• July 25, 2014
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Wandering around the Vilnius streets: His Music was born out of the Vilnius Soil..

Here  we continue the series materials devoted to great Poles after whom the Vilnius streets are named. Mickiewicz, Lelewel and Krasicki have already been described. Now it is time to write about Moniuszko.

Street named after him is located in one of the most picturesque Vilnius districts called Zwierzyniec. It starts by Neris more or less opposite to the headquarters of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, and runs up until the oxbow of the river, on whose left bank Zakret (Vingio parkas) is located. Multi-storey tenement houses, wooden houses with gardens built at the beginning of the 20th century. Next to the old little houses there are modern villas surrounded by high fences, one of them inhabited by the Ambassador of Ireland. The venue itself is very attractive-peace, numerous green areas, city centre nearby. Right next to the street, almost at its end, there is a miniature swan- white St. Catherine’s Orthodox Church. There, the spirit of the old Zwierzyniec has been perfectly retained until today. Here are few facts from the life of the street’s patron and a renowned composer, who spent 18 beautiful and ,in the same time, difficult years in Vilnius.

Stanisław Moniuszko was born on the 5th May 1819 in Ubiel near Minsk. This was the place he was raised in. Since he was a delicate, limping on one leg child, he demanded special care. Such a caretaker and good spirit was his mother Elżbieta Moniuszko nee Madżarska. Having a beautiful voice, she was a very musically gifted person. Moreover, She would be the 1st to notice her son’s exceptional musical skills and be his first teacher as well. Once Moniuszko was 8 years old his father took him to Warsaw to start education. His father’s friend from the studies’ time and also a frequent guest at the house was Joachim Lelewel. This was the house where the future composer was learning how to be a musician in the future.

In 1830 he left Warsaw, and by 1834 he graduated from the last, 6th grade of the Minsk Junior High School. In 1836, his uncle Aleksander took his nephew to Vilnius. They lived in the Mullers’ House at the Niemiecka Street( today Vokiečių Str. 26).

It was a guest house for affluent  aristocrats. At that time, the music in the city suddenly started to flourish. Billboards would then present such titles as ” Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail” by Mozart, ”The Barber of Seville” by Rossini, or Bellini’s ”Norma”. Young Moniuszko listened to all the music, especially aries, entirely enchanted by them.

He would also sit for hours in little bookshops in the Literacki Corner. When at home, he would read and play. His emotional play riveted the attention of Aleksandra- the daughter of hist hosts. It was definitely love at the first sight. The only one, great and lifelong. Both of them were still very young though- she was sixteen, he- seventeen. However, despite some initial objections, Czesław Moniuszko agreed for his son’s engagement at such a young age. Meanwhile, Stanisław Moniuszko left to Vilnius, visting Minsk only for short stays. In the autumn of 1837 he started music studies in Berlin. After graduation, in 1839, he returned to Vilnius. One year later, at the Trinitarian Church in Antakalnis he maried Aleksandra Muller. The whole ceremony was presided over by priest Jan Menue. The groom was only 21 years old then.

The newly wedded couple lived in her parents’ house at the Niemiecka Street. They would remain there for the next eighteen years before leaving to Warsaw. They had ten children. All the income was provided by his work of an organist in St. Johns’ Church and private music lessons( 1 ruble per hour). Materially- particularly by the products received from the countryside-they were supported by parents. Some remnants of the letters have survived until today. In one of them, mother writes she had sent ” 30 kilos of butter, honey-fried blueberries, ten turkeys, geese and ducks, and 32 kilos of dried mushrooms” to Vilnius.

Few years later Moniuszko became a conductor at the Vilnius Theatre. He composed numerous operettas and comedies en vaudeville, over 300 songs, four  ”Gate-of-Dawn Litanies” and ” Home Song-Books”. But the composer’s innermost dream would still be an opera. Yet, he had no libretto. Eventually, he encountered Włodzimierz Wolski’s poem ”Halszka”. Afterwards, he decided it to be a theme of the ”Halszka” opera. Unforunately-despite promises- ”Halka” was not staged in Warsaw. At that time Moniuszko would write bitterly: ”Why should I write operas if Vilnius cannot stage them and Warsaw does not want to?!”

