Part 2: Scherzo: Presto [5'02]
Now these really are romantic piano concertos!
Stojowski was born and brought up in Poland though he later lived in Paris and finally became an American citizen. He was both virtuoso pianist and serious composer (he wrote a symphony and violin concerto as well as music for his own instrument) and his initial career was full of promise. Unfortunately for his later reputation his style was that of a previous generation and in the 20th century his music was viewed as increasingly dated. One hundred years later this hardly matters and on this CD we find works steeped in the language of Tchaikovsky and Grieg, perhaps with a hint of Saint-Saëns and the almost sentimental lyricism of Paderewski (ten years Stojowski's senior, Paderewski was both teacher and friend to the younger composer, the second concerto was dedicated to, and played by him).
We are delighted to welcome Jonathan Plowright to Hyperion. He valiantly tackles the huge virtuoso demands Stojowski makes of the soloist, particularly in the first concerto.The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra are playing better than ever and they are kept fully occupied in the rich and colourful scoring of both works.
Other recommended albums
Hailed throughout Europe as one of Poland’s most outstanding composers at the fin de siècle, Zygmunt (Sigismond) Stojowski (1870–1946) has slipped into oblivion in today’s musical world, even in his native Poland. As a young man Stojowski was recognized as one of the first Polish symphonists of great European calibre. His orchestral music was heard and played by the finest orchestras in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, London, Manchester, Paris and St Petersburg in the 1890s, when the composer was only in his twenties. Tchaikovsky was scheduled to conduct Stojowski’s Suite in E flat Op 9 in 1894, and in 1895, by command of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Stojowski’s cantata Le Printemps, Op 7, was premiered in English at a State Concert at Buckingham Palace. For two decades Stojowski’s position as one of Poland’s most outstanding composers was unquestioned.
Stojowski’s decline in popularity was due to his die-hard Romanticism in a world on the brink of a musical revolution that dramatically changed styles, tastes and compositional techniques. Even though one can find some influences of Impressionism in his Second Piano Concerto, the composer basically refused to change. In fact, for all practical purposes he stopped composing around World War I and directed his energy into performance and teaching. Unfortunately, a century later his music is often considered old-fashioned, schmaltzy or—as one British critic put it—‘high tosh’.
Born near the city of Kielce in the small town of Strzelce in the Russian partition of Poland, Stojowski began his musical training with his mother Marie (d1925). Thanks to the patronage of Princess Marcelina Czartoryska, once a pupil of Chopin, Stojowski and his mother were able to relocate to the ancient Polish capital of Cracow, where he simultaneously completed secondary school studies at the Gymnazium sw. Anny and took formal music lessons with the eminent Polish composer Wladyslaw (Ladislaus) Zelenski (1837–1921). In Cracow, as a seventeen-year-old student, he made his debut as a concert pianist performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 with the local orchestra, for which he composed his own cadenzas, later published by Heugel & Cie. in Paris. At the age of eighteen he moved to Paris and studied piano with Louis Diémer and composition with Léo Delibes. Two years later at the Paris Conservatoire, he would win first prizes in piano performance, counterpoint and fugue. Delibes, whose wife was Polish, even offered to adopt Stojowski so he could compete for the famous Prix de Rome, since foreigners were prohibited from competing. According to Stojowski, however, in a December 1901 interview that appeared in the Warsaw magazine Echo Muzyczne, Teatralne i Artystyczne, the teachers who had the most profound influence on him as a musician were the Polish violinist-composer Wladyslaw Górski and pianist-composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski.
Stojowski’s music was found worthy enough to be included in the first concert of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra on 5 November 1901. His Symphony in D minor, Op 21, which was featured in that first concert conducted by Emil Mlynarski, had won first prize (1000 rubles) in a Paderewski Music Competition in Leipzig on 9 July 1898. Besides having his symphony performed at that first prestigious concert, Stojowski appeared as a recitalist in December and again as the soloist in Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No 4 in January 1902. The last time Stojowski performed with the Warsaw Philharmonic was at the opening concert of the 1929 season, playing his Piano Concerto No 2. Sadly, though, Stojowski’s music was not played at the Warsaw Philharmonic’s centenary concert of 5 November 2001, nor was a single work of his included in the orchestra’s centennial season repertoire.
In October 1905, Stojowski sailed on the SS Moltke to the USA on the invitation of Frank Damrosch, founder and director of the newly formed Institute of Musical Art, to head the institute’s piano department; he was recommended for the position by pianist Harold Bauer and cellist Pablo Casals. The institute would later merge in 1924 with the Juilliard Graduate School to form the Juilliard School of Music, where Stojowski would also teach during the summers of 1932 and 1940–46. In New York, he was acclaimed as a great composer, pianist and pedagogue, and had the distinction of being the first Polish composer to have an entire monographic concert performed by the New York Philharmonic. New York became home for the rest of his life.
