The Life of Zygmunt Stojowski

by Joseph A. Herter[1]

Figure 1: Zygmunt Stojowski, ca. 1890.


Researching the life of the pianist and romantic composer Zygmunt Stojowski,[2] whose music had disappeared from the standard concert hall repertoire, presented its own particular challenges. When research for this paper started in 1999, the last scholarly work that had been written about him in English was an article by Frank Cooper in 1970.[3]

In the composer’s native land of Poland, the situation was even worse. The last published work on Stojowski in Polish had been authored by Józef Reiss in 1949, although one year later, in 1950, an excellent master’s thesis on Stojowski’s piano works was penned by Maria Macharska-Wolańska, the late sister of the current Cardinal of Cracow.[4] To make matters more discouraging was an urban legend that had been circulating in Poland for years. Basically, it purported that all of Stojowski’s manuscripts and correspondence had been accidentally thrown out in the USA, where Stojowski spent more than half of his life. When someone knowledgeable in Polish music history or a music librarian was questioned about Stojowski, often the answer would be, “Don’t bother,” with the apocryphal story once more repeated. If that were not bad enough, none of the composer’s major works had ever been commercially recorded, and even a search on the Internet three years ago would only bring up a mere 30 hits or so. The exploratory processes to unearth information about Stojowski often took on the nature of detective work rather than scholarly research.

Because of the bewilderment caused by the number of contradictory sources giving the date of his birth, it was decided to start with Stojowski’s death—a date that all the basic reference sources agreed upon: November 5, 1946. But even in death there was confusion. The musician’s obituary on the front page of Poland’s largest circulating daily of the time—Życie Warszawy—read, “Zygmunt Stokowski, the world-famous composer and conductor died in the United States of America, where he had lived for 40 years.”[5] It would have been impossible, however, for the average reader to ascertain if it was the composer Stojowski or the conductor Leopold Stokowski who had died, for although Stojowski had worn many musical hats during his life—concert pianist, composer, pedagogue and musicologist, conducting was never one of his claims to fame.

Zygmunt Stojowski and Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) have been often confused with each other, not only during their lifetimes but recently as well. Hyperion Records’ world première release of Stojowski’s Piano Concertos in 2002 has a French translation of the liner notes reading, Les Concertos pour piano de Stokowski. Even the highly respected British historian Norman Davies, in his 1981 A History of Poland, gets the two men confused by describing Stokowski as a Polish musician and immigrant, whose Polish name, along with many others, became well-known throughout the world.[6] Perhaps Mr. Davies did have Stokowski in mind, but despite his Polish heritage, Leopold Stokowski was as true a native-born Englishman as there could be. In addition to being of Polish descent, Stokowski and Stojowski had two other things in common. One was that they both immigrated to the United States in 1905, the former from England and the latter from Poland via Paris. The other was that they were famous musicians: Stojowski the pianist and composer, and Stokowski the conductor.

Fate decided that they would join forces at least once during their musical careers. The coupling of talents, with Leopold at the helm of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Zygmunt at the piano, took place on February 20, 1912, at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall.[7] An amusing poem that appeared in the Pittsburgh press immortalized that musical meeting:

Stokowski and Stojowski
By Arthur G. Burgoyne [8]

Stokowski and Stojowski—oh, the combination rare!
Our music-loving folk will rush to hear the famous pair
Whose joint exploits are certain to enrapture and enthral
Their auditors this evening at Carnegie Music Hall.
To look for standingroomski half the crowd may be compelled
When Stokowski and Stojowski do their stuntski unexcelled.

Stokowski leads the orchestra which regularly treats
The Cincinnati dilettantes to symphonies and suites
To preludes, postludes, serenades, concertos, fantasies
And other masterpieces meant to edify and please.
By himself he is a trumpski. Hence things surely ought to hum
When Stokowski and Stojowski to the frontski jointly come.

Stojowski from the ivories brings out a magic tone.
Among the pianistic sharps he nobly holds his own.
He plays glissandos, tremolos, sforzandos, trills, et cet
With dexterity that never fails excitement to beget,
Alone he is a starski. So it should be a delight
When Stokowski and Stojowski for high artski’s sake unite.

