10 September (22 September, old style) 1875
Born in Varėna, a small town in the south of Lithuania, into the family of the church organist Konstantinas Čiurlionis and Adelė Marija Magdalena Radmanaitė-Čiurlionienė, Mikalojus Konstantinas was the eldest of nine children.
1876 – 1877
The family lived in Ratnyčia.
The Čiurlionis family moved to Druskininkai.
Čiurlionis completed the elementary school in Druskininkai. Taught by his father, he played the piano and organ very well. The doctor Jozef Markiewicz, a close friend of the family, recommended him to Michal Oginski, who had an orchestral school in Plungė.
1889 – 1893
Čiurlionis lived in Plungė, learning to play various instruments at the orchestral school on M. Oginski’s estate and singing in a choir. He started composing music, and in his spare time liked drawing. From 1892, as a flutist with the orchestra, he received not only his keep but also a salary. With the orchestra he played concerts in Palanga, Riga and Rietavas.
With financial support from M. Oginski, Čiurlionis studied at the Warsaw Institute of Music. Having enrolled in the piano class, he began his studies under Professor T. Brezicki and in 1895 moved up to Anton Sygietinski’s class. He also studied composition under Zygmunt Noskowski.
His best friend at the Institute was his colleague Eugeniusz Morawski. Čiurlionis was a frequent guest at his friend’s home, where he met and fell in love with Eugeniusz’s sister Maria. But, their romance did not lead to marriage. Maria’s father, having noticed their feelings, took haste to marry off his daughter to another suitor.
In addition to his main subject, Čiurlionis also studied harmony, the theory and history of music, the natural sciences, astronomy, philosophy, numismatics and mineralogy, and attended a choir class. His favourite authors were Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, Bolesław Prus, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche and Leo Tolstoy. In Warsaw, he composed canons, fugues, preludes, variation cycles for piano and a string quartet. He earned a diploma in composition. His graduation work was a cantata for mixed choir and symphony orchestra De Profundis.
He stayed in Druskininkai, drawing and teaching his siblings music.
Autumn 1899 – spring 1901
Čiurlionis lived in Warsaw giving private lessons in order to support himself and his brother Povilas who has entered the Institute of Music. He rejected an offer to take the position of the conductor of the Lublin Music Society’s choir and orchestra.
Čiurlionis composed Polonaise for wind orchestra. His first publication – the Nocturne in F-sharp minor in Meloman (No. 8).
October 1900 – April 1901
Čiurlionis composed the symphonic poem In the Forest and dedicated it to his friend E. Morawski. With this composition he participated in a competition funded by Count Zamoyski and won a special mention from the jury.
1901 – 1902
Čiurlionis studied composition under Professor Carl Reinecke and counterpoint under Salomon Jadassohn at the Leipzig Conservatoire. As an external student he attended lectures in aesthetics, history and psychology. He listened to his favourite compositions by Handel, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Liszt at the Gewandhaus and Leipzig Theatre. He studied independently orchestration of Berlioz and R. Strauss compositions at the library of C.F. Peters’ publishing house.
During his Leipzig period, he composed the symphonic overture Kęstutis, a string quartet in four movements, canons and fugues including Sanctus and Kyrie for mixed choir. During his vacations he did some drawing.
14 July 1902
Čiurlionis earned teacher qualification from Leipzig Conservatoire.
Autumn 1902 – early 1904
Čiurlionis lived in Warsaw, and studied at Jan Kauzik’s drawing school. By giving private lessons, he supported his younger brothers continuing their education there.
In the autumn 1903, he painted Funeral Symphony, a cycle of seven paintings. He began composing the symphonic poem The Sea. In order to dedicate himself fully to art studies, he turned down Emili Młynarski’s proposal to teach at the Warsaw Institute of Music.
Spring – summer 1904
Čiurlionis began his studies at the Warsaw School of Art, which was headed by Kazimieras Stabrauskas, an artist of Lithuanian descent. Karol Tichy and Konrad Krzyżanowski taught drawing, Ksawery Dunikowski sculpture and Ferdynand Ruszczyc painting. During his studies Čiurlionis created the book cover designs Cottage Beyond the Village, In Autumn, The Thought and Towers, and completed the paintings The Bell, Island and The Temple.
At the same time he led the school choir.
Čiurlionis participated in the school’s exhibition with his stained-glass designs, a cycle of six paintings called Storm, and book cover designs (19 works in all).
In the summer of the same year, he went to a plein-air organised by the school in Arkadia, near łowicz (Poland).
Autumn – winter 1904
Čiurlionis composed variation cycles for piano Sefaa Esec and Besacas.
An exhibition of Čiurlionis’ works was held at the school. Displayed was Fantasies, a cycle of ten paintings. In his letter to Povilas, written in April 1905, he mentioned his other works painted in 1904 – 1905 (64 in all), among them the cycle of five paintings Deluge, the triptych Rex, Murmur of the Forest, and Tidings.
