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Verbum Nobile - Nobleman's Word - Moniuszko
Verbum Nobile - Nobleman's Word - Moniuszko

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Stanislaw Moniuszko (1819 - 1872) and His Operas

Two great composers prevailed in Polish nineteenth century music. One of them, Fryderyk Chopin, became a major world composer writing mostly for the piano. Like the great Polish poets, including Adam Mickiewicz, he lived and worked abroad as an emigre  where he could enjoy freedom of expression. The other composer, Stanislaw Moniuszko, lived in Poland writing operas and songs and became a master in these fields. He cooperated with other artists who, under the country's foreign occupation, tried to uphold the national feeling. Indeed in those days Moniuszko's songs  were admired and very popular and used as a substitute for the teaching of Polish language and literature, both banned from official school curricula.  His pieces became in time a part of every Pole's cultural equipment, an element of his national identity.

Stanislaw Moniuszko was born on 5 May, 1819 at Ubiel, near Minsk (in Belorussia) to a family of landed gentry. His father and paternal uncles had been officers in the Polish army and accompanied Napoleon in his defeated Russian campaign. The uncles, graduates of Vilna University, were filled with the ideas of the Enlightenment: democracy, social progress, devotion to the native-country, patriotism. And just at that time that part of Poland found itself ultimately under Russian rule.

When still a child, Moniuszko showed an unusual musical talent. This was cultivated first at home and then, during a three-year-long stay in Warsaw, by music teachers.
When eighteen, Moniuszko went to study in Berlin where he was taught privately be C. F. Rungenhagen. Consequently he got a thorough education in composition which was as good as that for any major European composer of his day. Moniuszko's first compositions were songs which he was publishing in books bearing the common title "A Home Song-Book (Spiewnik domowy). These pieces, varying in subject and character made up in time a collection of over three hundred songs. He also wrote light-hearted compositions for the stage (operettas) which paved the way for his future operas. From the very beginning his music was endowed with a national character, and influenced by folk music - not only Polish but also Lithuanian and Belorussian. He managed to introduce those features in the Polish national style. In 1846 a national uprising broke out in Krakow, which ended in a defeat and slaughter of Polish landed gentry by peasants incited by Austrian authorities. Moniuszko, brought up in the spirit of equality for all the classes, attributed the disaster to the wrong social approach characterizing that uprising. So his first opera, Halka, was his contribution to the nation-wide discussion of these problems, since the subject of his opera was a wrong done to a peasant girl. He first staged his work, in a concert form and two acts, in Vilna (1848), and a few years later in the same city at the theatre.

He had to wait ten years until 1858 when there was a change in the cultural policy and the opera Halka could at last be produced, in its new four-act version, at the opera house in Warsaw. The work proved a tremendous success and became the first Polish national opera. Moniuszko himself was invited to assume the post of director (conductor) at the opera house concerned with the Polish operatic repertoire, the repertoire having until then been mainly Italian. He composed a number of operas: The Raftsmen, The Countess, Verbum Nobile. This string of success was interrupted by the growing political tension and patriotic manifestations. Just at that time Moniuszko was trying to get his operas staged in Paris, but his efforts were frustrated eventually by the outbreak of the January Uprising (1863). Another of his major national operas, The Haunted Manor, was a great patriotic event and because of that was immediately banned by the Russian censors. A few years later Moniuszko produced his last opera, Paria.  In the years following the Uprising his opera Halka was staged in several Slavonic countries: first in Prague under B. Smetana, then in Moscow, and finally in St. Petersburg, where it met with great success. Stanislaw Moniuszko died in Warsaw on 4 June, 1872.

The premiere of Verbum Nobile took place on January 1, 1861 and was very well received by the press and the public.  The opera is a charming and unpretentious picture of old-Polish customs - especially the much abused "nobleman's word" (hence the title) -- shown with a good-natured satirical smile.  To the picture, Moniuszko added equally charming music.
  • Compact Disc
  • Recorded in 1993
  • Performed by the Chorus and Orchestra of the Poznan State Opera
  • Directed by Robert Satanowski
  • Total time 65:35 minutes

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