The prominent Lithuanian painter and composer MIKALOJUS KONSTANTINAS ČIURLIONIS, son of an organist, was born on the 22 September, 1875, in a small town of Varėna and grew up in Druskininkai. His first teacher was his father. Eventually he joined Prince Michael Oginskis’ orchestra in Plungė, where he worked for several years, studying simultaneously at the orchestra school. Later on he studied musical composition at the Warsaw Institute of Music ( graduating in 1899) and in Leipzig Conservatoire
(graduating in 1902). From 1904 to 1906 he was a student of pictorial art at the Warsaw School of Art. In 1907 Čiurlionis came to Vilnius where he made an important contribution to the progress of Lithuanian culture by organizing and consolidating the local musical and artistic life. He took part in the Lithuanian painters exhibitions and in 1908–11 displayed his canvases in St. Petersburg aat the exhibitions organized by the Russian Artists’ Union and Mir Iskusstva ( The World of Art). Late in 1909 he contracted a grave illness which led him to a premature death on the 10 th of Aprill, 1911, at the Czerwony Dwor sanatorium near Warsaw. He was buried in Vilnius.
Čiurlionis is the first outstanding classic of Lithuanian music, a herald of the principles guiding the National Composers’ School.
Čiurlionis’ musical works include the symphonic poems In the Forest (1900–1901) and The Sea(1903–1907), the overture Kęstutis(1902); the cantata De profundis(1899), a string quartet, some a’ cappella choral compositions based on Psalm texts, several scores of harmonized Lithuanian folk songs, more than 200 piano compositions: preludes, fugues, variations, “landscapes”; works for organ and string quartet.
Carrying on the traditions of romantic and neoromantic West European music, Čiurlionis developed in his later compositions traits of particular style and thought, a strong creative spirit and artistic personality.
Čiurlionis’ name became famous through his painting. He started as a symbolist, but soon elaborated a unique and complex creed and style, coresponding to his own quest. The peculiar features of his canvases are his generalized and silhouette-wise approach to Nature, free rearrangement of its motifs, his srong rhytmical perception of space and construction, his discreet colouring. His paintings reflect his longing for philosophical and cosmogonical motifs, for folk-lore and mythology, his cosmic attitude ( Fairy Tales, the cycles Creation of the World, Signs of Zodiac and others). In many Čiurlionis’ canvases there are musical elements, spontaneously perceived and plastically expressed: rhythmic recurrence and sequence of motifs, counterpoint confrontations and the like (the cycles Prelude and Fugue, Fantasy, Sonata of the Sea, Sonata of Spring, Sonata of Stars etc.).
During a short period Čiurlionis created a large range of pictorial and musical compositions – expressions of a World of Art of his own, but left neither direct followers nor a separate school. Nevertheless his creative work, extending the horizons of Pictorial Art, exercised a strong indirect influence in those times and actually is still vivid and popular, the reponse to it growing larger and larger.
These form the major part of the composer’s output, and they illustrate best the development of his style and his artistic maturity. The 1900–1909 compositions and the preludes for piano, the most mature and original of his works, composed during the last years of his life, are performed by the pianist Aleksandra Juozapėnaitė-Eesmaa, now based in Estonia.
Aleksandra Juozapėnaitė-Eesmaa (born in 1943) graduated from the Academy of Music (Prof. Steinberg’s class) and the Moscow Conservatory, where she also took a postgraduate course (Prof. Zak’s class). In 1968 she won the 1st prize in the international competition of pianists dedicated to Čiurlionis in Vilnius for the best interpretation of Čiurlionis’ works. In 1976-77 Juozapėnaitė was on study leave at the Paris National Conservatory, where she studied French music under the pianists Claude Hellfer and Yvonne Loriod. In Paris she happened to play several times for the legendary Arthur Rubinstein who kindled her self-confidence in her talent. In 1992 she recorded Olivier Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant–Jésus” commissioned by the French company “Jade”. Juozapėnaitė’s repertory includes musical compositions of Western classics and 20th century most remarkable composers, as well as contemporary Lithuanian and Estonian composers. She has given concerts in Russia, Ukraine, Belorus, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, France, Sweden, Hungary, Holland and Finland. She is on the jury of the international pianists’ competitions of M.K. Čiurlionis (Vilnius) and J. Vitols (Riga), and teaches at the Estonian Musical Academy.