Stanislaw MONIUSZKO was born on the family estate at Ubiel near Minsk on May 5, 1819. His father, Czeslaw Moniuszko, was a former Napoleonic captain of a regiment of Lithuanian mounted riflemen dismissed in 1815.
Life offered very modest means to Moniuszko. His father was not very successful in the administration of his family estate, and they had to be careful about the money they spent. Longer artistic travels that would deepen his knowledge and experience were to remain for Stanislaw dreams. He, the composer of operas, never visited Italy. However, after graduating from school he continued his studies for four years under the pedantic Carl Rungenhagen in Berlin. Of the great centres of music he visited only St. Petersburg and Paris. He married and settled down in Vilna where he earned his living as a conductor in the local theatre and gave poorly paying lessons. Temporarily he was also an organist in one of the churches in Vilna. He often had to face financial diffictilties, especially as his happy married life was blessed with an ever growing family. The Moniuszkos had ten children and together with the nurses and the old faithful servants there came a time when 18 (!) people sat down at their table every day.
Moniuszko, the author of vaudevilles and operettas, wrote Halka, his first opera, in Vilna, which was a provincial town cut off from the musical life of Europe, lacking both eminent singers and a good orchestra. After a successful performance of Halka presented on a bare stage in Vilna, it took ten years of relentless efforts before that first national opera - developed for the occasion to four acts by the composer - scored its triumphal success on the stage of the Wielki Theatre in Warsaw on January 1, 1858. On that evening the composer, shy and slightly limping, thanked the audience bowing many times to incessant applause.
Moniuszko composed over three hundred songs. It is worth noting that the history of opera rarely provides the examples of a composer of songs who, by nature of his talent, should rather prefer to express himself in small forms of a lyrical nature, and yet is able to create great works of the highest quality in the sphere of drama, unfamiliar to him. Moniuszko was able to do that. The highest qualities of his operas did not disappear with time. The sincere invention, spontaneity and attractiveness of Halka as a spectacle with strong social accents, appeal to audiences just as strongly today.
Moniuszko wrote two one act operas, the real pearls of his talents: Verbum Nobile in which he derided in a friendly manner the customs and habits of the gentry, and The Raftsman which is a middle-class idyll situated on the Vistula river-bank.
His best opera, Straszny Dwor (The Hounted Manor), combining national implications and comic features, Moniuszko finished in 1864, one year after the January Uprising. Moniuszko composed music that was strikingly beautiful and Polish in character.
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