This short biography of Vytautas Marijosius was provided by members of his family upon the announcement of The American Prize—Vytautas Marijosius Awards in Conducting.
Vytautas’s first music teacher was his father. In 1924, he was enrolled in the Klaipeda Music School where he studied cello, piano and music theory. He became accompanist for voice students and a popular conductor of the male chorus. In 1928, Marijosius was appointed accompanist and conductor's assistant at the State Opera in Kaunas, Lithuania’s capital at the time. By age 23, he was a conductor at the State Opera.
During the next few years, the young conductor broadened his musical horizons by foreign travel and study. The Lithuanian government financed the summers of 1934 and 1935 at musical centers in Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Paris and Rome. From 1936 to 1938 he studied conducting and music theory at the Prague Conservatory in Czechoslovakia, graduating with highest honors. For contributions to Czech culture, Czechoslovakia’s president Edvard Benes would later bestow on him The Order of the White Lion, the highest award to a non-citizen. In 1938, Vytautas Marijosius was appointed Chief Conductor and Music Director of the State Opera of Lithuania and also invited to teach at the State Conservatory in Kaunas. He was 28 years old.
By 1944, Marijosius had conducted more than twenty operas in Lithuania and Latvia, (many with international guest artists) among them Verdi's Rigoletto, Otello and Il Trovatore, Puccini's’ Tosca and La Boheme, Massenet’s Manon and Werther, Wagner’s Lohenrgin, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Rimski-Korsakov’s Tsar Sultan and operas by Lithuanian composers. At the request of the renowned Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, Marijosius went to Paris as his accompanist. Deutsche Grammophon Gesellshaft invited Marijosius to conduct the Berlin Symphony Orchestra in recordings of Lithuanian symphonic music.
Everything came to a halt in 1944 when the Soviets occupied Lithuania. Marijosius, like others in leadership positions, was slated for deportation to Siberia. The Marijosius family fled to the West.
Until 1948, Vytautas Marijosius and his family were refugees in displaced persons camps in Austria. But there, too, Marijosius rose to the occasion and was elected spokesman for the Lithuanian refugees in all displaced persons camps administered by the American military in Austria.
As luck would have it, St. Andrews’s Lithuanian parish in New Britain, Connecticut, needed an organist. The pastor, having found out about Marijosius’s background, offered him the position. And so, on Christmas Eve of 1948, the five-person Marijosius family found a new home in the basement of St. Andrews’s rectory.
Before long, St. Andrews’s Church choir was presenting concerts of sacred music that featured soloists from the Metropolitan Opera, under Marijosius's direction. In 1949, before he had mastered English, Marijosius was taking the morning bus to Hartford to teach at the Hartt College of Music (in 1957 incorporated into the University of Hartford.) Marijosius would stay on the faculty for more than thirty years and would chair the Department of Applied Music until his retirement from the University as Professor Emeritus.
Besides a full teaching and conducting schedule at Hartt, Marijosius continued as organist at St. Andrew's and sometimes at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Hartford. He also served as a guest conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Symphony of the Air; he was music director and conductor for several community symphony orchestras and various state youth orchestras; he was also a conductor at numerous summer music festivals. He was an accompanist for soloists in a number of cities in the U.S. and Canada. Fluent in Russian, he interpreted for Mstislav Rostropovich and Aram Khachaturian who were both guests at Hartt. (Marijosius also knew Polish, German, and of course, Lithuanian; he also knew some Italian and loved to quote Latin sayings.)
Marijosius liked to introduce Lithuanian composers to the American public and was a conductor of the Lithuanian language productions of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino and Un Ballo in Maschera at the Lithuanian Opera of Chicago. He was instrumental in commissioning three one-act operas by Lithuanian-American composers. When one of the composers was unable to keep his commitment, Marijosius, who could be counted on to honor commitments, composed one of the operas himself. Entitled The Oath, he soon conducted all three of the new one-act operas at the Lithuanian Opera of Chicago.
In 1974, Vytautas Marijosius visited Lithuania. The older generation of musicians welcomed him like a living legend, but he was an unknown to the young generations, because the Soviet government had forbidden citizens to even mention his name.
Vytautas Marijosius spent the sunset of his life at the convent of the Lithuanian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, in Putnam, Connecticut. He now rests in peace in the convent’s cemetery next to his beloved wife of fifty-three years, whom he outlived by nine years. He designed their headstone himself. It is elegant and one of a kind, just like the man of many talents who designed it.
Vytautas Marijosius lives on in the memories of his son and two daughters and their families and of all who know him. He also lives in the accomplishments of those whom he taught, and hopefully now will also live in the achievements of the recipients of The American Prize—Vytautas Marijosius Award in Conducting, established in his memory.