A Schumann symphony is billed, an overture by Brahms,
A savage dance by Richard Strauss that causes inward qualms,
A mighty Liszt concerto—’tis a most attractive list;
But after all what makes the thing too tempting to resist
Is the knowledge that the marvelous alliterative pair
Stokowski and Stojowski in the triumphski will share.

The musical forms and composers mentioned in the poem prove to show that Stokowski conducted Stojowski in a performance of Ferenc (Franz) Liszt’s (1811-1886) Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in E-flat. The other composers mentioned in the poem were also heard on that same concert: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) with his Academic Festival Overture, Robert Schumann (1810-1856) with his Symphony No. 4 in D Minor and Richard Strauss (1864-1849) with The Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome. This concert was the third of four Pittsburgh Series concerts which the orchestra played while on tour.[9]

Solving the mystery of Zygmunt Stojowski’s date of birth may not be quite as amusing, nonetheless, it is quite intriguing. The number of dates that one finds are amazing: 1863, 1869, 1870, 1871 and 1876. The choice of birthdays begins with March 27 and continues with: April 8, May 2 and May 14. Most Polish reference sources include the date of May 14. The birthday mystery is easier to solve than the year of birth. The number of days between March 27 and April 8 and between May 2 and May 14 are the same: 12 days. The dates for March 27 and May 2 are obviously dates given in accordance with the Julian calendar. Stojowski was born in Strzelce near Kielce in the Russian partition of Poland, where the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian, prevailed in daily life. The dates for April 8 and May 14 are given according to Gregorian calendar calculations, which would have prevailed in the Austro-Hungarian and Prussian partitions of Poland. The dates in May, however, can be taken out of consideration. This is an obvious error involving the sixth century Frankish king and martyr after whom Zygmunt was named, St. Sigismond, whose feast day—Zygmunt’s name—day-falls on May 2. Thus, Stojowski was born on April 8, according to the Gregorian calendar.

March 27, 1869 is the birth date given on Stojowski’s first Polish identity card, issued to him in 1887 in the former ancient Polish capital of Cracow, which was under Austrian rule at that time.[10] Two years later in Paris, though, the date April 8, 1869 can be found on his Paris Conservatoire certificate issued for winning the 1889 Premiere Prix de Piano. It is also the date Stojowski used in 1895 when completing the application form for the Anton Rubinstein Prize in Berlin.[11]

On the other hand, 1870 is the year of birth given in almost every résumé found in the family archives in the USA. The digit “3” in the 1863 date must be a dyslexic editorial mistake that became confused with the digit “9” in 1869, while the 1871 date is a simple typographical error. It is safe to presume that the composer’s widow must have given the date of 1876, which is the year found on Stojowski’s death certificate, in a confused moment of bereavement. If born in 1870, Stojowski would have been 76 when he died.

Solving the problem involving the year of birth for this musician may never be accomplished. The obvious solution, of course, would be to check the composer’s baptismal certificate. The town of Strzelce, however, has no parish church.[12] The nearest Catholic church near Strzelce in the Diocese of Kielce is in Oleśnica, where the parish records were destroyed in a fire during World War II. The name of the diocese is mentioned because there is another nearby town called Staszów, sometimes mentioned in placing the whereabouts of Strzelce. Staszów, however, is in the Diocese of Sandomierz, which would have been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time of Stojowski’s birth. Stojowski’s parents would certainly not have applied for passports just to have their son christened in Austrian territory.


Parentage and Childhood

Zygmunt’s parents were Alfred and Maria (née Bogdeńska) Stojowski. Not too much is known about his father Alfred, including his dates. According to Zygmunt’s second son Henry, Alfred Stojowski passed away before Zygmunt moved to America in 1905.[13]

Zygmunt’s first son—also named Alfred—was able to provide some fragmentary information about him: “He was a gentleman farmer and apparently was a large handsome individual (who) was conscripted into the Czar’s honor guard for a time. He died at a comparatively early age due to an infected corn on his foot.”[14] In his unpublished biographical paper on Ignacy Paderewski (1860-1941), Zygmunt mentions that his father brought Paderewski’s (six-year-old) invalid son—yet another Alfred—from Poland to Paris by train in the 1890’s.[15]

