The composer Michał Kleofas Ogiński is also known as the author of „Memoires“ that were published in 1826–1827 in French, and from 1827 started appearing in other languages, as well as of numerous other literary pieces.
The musical legacy of Michał Kleofas remains ever popular. Music historian Laima Kiauleikytė in her publication „Muzikinės kunigaikščio Mykolo Kleopo Oginskio pažiūros – epochos virsmo atspindžiai“ („Musical views of Prince Michał Kleofas Ogiński as reflections of the transformation of the age“) (Kunigaikščiai Oginskiai Lietuvos istorijoje (The Ogiński princes in the history of Lithuania), Vilnius, 2010) notes that „the love of the art of music was predetermined not only by the traditions of just his family, but also by those of the entire social class. At all time periods of the GDL and later, of imperial Lithuania, the children of magnates were taught music, and later went abroad to improve their music skills, performed in the aristocratic environment. In the second half of the 18th century, the time when the personality of Prince Michał Kleofas was developing, a fashion for music amongst the nobility achieved its apex.
In the recollections of his childhood, Ogiński writes that at the age of 20 he already played everything from sheet music, but later in his life, there were times when he would not touch the piano for a few years. He would return to music only occasionally and for a very short time.
In his book „Letters about Music“, Ogiński reminisces that he studied music and music-making all his life, even though neither in his childhood nor later, music lessons for him were compulsory. Even in the last years of his life, suffering from poor eyesight, he looked for a better way to learn to play violin and improved his skills playing together with prominent musicians of those times or asking for their advice.
The first music compositions were written by Michał Kleofas already in his childhood, when he was taught music theory, composition and performance by Józef Kozlowski (1757–1831). Unfortunately, these first creative attempts are either lost for good or as of yet, undiscovered by researchers.
In the „Letters about Music“, Ogiński writes that he did not think much of his many later pieces and often, visiting some or other foreign country in a few years and hearing his polonaise or romance performed, he was astonished that his music is known, played and popular. This is what he writes about his creative method in the above-mentioned book: „More than once I would sit at the piano, when music rules and the subtleties of compositions by German, French and Italian authors would swarm in my mind… I imagined myself an equal of Haydn, Mozart and so on… Alas! I would often rise myself from the instrument with not a single salutary thought having come to my mind, and with each day, I became more and more aware that the rules did not suffice for creative work, that they were not inspiring. <…>
I never created music on demand, never even thought of writing music that would be thought-out and based on theory, or of toiling for hours and hours. I would draw sounds and modulations from a burst of enthusiasm, love, friendship or sadness, sometime pain or deep sorrow, I would convey in a music composition those feelings Ι was seized by and the state of my soul. I would seldom embark on correcting the first improvisation. Whenever I revised a composition with a fresh head, the quality and the expression of feelings would not improve, so I often felt pleased when my friends acknowledged, appreciated and agreed that the first version, dictated by inspiration, had been more successful.”
Michał Kleofas did not bother with registering his music pieces, did not gather in one place all their scores, so part of his music was lost already during his lifetime, and some were published with mistakes and no author‘s name; certain other individuals, pursuing recognition for their own music, published the score under Ogiński‘s name, following the rather widespread tradition of the times. Having learned from such experience, Ogiński, in the last decades of his life, took better care of publishing his score without errors, on good paper and, if possible, by a publisher of his choice; however, he did not succeed in achieving good organization. Today, even the most srupulous researchers of Ogiński‘s body of musical work, hesitate to say how many and which compositions he wrote. According to music scholars studying Ogiński‘s work, about 70-80, o maybe, even more his pieces could be extant today.
An important part of his creative legacy are the four-volume „Memoires“; their still-in-manuscript supplements; a musical and aesthetical collection of essays, „Letters about Music“, childhood recollections and numerous other published or manuscript literary pieces.
The four-volume „Memoires“, which encompass the period of 1788–1815 and describe in detail events in Lithuania, Poland, other European countries and Russia, have gained a considerable interest from historians and admirers of Ogiński‘s oeuvre.
Ogiński began writing his „Memoires“ in 1802, after he had returned from emigration and settled in Zalesye, near Smorgon, Ashmyany district (present Belarus). There he also composed a majority of his romances and pieces for fortepiano.
Ogiński wrote his books in French. The „Memoires“, published in Paris and Geneva in 1826–1827, are written in this language. In 1827, the „Memoires“ began to be published in German; in 1870–1871, came out in Polish; in 2006–2010, in Lithuanian.
Another important part of Ogiński‘s oeuvre is the musical and aesthetical collection of essays, „Letters about Music“. Ogiński, assisted by Leonard Chodzko, wrote these letters in 1823–1828, when he already lived in Florence. The book was printed after his death. In 1856, the „Letters“ were translated into Polish from a French manuscript (probably, a copy) by Tadeusz Strumiłło, 1829–1856). In the same year, the „Letters“ were published in Cracow in Polish, and in 2014, in Lithuanian in Vilnius.
Part of Ogiński‘ literary works is lost, and those texts, which are extant, have not been comprehensively researched and published. The Lithuanian State History Archives (LSHA) holds an abundant archive of the Ogiński princes of Lithuania. The Belarusian specialists who studied this archive, discovered in it Ogiński‘s precepts, written in French, to his 14-years-old son Ireneusz who went to study in Italy in 1822 (the LSHA, f. 177, file 1, b. 67). The precepts were for the first time published in Lithuanian in 2005.
As a young man, Ogiński wrote satyrical poems. He did not forsake verse in his later years, too. He is known to have written a dozen-line epigram at the time when he was a Treasury Commissioner. Igor Belza (Игорь Фёдорович Бэлза, 1904–1994), a researcher of Ogiński‘s life and activities, also attributes to his pen an anonymous booklet „The Parrot“ that had a print run of two thousand copies.
The Michał Kleofas Ogiński‘s archive for his Florence time period, which is now kept in the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (Moscow), has several biographies of prominent individuals attributed to Ogiński, his valuable travel notes, supplements to the „Memoires“, remembrances of his childhood.
Ogiński would make notes of important events and meetings, collected letters from his correspondents, other documents; if he was not able to keep the original, he would copy it. While some of this archive is lost, a large and significant part has been preserved. Such letters may be found both in the above-mentioned Moscow archive and the LSHA.
In regard to Ogiński‘s cultural activities, it is pertinent to mention the cultural traditions of the Zalesye estate in 1802–1822. This estate was an attraction centre for the GDL‘s intellectuals for a number of years. The then life in Zalesye is colourfully described by Count Konstanty Tyszkiewicz in his book „Wilija and its shores“ (Wilija i jej brzegi, Drezno, 1871). He tells how Zalesye became a retreat for discussions and exchange of latest news. Those Polish and Lithuanian dignitaries who cherished a hope for a better future of their countries, would come to Zalesye to share their views and stayed sometimes for several weeks. In the estate, there was a tradition to perform music and sing, at the same time of the day. Both members of the household and guest would attend these music sessions. Michał Kleofas played violin. He would perform flawlessly despite not having practiced beforehand. Acclaimed Spanish violinist Pedro Escudero played the second violin, the old Józef Kozlowski, cello. The Ogiński daughters, Amelia, Emma and Ida, would be among the performers. Their Italian teacher, Giuseppe Paliani, would entertain the company with his talent. The guests felt as if at home. Ones would play music, while others would listen.