Piano music is played every morning from the basement of this house on Savičiaus Street in Vilnius. This music inspires passers-by to prick up their ears and enter the house of M. K. Čiurlionis – a place where the artist’s spirit has lived for more than 100 years and the creation of which continues today thanks to all those who contribute to the dissemination of M. K. Čiurlionis’ house.
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis was born in 1875 in a small Lithuanian town called Varėna, to the family of an organist. Later, the family moved to Druskininkai, a spa town famous for its health resorts. Čiurlionis’ childhood and part of his most beautiful and creative years of his life were spent there. It’s where he learned to listen to the music of birds and the wind.
Čiurlionis lived in Druskininkai in 1906 where he harmonised Lithuanian folk songs. In a letter to a friend he wrote that he had decided to, “dedicate all his past and future works to Lithuania.” At that time, the idea to create a Lithuanian opera arose.
In 1907, M. K. Čiurlionis finished composing the symphonic poem The Sea and began a new symphonic poem entitled The Creation of the World. In the autumn he moved to Vilnius, participated in the founding meeting of the Lithuanian Art Society and was elected to its board. Čiurlionis then became acquainted with writer Sofija Kymantaitė during rehearsals for the play Blinda written by Gabrielius Landsbergis-Žemkalnis.
“Music is the messenger of God, sent to move the softest and best strings of our soul, to calm hearts tired of the worries of life, to remove lies, wickedness, jealousy, hatred from them,” said Mykalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis.
All of M. K. Čiurlionis’ musical works are divided into two periods: early (1896–1903) and late (1904–1910). The early period is related to his studies in Warsaw (1894–1899) and Leipzig (1901–1902). This period represents the formation of the composer’s style and his mastering of compositional techniques. His works of that time vividly reflect the composer’s fascination with Chopin (not only stylistics, but also genres like waltzes, mazurkas and polonaise), though some of the works clearly show the composer’s inclination to polyphonic thinking and the desire to discover new compositional and instrumental possibilities.
The late period is when M. K. Čiurlionis turned decisively towards modern music. He became interested in the short sound chains on which entire works are formed, the independence of voices in music that blur the boundaries between homophonic and polyphonic music, and the bass or upper voices that together create an impression of visual stability, which ultimately correlates to his paintings. The graphic outline of melody, instrumental parts and the spread of texture reveal the artist’s apparent desire to discover new paths toward art fusion.
While living in Vilnius, M. K. Čiurlionis harmonised a number of folk songs and prepared them for children’s choirs. Let’s imagine how those young people from small towns started going to schools, barely speaking Lithuanian, and how they suddenly felt both the Lithuanian spirit and the whole emotional field related to it through Lithuanian song. It was an incredibly beautiful move. As a composer within the Lithuanian consciousness, M. K. Čiurlionis suddenly became a person who adapted folk songs to choirs. Maybe that’s why it took quite a while for him to be perceived as the author of magnificent symphonic works and intricate piano opuses.
When we talk about M. K. Čiurlionis and his work, an interesting turning point occurs when he lived in Leipzig (1901–1902). Before Leipzig, it seemed as though M. K. Čiurlionis’ music was a form of social communication: he wrote many dances and works that brought people together. After Leipzig, his work dug deeper into the corners of the spirit, making it an art that people needed to delve into. M. K. Čiurlionis’ music also became much more contemplative after living in Leipzig.
Every Lithuanian recognises M. K. Čiurlionis’ paintings. Still, the question arises: where does Tale of Kings come from, or the royal and majestic motif that pierces all of M. K. Čiurlionis work? Perhaps the answer lies in looking from the Palace of Versailles to the palace park, when you seem to experience the same majestic tranquillity that exudes from M. K. Čiurlionis’ familiar painting Peace … the royal genius loci of the Versailles Park.
The artist produced some 400 works; most of them are piano pieces, but very significant are his opuses for symphony orchestras, such as the symphonic poems In the Forest and The Sea, as well as overtures, cantatas for choirs and orchestras, string quartets and works for choirs, like original compositions and harmonised Lithuanian folk songs and organ pieces.
There are not that many symphonic works by M. K. Čiurlionis. There are two symphonic poems – In the Forest and The Sea (1907), and a symphonic overture, Symphony No. 1 (unfinished), and the cantata De Profundis for a symphony orchestra and mixed choir.
He has written works for various musical instruments: stringed instrument ensemble,s violin, piano and organ. His richest legacy of instrumental music consists of about 200 piano pieces. Preludes, canons and fugues dominate. There are also several dozen arranged folk songs.
Vocal music also occupies a very important place in the composer’s creative legacy. The most abundant and significant here are the original and harmonised folk songs for choirs of various compositions (mixed, male, female).
In 1900–1901, Čiurlionis created the symphonic poem In the Forest, in which the nostalgia of his homeland and the melodic structures of romantic music (by Richard Strauss and Hector Berlioz) merged. Čiurlionis’ experienced a turning point in his worldview as a composer while studying in Leipzig: after getting acquainted with atonal music, which was popular at that time, he turned to more modern forms of expression. After graduating, he began composing the symphonic poem The Sea and arranging Lithuanian folk songs.
For a more personal experience, it is possible to book a tour or an evening in this authentic building in Vilnius. Art experts can reveal the secrets of M. K. Čiurlionis’ work in several foreign languages. You can also participate in Čiurlionis Vilnius – a live tour of important parts of Čiurlionis’ creative path in Vilnius, or use a mobile app that offers a unique opportunity to get to know Vilnius through the prism of Čiurlionis.