A Report by Maja Trochimczyk

On April 28-29 in the Paris Division of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN), the Second International Conference “Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831) and her Times” took place. The conference was organized by Elisabeth Zapolska Chapelle, president of the Société Maria Szymanowska in Paris.  Following the pattern created for the first Conference in 2011—that is two days of presentations, a min-recital and an artistic salon at the end—this meeting of scholars created an opportunity for a review of the state of research about the life and work of Maria Szymanowska, in the context of the contemporary culture and her connections to eminent artistic personalities from Germany (poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), Denmark (sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen) and Poland (historian-writer-politician Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, and his sponsor Duchess Maria Czartoryska de Wurttemberg). Participants of the conference came from many countries: the U.S. (Halina Goldberg, Anna Kijas, and Maja Trochimczyk), Poland (Jerzy Miziołek, Hubert Kowalski and Adam Gałkowski representing the University of Warsaw, as well as Irena Poniatowska from the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute), Germany (Maria Stolarzewicz from the Instytute of Weimar-Iena), Denmark (Karen Busk Jepsen from the Thorvaldsen Museum), Sweden (Benjamin Vogel), and France (Piotr Daszkiewicz from the Natural History Museum, and  Jean-Marc Warszawski from the Musicology Instytute).

The session was opened by Prof. Zbigniew Kuźnicki, director of the PAN Section in Paris, and the participants were warmly welcomed by Ms. Zapolska Chapelle, before scholars ventured into their presentations and discussions in three languages: French, English and Polish (the latter in discussions only).  Two presentations were dedicated to general stylistic topics: Jean-Marc Warszawski discussed the aesthetic and stylistic trends in Polish music of Szymanowska’s time and afterwards, while Prof. Irena Poniatowska presented an analysis of the concept of “salon music”—contrasted with serious, concert music—that this genre shared only some features with, being a predecessor of hit songs and popular musics of today.  Dr Jerzy Miziołek, the director of the Warsaw University Museum, presented a fascinating panorama of the artistic culture of Warsaw and its surroundings, emphasizing the connections to neo-classical revival of Roman art, especially those recently discovered in Pompea.  After the concert, with great interest, he studied in the Museum at the Polish Library in Paris a portrait of Maria Szymanowska as a Roman Goddess, painted by Walenty Wańkowicz (the portrait-maker of Adam Mickiewicz). Posed as a Roman goddess, in fashionable 19th century evening gown, but with a putto holding a book for her, the pianist is seated in an opulent music room, with a smoking volcano in the window. In my 2011 paper, I identified the location of this portrait as Naples, where Szymanowska travelled in early 1825, after a visit to Rome. In terms of setting, this portrait is a twin of a portrait of the composer as a Queen of Tones (according to Benjamin Vogel), made in Rome by Aleksander Kolular in 1824. With his broad knowledge of Roman and classical iconography and the arts of 19th century, Dr. Miziołek undoubtedly will add a lot to my interpretation of the painting. Such artistic-scholarly dialogues were at the core of the conference’s activities.

Prof. Goldberg—well known from her studies of reception, milieu, and performative aspects of Chopin’s music—presented a fragment of a larger project dedicated to the study of 19th century albums as a medium for preserving and shaping memory.  In the albums of autographs, music fragments, and poetry collected by Maria Szymanowska and her daughter Helena Malewska, Prof. Goldberg found examples of music that illustrates the multilevel connections of albums and memory—constructs of half-private and half-public self images, recorded in an intimate, personal voice, but for posterity, to be seen by others.   She found examples of three aspects of memory—its psychological aspect, national-patriotic memory, and nostalgic emotional dimensions of memory and memorabilia found in personal albums. As a part of her project she created her own “album” and my inscription in it is reproduced in the photo to the right.

