Stanisław Moniuszko

5 May 1819, Ubiel — 4 June 1872, Warsaw

Biography

Stanisław Moniuszko was the greatest composer of operas in 19th century Poland. He was born to a family of Polish landowners settled in Ubiel, near Minsk (now Belarus), and his interest in music became evident from his early early childhood. Introduced to the rudiments of music by taking private piano lessons, Moniuszko’s formal music education begun in Berlin in 1837, where he studied composition and choral conducting under Carl Friedrich Rungenhagen. Several of his songs composed there were published by the firm of Bote & Bock and were favorably received by the music critics.

After returning from Berlin Moniuszko obtained a post as an organist in Wilno. During that time he became acquainted with the novelist Józef Ignacy Kraszewski and playwright-satirist Aleksander Fredro. These contacts stimulated his interest in dramatic music and Moniuszko began to compose  his first operas, as well as other stage works, sacred music and secular cantatas.

At about this time he also commenced work on the collection of songs entitled Śpiewnik Domowy [Songbook for Home Use], which would have wide appeal to Polish public. The first volume was published in 1843 and met with much interest among both the public and music critics. Over the years the collection grew to 12 volumes and included 267 songs with piano accompaniment. Although many of the songs are simple, predominately strophic, some take on a form of dialogues or ballads, and majority testify to the composer’s originality and melodic inventiveness with Polish folklore often being the source and inspiration for Moniuszko’s rhythmic patterns and melodies.

During his lifetime Moniuszko traveled numerous times to St. Petersburg where his concerts were very well received. Serov, the young Russian critic of the time, referred to Moniuszko’s compositions as “brilliant works.” While in St. Petersburg, Moniuszko befriended many of his prominent Russian contemporaries, including Mikhail Glinka, Mily Balakirev, and Modest Mussorgsky. To Alexander Dargomyzhsky, with whom he became very close, he dedicated his overture Bajka [Fairytale]. In 1858, thanks to the help of Maria Kalergis, Moniuszko journeyed to Paris and Berlin, paid a visit to Bedrich Smetana in Prague, and to Weimar, where he met with Franz Liszt.

Hanna from The Haunted Manor

Critical to Moniuszko’s career was, however, his visit to Warsaw in 1848, where he met Józef Sikorski, the future editor of the most notable Polish music journal Ruch Muzyczny, Oscar Kolberg a well-known folk song collector, and Włodzimierz Wolski a poet and future librettist of Moniuszko’s best known opera, Halka. Named after its heroine, Halka was premiered with great success in 1858 in Warsaw and later in Prague, Moscow and St. Petersburg. As a result, Moniuszko was engaged as a conductor at the Grand Theatre in Warsaw in 1859. From 1864 he also taught harmony and counterpoint at the Warsaw Musical Institute.

Halka was followed by several other major operas: Straszny dwór [The Haunted Manor], Flis [The Raftsman], Hrabina [The Countess], and Verbum Nobile. The common trait they share are librettos which depict Polish nobility and gentry with an admixture of characters of common origins who, above all, share and are faithful to Polish customs and traditions, and patriotic feelings. Poland’s loss of statehood throughout the 19th century was an important background against which Moniuszko’s operas had rallied the national spirit. Moniuszko’s music is largely representative of the 19th century opera, given the extensive use by the composer of arias, recitatives and ensembles, with the exception of Straszny Dwór, where beautifully scored choral parts testify to Moniuszko’s mastery of writing for many voices. His music incorporates many national motifs with frequent appearances of Polish dances popular among upper classes such as the Polonaise or the Mazurka, alongside folk dances such as kujawiak and krakowiak.

The most notable among his choral works are cantatas Sonety krymskie [Crimean Sonnets] and Widma [Phantoms] composed to the texts of Adam Mickiewicz, the leading poet of the Polish Romanticism. The melodic line of the former is particularly expressive and in parts of the composition takes on the form of variations.

SELECTED COMPOSITIONS

Vocal Music

Operas

Bettly, comic opera in two acts. Libretto by F. Schober after Scribe and Mélesville. Wilno (1852)
First performance: Wilno, 20 May 1852

Flis [The Raftsman], opera in one act. Libretto by S. Bogusławski (1858)
First performance: Warsaw, 24 September 1858

Halka, opera in two acts, later enlarged to four acts. Libretto by W. Wolski, Wilno (1846)
First performance: Wilno, 1 January 1848

Hrabina [The Countess], opera in three acts. Libretto by W. Wolski, Warsaw (1859)
First performance: Warsaw, 7 February 1860

Paria, opera in three acts. Libretto by J. Chęciński, based on a play by K. Delavigne (1859-1869) 
First performance: Warsaw, 11 December 1869

Rokiczana [The King of Peasants], opera (unfinished). Libretto by J. Korzeniowski

Sielanka [Idyll], opera in two acts. Libretto W. Marcinkiewicz

Straszny dwór [The Haunted Manor] opera in four acts. Libretto by J. Chęciński, Warsaw (1861-1864)
First performance: Warsaw, 28 September 1865

Verbum Nobile, opera in one act. Libretto J. Chęciński, Warsaw (1860)
First performance: Warsaw, 1 January 1861

Operettas

Beata, operetta in one act. Libretto by J. Chęciński, Warsaw (1870 or 1871)
First performance: Warsaw, 2 February 1872

Ideal [Idol], operetta in two acts. Libretto by O. Milewski, Wilno (1840 or 1841)

Jawnuta [The Gypsies], idyll in two acts. Libretto by F. D. Kniaznin, Wilno (1850)
First performance: Wilno, 20 May 1852

Karmaniol czyli Francuzi lubią żartować [Carmagnole or Frenchmen Like To Joke], comic opera in two acts. Libretto by O. Milewski (after Theaulon de Torges and Jaime); Wilno 1840 (?)

