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Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis

Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875–1911) is the most seminal and emblematic figure in the history of Lithuania’s national culture. At the junction of the 19th and the 20th centuries he embodied the aspirations of a national revival movement and linked them with the latest tendencies in European art of the time. As a composer, he was educated at the Music Institute in Warsaw and at the Leipzig Conservatory. But later in his life, Čiurlionis’ ambition to become a professional artist started interfering increasingly with his work as a composer. Čiurlionis first became known for his pioneering paintings, in which he synthesized his musical experiences and often gave musical titles (e.g. Prelude, Fugue and Sonata) to the most visionary among his works. It was only later that he became generally regarded as the first modern Lithuanian composer who incorporated national elements and some constructivist principles in the series of expressive piano miniatures, written in the late romantic idiom (1905–1909). Olivier Messiaen referred to him as to “a remarkable composer of music and paintings,” noting an unusual and deep linkage between his works of music and art. Čiurlionis composed the first Lithuanian symphonic works – poems Miške (In the Forest, 1902) and Jūra (The Sea, 1907) – that remained most popular symphonic pieces to this very day. His ideas about Lithuanian national art and its future became ideological statements for generations to come. In his articles and letters, he emphasised the significance of archaic folklore to the cultivation of modern art: “Our credo is our age-old songs and our music of the future.” Čiurlionis’ manifold legacy, consisting of paintings, graphic art, musical and literary works, remains an inexhaustible source of influence and inspiration to many generations of Lithuanian artists.

Šarūnas Nakas

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