest. Romuald Podbereski, a publicist and public figure, wrote, "This song <…> was created by an absolutely genuine spirit of the Samogitian folk song. It was not an original song that was taken, as banal compilers would do, but its spirit, absorbed by the Poet and Musician and transferred to the realm of higher art. This is what expression of nationality in art is”[4].

Having stopped by Milda's shelter, the peasants turned to the goddess asking for protecting and blessing their land (No. 3, choir The Prayer (Modlitwa)). Podbereski claimed that this was exactly the singing manner Moniuszko had heard in the Samogitian churches and that here he conveyed this particular spirit of folk singing[5]. In Lithuania, this choir was especially loved; it was a part of the Lithuanian national music, a part of the patriotic repertoire performed in the Lithuanian language along with the choral music by Mikas Petrauskas, Vincas Kudirka, Česlovas Sasnauskas and other Lithuanian composers.

The Samogitian intonations can also be found in another Lithuanian cantata titled Nijolė. Vytautas Landsbergis distinguishes these intonations in the motives of the Mermaids [6].

These works are full of the names of the Lithuanian mythological characters (Perkun, Poklus, etc.), Lithuanian words (dungus (the sky), dejwo (the goddess)) which were so loved by Kraszewski and Moniuszko and, when transformed into symbols, reinforce the distinctiveness and uniqueness of the musical language.

One of editions of Kraszewski's The Lament of Vytolis (1846) was printed with music specially composed by Moniuszko; it consisted of five parts named The Funeral Hymns. These are the scenes of the ancient Baltic ritual, the burial of the dead. They contain laments of Vytolis and Vaidila as well as laments of Tulissones and Ligaschones, the priests of the ancient Balts (Prussians, Yotvingians). The mostly developed and remarkable scene for the choir and accompaniment is Vaidila’s lament titled His Spirit is already in Anafielas (No. 5). In the episode, the vivacious sound of the struggle and victory march, the use of intervals and the melodic development evidence that Moniuszko's work influenced the music by the Lithuanian composers of the late 19th century and the early 20th century; in this case, the episode is comparable to The Youth Hymn (Jaunimo giesmė) by Juozas Naujalis.

Mikas Petrauskas, Lithuanian composer and the author of the first Lithuanian opera Birutė, recognised the similarity between Vincas Kudirka's National Hymn (Part II) and the scene titled After the Sunday Vespers (Po nieszporach, przy niedzieli) from Act III of Moniuszko's Halka[7].

The focus on the themes from the Lithuanian history united two famous residents of Vilnius — Moniuszko and Władysław Syrokomla. Moniuszko's musical score was included in the published edition of Syrokomla’s rhymed-verse novel about the history of Lithuania and titled The Daughter of the Piasts (1855). These notes are the music (for vocal performance and piano) for the eighth scene named A Lithuanian Marching Song. In the captions, Syrokomla explained that this text was "a version of the original Lithuanian song". This vivacious song with march-like rhythm could be often found in the repertoires of the interwar Lithuanian choirs; usually, it was the one translated into the Lithuanian language by Motiejus Gustaitis and arranged by Česlovas Sasnauskas (adapted for a choir performance).

Moniuszko cherished hope to create Margiris, a heroic Lithuanian opera telling about the fights between the Lithuanians and the crusaders. First, it was Syrokomla who started to write the libretto but later he confined himself to creating a poem on the subject (1855). Then the libretto for the three-act heroic opera Margiris, on Moniuszko’s request, was created by a Vilnius-born poet, playwright, writer and publicist Władysław Ludwik Anczyc. However, for unknown reasons, this idea was never completed.

Moniuszko's works, as well as the poetic word of Adam Mickiewicz, performed in the Lithuanian language in the late 19th and early 20th centuries both in Lithuania and abroad, at the Lithuanian events run by foreign Lithuanian communities, naturally entered the Lithuanian repertoire and contributed to the awakening of the Lithuanian national consciousness. The works were performed at the concerts organised by Lithuanian and Samogitian Charity Society Labdariai in St. Petersburg, founded in the late 19th century, as well as Vilniaus Kanklės Society in the early 20th century.

For Lithuanians, Moniuszko's works of the early 20th century served as a standard for the nationality in music. When in 1907, on the stage of Vilnius City Theater, Lithuanian amateurs performed the play Eglė the Queen of Serpents, created by Lithuanian Romantic writer Aleksandras Fromas-Gužutis to the music by Juozas Tallat-Kelpša, Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas remarked that the young composer "appears to have a sense of Moniuszko: these compositions do have obvious nationally religious manifestation"[8].

Moniuszko's vocal works along with the music by the Lithuanian authors were recorded in the first Lithuanian vinyl records in the USA and Lithuania. They include songs by Mikas Petrauskas, Stasys Šimkus, S. Moniuszko as well as Lithuanian folk songs performed by opera singers Jonas Būtėnas, Marijona Rakauskaitė and others.

Summing up, we can claim that Moniuszko's works and activity enable us to have a more comprehensive approach towards and appreciate the 19th-century cultural environment of Lithuania and Vilnius, in particular. Moniuszko’s position as an artist in the struggle for the principles of higher music art; his appeal to composers to absorb the realms of folk music while perceiving on this path an opportunity to establish national creative school; his works based on the Lithuanian themes; the impact his works had on the music of the Lithuanian composers; his focus on the history and mythology of Lithuania; the acknowledgment of his works by the members of the Lithuanian national movement in the 19th century and the early 20th century and the presence of Moniuszko’s works in the Lithuanian repertoire – all these define the historical significance of Moniuszko's music for the Lithuanian music culture and bring his work closer to the self-expression of the participants of the Lithuanian cultural movement of the 19th century. The works of Moniuszko stemming from the roots shared with his compatriots (Belarusians, Poles, Lithuanians) allow to more thoroughly learn about the origins and evolution of the Lithuanian professional national music school and better understand the essence of the Lithuanian Romanticism of the 19th and 20th centuries.


[1] M.K. Čiurlionis, Apie muziką, Lietuva, 1909, Nr. 23; see Vytautas Landsbergis, Užmirštas Čiurlionio straipsnis, Pergalė, 1971, No.3, p. 308.

[2] Budriai, Lietuvių enciklopedija, T. 3, Boston: Juozo Kapočiaus Lietuvių Enciklopedijos leidykla, 1954, p. 316–317

[3] Stanisław Moniuszko, Kantata Milda, partytura orkiestrowa, sprawdzona i do druku przygotowana przez Prof. P. Maszyńskiego, Warszawa: sekcja im. Moniuszki WTM, 1909 [pierwodruk], BWTM, sygn. 1116/M.

[4] Romuald Podbereski, Milda, Rocznik literacki, Wilno, 1849, p. 106.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Vytautas Landsbergis, Lietuvos muzikantas ir slavų kompozitorius, Pergalė, 1989, Nr. 2, p. 162.

[7] V.M., Lietuva, Tėvyne mūsų, Lietuvių enciklopedija, T.16, Boston: Juozo Kapočiaus Lietuvių Enciklopedijos Leidykla, 1958, p. 18, 20.

[8] Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas, Miesto teatre A. Fromo-Gužučio „Eglė žalčių karalienė“, Vilniaus žinios, 1907, kovo 4 d.

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