M.K.Ciurlionis Musical Works

The influence of P.Tchaikonsky or F.Chopin or R.Strauss is no longer felt in this music. What we hear is an entirely new and unusual idiom... One more step, and the composer will come into his own, will find new means to translate the world of painting into his music, in the same way as he achieved their reverse correlation in his painting.

V.Karatygin about Ciurlionis' musical creation

A Short Survey
Symphonic Poems: "In the Forest" and "The Sea"
Piano Compositions: Preludes and Fugues
String Quartet in C Minor
Harmonized Lithuanian Folk Songs
Other Compositions

A Short Survey


Symphonic Poems

His symphonic poems "In the Forest" [...] and "The Sea" [...] are not only vast canvases depicting nature, a complex world of spiritual experience, a profound philosophy of human existence speaks to us from these thoughtful and monumental compositions.


These two symphonic poems are probably the most remarkable and well-known Ciurlionis' compositions. Unfortunately, none of them was played during the composer's life-time. Here you can download fragments from every symphonic poem (appr. length: 5-7 minutes).

"In the Forest" (1900-1901)

It begins with wide silent chords as wide and silent is the rustle of Lithuanian pine-trees.


Ciurlionis composed "In the Forest" living in Warsaw and dedicated it to his fellow E.Morawski. It was written for the competition announced by M.Zamoiski and it merited a commendational reference. In 1912 in St.Petersburg during Ciurlionis' death anniversary this symphonic poem was played for the first time.

The means of expression are simple, romantic, traditional, moderately and tastefully used. Symphonic poem "In the Forest" attracts the listener with its sincerity and pure musical spirituality. The echos of the forest are filled with emotional and psychological experience, homesickness. On the other hand, there is a profound stillness, the perception of eternal nature's secrets lying in this lyricism of feelings.


"The Sea" (1903-1907)

I would like to compose a symphony of the rustle of waves, of a centenarian forest's mysterious speech, of stars' shimmering, of our songs and my vast longing.


It took Ciurlionis a long time to create "The Sea" (duration: about 37 minutes) because the process of composition was from time to time interrupted by his cultural activity and travels to Caucasus and Western Europe (1905-1906). In addition, he had already sacrificed himself to painting by that time. This symphonic poem, written for orchestra with organ, is dedicated to Ciurlionis' fellow and supporter B.Wolman. For the first time it was played in Kaunas. This happened only in 1936 during Ciurlionis' 25-th death anniversary.

"The Sea" is composed in a originally interpreted sonatic allegro form. It is full of distinct and psychologically significant scenes and purely musical ideas. [...] On the other hand, the poem, in which the scheme of sonatic form is rather hidden, sometimes reminds a free fantasy. The associations of natural landscapes and psychological content does not avoid fantastic and reflex features. The dramaturgy and majestic aggregate conception of the composition aquires a philosophical underlying implication.



Piano Compositions (~1899-1909)

All in all Ciurlionis created more than 200 piano compositions: fugues, preludes, variations ("Sefaa Esec" (1904), "Besacas" (1905) and other cycles), "landscapes" (e.g. cycle "The Sea" - 1908), etc. This is the most plentiful part of his musical creation.


Ciurlionis usually did not name his preludes, he simply marked them with numbers. Musicologists are particularly interested in these preludes because they most precisely show the evolution of the composer's style.
You can download the following piano compositions:

Prelude-187 (duration - 1:14, file size - 589KB)
Prelude-254 (duration - 0:48, file size - 381KB)
Prelude-269 (duration - 1:39, file size - 785KB)
Prelude-294 (duration - 0:47, file size - 369KB)
Prelude-304 (duration - 1:00, file size - 476KB)
Prelude-338 (duration - 2:17, file size - 1053KB)
Prelude-344 (duration - 1:00, file size - 476KB)

The early preludes of Ciurlionis attract with their sincerity, romantic style, noble moderation of emotion, complete form. In 1904 the style suddenly changed, the individuality of the composer was more distictly expressed. He turns to polyphony, to expressively variable character and structurized rhythmical pattern. [...] The form of the compositions is accurate, the thought is sententiously concentrated, constructive logic comes together with graceful fantasy, which often forms an impression of free improvisation. [...] In terms of thought and style the last-year preludes make up the most mature and original part of Ciurlionis' musical inheritance.



