by Zygmunt Stojowski [1]

Noskowski | Stojowski | Paderewski | Chopin and Others

Portraits of Paderewski and Chopin from the program, 1930. Top row: Chopin and Paderewski at twenty. Bottom: Signed photo by Paderewski.

Step [The Prairie], Symphonic Poem, Op. 66 – Sigismond Noskowski [2]

Sigismond Noskowski probably was the first Polish composer of the post-romantic era, fully equipped with modern orchestral technique. Endowed with a fertile imagination, substantiated by solid knowledge, he contributed, more than anyone, by his example and teachings, to the development of young musical Poland. Of his may works covering a wide range of styles and forms, only the piano-quartette in D minor and the present symphonic poem have been heard in America. Step has been played by the Boston Symphony Orcehstra under Dr. Karl Muck.

Noskowski conceived his two symphonic poems, Morskie Oko [The Eye of the Sea], and Step [The Prairie], “in the form of the overture!” The plan is a sort of compromise between absolute and descriptive music. The main outlines of the sonata form, as applied to the overture, are preserved, while a literary program conditions the prevailing moods and symphonic development.

In The Prairie, a beautiful slow introduction forms a very natural and picturesque kind of frame. The strings, divided into eight parts, slowly move in widespread harmony, while the doubling of the melodic outline in the high register by a piccolo lends a peculiar sensation of vastness. Some characteristic rumblings announce the appearance of the main theme, Maestoso, E-flat major, 3-4 time, for full orchestra, in martial vein. A contrasting second theme in B-flat minor in the woodwinds, supported by a counter-melody in the strings, punctuated by a pulsating accompaniment of harps, seems to suggest some distant cavalcade. The following “motto” is affixed to the score:

Hail, glorious prairie! I greet thee with song. Thy unfathomable vastness have echoed the rustle of the wings of the Hussars[3] and the clatter of their horses’ hoofs. There, the flutes of shepherds mingled with the melancholy songs of the Cossacks, to the accompaniment of lutes and drums. Far and wide resounded the battle cries and the clashing of swords. Now all is still and dumb, ended are the struggles: the warriors lie in their graves. Thou alone, great prairie, remainest changeless, eternally beautiful and calm.

Intermède Polonais, from Suite Op. 9 – Sigismond Stojowski [4]

Sigismond Stojowski has long been identified with American musical life as a composer, pianist and teacher, in New York City. The Suite from which the Intermède Polonais is extracted, was performed in America for the first time by the New York Philharmonic in 1915, Josef Stransky conducting.

It consists of four movements: Thème Varié, Intermède Polonais, Réverie and Cracovienne, the last two intertwined. It is redolent, throughout, of the Polish national idiom. The Intermezzo is a brisk Mazurka in its first part, verging on the type called in Poland “Oberek.”

The middle section in slower pace and dreamy mood is somewhat in the nature of a solo dance. An English horn motive, tinged with gentle melancholy, is resumed by the lower strings after some capricious flute arabesques. Recapitulation follows and the piece ends in the jolly mood of the beginning.

Deux Dances Montagnardes (B-flat major, D major; from Tatra Album, Nos. 2 and 1) – Ignacy Jan Paderewski [5]

The regional aspects of Polish folk-music are interesting in their relation to representative Polish musicians. Chopin, brought up in Warsaw, has echoed and idealized the rhythms and soul of the Mazovian plain. Moniuszko, in his songs and operas, remained for ever under the spell of the tunes of Polish borderlands, those songful Dumkas, of which his own airs seem but a prolongatioin. Paderewski, in turn, has been the champion of the Polish mountain-side, to which he paid a tribute in his opera, Manru, and before, in his Tatra Album.

Beneath the rugged, rocky peaks of the Tatra Mountains, on the Slovakian border, lay the beautiful valley of Zakopane. Inhabited by a gifted, highly imaginative, proud, indomitable race, it has developed an art-style all its own which, in the architectural, plastic and decorative fields, is being fostered and promoted by artists. Their music, too—vital, vigorous and free, impregnated with gypsy influences—has a peculiar fragrance and original physiognomy. Paderewski listened with rapture, in his young days, to the tunes of Bartek Obrochta and other self-taught fiddlers, and wrote down many of their tunes. In his Tatra Album, originally written for piano four hands, he brought to bear, upon those popular melodies, his own harmonic and contrapuntal ingenuity, while admirably preserving the original spirit.