After six years of teaching at the Institute of Musical Art, Stojowski then headed the piano department at the Von Ende School of Music until 1917. Finally, due to the large number of students who wished to work with him, he opened his own ‘Stojowski Studios’ at his four-storey brownstone home at 150 West 76th Street in Manhattan. Here, together with his Peruvian wife Luisa Morales-Macedo, the pianist-composer not only taught until the end of the 1930s, but also raised what he called his ‘three best compositions’—his sons Albert (b1919), Henry (b1921) and Ignace (1923–1984).
Stojowski’s music was performed by the greatest musicians of his time. Not only did his teacher Paderewski pay him the unique respect of performing his works, but his teacher in Paris Louis Diémer played his compositions as well. A review in The Daily Graphic of Diémer’s 19 May 1893 recital at London’s St James Hall reported: ‘Louis Diémer gave a brilliant rendering of two clever pieces by Stojowski’. Other notable pianists who featured Stojowski’s works on their concerts included fellow Pole Ignacy Friedman, Rudolph Ganz, Boris Goldovsky, Percy Grainger, Ernest Schelling, Olga Samaroff, and compatriot Josef Hofmann, who kept Stojowski’s hair-raising Caprice-Oriental, Op 10 No 2, in his repertoire for forty years. His songs were sung by Metropolitan Opera star soprano Marcella Sembrich, who lived just around the corner from the Stojowskis in New York on Central Park West. Sembrich and Hofmann were the godparents for Stojowski’s first son Alfred. Violinists known for performing Stojowski included ‘the German Paganini’ August Wilhelmj, Jacques Thibaud, Wladyslaw Górski, Pawel Kochanski, George Enescu and Jascha Heifetz. Famous conductors of that epoch who programmed Stojowski’s orchestral works included Jerzy Bojanowski Antonia Brico (a former Stojowski student), Hans von Bülow, Frank and Walter Damrosch, Grzegorz Fitelberg, Benjamin Godard, Sir Charles Hallé, Willem Van Hoogstraten, Emil Mlynarski, Pierre Monteux, Carl Muck, Arthur Nikisch, Ernest Schelling and Josef Stransky. Stojowski performed with such American Orchestras as the New York Symphony and Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Women’s Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the Boston Opera, the New Haven Symphony and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the last of these conducted by Leopold Stokowski, who also immigrated to America in the same year as Stojowski.
The first of the two works on this CD, the Piano Concerto No 1 in F sharp minor Op 3, was written in 1890, as recorded on the manuscript score found in the Moldenhauer Archives at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Its world premiere took place in Paris in 1891, at the Salle Erard with the Orchestre Colonne under the direction of composer Benjamin Godard, with Stojowski playing the piano part. It was a monographic concert of the 21-year-old composer’s music. Further early performances of the work included Stojowski’s performance with the Berlin Philharmonic on 19 February 1892, and British performances with Sir Charles Hallé’s orchestra in Manchester. The London publisher Stanley Lucas, Weber, Pitt & Hatzfeld Ltd issued the work in 1893. It is dedicated in homage to the Russian pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein.
A short analysis of the concerto is found in a review of the printed score in The Musical Times of 1 October 1893:
The work opens with a mysterious theme given out without harmony by the orchestra (was the composer thinking of a certain slow movement of Beethoven’s in one of his quartets?)—it constitutes the principal theme of the movement, and it is treated with great skill and variety. The second theme, in the orthodox relative major, which is evolved from it, forms an admirable contrast. The second movement, Romanza, is in D flat—i.e., enharmonic change for C sharp. The opening cantabile theme, of Chopinesque character, has much charm; it is first given out by the orchestra. After a middle section, più mosso, of some power, a return is made via a short but showy cadenza to the opening theme, which is now presented in ornamented fashion. The closing movement is an Allegro con fuoco, full of storm and stress; except in the hands of a great pianist it would stand but a poor chance. It is hoped that Sigismond Stojowski will soon have an opportunity of presenting his work before an English audience.
Eighty-eight years later, Maurice Hinson wrote of the concerto (in Music for the Piano & Orchestra: An Annotated Guide, Indiana University Press): ‘Beautifully laid out for the piano. Somewhat dated but contains some beautiful melodies. Virtuosic in places.’ The unique cyclic character of this concerto should also be pointed out. Before the brilliant coda of the final movement, the composer brings back two themes from the first and second movements and combines them.
Despite its beautifully lush themes, virtuosity, drama and originality, this concerto has disappeared from the mainstream repertoire. In Poland, the last traceable performance of the work by any of the country’s major symphony orchestras dates back to the early 1980s. In the USA, William Westney, professor of music at Texas Tech University, briefly revived the concerto, first with the San Antonio Symphony in Lubbock and then again with the Jackson (Michigan) Symphony Orchestra, in 1986 and 1990 respectively. Mistakenly, though, Mr Westney advertised his 1986 performance of the concerto as the first American performance, but, as the April 1911 issue of the Musical Courier notes, Stojowski himself performed the concerto in New York with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under the direction of Josef Stransky on Sunday afternoon, 2 April 1911.