Much more is known about his mother Maria (d. 1925),[16] who played a dominant role in Zygmunt’s life. She was responsible for Zygmunt’s early musical training, being his first piano teacher before pianists Alfred Kołaczkowski (no dates available) and Henryk Bobiński (1861-1914) took over her role as teacher.[17] Both were on the faculty at the Music School of the Cracow Musical Society. Musicologist Stanisław Dybowski also lists Antoni Płachecki (d. 1893) as one of Stojowski’s early piano teachers.[18]

His mother’s other important musical contribution to her son’s development came from knowing the right people in the world of music. She was responsible for gaining the patronage of Princess Marcelina Czartoryska (1817-1894), a former pupil of Chopin who helped the family relocate to Cracow, where Zygmunt—at the age of 13—simultaneously began school at the Gymnazium Św. Anny and formal music lessons with the eminent Polish composer Władysław (Ladislaus) Żeleński (1837-1921). It would be Princess Czartoryska’s salon that became the venue for the fifteen-year-old’s first concert with an orchestra. There he performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37, conducted by Jan Nepomucen Hock (fl. 1868-1912). Heugel in Paris would later publish the cadenza that the young Stojowski wrote for this performance. Two years later, the same concerto was repeated at the Cracow Musical Society.

Mme Stojowska also maintained her own musical salon in Cracow, where visiting international celebrities such as Hans von Bülow (1830-1894), Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894), Maurycy Rosenthal (1862-1946) and the young Józef Hofman (1876-1956) either appeared or paid their respects. It was here that Żeleński brought and presented Paderewski to the Stojowski family in 1884, when Zygmunt was only 14 years old, ten years younger than Paderewski.[19] Paderewski’s presence in Cracow was due to the farewell concert that he gave on October 3, prior to going to Vienna, where he would study with Teodor Leschetitzky (1830-1915). Following this first visit, Paderewski stayed in touch with the Stojowski family, writing a newsy, yet at the same time, coy letter from Vienna to Zygmunt’s mother.[20]

Figure 2: Fragment of Maria Stojowska’s fan with autographs.

Stojowski’s mother was also responsible for a piece of musical memorabilia that became quite famously known as the “priceless fan” and that was a testimony to the scope of musical contacts of the Stojowski family (see Figure 2). According to the composer’s son Henry, Princess Czartoryska first presented the parchment fan to Ms. Maria Stojowska. She, in turn, used the fan as her personal autograph book, collecting the autographs of the most famous musicians of that epoch. Sometimes the musicians not only signed their names, but they also wrote a few bars of music. By the end of her life, Mme Stojowska had collected approximately 110 famous autographs. Some of the composers included the following: Aleksander Zarzycki, Eugen Albert, Johannes Brahms, Anton Rubinstein, Giuseppi Verdi, Léo Delibes, Richard Strauss, Jules Massenet, Camille Saint-Saëns, Theodore Dubois, E. Jacques Dalcroiz, Edward Grieg, Pietro Mascagni, Édouard Lalò, Oscar Strauss, Ambroise Thomas, Max Bruch, Charles Gounod, Pablo Sarasate, Edward Elgar and Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Some of the soloists and conductors included: Arthur Nikisch, Arturo Toscanini, Enrico Caruso, Marcella Sembrich, Joseph Joachim, Hans von Bülow, Edward Reszke, Józef Hofman, and many, many others.[21] The fan remained in the possession of the Stojowski family until the late 1980’s when it was auctioned at Christies.

Wherever Zygmunt went, his devoted mother went too. She moved to Paris with him, frequently traveled with him to Paderewski’s villa in Riond-Bosson, Switzerland, and eventually followed him off to New York, where she remained the dowager heading the Stojowski clan until her death. Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982), in recalling their 1902 visit to Riond-Bosson, describes her as an affected old lady who “amused everyone as if she was holding court” and whom Paderewski loved to tease.[22] In still another account that describes a mother-and-son visit to Riond-Bosson, someone asked, “Where is Stojowski?” and Paderewski answered, “With Mama, who is buttoning up his underwear.”[23]

Returning to Cracow, though, it was Żeleński who had the most influence on Stojowski’s musical career, both in training him to be a composer and pianist, and influencing in his decision to continue studies in Paris, where Żeleński also once studied. A few years following his professor’s death, Stojowski wrote highly of his teacher’s merits:[24]

Żeleński . . . developed an unimpeachable technique, retained artistic ideals uncompromisingly pure and noble, encountered genuine and abundant inspiration. Born in 1837, he contributed a long list of works to Poland’s credit, several operas . . . many symphonic and chamber works and a treasury of songs imbued with deep song feeling, conceived in a manly lyrical vein.