But actually Vilnius wanted it and in 1848, in his parents’-in-law living room, a short display of the fragments of ”Halka” was held. Its theatre premiere took place on the 16th February 1854 in Vilnius, in the bulding of the contemporary Town Hall where there was a theatre since 1845. ”Halka” and its author had to wait ten years  from the moment of completion for the Warsaw premiere organised as late as in 1858. After the premiere, Moniuszko wrote to his wife: ”A complete success. They play ”Halka” today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow..Forgive me this writing with no sense.I do not know what is going on with me..”

An overnight success of the opera directly engendered moving out of Vilnius. In the same year Moniuszko becomes a conductor at the Warsaw Opera. His operas ”Flis”, ”Countess”, ”Verbum Nobile” or ” Haunted Manor” entered Polish musical heritage for good. He died in Warsaw on the 4th June 1872. A month earlier he celebrated his 54th birthday. Once Moniuszko passed away, his coffin was escorted to the Powązki Cemetery by 70 thousand people, Warsaw inhabited by 350 thousand dwellers at that time. Upon the composer’s red headstone, only one word, ”Moniuszko” was carved. In Vilnius, Moniuszko would live at the Niemiecka Street, play his masterpieces in the Gate-of- Dawn Church, give concerts at the Romers’ house( Boksto 10 Street) and work as an organist in the St. Johns’ Church. In the corner by St. Catherine’s Church, one can see Moniuszko bust carved by Bolesław Bałzukiewicz, who used a pedestal of Aleksander Puszkin’s monument, transported to Russia in 1905. Nevertheless, despite numerous economic hardships, Vilnius society managed to commemorate the Father of Polish National Opera.

The pedestal was unveiled on the 22nd September 1922. It was a really splendid celebration. The crowd departed from St. Johns’ Church, passing Świętojańska, Dominikańska and Wileńska Streets. They stopped at the square near St. Catherine’s Church. Ferdynand Ruszczyc, the Dean of the Fine Arts Department, in his speech emphasised i.a. ” Not far from here, at the foot of Świętojańska belfry, there is an abundance of dear and memorable places serving as home to those whose spirits were born and flourished here, for which they are blessed both by Vilnius itself and by Poland as a whole. Standing there at the door of the academic church, one can indicate from one place how within a space no bigger than a hectacre there were numerous houses, in which renowned artists: Skarga, Sarbiewski, Smuglewicz, great scientists: Lelewel and Śniadecki brothers and also, within the smallest distance- three greatest students of the Vilnius Almae Matris- Mickiewicz, Słowacki and Kraszewski, would live, dream, examine, create their greatest masterpieces.(..)And in the middle of this circle, by the church organs, sat a young musician Stanisław Moniuszko, slightly older than twenty. Once those great voices faded away here, in Vilnius, they were accompanied from here by an echo, the echo of music”. That day in the evening in The Podhulanka Theatre Moniuszko’s ”Halka” wa being staged.

On the 4th June 1992, exactly at the 120th anniversary of Stanisław Moniuszko’s death, near the house he was born in, at the Niemiecka Street, a great celebration was held. On the wall of Mullers’ tenement house instead of the former- Russian-Lithuanian, a new two-part granitic plate was unveiled to iform-both in Polish and in Lithuanian that a great Polish composer Stanisław Moniuszko dwelled here between 1840 and 1858. This plate was created under the patronage of Halina Jotkiałło, who was then a journalist of the ”Kurier Wileński”. The issues of  Stanisław Moniuszko’s significance and his relations with Vilnius and Lithuania were raised by the representatives of the Lithuanian Music Society on the occasion of unveiling the new plate.

The choir of the ”Neris” band performed a beautiful song entitled” Ej, latał słowiczek” taken from the Moniuszko’s ”Home Song-Book”. At the gate of the house, Vilnius citizens placed flower wreaths. Next, there was a Holy Mass in the composer’s intention at St.Johns’ Church. Moniuszko’s e-moll mass was performed by the ”Wileńszczyzna” choir. All diplomats of the Polish Embassy and Polish Council of the Republic of Lithuania attended the ceremony. A daily newspaper ”Kurier Wileński” also  included a description of this event. In the evening, at the former Palace of Artists-now a seat of the Lithuanian President- in the great White Room, only Stanisław Moniuszko’s music was to be heard.

Translated by Katarzyna Piskorz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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