"Prince of Polish music" and the "King
of Polish art song"
"Our sweet music maker", "the bard", "genius", "second to Chopin only" and, last but not least, "the Father of Polish opera". What did composer Stanisław Moniuszko do to deserve all these praises?
The Apotheosis of Moniuszko (1921) by Tadeusz WolniewiczTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Moniuszko composed more than 300 pieces: art songs, operas, operettas, ballets, cantatas, compositions for piano, organ, symphony orchestra and chamber ensembles.
Their number and variety are proof of his fertile imagination and unbridled creativity. His talent found its best expression in art songs and operas.
Timeline of Stanisław Moniuszko’s life as compared to other composers (2018)Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Here you can see Moniuszko compared to other famous composers in regards to: birthdate; lifetime; number of operas, operettas, songs, symphony works, sacred pieces and chamber compositions written; average number of pieces written yearly over a lifetime; and number of children.
Stanisław Moniuszko, Songbook for Home Use No. 1 for voice and piano 3rd ed., (ca. 1865)Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Moniuszko’s ‘home songs’ were made up of 268 very diverse pieces – simple little songs, romances, dumkas and extensive narrative ballads – all of them very catchy and attractive to the ear.
The composer mainly chose Polish poems and set them to rather straightforward music with the intention of reaching a wide popular audience.
They were published in the subsequent Songbooks for Home Use, 12 of which were released altogether.
Stanisław Moniuszko, Songbook for Home Use No. 5 (ca. 1859)Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Masses and sacred vocal music by Stanisław Moniuszko, 2nd series (from 1872)Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Moniuszko was a deeply religious man. He started his day by attending morning Mass. He left behind more than 40 religious compositions, including eight Mass cycles, both in Latin and Polish.
These compositions, many of them only discovered and recorded in our times, show him to be a serious and profound, though not a revolutionary, composer.
The birth of Polish opera
No Polish opera written before 1858 became as popular as Moniuszko’s Halka, the only Polish opera that has never been off the stage since its world premiere. (The Haunted Manor was banned by Russian censors for many years after the first three performances.) Ultimately, only Halka and The Haunted Manor became part of the cultural canon of any Polish person who had the ambition of being considered well-educated.
Halka, scene from Act 4 (1900)Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Halka was Moniuszko’s first opera. It transformed his life, bringing him recognition and the devotion of adoring fans.
Marek Adamski, costume of Janusz (2011) by designed by: Marek AdamskiTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Moniuszko made a young Highland girl the heroine of his opera. A peasant’s daughter in love with a nobleman’s son; a poor girl and a wealthy young master: this love was downright impossible. The same went for making a simple country woman an opera heroine. Warsaw initially rejected Halka and the opera had to wait ten years to be staged in the city.
Marek Adamski, costume of Halka (2011) by designed by: Marek AdamskiTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
The work’s Warsaw premiere on January 1 1858 changed the course of Polish opera.
This is a unique manuscript
It proves the existence of an earlier version of Moniuszko’s masterpiece, now called 'the Vilnius version’. The orchestra score for Halka’s 1848 version has not survived our times.
Piano reduction of the Vilnius version of Halka (1848)Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
To this day, the manuscript of the Vilnius version of Halka is one of the most valuable objects kept at the library of the Poznań Society of Friends of Learning.
Scenes from Halka with excerpts of the libretto, postcardsTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Issuing postcards presenting key scenes from famous operas or likenesses of famous singers in costumes from popular shows was a very profitable business starting in the 19th century.
Such publications were hugely popular because going to the opera was the a must for any educated or ‘affluent’ person.
Stanisław Moniuszko conducting orchestra (1892) by Ksawery PilattiTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Moniuszko at the helm of the Warsaw opera house
In 1858 Moniuszko was appointed Director of the Teatr Wielki, the Warsaw opera house. This was the most prominent music job available in Polish lands in the 19th century. Bathed in glory as the author of the now-sensationally received Halka, Moniuszko became a popular figure in Warsaw almost overnight; people would even recognize him in the streets.