Loteria [Lottery], a trifle (epigram) in one act. Libretto by O. Milewski (1842 or 1843) 
First performance: Minsk, 1843

Nocleg w Apeninach [Overnight in Apennines], operetta in one act. Text by A. Fredro. A student composition in Berlin (1837-1840)
First performance: Wilno, 1839

Nowy Don Kiszot czyli sto szaleństw [The New Don Quixote or One Hundred Follies], operetta in three acts. Text by A. Fredro
First performance: Warsaw, 1923

Masses and Other Sacral Works

Litanie ostrobramskie [Ostra Brama Litanies] for mixed choir, organ and orchestra to Latin texts. Wilno (1843-1855)
Funeral Mass in D-minor for 4-part mixed choir and organ. Texts by F. Feliński (1850)
Mass in A-minor for 2 voices (soprano and alto) and organ. Text by by A. E. Odyniec. Wilno
Mass in E-minor for 2 sopranos, alto and organ. Polish text by A.E. Odyniec; Latin text by Achilles Bonoldi. Wilno (1855)
Mass in E-flat major for solo voices, mixed choir, organ and string quintet. Latin text. Warsaw (1865)
Mass in B-flat major ‘Piotrowińska’ for solo voices, mixed choir and organ. Warsaw (1872)
First performance: Warsaw, 19 May 1872
Oto drzewo krzyża [Ecce lignum crucis]. Motet for baritone solo, mixed choir and organ. Latin text and Polish translation by M. Kotarbiński. Warsaw (1872)
First performance: Warsaw, 29 March 1872
Modlitwa Pańska: Ojcze nasz [The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father] for 4-part mixed choir and orchestra or organ
First performance: Warsaw, 17 June 1859
Psalm Ne memineris for solo voices, mixed choir, organ and string quintet
Psalm Vide humilitatem meam for mixed choir, sting quintet and organ. Text in Polish translation
Requiem aeteranam for 11 solo voices, mixed choir and orchestra

Cantatas and Choral Ballads

Milda. Cantata for solo voices, mixed choir and orchestra. Text from Witolorauda by J. I. Kraszewski. Wilno (1848)
First performance: Wilno, 18 December 1848

Nijola. Cantata for solo voices, mixed choir, and orchestra. Text partly from Witolorauda. Wilno (after 1848)
First performance: Wilno, 8 March 1852

Florian Szary [The Grey Florian]. Ballad from the unfinished opera Rokiczana for baritone solo, choir and orchestra. Text by J. Korzeniowski (1858-1859)
First performance: Warsaw, 16 December 1860

Widma [Phantoms]. Cantata for solo voices, mixed choir and orchestra. Text from Dziady [The Forefathers] by Adam Mickiewicz. Wilno (before 1859)
First performance: Warsaw, 1865

Sonety krymskie [Crimean Sonnets]. Cantata (8 sonnets) for solo voices, mixed choir and orchestra. Words by Adam Mickiewicz. Warsaw (1867)
First performance: Warsaw, 16 February 1868

Pani Twardowska. Ballad for solo voices, choir and orchestra. Words by Adam Mickiewicz. Warsaw (1869)
First performance: Warsaw, December 1869

Kurmine, cantata (unfinished)

Solo Songs

  • More than 300 songs, written from 1837 to 1872; majority collected by composer in six volumes of Śpiewnik Domowy [Songbook for Home Use], for voice and piano, published in Wilno between 1844-1859 and 1897-1910
  • Prayers and religious songs (solo or duets) with organ

Most popular songs:

Chochlik [The Imp], text by A. E. Odyniec
Czaty [The Ambush], text by A. Mickiewicz (also in orchestral version)
Dziad i baba [An Old Man and Old Woman], text by J. I. Kraszewski
Dziadek i babka [Grandpa and Grandma], text by P. Jankowski
Entuzjasta [The Enthusiast], text by J. Prusinowski
Kozak [Cossack], also known as: Tam na górze jawor stoi
Kum i kuma, text by J. Czeczot
Łzy [Tears], text by A. E. Odyniec
Maciek, text by T. Lenartowicz
Magda karczmarka [Magda, the Innkeeper], aka W pustej karczmie Magda siedzi, text by E. Sztyrmer
Nad Nida [On Nida River], text by W. Wolski
Panicz i dziewczyna [The Young Master and The Girl] also known as: W gaiku zielonym, text by A. E. Odyniec
Pieśń wieczorna [The Twilight Song] aka: Po nocnej rosie, text by W. Syrokomla
Piosnka żołnierza [Soldier’s Song] aka Już matka zasnęła, text by J. Korzeniowski
Polna różyczka [A Field Rose], text by J. Grajnert
Powrót taty [Father’s Return], text by A. Mickiewicz
Prząśniczka [The Spinner], text by J. Czeczot (also orchestral and solo piano versions)
Rozmowa [Conversation] aka Kochanko moja, na co nam rozmowa, text by A. Mickiewicz
Rybka [The Fish], text by A. Mickiewicz
Świerszcz [The Cricket] Mazurek-dumka, text by J. N. Kamiński
Świtezianka
 [The Świteź Lake Nymph], text by A. Mickiewicz
Tren X
[Lament No. X] aka Urszulo moja 
wdzięczna, text by J. Kochanowski
Trzech Budrysów
[The Three Buddies], text by A. Mickiewicz (also orchestral version)

Trzy śpiewy: Niepewność, Pieszczotka, Sen [The Three Chants: Uncertainty, My Love, Dream], text by A. Mickiewicz; German translation by Blankensee
Wilija [Christmas Eve], text by A Mickiewicz
Znaszli ten kraj?
[Knowest Thou That Land?], text by A. Mickiewicz after J. W. Goethe

Instrumental Music

Symphonic Works

Bajka [Fairytale] overture for orchestra. Wilno 1848 (?)
First performance: Wilno, 1 May 1848

Kain [Cain] orchestral overture
First performance: St. Petersburg, March 1856

War Overture
First performance: Wilno, 19 March 1857

Polonez koncertowy [Concert Polonaise] in A-major for large orchestra

Polonez obywatelski [Civic Polonaise] in F-major. Warsaw (after 1863)

Ballet Music

Monte Christo, ballet in 5 acts. Libretto after the novel by Aleksandre Dumas. Warsaw (1866)
First performance: Warsaw, 27 August 1866

Na kwaterunku [On the Billet], ballet in 1 act. Warsaw (1868)
First performance: Warsaw, 6 September 1868

Figle szatana [Satan’s Tricks], ballet in 6 pictures. Librettist unknown. Warsaw (1870)
First performance: Warsaw, 1 December 1870

Merry Wives of Windsor, opera by Otto Nicolai with ballet music composed by Moniuszko

Theatre Music

Kasper Hauser, melodrama by Anicet, Bourgeois and and d’Ennery (1843)
First performance: Minsk, 18 November 1843

Sabaudka [Savoyardess or the Mother’s Blessing], melodrama in 5 acts by d’Ennery and Lemoine
First performance: Wilno, 6 May 1845

Hamlet [text by Shakespeare]
First performance: Warsaw, 24 March 1871

Zbójcy [Die Räuber] based on Schiller
First performance: Warsaw 1870-1871

Hans Mathis – drama 1872 (Finished by Adam Munchheimer)

Karpaccy górale – drama by J. Korzeniowski

Chamber Music

String Quartet No. 1 Berlin (1837-1840)
String Quartet No. 2 Berlin (1837-1840)

Piano Compositions

Fraszki [Trifles], published in Wilno (1843)
Nocturne in A flat major, published in Wilno (1846)
Mazurka in D major, published in Wilno (before 1846)
Six Polonaises, published in Wilno (1846)
Polka in C major, published in Warsaw (1851)
Polka ‘Daniel,’ published in Warsaw (1852)
Polka ‘Gabriela,’ published in Warsaw (1855)
Spring Polka, published in Warsaw (1860)
Vilanelle in B flat major, published in Warsaw (1851)
Three Waltzes, published in Warsaw (1852)
Wedding Mazurka, published in Warsaw (1872)
Kołysanka [Cradle Song] in D major, published in Warsaw (1872)

Piano transcriptions of opera fragments and of works by other composers
Six Polonaises by Michał Ogiński, published in Warsaw (before 1858)
Original compositions and transcriptions for piano duet
Organ compositions on the themes of church songs
Vespers and Songs of Ostra Brama, published in Warsaw (1862)

The principal […] field of Mr Moniuszko’s activity as a compose is dramatic music; his favourite genre is French opera, created by Gluck, refined with Italian improvements by Méhul and Cherubini, later enriched with the treasures of harmony and drama of the German opera, disseminated so widely by Catel, Boiledieu, Auber, Hérold and Halévy, the sounds of the French opera are heard today from the stages everywhere across Europe. Indeed, music of this kind seems to be much more to our taste than the studied, dreamy-philosophical German style: we are so fond of this gaiety, this lightness that does not exclude the true drama, melodiousness, grace and naïveté—the ingredients of the good French opera.

[Stanisław Lachowicz, “Moniuszko,” Tygodnik Petersburski 13 (1842), No. 80. Quoted from Grzegorz Zieziula, From Bettly in French to Die Schweizerhütte in German: The Foreign-Language Operas of Stanisław Moniuszko]

 


 

Page updated on 11 April 2018