Of the two number played today, the first one really is a love-song. Its main theme, of an exquisitely tender lyric quality, vies with slightly more agitated episodes which simply serve to enhance its essential serenity. In the other one, two more sharply contrasted themes and moods occur: a boisterous, buoyant one in D major and a slower, pathetically tinged, in A minor, which supplies the middle section. The stirring rhythms of the dance are of the type called “brigand’s step,” with characteristic accents on the second beat. These two numbers have been orchestrated by Dr. Henryk Opieński, distinguished Polish writer, formerly Director of the Conservatory in Poznań, now living in Switzerland.[6]

Concerto in A minor, Op. 17 (Romanza—Finale) – Paderewski

The beautiful Concerto in A minor belongs to Paderewski’s youthful period, to what the critics are prone to call “the first manner.” The first movement was written at the age of twenty-three, the entire work completed a few years later. Composed in Vienna, during Paderewski’s period of study with Leschetitzky, it bears the dedication: “To my Master Theodor Leschetitzky.” The Concerto started an auspicious public career under the baton of Hans Richter, the solo part performed by the composer and also by Mme. Annette Esipoff-Leschetitzky, throughout the concert halls of Europe. It has long been familiar to New York audiences, through performances by the composer, and by Ernest Schelling with the New York Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras.

The Concerto is classical in outline, romantic in spirit, modern in its freshness and color. It consists of three movements, of which, owing to limitations of time, only the second and third are being performed on this occasion. The slow movement (C major, 2/4 time) is in the form of a Romanza, of a dreamy idyllic character, of highly refined workmanship and bears the peculiar stamp of Paderewski’s originality in its harmonic and rhythmic ingenuities.

In a brief orchestral introduction, the oboe announces the main theme, then taken up and developed by the piano. A tentative variation, with a counterpoint in the muted violins, leads to a more animated middle-seciton. Against the background of some delicate lace-work in the piano part, a dialogue of solo instruments is projected, first a violin solo, then a cello, finally a clarinet. Animation and dynamic intensity increase until the piano breaks forth with the main theme ff against a poignant counter-melody descending in the violins. The outburst gradually softens down into a Coda in which framgments of the first motive, the triplets of the middle section, andt he violin solo are all combined as in a tissue of memories melting away in the gentle, lovely initial mood.

The last movement is all ardor and buoyancy. With the stirring first theme and its wild exuberance, a second theme is sharply contrasted, consceived in the more austere vein of a Chorale. Varied treatment of both themes follows until the second theme is triuphantly proclaimed by the brasses, brilliantly supported by pianpo-chords, and thus the work is brought to a jubilantly heroic conclusion.

Group – Frédéric François Chopin [7]

Joseph Elsner, Chopin’s teacher, the composer of many operas, cherished the hope that Chopin would tread the same path. He was to be disappointed. The boy Chopin often improvised on themes from The Cracovians and the Mountaineers, highly in public favor at the time.[8] But he steadily refused to write an opera, for which, he later said to a French admirer, he was not clever enough. He was much more than clever. Some of his short piano pieces contain more real music and human drama than many a big operatic score

After Poland’s drama had been consummated, a curious and wonderful thing happened which is mirrored in Chopin’s music, as well as in the great romantic poetry which soared up among the Polish emigration. Foreign aggression and oppression had not only intensified the nation’s desire to resist and live, but fanned to white heat the love of all things Polish.

It is a hundred years ago that Frederic Chopin left his native country forever. But Chopin exile remained Polish always—to the core. Chopin was born near Warsaw in 1810 of a Polish mother and a French father, who had settled in Poland but who was of Polish ancestry.[9] The family followed the unhappy King Stanislas Leszczynski to his dukedom of Lorraine and remained in Nancy until Nicholas Chopin (whose Polish name was Szop) returned to Poland with a Gallicized name. Biographers have perhaps not sufficiently stressed that Chopin when leaving Poland at twenty years was a full-fledged artist, the composer of two great Concertos, a young man already smitten and matured by love. An exile, he settled in Paris for the short span of a glorious life, solitary in spite of worldly success, ravaged and broken by relentless illness in the very flower of manhood.

But Chopin’s nature also included Poland’s buoyant and chivalrous spirit, and was possessed of a large fund of humor and gaiety. Had he not in his young days drawn caricatures and edited comic papers? Some words of contemporaries best depict the man and the artist. When Mickiewicz, Poland’s greatest poet, heard Choin for the first time in a Paris salon, he went out to him with outstretched hands, saying: “My dear, you have in your fingers an orchestra of butterflies.” Another contemporary poet has summarized the nature and importance of Chopin’s artistic legacy: “He raised, by sheer force of genius, the locally national to the plane of the universally human.”[10]

Chopin created no school but he created a piano style entirely his own, a harmony so novel and original that it is the cornerstone of all modern harmony. As Mr. Henderson justly remarked,[11] even the latest tricks of some modernists seem directly derived from Chopin’s spontaneous and baffling inventions. He was a supreme master of form. He was a Titan and a magician.