Dr. Vogel, specialist in the history of pianos, revealed places where this “memorialization” of the past took place—that is aristocratic and middle-class salons and parlors where the piano had the place of honor.  These pianos took the strangest shapes, including square, upright, cabinet, and giraffe, but they were always in the central spot in the home, where meetings focused on performances of songs, dances, and a variety of miniatures. The piano was once the “heart” of the home—by now replaced by the multiplicity of electronics connected to omnipresent wifi. It is a sad testimony to the change of musical culture—from participatory and performative to passive and receptive—that in the period that separated the two Szymanowska conferences, the renowned piano maker based in Paris, Pleyel, went bankrupt.  The demand for pianos is not what it used to be even 50 years ago, let alone in the 19th century where everyone had to have a grand instrument in the salon and a smaller one in the separate living room for women.

In the next paper, Maria Stolarzewicz discussed the connections of Maria Szymanowska and her sister Kazimera Wolowska with the famed German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  This topic was earlier extensively studied by a New York-based scholar, Anne Swartz, but Stolarzewicz added a lot to her predecessor’s research, including a handout that featured a comprehensive collection of excerpts in Goethe’s letters, writings and diaries with mentions of the great pianist. To bring this poetic-musical friendship closer to the listeners, at the final Salon, Elizabeth Zapolska Chappelle recited the poem that Goethe dedicated to Szymanowska, Aussohnung – with musical accompaniment of Szymanowska’s pieces, in the “melodrama” style popular in 19th century salons.  Stolarzewicz highlighted the many different aspects of the friendship of the aging poet and the beautiful pianist, and corrected mistakes made by previous biographers of both in the interpretation of the nature of this artistic relationship.  At least this friendship was never hidden by either party—something that surprisingly happened to the relationship of Szymanowska with a Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen.  The prudish and suspicious biographer of the sculptor, Just Mathias Thiele, decided to omit from the artist’s biography and editions of letters all mentions of Szymanowska’s 15 letters, but also correspondence with two other artistic women that were close friends with Thorvaldsen: “Zinaïda Volkonskaia (Russian princess, singer, writer, arranged salons first in Moscow, then Rome), and Adelgunde Vogt (Danish sculptor, animalière, virtually forgotten).” According to Karen Busk-Jepsen neither of these women had an affair with the talented Dane, but Thiele thought otherwise and removed them in order to “purify” and “sanctify” the national artist of Denmark.  How easy it is to vilify women!  The fact that a romance with anyone was completely out of place in the life of a divorced pianist with three children and siblings to support, never crossed the mind of Mr. Thiele.  The affectionate tone of Szymanowska’s letters indicated an emotional relationship that was not revealed in the only preserved letter of Thorvaldsen to her.  In any case, leaving romance aside, we should pay more attention to his presence in Polish culture.

An important step in this direction was made in the research of Hubert Kowalski, deputy director of the Museum of Warsaw University. In his presentation (read by his boss, Dr. Miziolek), Kowalski discussed the impact of the neoclassical style of Thorvaldsen on the artistic landscape of Warsaw, going far beyond the two known monuments that beautify the capital: Prince Jozef Poniatowski and Mikołaj Kopernik (Copernicus). The unveiling of the latter monument was one of the tasks performed by the then President of the Society of the Friends of Learning, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, the author of the famous Historical Chants [Śpiewy historyczne]—a bestseller of the 19th century, present in every patriotic Polish home, including the Chopin salon in Warsaw. This volume and Szymanowska’s contribution to it was the subject of my presentation, illustrated by engravings of scenes and songs from the lives of the kings and heroes published in the original edition and its subsequent reprints.  The author, poet, journalist and politician and one of his main sponsors, Duchess Maria Czartoryska de Wurttermberg (Wirtemberska), are fascinating personalities in Poland’s artistic and musical history, and deserve a lot more attention than could be bestowed on them in my overview. The reading and singing of chants that were being assembled for publication took place in Czartoryska’s Azure Saturdays—literary gatherings in the Czartoryski Azure Palace in Leszno near Warsaw (1806-1816). The salons provided a venue for meetings of Warsaw’s literary elite, with Kajetan Kozmian, Maksymilian Fredro, Franciszek Lessel, Karol Kurpiński, Niemczewicz and Szymanowska as frequent guests. The Czartoryski and Zamoyski families were among the main sponsors-subscribers to the first edition of the Historical Chants, also supported by Potocki and Tarnowski magnates, Warsaw school professors, the clergy and minor gentry.  In PRL-period histories, the role of aristocracy in the creation of Polish culture was under-appreciated for obvious ideological reasons. Only now, 25 years after the fall of the system we can approach this topic anew, without “socialist” prejudices.