Baton owned by Stanisław Moniuszko by from the collection of Aleksander MichałowskiTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Upon obtaining his prestigious appointment, he immediately set about composing further works and staging new opera productions.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1914) by Michał IchnowskiTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
After Halka he took time to write The Raftsman (1858), The Countess (1859), Verbum Nobile (1860), The Haunted Manor (1862), Paria (1869) and Beata (1871). At the same time, he worked on a few projects that were never completed (the operas Rokiczana, The Seer’s Dream and Trea), successive cantatas (Crimean Sonnets) and religious music.
Tribute to Moniuszko
This apotheosis is proof of his popularity and gives us clues to ‘artist rankings’ at the end of the 18th century (when Johann Sebastian Bach was elevated to the rank of the ‘sun of composers’). Placing a composer, often recently deceased, at the very centre of the composition, radiating onto other great artistic personalities, suggests he should be considered superior to his peers. So this piece draws attention to his international standing, and in Moniuszko’s case this was not questioned from the 1860s.
Playbill for The Haunted ManorTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
The Haunted Manor
The success of Moniuszko’s new opera matched that of Halka. It abounds in patriotic themes cleverly disguised by the composer to mislead Russian censors.
The world premiere took place on September 28 1865. The audience welcomed it with passionate enthusiasm which turned into a patriotic manifestations. After the third performance, Russian authorities banned the production altogether for years.
Mazurka from The Haunted Manor performed by the Polish National BalletTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Sets for David Pountney’s production of The Haunted Manor (2015) by Leslie TraversTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
This is the central element of the stage design for an innovative production of The Haunted Manor staged for the Polish National Opera in 2015 by David Pountney. Pountney was the first foreign director of such considerable stature to ever put on a Moniuszko opera.
Banknote featuring the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw on the reverse (100,000 Polish zloty)Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
It is hard to count how many times Moniuszko, cheeks red with embarrassment, had to send letters to Robert Wolff of Gebethner & Wolff, the composer’s publisher, asking for a loan of three or five roubles.
Banknote featuring the likeness of Stanisław Moniuszko on the obverse (100,000 Polish zloty)Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
It was not until 118 years after Moniuszko’s death that his name started to be associated with money thanks to the National Bank of Poland which issued a 100,000-zloty note depicting the composer.
Stanisław Moniuszko’s statueTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
The composer’s presence is definitely strongest on Warsaw’s Teatralny Square. His statue stands in front of the east wing of the Teatr Wielki, and he is also the patron of the opera house’s main auditorium. Rebuilt from rubble after World War II together with the whole theater, the auditorium officially opened on November 20 1965, with the premiere of The Haunted Manor. It was named after the composer in 1996.
Stanisław Moniuszko AuditoriumTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
The Moniuszko Auditorium
The Moniuszko Auditorium is one of the biggest opera auditoriums in the world: it can seat 1,768 people in its stalls, amphitheater and three balconies. The stage itself occupies an enormous area of 1,150 square meters. It is 36.5 meters wide and almost 34.5 meters high. The stage opening is 17.5 meters wide and 10.5 meters high.
The Stanisław Moniuszko Central Railway Station in Warsaw by photo: Donat Brykczyński / BEWTeatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Stanisław Moniuszko Central Railway Station in Warsaw
The Central Railway Station in Warsaw is the only Polish railway station to have been given a patron. The ceremony took place on January 5 2019 on the initiative of the Society of Moniuszko Music Lovers Krzysztof Mamiński, president of Polish State Railways (PKP S.A.). The idea was originally put forward in 2014 by conductor Mieczysław Nowakowski, a member of the Society.
Translated into English by:
Joanna Dutkiewicz, Monika Tacikowska
Viva Moniuszko! is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Viva Moniuszko! (Opera Gallery, Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera, 27 December 2018-12 May 2019)