Sounding Seas of Colour. Čiurlionis and Debussy

Wednesday 15.11.2023 / 19:00

Концертний зал Людкевича



The programme combines two epoch-making symphonic works of the early twentieth century, adapted for one piano for four hands. The tradition of playing symphonic works on the piano is not new: since the mid-nineteenth century, much symphonic music has been immediately adapted for such performance. Thus, in the absence of methods for reproducing symphonic sound, it became accessible to music lovers in various European countries and even beyond. Therefore, symphonies by Brahms and Schumann, operas by Verdi and Puccini were known to music lovers mostly as works on the piano, usually performed by four hands, to give the works as much symphonic richness and colour as possible. Before the First World War, many of the most famous composers prepared their own arrangements of their symphonic works for four hands. And the versions of the works prepared in this way were performed both in public halls and in the halls of royal palaces.

The Lithuanian Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis and the Frenchman Claude Debussy began composing marinist opuses in the same year, 1903. There is no historical evidence that either composer knew anything about the other or had ever heard each other’s music, but both had a special sensitivity to the natural world and the visual arts of the time, so they expanded the possibilities of music, adding new colours and timbre possibilities to the sound universe. The fate of the works that began in the same year was very different.

Debussy completed his cycle of Three Sketches for Symphony Orchestra with “La Mer” (The Sea) in 1905. The same year, the work was presented to the Parisian public. The premiere was not a success at the time: the timeless world of sounds and colours of the work was harshly criticised, and “La Mer” was called “anti-symphony”. In order to make his innovative experimental music accessible to the widest possible circle of music lovers, in the same year, 1905, the composer prepared and published a revision of the work for one piano for four hands. Two years later, the second premiere of the slightly revised “La Mer” took place in Paris. This time, the orchestra was conducted by the composer himself, and the work received universal acclaim. A few years later, the great Arturo Toscanini added “La Mer” to the concert repertoire, which helped the work to gain worldwide recognition and fame before the First World War.

Čiurlionis, who had been dividing his creative time between painting and music since 1903, prepared his first piano sketch for the keyboard of the symphonic poem “The Sea” in December of that year. The rapid recognition of Čiurlionis as an artist led to his decision in 1904-06 to devote much more attention and time to his pursuits in the field of fine art, so the composer completed the orchestration of his monumental symphonic poem The Sea only in the spring of 1907. In 1908, the work was to be performed in Warsaw. Most likely, in preparation for this performance, the composer wrote the literary work The Sea as an introduction to the spiritual world of his symphonic work. Unfortunately, the premiere in Warsaw never took place, and the work was performed for the first time only in 1936 in Kaunas, 25 years after the composer’s death, and even then without the composer’s entire intention: the organ part, provided for in Čiurlionis’s score, had to be replaced by the wind instruments of the orchestra, because there was simply no organ in the hall. Before the Second World War, the Republic of Lithuania was unable to take care of the distribution and publication of the musical works of its great genius. The symphonic poem “The Sea” was first published only in 1965, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet authorities and Čiurlionis’s work did not correspond to the propaganda norms of the Communist Party. Therefore, until the end of the twentieth century, Čiurlionis’s The Sea did not have the opportunity to be known and recognised internationally.

Čiurlionis’s arrangement of “The Sea” for four-hands piano was prepared after the composer’s death in 1937 by his younger sister Jadwiga Čiurlionite. The adaptation, which had previously existed only in manuscript form, was transcribed, edited, supplemented and prepared for concert performance by the duo Sonata and Rokas Zubovas for this concert performance. More than a hundred years after their composition, in 2022, these two monumental works of the early twentieth century were performed live for the first time in one concert programme, thus revealing the similarities and differences in the creative aspirations and ideas of two geniuses of the early twentieth century – the Impressionist and the Symbolist – and giving the audience the opportunity to immerse themselves in two works that marked the beginning of the twentieth century with very different but equally impressive ideas.

Rokas Zubovas


  • Sonata Devekite-Zubovenė and Rokas Zubovas, piano duo (Lithuania)



  • Valentyn Silvestrov (1937*)
    Prayer for the Ukraine (2014)
    Arranged for piano for four hands by Sonata and Rokas Zubovas
  • Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
    Three sketches for symphony orchestra “La Mer”

    • “De laube à midi sur la mer” / “The sea from dawn to noon”
    • “Jeux de vagues” / “Play of the waves”
    • “Dialogue du vent et de la mer
      Composer’s transcription for piano for four hands
  • Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911)
    Symphonic poem “The Sea”
    Transcription by Jadwiga Čiurlionytė for piano for four hands, prepared for concert performance by Sonata and Rokas Zubovas