As is well known, a long chain of splending Polish musicians links the past with the present. In this group we find the name of Stanislas Moniuszko, in a way complementary to Chopin, and next to him the best beloved among the Poles. Chopin’s junior by ten years, he lived until 1872 and became the founder of national Polish opera. His position is somewhat analogous to that of Smetana in Bohemia, whom he did not quite equal in technical equipment, but probably surpassed in melodic invention. Among his operas, the most popular in Poland are Halka and The Haunted Manor.[12]

Ladislas Zelenski (Jehlenski) (1837-1920) was the successor of Moniuszko in the operatic field. For many years Director of the Cracow Conservatory, Zelenski held with an unwavering hand, under adverse conditions, the torch of the ideal.[13] He was a master-craftsman who tackled diligently every musical form, large and small, but perhaps gave his best in a treasury of songs imbued with genuine manly lyricism.

The same difficult task of keeping the home fires of Art burning in the midst of a hostile environment was the lot of Sigismond Noskowski in Warsaw. He was a robust and vigorous personality: conductor of the Society of Music, indefatigable worker, teacher of composition at the Conservatory, Noskowski was, for a long period, the central figure in Warsaw’s musical life. He first studied with Moniuszko, then in Berlin with Friedrich Kiel. Although he wrote three operas, a ballet-pantomime and incidental music for theatrical plays, his main interest rather lay in the field of symphonic and chamber music. Besides Step and the other symphonic poem, Morskie Oko [The eye of the sea], a set of Variations for Orchestra on Chopin’s A Major Prelude called Roma, songs, string quartets, and a piano quartet, he wrote a charming collection of children’s songs, spontaneously naive but refined and at times surprisingly dramatic, all of which bears witness to his extraordinary versatility.

Around Noskowski a group of young musicians revolved, who became the mainstays of latter-day Polish music. In fact, all who are writing music in Poland today have studied with either Zelenski or Noskowski.[14] A notable exception, however, is Paderewski, who was in his early days a student, and afterwards, for a short while, professor of the Warsaw Conservatory. Like Chopin, Paderewski left Poland early and, like Chopin, hehas kept, throughout his wanderings in the world he conquered, a flaming Polish heart.

Contemporary of Paderewski’s is Roman Statkowski (1867-1925), former pupil of Zelenski, who succeeded Noskowski as teacher of composition in Warsaw. He won prizes with his operas, with Philenis in London and with Maria in Warsaw.[15] Henryk Melcer (1869-1927), a pupil of Noskowski, an excellent pianist, won the Rubinstein prize with his piano concerto in 1898, wrote an opera on the same subject of Maria, and enriched piano literature by some charming transcriptions of Moniuszko’s songs. Henryk Opieński, distinguished musicologist (1870), is the author of the opera Jacob the Lutist, of symphonic poems, chamber music, and songs; the founder of the splendid a capella chorus, Motets and Madrigals, and a former head of the Conservatory in Poznań. Emil Młynarski, formerly conductor of the Warsaw Opera House and Philharmonic, now with the Philadelphia Opera, and at the Curtis Institute, has written an opera, The Summer Night, a Symphony (Polonia), and two violin concertos. Josef Hofmann, the master pianist, Director of the Curtis Institute, is the author of several concertos, many piano pieces, and a picturesque symphonic poem in Straussian vein, The Haunted Castle, admirably utilizing the complete resources of the modern orchestra.[16]

Contemporary Poland can boast of a long array of names, some prominent, others promising, many simply unpronounceable. Among these the prematurely deceased Mieczyslaw Karlowicz (1876-1909), killed by an avalanche in the Tatra Mountains, left a fine Lithuanian Rhapsody for orchestra, and several symphonic poems distinguished by lofty purpose and a glowing orchestral garb. Ludomir Rózycki (born 1882), prolific, versatile and eclectic, won his first success with a scintillating orchestral scherzo, The King’s Buffoon, and lately scored great European success with his ballet, Pan Twardowski.[17]

Last but not least, and leading the modern movement, Karol Szymanowski, the present Director of the Musical Academy of Warsaw. His Violin Concerto and Second Symphony, and smaller works have been heard here, and one of his latest works, Stabat Mater, is soon to be performed. [18] Szymanowski is a past-master of modern technique, at the command of a powerful creative imagination.

Since the Polish eagle again soars, white and free, into the ether blue, musical Poland may look not only upon a glorious past, but into a future resplendent with faith and hope.