Čiurlionis took part in the first annual exhibition of the Warsaw School of Art with his cycle Storm and other paintings.
He spent his vacation with the Wolman family in Anapa by the Black Sea. He travelled in the Caucasus, painted and took photographs.
Čiurlionis lived in Warsaw with his brother Stasys. He continued his studies at the School of Art, and made a living by giving private lessons.
He began leading the choir of the Warsaw Lithuanians’ Society for Mutual Assistance.
End of 1905
Čiurlionis went to the artists’ residence in Ribiniškės (Latvia), which was funded by patron of art E. Kerbedienė. He spent Christmas in Druskininkai.
Beginning of 1906
He lived in Druskininkai, arranged Lithuanian folk songs. In a letter to his brother Povilas, he wrote that has decided to “dedicate all his past and future works to Lithuania.” At the time the idea to write a Lithuanian opera was born.
Čiurlionis took part in an exhibition of works by the students of the Warsaw School of Art in St Petersburg, with his cycles Creation of the World, A Day and Storm, the diptych Rex (it has not survived), and others. Art critics took note of his extraordinary paintings.
The first article on Čiurlionis appeared in Vilniaus žinios (No. 123).
Summer – autumn 1906
He took part in a plein-air organised by a school in Istebna (in the Carpathians, then under Austrian rule).
The same year, he spent the summer in Krynitsa with the Wolman family. At the time he wrote his literary Letters to Dievdurakėlis.
Supported by Bronislawa Wolman, he travelled in Europe visiting Prague, Dresden, Nuremberg, Munich and Vienna. He was fascinated by the works of Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Arnold Böcklin he saw in museums. At the time he worked on sketches for The Zodiac cycle. He received an invitation to participate in the First Exhibition of Lithuanian Art.
Late 1906 – early 1907
Čiurlionis left the School of Art. He sent his works to the First Exhibition of Lithuanian Art in Vilnius and helped to organise it. For the exhibition he presented the cycles Creation of the World and Storm, triptych Rex, and eight fluor etchings (33 works in all).
Čiurlionis completed orchestration of the symphonic poem The Sea and started working on the new symphonic poem Creation of the World.
In the first half of the year he painted 50 works.
In the autumn, he moved to Vilnius, participated in the constituent assembly of the Society of the Lithuanian Art and was elected to its executive board. He met the writer Sofija Kymantaitė at the dress rehearsal for Gabrielius Landsbergis-Žemkalnis’ drama Blinda. The number of paintings he completed this year is huge: Sonata of the Sun and Sonata of the Spring, the triptychs Raigardas, My Road, The Prince’s Journey, Summer, the cycle of eight paintings Winter, The Zodiac cycle, the painting Forest, etc.
Winter – spring 1908
Čiurlionis lived in Vilnius, led the Vilniaus Kanklės choir. He gave a concert with the choir and as a pianist. Assisted by Sofija Kymantaitė, Petras Rimša and several other enthusiasts, he put on the Second Exhibition of the Lithuanian Art in Vilnius and Kaunas, and created the cover design for its catalogue and a poster. He displayed more than 60 of his latest works in the exhibition.
The same year, he joined the discussions in Viltis regarding the founding of the House of the Nation, campaigned to raise the funds for its establishment, and promised to donate all his works to it.
On 30 May, conducted by the composer, Čiurlionis’ cantata De Profundis was premiered in Vilnius.
During a stay in Druskininkai, he painted Sonata No. 3 (Sonata of the Serpent), Sonata No. 4 (Sonata of the Summer), and the diptych Prelude. Fugue.
Together with his fiancée Sofija Kymantaitė, he stayed in Palanga, where he painted Sonata No. 5 (Sonata of the Sea), the diptych Prelude and Fugue, and the triptych Fantasy. They both were planning to write an opera Jūratė.
August – September 1908
The couple visited Sofija’s uncle Vincas Jarulaitis in Plungė, her parents in Kuliai and Karklėnai, and later went to Druskininkai. Here Čiurlionis painted Sonata No. 6 (Sonata of the Stars).
At the end of August, on the advice of the Vilnius-born artist Lev Antokolsky, Čiurlionis went to St Petersburg, hoping to find a more regular source of income and to take part in exhibitions. His first trip was not very successful.
October – December 1908
In the middle of October, Čiurlionis went to St Petersburg for the second time taking some of his paintings and planning to stay there longer. He visited the Society of Lithuanians and the artist Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, who introduced him to Russian artists. They immediately accepted him into their association. Čiurlionis again gives private lessons as a means of earning a living. Help came from Lithuanians living in St Petersburg: Alfonsas Moravskis, Juozas Tallat-Kelpša, Juozas Zikaras and Stasys Bytautas.
