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Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911), the illustrious Lithuanian painter and composer, is often regarded as one of the progenitors of modern art. His art – a unique synthesis of music and painting – remains distinctive and inimitable to this day. By adopting the principles of composition usually associated with the structure of musical forms (sonata, prelude, fugue) in painting, he developed an entirely new cycle called painted sonata and cycles of preludes and fugues. Cycles of paintings such as Sonata of the Sun, Sonata of the Spring, Sonata of the Serpent, Sonata of the Sea, Sonata of the Stars, Sonata of the Summer, Sonata of the Pyramids, Preludes and Fugues reveal his profound ideas and imagination, resound with polyphony of lines and motives, and dynamic development of symbols and images.

Čiurlionis studied composition with Prof. Zygmunt Noskowsky at the Warsaw Music Institute, and later with Prof. Salomon Jadassohn and Prof. Carl Reinecke at the Leipzig Conservatoire. While in Leipzig, influenced by the rich cultural life of the city (Gewandhaus concerts), he wrote the majority of his polyphonic works. Gradually, Čiurlionis‘ compositional style acquired the main characteristics of modern music of the 20th century. To a certain extent, he could be called the harbinger of Impressionism (Cycle of Small Landscapes), “music of cosmos”, serial technique (Preludes in New Modes, Variations Sefaa Esec, Fugue in B flat minor), folklorism (folk song variations, fughettas), even minimalism (F/a) and structuralism.

Čiurlionis‘ creative life was short, but intensive (until 1909). His progressing illness disrupted his work; the artist died at the age of 36. 

In his life and work – an embodiment of symbolist modernism branching from the foundations of the universe (nature) – Čiurlionis combined many meanings. It is the world of syncretism, primeval elements, mythological rebirth of the soul through sacrifice, visionary archaism, structuralism and mysticism, that enlightens the reality with unknown existence, elevated to the universal plateau of Christianity, commonness and sacral cosmos. The art of Čiurlionis has inspired a number of Lithuanian and foreign composers (Olivier Messiaen, Vytautas Bacevičius, Bronius Kutavičius) to experiment in the realm of colour and sound.

Čiurlionis wrote two  symphonic poems In the Forest (1900-1901) and The Sea (1903-1907), the overture Kęstutis (1899), a string quartet, over 200 works for piano, works for string quartet, organ, choral works a cappella on the texts of psalms and arranged over 60 Lithuanian folk songs.

To this date his output for organ was represented by seven fugues (F-sharp minor, C-sharp minor, C minor, G minor, Kyrie, Fugue-choral and Fugue in B flat minor), written in Leipzig in 1901 and 1902 (five of them were arranged for the organ by Prof. Leopoldas Digrys) and several preludes, composed in 1904, that were written down in the notebook of his father, the church organist in Druskininkai. Stasys Šimkus published a collection of 14 little preludes for organ in Kaunas in 1925. Supplemented with fugues these preludes were published again in Vilnius in 1959 by Jadvyga Čiurlionytė. Only several of them have found a place in the organ repertoire and were included in one of the first recordings by Prof. Digrys. 

The works included in this CD were recorded on the organ of Vilnius Cathedral in two sessions: in 2000 (seven fugues) and in 2004 (canons, preludes and fughettas arranged for the organ and performed by Jūratė Lansdbergytė). Some of the works were performed and recorded on organ for the first time. In designing this programme, it was sought to thoroughly represent surprisingly interesting and versatile organ works by the composer. Shorter works, placed alongside the monumental fugues, bring out the importance of the detail in music of Čiurlionis as well as the picturesque sound of the organ intuitively felt by the composer, possible contrasts and confluence of images, the continuity and versatility of the form. These works reveal Čiurlionis‘ distinctive polyphony, the variety of genres “encoded in sketches” and their unique transformations, which could be described as a symbol of action, an example of the genre or a vision. Such are his church chants metamorphosing into preludes or fugues (Kyrie VL 84, Oh, Holy Lord VL 343, Angelus Domini VL 184). In the works newly arranged for the organ a unique link between music and painting (Sea VL 317 (b)) can be found. In them, one discovers the richness and intensity of colours of different registers, which proves that the composer chose the organ as an instrument capable of projecting the impression of space, light and shadow, cosmos and elements of nature, mystic grandeur, sacral dimension and the expression of the creation of the world.