Ciurlionis composed the greatest part of his fugues in Leipzig Conservatoire. Altghough they are created for piano (except Fugue in Cis Minor, which was created for his father - the organist), the sound of the fugues let us presume that they were probably designed for organ. Ciurlionis' fugues are distinctly pictorial, especially when they are played with organ: "Fugue of the Serpent" resembles "Sonata of the Serpent", Fugue in B Minor embodies the visions of "Creation of the World" and so forth. Besides, the latter fugue is one of the last and most significant musical works of the composer.
In this website you can listen to one of Ciurlionis' early fugues - Fugue in G Minor (file size: 1.03MB).

Distict, accurate form, swiftness of texture and inner restlessness are characteristic features of Ciurlionis' fugues. They may sound a bit unusual for an ear accustomed to classical music but for us they build bridges to the past and the future of the art, connect musical lines and spaces of Ciurlionis' paintings.



String Quartet in C Minor (1901-1902)

I feel that I am capable to compose a hundred times better quartet.


String Quartet in C Minor was created and played for the first time in Leipzig Conservatoire. While composing it Ciurlionis had to meet professor K.Reinecke's academic requirements, therefore the composer got unsatisfied with the result. Only three parts of the quartet (out of four) remained: Allegro Moderato, Andante (Ciurlionis called it the pastoral part) and Menuetto. The Finale did not remain. Here you can download fragments of every part because the whole quartet is fairly durable.

String Quartet in C Minor is composed in a restrained, rather traditional form. Its music is graceful, it has a romantic touch, it is breathing of homesickness and memories about Lithuania.



Harmonized Lithuanian Folk Songs

The monotony of rhythm is one of the most significant and, I dare say, the most beautiful specific feature of our songs. This monotony gives a great noble staidness and if you listen to it for a longer time you begin to feel its profound mystical character... There are numerous similar classical works [...] but the melodies which were given birth to in man's soul have the greatest effect and an ability to fascinate. Such are our true oldest songs.

We are the first Lithuanian composers and next generations will search for an example to follow in our works. We are like a junction between folk songs and Lithuanian music of the future...


Ciurlionis harmonized folk songs approximately in 1904-1908, leading Warsaw Lithuanians' choir and later "Vilniaus kankles" choir. In 1908 he even published a collection of songs named "Vieverselis" ("Little Sky Lark"). There were other composers at that time which also tried to harmonize folk songs, but Ciurlionis' harmonizations were distinguished for the profound sense of the origin of old songs, their relation with nature and man's life.
You can make sure of that yourselves if you listen to these songs, harmonized by the composer:

Beastanti ausrele (fragment) (duration - 0:57, file size - 452KB)
Anoj pusej Nemuno (fragment) (duration - 0:49, file size - 391KB)
Taip toli zadeta (duration - 1:29, file size - 705KB)
Vienam kiemely (duration - 0:43, file size - 345KB)
Dainu dainele (duration - 1:04, file size - 511KB)

Ciurlionis' method is to give a sense to voices and to individualize the song. Every song is different, diversely composed. [...] All the masterful arsenal of musical means create images thriftly and purposefully. Also the composer takes care of not disturbing the perfect simplicity of folk songs, which accumulated wonderful values of form and meaning during centuries.



Other Compositions

Talking about other notable musical works of Ciurlionis first of all one should mention cantata "De profundis" (1899) - this is his most well-known composition for choir. Symphonic overture "Kestutis" (1902) is no less worth remarking (only piano score remained). There are other symphonic compositions but only their sketches remained.

Ciurlionis created not only folk songs' harmonizations but also original compositions for a capella psalms (1898-1902) and poems written by his whife Sofija (1908-1909).

When Ciurlionis reached the peak of his creative and spiritual development (~1907-1909) he was burning with desire to write his greatest work - opera "Jurate". As J.Landsbergyte (Lithuanian musicologist) wrote, it "was supposed to realize his new musical symbolism, to merge the worlds of musical and pictorial spaces". Unfortunately, the opera was never completed.