The classical music business loves its anniversaries, which provide a splendid framework on which to hang your programming. 2011 is a bit thin, though, with the only major anniversaries being Mahler and Liszt, Mahler giving us a distinct sense of déjà vu by having inconveniently died at age 51 and therefore having two anniversaries in successive years.

All this, of course, unless you happen to be Lithuanian. Where the British have Elgar, the Norwegians have Grieg, the Danes have Nielsen and the Finns Sibelius, Lithuania has its own national treasure in the shape of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911). Čiurlionis wrote keyboard preludes and fugues, as well as lush symphonic poems and choral music in a style not untypical of the late romantic period, which stand up perfectly well when set against many far better known works.

Surprisingly, in view of its high quality, music is not the artistic output for which Čiurlionis is most remembered: he dedicated much of the last six years of his short life to painting. In Kaunas, Lithuania's second city, there is a substantial museum devoted to his paintings, which are in a style that's difficult to pigeon-hole (the background music, of course, consists of his compositions). The paintings and sketches contain hints of impressionism, expressionism and several recurring themes that are Čiurlionis's own personal obsessions, often embedded in surreal landscapes. Whether or not it's to your taste, it's certainly well executed, powerful and individual. It's also interesting that Čiurlionis attempted to mimic musical structure by creating several series of related paintings that he referred to as "sonatas".

So Happy Anniversary, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis - if you had lived longer and in a more powerful country, we would surely all know a great deal more about you.

1st January 2011