It is time for a Polish accent in the programme of the52nd International Festival Wratislavia Cantans! This time we will hear one of Stanisław Moniuszko's forgotten works: the extraordinary cantata The Phantoms.
Now almost forgotten, Moniuszko's The Phantoms cantata was very popular shortly after its premiere. The day after the first public performance of the composition “Dziennik Warszawski” wrote: “The Phantoms did for music what Dziady did for literature”. Inspired by the second part of Mickiewicz's Dziady, the cantata is filled with folk music and faithfully reproduces the original literary content. Through a twist of fate, it spent years in the shadow of Moniuszko’s slightly younger The Haunted Manor. Today, The Phantoms make a comeback to the concert halls to stun the audiences with their innovative sound. Why did Moniuszko take interest in Dziady? Some scholars suggest that it was not mere fascination with the drama. They believe that the composer had taken part in a pagan ritual of the same name – dziady – and felt the need to reproduce it with music.
Moniuszko was not the first composer to draw inspiration from Dziady. Wojciech Sowiński did that before him, but his works failed to survive the trials of time. Hence, Moniuszko is considered to be the author of the first successful musical interpretation of Mickiewicz's work. Later on, as many as sixteen Polish composers searched for inspiration in Dziady. Moniuszko himself returned to the text of the great Polish Romantic poet also in other compositions, e.g. Duettino and The Hermit's Song. However, the atmosphere of Mickiewicz's drama is most fully reflected in The Phantoms, whose first performance was reminisced by the composer with a great deal of humor: “There were forty people in the choir. The lead female singer was great. But the baritone…better be silent as a grave.”