Triumph in Paris

In 1887, after finishing his studies in Cracow, Stojowski left for Paris. The obstacles that the 17-year old Stojowski faced in getting admitted to the Parisian Conservatoire National were formidable. Although he came bearing the highest recommendation of Żeleński, Stojowski still had to endure the rigor of passing the admission audition. Of the hundred candidates who auditioned, only ten could be admitted, and out of that ten only one could be a foreigner.[25] The jury’s decision was unanimous: Stojowski the Pole was accepted. His teachers became Louis Diémer (1843-1919) in piano, Léo Delibes (1836-1891) in composition, and Theodore Dubois (1837-1924) in harmony. In addition to his work at the Conservatoire, Stojowski also studied history, philosophy, languages and literature at the Faculté des Lettres of the Sorbonne University, where he received his Bachelor of Letters Diploma.

It was during his studies at the Conservatoire that Stojowski befriended Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), who arrived in Paris to perform his composition for two pianos, Concert Fantasy in G Major, Op. 56, with Stojowski’s teacher Diémer on March 4 and 16, 1888. It was to Diémer that Tchaikovsky dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 75. Impressed by Stojowski’s polyglot skills in Polish, Russian, French, English, German, Latin and ancient Greek, Tchaikovsky would ask Stojowski to be his translator for the rehearsals preparing the British première of his Fourth Symphony on May 20, 1893.[26] In return for his services Stojowski received the copy of Tchaikovsky’s marked full score, autographed with a dedication to Zygmunt in French: “A mon cher jeune ami Sigismond Stojowski, Souvenir affectueux”[27] (see Figure 3). Coinciding with his London visit, Stojowski gave a recital at Princes’ Hall featuring an all-Slavic program that included the music of Tchaikovsky.[28]

Figure 3: Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony dedicated to Stojowski.

At the Conservatoire in 1889, Stojowski won the music school’s top prizes: first prize in counterpoint and fugue, and sharing first prize in piano performance with Edouard Risler. Stojowski, himself, described the conditions for the counterpoint and fugue competition:[29]

The candidates were locked in a room from six in the morning until twelve at night, with a few bars of a theme given by the Director to spin out, with permission to have luncheon brought in and, of course, no piano open. I must confess that when I walked out I felt a bit dizzy. My success with the fugue appeared to make Delibes very happy: I seemed to be his first student getting a prize for so serious a thing.

According to Stojowski, however, the teachers who had the most profound influence on him as a musician were the Polish violinist-composer Władysław Górski (1846-1915) and pianist-composer Paderewski.[30] Górski, who was the soloist with the Lamoureux Orchestra in Paris, offered a course on the interpretation of chamber music, Leçons d’Accompagnement, in which Stojowski must have participated. The two musicians also concertized together throughout Europe, and Górski was the dedicatee for Stojowski’s String Quartet, Op. 6; First Violin Sonata, Op. 13 and Violin Concerto, Op. 22. Stojowski credits Górski for being his guide to “extreme refinement and catholicity of taste.”[31]