In his short and simple canons and miniatures, as if in contemplation (Little Song VL 199), the grandiose sadness of organ timbre opens unexpectedly. Perhaps versions of interrupted dialogues, fantastic reflections of elements, interludes, dissolving in the distance (Postlude) are only achievable because of the registers, the versatility and parallel system of the organ. Čiurlionis sought the powerful voice of this instrument in order to generate his sound visions which he time and again described in his letters. The idea of the “world as a grand symphony” is just one example.

The Fugue in B flat minor VL 345 (1909), the most monumental and his last work, that Čiurlionis completed himself, was composed for piano. In this recording the Fugue begins with a short introduction – an augmented triad – an image of the deep of the ocean (recorded in 2000 and edited in 2004), which as a possible introduction to the Fugue was suggested by the Čiurlionis researcher Vytautas Landsbergis (VL Čiurlionio muzika, Vilnius, Vaga, 1986, p. 103).

The theme of the Fugue in B flat minor displays some dodecaphonic features. It is a melodic row of eleven pitches rising from the dark sonorities of lower register. At the same time, Čiurlionis was working on his painting cycle Sonata of the Serpent and was contemplating his grandest but unrealised idea – an opera called Jūratė, in which he envisioned a combination of music and painting. The introduction of the Fugue is a descent to the bed of the sea (an overture of the projected opera), which he described in his letter to his fiancée and librettist writer Sofija Kymantaitė. The sound a, descending slowly in clusters, leads to the beginning of the Fugue, which emerges meandering like a cosmic serpent, embracing earth and heavens.

It could be assumed that Čiurlionis‘ vision of organ music was not only associated with the Klangfarbe style, favoured by many artists of the beginning of the 20th century, not only foretold the apocalyptic pulse of the forthcoming centuries, but to this day has not lost its freshness and keeps inspiring new artistic discoveries.

JURATĖ LANDSBERGYTĖ (b. 1955) graduated from the Lithuanian Conservatoire (presently Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre) in 1980, where she studied music history with Prof. Jadvyga Čiurlionytė and organ with Prof. Leopoldas Digrys. She was awarded a diploma at the International Organ Competition in Kiev in 1989. Landsbergytė took part in the master classes led by such distinguished organists of Europe as J.E.Köhler (Weimar), E.Kooiman (Berlin), G.Bovet, A.Rössler, N.Danby (Millstatt, Austria). She appeared in festivals in Lithuania (Pažaislis, Šv.Kristupas, T.Mann, Gaida, Druskininkų Vasara su M.K.Čiurlioniu, etc.) and abroad: in Yerevan (1991), Berlin (1991), Gdansk (1993), Luxembourg (1995), Europa Cantans, Peace Project Europa +Balticum in Westphalia (1998), Usedom (2000, Germany), Riga (2000), Schwabmünchen (2001), Romantik der Oder Frankfurt/Oder (2002), H.Hesse, Calw (2002). She toured in Europe, the USA and Canada. In 1995-1996 she served as an organist at the St. Stephan Evangelical Church in Berlin. At present she works as an organist in various churches Lithuania and Germany. She has premiered and recorded a number of works for organ by Lithuanian and foreign composers.

Landsbergytė has made transcriptions of various works for organ, edited a publication of M.K.Čiurlionis’ works for organ and the first publication of V.Bacevičius’ complete works for organ (by the Lithuanian Music Information and Publication Centre, 2004). She has participated in various international musicological conferences and has written articles on contemporary Lithuanian music, as well as on organ and religious music of Lithuania. She works as a musicologist at the Institute of Culture, Philosophy and Art in Vilnius; she is a member of the Lithuanian Composers’ Union.

J.Landsbergytė has recorded eight CDs, including M.K. Čiurlionis, B.Kutavičius, Vilnius Cathedral, 2000 (Tembras); Konzert in Berliner Dom, 2000; Flute and Organ in Vilnius Cathedral, 2001; Romantismus Plus, Kirche Heiliger Kreuz, Frankfurt/Oder, 2003; Baltic Landscapes, Karlsruhe Stadtkirche, 2005 (the last three, with the flutist Carsten Hustedt, released by the Vilnius Recording Studio).

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