The Concerto No 2 in A flat major for Piano and Orchestra (Prologue, Scherzo and Variations) Op 32 was written during the summers of 1909 and 1910 at Chamonix. The manuscript of the full score, as well as sketches for the concerto, are currently found in the composer’s family archives at the home of his son Henry in New York. (They are soon to be donated, however, to the Polish Music Center at the University of Southern California.) The concerto’s world premiere took place with the composer at the piano and Arthur Nikisch at the helm of the London Symphony Orchestra at Queen’s Hall on 23 June 1913, and a year later it was published by Heugel & Cie. in Paris. On 1 March 1915, Stojowski premiered the work in America under the title ‘Piano Concerto No 2’ with the New York Philharmonic and conductor Josef Stransky at Carnegie Hall. Another Carnegie Hall performance—actually two—took place one year later at the beginning of March with Paderewski performing the work under the title of ‘Prologue, Scherzo and Variations’ with the New York Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Walter Damrosch. The concerto’s dedication reads Au Maître Paderewski Hommage d’affection reconnaissante. On the same programme still another work dedicated to Paderewski was played for the first time in America: Edward Elgar’s symphonic prelude Polonia, a work which includes a quotation from Paderewski’s Polish Fantasia for piano and orchestra, Op 19.
Paderewski’s performance of the concerto caused quite a sensation in New York. There was such a demand for tickets for the concert on 4 March that an open rehearsal had to be added on 2 March. At the concert on 4 March the audience refused to leave. It was only after innumerable bows, accompanied by tremendous applause, that the hall once more dimmed its lights and let Paderewski, who was breaking the Symphony Society’s rule forbidding soloists to play encores at orchestral concerts, return to the piano and play Stojowski’s Chant d’amour.
The New York Tribune’s appraisal of the concerto read:
The Stojowski Prelude, Scherzo and Variations Mr Paderewski has played before, and a rehearing emphasized the unusual beauties of this composition. It is not merely music for the virtuoso, though it is music of extraordinary difficulties; it is also music uplifted by a true melodic inspiration, shot through with much color and filled with incisive and unexpected rhythms. The orchestral accompaniment is in itself music of great beauty, yet always properly subordinated to that of the solo instrument. Needless to say, Mr Paderewski gave his pupil’s work a performance of high excellence and exquisite euphony.
Although all the critics hailed Stojowski’s masterpiece, several of them had one common criticism: the concerto was too long. It turns out, however, that this was due to Paderewski’s performance time, a solid 45 minutes, and not because the composer had written an exceedingly long concerto which in the hands of others takes only approximately 33 minutes to perform. Another critic, this one for The New York Journal, wrote:
Without reservation it is excellent music in itself and excellently written for the solo instrument. The Prologue is a trifle diffuse, but the Scherzo is a brilliant piece of writing, and the theme of the finale has genuine beauty and impressiveness. Some of the variations might with advantage be omitted. With some pruning the piece ought to become a welcome addition to the not too unhackneyed orchestral repertoire of the pianist.
Stojowski, however, may have taken this criticism to heart. When the composer performed the concerto once more with the New York Philharmonic under Willem Van Hoogstraten’s direction in Carnegie Hall on 16 November 1924, the sixth variation was cut from the last movement.
The concerto is played without pauses between movements. The Prologue (Andante con moto) displays the composer’s resources, imagination and prize-winning contrapuntal skill. In a review of the Boston concert, Philip Hale of The Boston Herald wrote: ‘The Prologue is really a first movement. It is, on the whole, the best constructed and the most expressive.’ Of the dazzling second movement Scherzo (Presto), he wrote:
Stojowski’s concerto has many pages that at once win favor. It is tuneful and the themes are easily grasped; the Scherzo is vivacious and a free use of pulsatile instruments keeps the attention going … The Scherzo contains much that is only agreeable tinkling, but the swiftness, a certain grace, and a sparkling instrumental dress insure immediate popularity.
In his description of the last movement’s theme (Maestoso e moderato molto) and ten variations, Louis C Elson of the Boston Daily Advertiser wrote:
The theme of the finale is a splendid one, both intrinsically and for variation purposes. But we scarcely like the variation form for a concerto finale; it generally puts ingenuity in the fore, and poetry in the background. Nevertheless, these variations were in excellent contrast of power, rhythm, and general treatment, and the final pianissimo ending came as a surprise.
Once loved by the public, the music of Stojowski is now ignored. The enigmatic role he plays in music history needs to be re-evaluated and his music needs to be reassessed . That can only be done by hearing his music performed both in concert and on commercial recordings. Hopefully, the two concertos found on this recording will provide listeners with the opportunity to decide for themselves the merits of this seldom played and nearly forgotten great Polish Romantic.
Joseph A Herter © 2002
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