The Society of Lithuanians held weekly events, in which Čiurlionis played his compositions. Here the thought occurred to him to form a music department within the Society for Lithuanian Art, which would take care of Lithuanian composers and musicians, organise competitions and concerts, and found the music library. The Society’s executive board supported the idea. Čiurlionis did not forget the Vilniaus Kanklės choir either and kept sending his folk song arrangements for it.
Skylark, a collection of folk song arrangements by Čiurlionis, was published in Warsaw.
He was also writing music for the opera Jūratė, based on the libretto sent by Sofija, and painted sketches for the set and curtain.
At the end of December he went to join his fiancée.
1 (14) January 1909
In Šateikiai, a small town near Plungė, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis married Sofija Kymantaitė. After the wedding, they went to St Petersburg.
January – March 1909
Čiurlionis’ works were displayed at the Salon exhibition in St Petersburg and at the first spring exhibition of the Vilnius Society of Artists, three of his works were shown at the sixth exhibition of the Russian Association of Artists, among them Rex, which was painted in St Petersburg. He sent several of his paintings to the 13th exhibition of the Sztuka Society of Art Lovers in Krakow.
His piano works were performed at a concert in the series Evenings of Contemporary Music in St Petersburg on 28 January (10 February) 1909. In February, his works were performed at a concert held by the Salon exhibition, along with the compositions by Alexander Scriabin, Nikolai Medtner, Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninov.
At the end of March, the couple returned to Lithuania.
The couple lived in Druskininkai. They would go to Vilnius to take part in organisation of the Third Exhibition of Lithuanian Art. Čiurlionis designed its poster and the cover for the catalogue. He displayed more than 30 works at the exhibition including Sonata of the Serpent, Sonata of the Sea, Sonata of the Stars, Fairy Tale of the Kings, and the triptych Fantasy. His paintings were displayed at the exhibition to mark the fifth anniversary of the Warsaw School of Art. In June, he and Sofija painted the stage curtain for the Rūta Society’s hall, and he appeared as a pianist in concerts held by the Society.
July – October 1909
Čiurlionis and Sofija lived in Plungė. That summer he produced around 20 paintings including The Altar, Angels (Paradise), Lithuanian Graveyard, many sketches and vignettes for folk songs. Together with his wife, Čiurlionis wrote the book of critical essays In Lithuania. He designed its cover and several initials (which remained unused).
In a general meeting of the Lithuanian Society of Science Čiurlionis was elected the member of the committee for collecting and notating songs.
November – December 1909
With his paintings created earlier, he went to St Petersburg again. There he received a proposal to lead the Lithuanian Society’s choir in St Petersburg. Together with Kazimieras Būga, Augustinas Voldemaras, Česlovas Sasnauskas, Juozas Tallat-Kelpša he was compiling The Terminology of Our Music, the dictionary of Lithuanian musical terms.
At the end of December, his intense creative work and constant material deprivations had undermined Čiurlionis’ health. The neuropathologist and psychiatrist Vladimir Bekhterev diagnosed him as suffering from exhaustion.
On the Professor’s advice, Čiurlionis’ wife took her sick husband back to Druskininkai.
His paintings Noah’s Ark, Angels (Paradise) and Ballad (The Black Sun) are shown at the Seventh Exhibition of the Association of Russian Artists in Moscow.
Late February – March 1910
Čiurlionis was admitted to the Czerwony Dwór sanatorium in Pustelnik (near Warsaw). Some of his works were displayed at the Seventh Exhibition of the Association of Russian Artists in St Petersburg, and nine of his paintings were shown at the Fourth Exhibition of Lithuanian Art in Vilnius.
April – May 1910
Twenty-eight of his works were displayed at the Exhibition of Lithuanian Art in Riga, and several at an exhibition of the Association of Russian Artists in Kiev.
Čiurlionis’ daughter Danutė was born.
Seven works by Čiurlionis were shown at an exhibition of works by Russian artists in Paris. Sofija Čiurlionienė’s book In Lithuania was published in Vilnius.
Čiurlionis’ health improved, and he was allowed to paint and play in moderation.
He received a belated invitation to participate in an exhibition of the Artists’ New Congregation in Munich. Čiurlionis was elected a member of the newly established society Mir Iskusstva (The World of Art) in St Petersburg.
5 November 1910
Čiurlionis sent a card to his wife, in which he hoped to see her soon.
January – March 1911
Čiurlionis’ paintings are displayed at Mir Iskusstva exhibitions in St Petersburg and Moscow, and four works are shown at an exhibition in Minsk. Twenty-eight of his works are displayed at the Fifth Exhibition of Lithuanian Art.
His health was gradually improving, but at the end of March he caught a cold and contracted pneumonia during a walk.
28 March (10 April) 1911
Čiurlionis died at the Czerwony Dwór sanatorium in Pustelnik, and is buried in the Rasų Cemetery in Vilnius.
Translated by Sonata Zubovienė