[1]. This and all subsequent notes by Maja Trochimczyk, unless otherwise indicated. Stojowski’s program notes were written for Fourth Young People’s Concert (Polish Program) of the Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York, that took place on 29 December 1930 at Carnegie Hall, with Ernest Schelling conducting and Ignacy Jan Paderewski at the piano. The program included Noskowski’s Step [trans. “The Prairie;” lit. “Steppe”], Symphonic Poem, Op. 66; Stojowski’s Intermède polonais from Suite, Op. 9; Paderewski’s Deux Danses Montagnardes, from the Tatra Album for piano; and—after the intermission—Paderewski’s Piano Concerto in A minor and a group of works by Chopin. This transcription is based on an annotated copy of the program from the New York Public Library, Performing Arts Department, Research Collection, Lincoln Center. It is annotated with the timing of the pieces given: Noskowski – 17’25”; Stojowski – 4′; Paderewski – Tatra Album – 2’18” and 2’50”; Paderewski’s Concerto – 9’30” and 7’44”; Chopin’s works – 5’42”, 2’44”, 3’47”, 9’03”. Unfortunately the titles of Chopin’s pieces were not noted since the choice was left to Paderewski; he probably ended the program with a Polonaise. [Back]

[2]. The position of Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909) in the history of Polish music has been negatively affected by the conflicts between modernists (represented by Szymanowski) and traditionalists (represented by Noskowski’s students and followers). His role in the development of Polish music has not attracted much scholarly attention. Most recent studes are: Adam Sutkowski, Zygmunt Noskowski (Kraków: PWM, 1957) and W. Wroński, Zygmunt Noskowski (Kraków: PWM, 1960). The Program Note includes annotation: “(Polish Composer: Born at Warsaw, 1846; died 1909).” [Back]

[3]. Stojowski’s note: “The winged Hussars were a peculiarly picturesque kind of Polish cavalry.” [Back]

[4]. Orignal program note contains an erroneous date of birth which should be 1870. The note reads: “Polish composer: Born at Strzelce, 1876. Mr. Stojowski omits to state what an important place is his in the list of Polish composers. He has written a Symphony, first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Dr. Muck in 1908; Variations for piano and orchestra, first performed by Mr. Paderewski and the Boston Symphony; chamber music; songs; choral works; a beautiful Polish hymn; and piano works of rare beauty and most scholarly counterpoint, often in truly nationalistic Polish vein. When living in Cracow, Mr. Stojowski’s first master was Zelenski. He left Poland, when seventeen years old, for Paris. There he studied at the Sorbonne and Conservatoire, and received a premier prix for the piano, and also for composition. —E.S.” The “Variations” refers to Piano Concerto No. 2 (Prologue, Scherzo and Variations) played by Paderewski in 1916. The “hymn” might be A Prayer for Poland[Back]

[5]. The program includes an annotation: “(Polish composer: Born at Kurilovka, 1860).” Two “highlander” dances from Album tatrzańskie Op. 12 (4 mvts.) composed in 1883. The model for the second dance is called the “zbójnicki” and consists of figures danced by men armed with “ciupaga” – a highlander’s axe. Paderewski was at the forefront of discovery of the Tatra Mountain folklore; he traveled to Zakopane and collected folk tunes with musicologist Jan Kleczyński (1837-1895). Actually, some of Paderewski’s transcriptions appear in Kleczyński’s articles because his colleague lost the original material he transcribed himself. See Jan Kleczyński: “Zakopane i jego pieśni” [The Zakopane region and its songs], Echo Muzyczne i Teatralne 1 (1883-4): 419-21, 429-30, 447-8, 468-70; “Wycieczka po melodie” [Excursion for melodies], Echo Muzyczne i Teatralne1 (1883-4): 567-9, 588-90, 610-11, 631-2, 653; “Melodie Zakopiańskie i Podhalskie” [The melodies of the Zakopane and Podhale regions], Pamiętnik Towarzystwa Tatrzanskiego 12 (1888): 39-102. [Back]

[6]. Henryk Opieński (1870-1942) studied piano (with Paderewski), composition (with Żeleński, Urban, and d’Indy), conducting (with Nikisch), and musicology (with Riemann), in Kraków, Paris, Berlin and Leipzig. He founded the first Polish musicological quarterly (Kwartalnik muzyczny), wrote books on Polish music, Moniuszko, Chopin, and Paderewski, and composed two operas (Maria and Jakub lutnista), symphonic poems on national themes, as well as choral, chamber and solo works. [Back]

