Born May 5, 1819, in Ubiel, near Minsk; died June 4, 1872, in Warsaw. Polish composer.
Moniuszko received his first music lessons from his mother. He subsequently studied piano and organ with A. Freyer in Warsaw from 1827 to 1830, composition with D. Stefanowicz in Minsk from 1830 to 1837, and composition and choral conducting with F. Rungenhagen in Berlin from 1837 to 1840. His first published work, Three Songs, based on poems by A. Mickiewicz, appeared in 1838. From 1840 to 1858 he lived in Vilnius, where he served as church organist and gave lessons in piano and composition (C. Cui was one of his pupils). He was appointed conductor of the opera theater in Vilnius in 1850 and was active in the musical life of the city.
In 1842 Moniuszko began working on songs which he published in the collections Song books for Home Use; collections one through six appeared between 1844 and 1859, and collections seven through 12 were published posthumously by J. Karlowicz. His some 400 songs, along with those of F. Chopin, laid the foundation for Polish national vocal music. The songs embodied many characteristic features of his musical style, such as the use of folk song and dance elements, melodic and lyrical richness, and clear and simple musical representation. From 1858 he worked in Warsaw, serving as conductor at the Wielki Theater and teaching at the Music Institute from 1864 to 1872, where his pupils included Z. Noskowski and H. Jarecki.
Moniuszko introduced national features into all the genres in which he worked, including his cantatas and church music. His cantatas include Milda (1848), Nijota (1852), and Krumine (1852), all based on J. Kraszewski’s poems;Phantoms (1865), after Mickiewicz’s Dziady; and The Crimean Sonnets (1868), based on Mickiewicz’s poems. His church music consists of Litanie ostrobramskie (Litanies to the Virgin Mary at Ostra Brama) and six Masses, including the Petrowin. His orchestral works, notably the fantasy overture The Fairy Tale (1848), dedicated to Dargomyzhskii, and the overtures Cain (1856) and War (1857), became important landmarks in the development of a national symphonic style.
Moniuszko’s greatest achievement was the creation of the first national opera, Halka. The first version of Halka, in two acts, was presented in a concert performance in Vilnius in 1848 and staged there in 1854. Because of the social criticism implicit in the libretto—its compassionate portrayal of the tragic fate of a peasant girl and condemnation of the szlachta (nobility)—the opera was not presented in Warsaw until 1858 (in a new four-act version). The opera’s evocation of national life, especially in such large group scenes as the Highlander Dances, its melodic richness, and its dramatic expressiveness assured its success. In Warsaw, Moniuszko wrote and produced his comic operas The Raftsman (1858), in which the main characters are peasants; The Countess (1860); and Verbum Nobile (1861), a satire on the Polish aristocracy. One of his best operas is the patriotic Haunted Manor (1865). The opera Paria (1869) protests against social inequality.
Moniuszko’s works for the musical stage, comprising more than 15 operas and several vaudevilles and operettas, are noted for the distinctive national quality of their music, for their vivid character portrayal, and for their professional excellence, reflected in the construction of group and solo scenes and in mastery of orchestral techniques. Among his other works are nearly 50 pieces for the piano, vocal ensembles, and choral works.
Moniuszko made several trips to St. Petersburg. In 1842 he unsuccessfully sought the post of court composer at the St. Petersburg Opera Theater, and in 1849 and 1856 he gave concerts in St. Petersburg, becoming acquainted with M. I. Glinka, A. S. Dargomyzhskii, and A. N. Serov, all of whom highly praised his music. In 1858 he visited Germany, where he met F. Liszt, and he later traveled through Bohemia and France. The music of Moniuszko, one of the most important representatives of Polish national musical culture, was widely acclaimed abroad, especially in the Slavic countries.
REFERENCESS. Moniushko: Sb. statei pod red. I. Belzy. Moscow-Leningrad, 1952.
Belza, I. “Moniushko v Rossii.” Sovetskaia muzyka, 1952, no. 6.
Rudziński, W. Moniushko. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from Polish.)
Jachimecki. Z. S. Moniuszko. Kraków, 1961.
I. I. SVIRIDA