The lessons with Paderewski began in 1891, when Paderewski returned from his first triumphant tour in the USA. Stojowski was only one of four pianists who could claim that they ever took regular lessons with Paderewski over a long period of time. In addition to Stojowski, there were, at first, the American Ernest Schelling (1876-1939), fellow Pole Antonina Szumowska-Adamowska (1868-1938)—who was a cousin of Paderewski’s wife Helena—and later Harold Bauer (1873-1951) of Great Britain. In the late 1930’s, Witold Małcużyński (1914-1977) also took some lessons with Paderewski, but certain pianists, such as Aleksander Brachocki (1897-1945), Zygmunt Dygat (1894-1977), Stanisław Szpinalski (1901-1957), Henryk Sztompka (1901-1964), Albert Tadlewski (1892-1945) and others, who claimed to have studied with Paderewski, did so at summer master classes held at Riond-Bosson, starting in 1928.[32] In Stojowski’s estimation, Paderewski was “the model and ideal of the virtuoso and poet-musician” and the master whose influence had been decisive in his own work.[33] The admiration was mutual. According to Paderewski, his pupil was “one of the few really great piano pedagogues of the present day, Mr. Stojowski occupies a very prominent position, for he has no superior.”[34] Stojowski dedicated the following works to his mentor and compatriot: Sonata in G Major for Piano and Cello, Op. 18; Symphony in D Minor, Op. 21; Prologue, Scherzo and Variations (Concerto No. 2 in A-flat Major for Piano and Orchestra), Op. 32 and Lullaby for Piano (1941).

Figure 4: Cover of Berceuse from Quartre morceaux, Op. 5.

Stojowski’s home became Paris, where he lived near Place Trocadèro on a street named after his teacher Delibes. Several things need to be mentioned about his French master. Delibes was so proud of his Polish student that he and his wife offered to legally adopt him so that he could compete for the prestigious Prix de Rome, a competition for which only French nationals were eligible.[35] However, Małgorzata Perkowska, the author of the Delibes entry in the Polish Music Encyclopedia (Encyklopedia Muzyczna PWM), seems to be in error in stating that Delibes’ wife was of Polish descent.[36] All the basic sources on Delibes attest to the fact that Delibes’ wife was “Leontine Estelle Mesnage (also known as Denain), the daughter of the former tragedian of the Comédie-Française.”[37] If there was a Polish connection of some kind, then it had to have been much further back in the family. Nonetheless, before the Frenchman’s’ untimely death in 1891, Paderewski met with Delibes at the latter’s home to look over the ballet music to Delibes’s last opera Kasya (Kasia). According to Stojowski, Paderewski had supplied Delibes with several Polish folk tunes for the opera, which is based on a Polish subject and set in the southeastern part of Poland known as Galicia.[38]

Delibes seems to have been fascinated by Poland. Both his opera Kasya and his ballet Coppélia take place in Galicia. Before writing his last opera Kasya, Delibes spent several months in Poland collecting folk song motives and writing down Gypsy melodies which were used in his opera. In addition to visiting the ancient Polish capital of Cracow, he was known to have visited the Galician capital of Lwów (Lviv), where a cosmopolitan mixture of Armenians, Austrians, Gypsies, Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians formed this Eastern European metropolis. The French composer also spent his time in the Polish mountains, including a visit to Zakopane.[39] Stojowski paid homage to his teacher by dedicating his cantata Le printemps, Op. 7 to him. The dedication reads, “A la Mémoire de son bien aimé Maître Léo Delibes.” Another salute to his teacher can be found in the second movement of his Suite in E-flat, Op. 9, Intermède polonaise, which floats liltingly, alternating between Tchaikovsky and Delibes in style.

The concert that launched Stojowski’s international career as pianist and composer was his first concert in Paris at the Salle Erard in 1891 (Figure 5 reproduces the program of Stojowski’s chamber music concert held at Salle Erard in February 1891; see Figure 5). French composer Benjamin Godard (1849-1895) conducted the Orchestre Colonne in an all-Stojowski program, including the Ballade for Orchestra (which is still unpublished) and Piano Concerto No. 1, Op, 3 with the 21-year-old pianist-composer at the piano. From that moment on, Stojowski’s career skyrocketed while performing with the best orchestras of his day or having his music played by them: In Germany with the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig and Munich; in England with Sir Charles Hallé’s (1819-1895) Orchestra in Manchester, the Grand Orchestra of the Crystal Palace, the London Symphony Orchestra and even with Queen Victoria’s Private Band, which premiered the English version of Stojowski’s entertaining cantata, Le printemps, at a command performance for Her Majesty on July 5, 1895, in Buckingham Palace.[40] In his hometown of Cracow, Stojowski was “greeted with joy as a favorite son” when he came to perform Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat in January 1893.[41]<a name%