[7]. The program includes the annotation: “(Polish composer: Born at Warsaw, Feb. 22, 1810; died at Paris, Oct. 17, 1849). There is no information available about the particular selections chosen by Paderewski, though an anonymous listener noted on the program held at NYPL, Peforming Arts, the durations of the four pieces played. [Back]

[8]. Cud mniemany, czyli Krakowiacy i Górale, opera by Jan Stefani to a libretto by Wojciech Bogusławski, composed in 1794. [Back]

[9]. By 1930 the myth of Chopin’s patrilinear Polish ancestry was refuted by French scholars; its recurrence in this text is a proof of its staying power and a need to “recreate” Chopin as a thoroughly Polish in an ethnic sense. This myth is recounted in more detail in Jarosław Zieliński’s “The Poles in Music” and notes about its provenience are included with that article, reprinted in Polish Music Journal 5 no. 2 (2002). See also Maja Trochimczyk, “Chopin and the Polish Race: National Ideologies and Chopin Reception,” in Halina Goldberg, ed., Chopin and his Era: Interdisciplinary Studies (Indiana University Press, forthcoming). [Back]

[10]. Stojowski refers here to the Epilogue of Promethidion by Cyprian Kamil Norwid (1821-1883), first published in 1851 and discussing Chopin’s art as “lifting folk inspirations to the pwer that permeates and encompasses all of humanity” [“Podnoszenie ludowych natchnień do potęgi przenikającej i ogarniającej Ludzkość całą – podnoszenie ludowego do Ludzkosci nie przez stosowania zewnętrzne i koncesje formalne, ale przez wewnętrzny rozwój dojrzałości… oto jest, co wysłuchać daje się z muzy Fryderyka jako zaśpiew na sztukę narodową.”][Back]

[11]. John A. Henderson was the music critic for Musical America[Back]

[12]. Moniuszko’s Halka exists in two versions, composed for Wilno (1848) and Warsaw (1858). Straszny Dwór was composed in 1861-64 and premiered in 1865; with its idealized setting among Polish nobility it served to raise the spirits of the nation crushed after the fall of the January Uprising (1864). The most recent biography of Moniuszko is by Jan Prosnak, Stanisław Moniuszko (Kraków: PWM, 1964), it appeared in English in 1980. There is no complete catalogue of Moniuszko’s works, nor of his manuscripts. Edition of his letters was prepared by Witold Rudziński (Kraków: PWM, 1969) and a catalog of his first print editions by K. Mazur in 1970. [Back]

[13]. Władysław Żeleński was Poland’s most important opera composer after Moniuszko; his operas blended elements of the Moniuszko tradition (folklore stylization), Wagnerian influences (harmony, leitmotif, blending of scenes; though these elements arrived in his music via Paderewski’s Manru), and French grand opera (monumental choruses). Similarly to Rimsky-Korsakov, he borrowed subjects from the national literature: poetry of Mickiewicz (Konrad Wallenrod), Słowacki (Goplana), and novels by Kraszewski (Stara Baśń). [Back]

[14]. Stojowski’s emphasis on the significance of Żeleński and Noskowski for younger generations of composers resembles that of Jarosław Zieliński and strongly differs from the position of Feliks Łabuński and later historians. Interestingly, his text mentions neither the Young Poland movement as a group, nor the Association of Young Polish Composers in Paris, featured prominently in the text by Łabuński. [Back]

[15]. Roman Statkowski (1859-1925), Polish composer and teacher was a student of Żeleński and, later, Rubinstein at the St Petersburg Conservatory. His opera Filenis, composed in 1897 to his own libretto, in 1903 received the first prize in the London International Opera Competition. Maria, based on a poem by Malczewski, was composed in 1903-1904. [Back]

[16]. Emil Młynarski (1870-1935) was active as a violinist and conductor; in recent years mostly remembered for his role in the promotion of Szymanowski’s operas (premieres of Hagith and King Roger), he was a talented composer and a great orchestrator. His music belongs to the “neo-romantic—folkloric” type represented by Paderewski, Stojowski, and Różycki. [Back]

[17]. Ludomir Różycki (1884-1954) composed numerous operas and stage works. Initially inspired by Strauss and Hugo Wolff, he modelled his subsequent operas on late 19th-century Italian opera; he adhered to romantic aesthetics. The ballet Pan Twardowski, Op. 45, based on a humorous poem by Adam Mickiewicz, appeared in 1921 and remains in the repertoire until today. The symphonic scherzo mentioned here is Stańczyk, Op. 1, composed in 1903. [Back]

[18]. Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater was heard in the U.S. on January 29, 1931 at the Carnegie Hall. See Teresa Chylińska, Karol Szymanowski: His Life and Work (Los Angeles: Friends of Polish Music, 1993), 212. [Back]