In the Śpiewy historyczne, the song about hetman Chodkiewicz was penned by Duchess Chodkiewiczowa, and the song about Hetman Zamoyski was written by Duchess Zofia Zamoyska (née Czartoryska).  Maria Wirtemberska set to music a song about Stefan Potocki and the whole project was inspired by a setting of “Duma o Stefanie Zolkiewskim” by Konstancja Narbutt, composed thirty years earlier and popular in the nobility’s salons.  The greatest number of songs was by professional composers Karol Kurpiński (6) and Franciszek Lessel (10, plus a two-voice version of “Bogurodzica”).  Eva Talma’s contribution to the discussion was invaluable as she has shown that the first edition of 1816 was incomplete. Irena Poniatowska relayed the information found by Zofia Chechlińska about the fact that two composers, Cecylia Beydale and Lessel, were siblings and could not marry, as they had intended to. They were, apparently, out-of-wedlock children of the adventurous and amorous Maria Wirtemberska.

These relationships and others between the various personalities in Szymanowska’s life, as well as archival documents about them, could be plotted in an open, free access website that could be developed, as Anna Kijas proposed in the closing paper of the conference. A trained librarian as well as musicologist, Kijas has published a bio-bibliography of Szymanowska that showed some previously unknown letters of her daughter to an American friend, preserved in a library in North Carolina. Indeed, it would be beneficial to have these letters scanned and made public—the letters in the Thorvaldsen Museum are already posted online. A visit to the Polish Library in Paris, to see the notebooks and letters of Szymanowska family in the Museum of Adam Mickewicz, provided me with proof of the importance of this step for the future of research. The archives, always crowded by researchers, have amazing resources and I discovered, to my great pleasure, the vast scope of patriotic songs copied by hand for personal use by Szymanowska’s children, Helena and Romuald.  The little hand-made notebooks, which can fit in the palm of a hand and be used for group singing in the salon, included hundreds of krakowiaks, mazurs, polonaises, as well as various versions of the “Dabrowski Mazurka,” “Bogurodzica,” and other patriotic hymns.  My study of the history of Polish anthems will find a follow up in these documents. While I was reviewing the content of children’s notebooks, Halina Goldberg focused on the famous albums with composers’ manuscripts, in wonderful leather bindings, made to be kept and shown. She started her own album, and I had the pleasure of writing a personal note for her, as well as a silly little collage with a rain poem, inspired by our wanderings around Paris and a story by Mrozek.

The conference was supported by the Paris Station of the Polish Academy of Sciences that hosted the events, provided excellent audiovisual support and lovely French-and-Polish style luncheons and receptions for the scholars, as well as the Polish Institute in Paris that hosted the scholars, Air France and KLM that offered discounted air flights, and the Polish Library in Paris that welcomed scholars for archival visits. None of that would have been possible without the energetic and talented organizer, Ms. Zapolska Chapelle, who delighted all present with her rendition of all five songs of Szymanowska and fragments of two songs by others (Paris and Kurpiński) that replaced her versions in the published edition. The singer has already issued all of Szymanowska’s songs on a CD (Acte Prealable 0260) that is a must for all 19th century music scholars, as well as those studying the biographies and work of Adam Mickiewicz and Fryderyk Chopin.  Pianist Małgorzata Kluźniak-Celińska performed solo pieces by Szymanowska at the close of the conference and at the final salon—where we heard Goethe’s poem dedicated to Szymanowska, as well as two of mine, along with other assorted productions of, as the case may be in an impromptu performance, a dramatically varied artistic quality.