“After graduating from the Warsaw and Leipzig conservatories, Čiurlionis has settled in Vilnius where he gives piano and music theory lessons. His address is Andrejevo Street 11, Apt. 6.” This ad was published in the Vilnius News at the beginning of 1908.
On September 22, 1995, on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the birth of M. K. Čiurlionis, the M. K. Čiurlionis House in Vilnius opened its doors to visitors – a memorial place where the genius of the Lithuanian nation, the composer and artist Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, lived and worked in 1907 to 1908.
Čiurlionis was destined to live only 36 years. Even shorter, just four years, was his public creative activity in Vilnius. After completing music and art studies in Warsaw and Leipzig, Čiurlionis arrived in Vilnius in 1906 and became actively involved in the life of the city’s Lithuanian community. He took part in the organization of the First Exhibition of Lithuanian Art, founded the Lithuanian Art Society, directed the choir of the “Kanklės” Society, wrote articles on art and music, and performed as a pianist. The artist’s residence in Vilnius became a very important event for the whole emerging Lithuanian movement. This artist and composer, who at that time had the greatest education and international recognition among the participants of the Lithuanian movement, was the object of everyone’s curious gaze. What kind of impression did Čiurlionis and his work leave on those who saw it at the time? How did the composer’s new friends remember his little room in what is now Savičiaus Street?
During Čiurlionis’ first visit to Vilnius, during preparations for the first exhibition of Lithuanian artists at the Petras Vileišis Mansion, Ona Elžbieta Pleirytė-Puidienė (a.k.a. Vaidilutė) described his appearance in her diary in the following way: “Čiurlionis’ paintings are extraordinary. It’s hard even to describe them. I’ve visited a lot of European museums, but I’ve never seen anything like this <…> Čiurlionis himself is also extraordinary. He is one of those people who draws everyone’s gaze and makes them notice him, but, at the same time, he is constrained by his own unique and enigmatic personality. He is of medium age and height, with a very strong, sharply defined facial profile that isn’t very appealing and looks rather gloomy. But his large eyes, with their deeply penetrating gaze, a calm demeanor with a clear shadow of sadness and his extraordinary intelligence set him apart from everyone else.”
This is how Čiurlionis’ contemporary, the Vilnius painter Lev Antokolsky, who will later help Čiurlionis with introductions in St. Petersburg, describes his visit, “I remember one autumn evening when I visited him in his tiny room on Andrejevo Street, where there was nothing but a piano, a pile of sheet music and some small, dry tree branches hung on the walls”. He further commented, “He was there all alone with his brilliant ideas and the sounds of his music surprised me with their empathetic sadness that were like the sharp black wings cutting across the air in his painting Longing.”
In his memoirs, the composer Juozas Tallat-Kelpša provided more details about Čiurlionis’ room. From him, we can get a clearer impression of the whole room, “He invited me, and the next day, I went to visit him. The ceiling was low, but the room was spacious. It had a narrow iron bed and a small table with a little chair next to it. His own Lippenburg brand piano had been placed along the other wall. Čiurlionis used to say that his piano was very good because it was well-made and inexpensive; it only cost 350 rubles. A pine branch had been nailed on the wall above the piano. Next to the bed, there was another one. A few more small chairs and a suitcase containing all his worldly goods appeared, including manuscripts, a small batch of sheet music on the piano, and a camera on the windowsill. Those were the entire furnishings of his room. ”
M.K. Čiurlionis’ stay in this Vilnius house was brief – only a half-year – but extremely significant: the creator’s being was warmed by the rays of the great love of his life, Sofija Kymantaitė, whom he met here, and the people of Vilnius could feel the affection of the creator’s great heart, the breadth of his ideas and inclinations.The pace of the artist’s life and the height of his flight did not allow him to stay any longer at that time – it was as if Vilnius was not yet ready to receive him. Čiurlionis left for St Petersburg the following autumn. However, he kept returning to Vilnius to continue the works he had begun.
The room rented by Čiurlionis currently houses photographs of the artist’s family and a C. Bechstein piano from Čiurlionis’ time. The interior of the room and other rooms is based on the furniture of the time. On request, a multilingual interactive audio guide will provide a detailed presentation of the artist’s personality and the main highlights of his life and creative work. Other areas of the Čiurlionis House feature high-quality reproductions of Čiurlionis’ artworks, exhibitions, concerts, book presentations, documentary film evenings, and a variety of cultural, educational, and artistic activities. For a more personal touch, it is possible to book a guided tour or a concert evening in this authentic building in Vilnius Old Town. There are also art experts on hand to reveal the secrets of M.K. Čiurlionis’ oeuvre in several foreign languages. For those who like to experience the spirit of the city on their own, the mobile app “Čiurlionis Vilnius” offers a unique opportunity to add Čiurlionis-related moments and historical discoveries to your usual stroll through Vilnius.
Lithuanian artist and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875–1911), a unique figure in the history of European arts, has left a profound imprint on Lithuanian culture.
Based on the breadth of his artistic activities and diverse interests, M.K. Čiurlionis can be considered a true Renaissance personality. Over a short, mere decade-long career, he composed nearly four hundred musical compositions, including two large-scale symphonic poems, an overture, two piano sonatas, a string quartet, and a cantata for chorus and orchestra. During those same brief years, he also created approximately four hundred paintings and etchings, as well as several literary works and poems, while still finding time to experiment with art photography. No one doubted his authority as a professional musician, but as an artist with a remarkably original mind, Čiurlionis was an enigma to most of his contemporaries.
Looking at Čiurlionis artworks, one can see that his paintings are influenced by the Symbolists and Art Nouveau, his musical language seeks to expand the chromatic and harmonic possibilities of the minor-minor system, and his entire oeuvre is united by a strong synaesthetic tendency. All of these characteristics identify Čiurlionis as a typical Central European artist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Nevertheless, Čiurlionis’ mature paintings, whose figurativity is subtly based on musical forms and the musical logic of motivic development, and his late piano works, which interweave serial technique and ostinato logic, melodic and rhythmic modules, and harmonic complexes, stand out in the whole history of European culture as unique artistic examples of art that merge the realms of music and painting.