Friday, August 8, 2014

Mikalojus Ciurlioniss

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Mikalojus Ciurlioniss (1875-1911) is a Lithuanian painter, composer and writer who is a distinguished figure in the arts in Lithuania. He was the founder and director of the Union of Lithuanian Painters and international recognition of his work as a painter was assured by his membership of the Russian Mir Iskusstva, World of Art Society in St Petersburg.

He was born in the small southern Lithuanian town of Varena, and two years later, his family moved to Druskininkai, where he spent his childhood and adolescence. He studied piano and composition at the Warsaw Music Institute, followed by a period of tuition in composition at the Leipzig Conservatory. On his return in 1914, to the Warsaw School of Fine Arts, there followed exhibitions of his paintings in Warsaw, Vilnius and St Petersburg. At the same time he continued his parallel career in music, directing a Lithuanian choir in Warsaw and a choir in Vilnius, where he settled in 1907.

Over a short, mere decade-long career, he created approximately four hundred paintings and etchings. During those same brief years, 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, as well as several literary works and poems, while still finding time to experiment with art photography. Notes from his study years at the Warsaw Institute of Music show his interest in geology and history, chemistry and geometry, physics and astronomy, astrology and ancient mythology, dead and modern languages, philosophical ideas of antiquity and modernity, eastern and western religions.

During his short life, he managed to be at the heart of the creation of the Lithuanian Artists Union and actively organized and participated in the first three exhibitions of Lithuanian artists, organized and directed Lithuanian Choruses in Warsaw, Vilnius, and St. Petersburg, and was the first Lithuanian professional composer not only to take interest in Lithuanian folk songs, but to collect and publish them.

The work of Ciurlioniss was based on the view that all arts stem essentially from the same source, however different they may seem. Several of his paintings were based on musical structures, classified as cycles of fugues, sonatas, and so on. A poem by him has the form of a sonata, while much of his music is pictorial.

On Christmas Eve he fell into a profound depression and at the beginning of 1910 was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital, northeast of Warsaw. While a patient there he died of pneumonia at 35 years of age. His manifold activities were brought to an end by his untimely death.