Caprice: Allegro assai [4'17]
No 3: Chant d'amour [4'15]
No 4: Thème cracovien varié [6'37]
Fantasie Op 38 [13'57]
Part 2 Variation 1: Maestoso [1'30]
Part 7 Variation 6: Vivace [1'34]
Part 8 Variation 7: Presto [1'14]
Part 12 Fugue: [untitled] [5'09]
The Polish romantic composer Sigismond Stojowski is currently enjoying a welcome revival, thanks largely to Jonathan Plowright and Hyperion. Sumptuously lyrical, intensely chromatic, by turns poetic and dramatic, this music deserves to be better known. Jonathan Plowright has a natural affinity for Polish romanticism, and he has already proved his mettle with this composer in his enthusiastically received recording of Stojowski’s piano concertos. His imperious performances on this follow-up selection of solo piano music confirm him as this composer’s ideal advocate.
As well as the large-scale Fantasie, and Variations and Fugue, this disc includes charming miniatures such as Caprice oriental, once a favourite of Josef Hofmann, and Chant d’amour, Stojowski’s most famous piece during his lifetime thanks to the performances of Paderewski.
Other recommended albums
Born in Strzelce, near Kielce, on 8 April 1870, Sigismond (Zygmunt) Stojowski first studied composition with Wladyslaw Zelenski in Cracow. Between 1887 and 1889 he continued to study composition with Léo Delibes, harmony with Théodore Dubois, and piano with Louis Diémer at the Conservatoire National in Paris, where he won first prizes in piano as well as in counterpoint and fugue. Following graduation he continued his musical studies with Wladyslaw Górski and Ignacy Paderewski, and also received a Bachelor of Letters Diploma at the Sorbonne University.
In 1905 Stojowski settled in New York where he became the head of the piano department of the new Institute of Musical Art (later incorporated into the Juilliard School of Music). In New York, on 1 March 1915, he had the distinction of being the first Polish composer to have an entire programme of their music performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. As a pianist he gave recitals throughout Europe and North and South America, and performed with the most outstanding orchestras of his day. As a pedagogue he was in such demand that he resigned from his academic teaching position to open his own ‘Stojowski Studios’ in Manhattan, and for twenty years gave summer masterclasses throughout the United States.
During his lifetime Stojowski was one of the most highly respected post-Romantic composers. His prize-winning Symphony in D minor was performed in the inaugural concert of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in 1901, and he was featured as both composer and pianist during the inaugural concerts of the Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine) Philharmonic Orchestra in 1902. Unfortunately, after the outbreak of World War I, Stojowski returned to Poland only once. That was in October 1929 when he performed his Second Piano Concerto at the opening concert of the Warsaw Philharmonic’s season.
His music is noted for its rich lyricism and chromatic complexity. In his later works Stojowski’s chromaticism stretches the borders of tonal music and the composer occasionally abandons tertiary harmony, using instead the fourth, fifth and diminished fifth to create his harmonic textures. Influences of Impressionism – such as the frequent use of the tritone, the use of whole-tone scales in melodic as well as chordal combinations, parallel harmonic progressions and colouristic techniques such as the use of piano harmonics – are also to be found in his works.
In addition to his musical career, Stojowski was extremely active in the American Polonia (the Latin word Poland uses to describe her diaspora), working untiringly for the Polish cause during World War I and championing the newly independent nation after 1918. On 28 November 1926, in recognition of his efforts for the rebirth of a sovereign Polish state, Stojowski was awarded the highest order that the Polish government could confer upon a civilian, Polonia Restituta. He was the president of the ‘Kolo Polskie’ (Polish Circle) in New York for over twenty years, a charter member of the American Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the founder of the Polish Institute of Arts and Letters, and a frequently published author of articles on both music and Polish history. As a septuagenarian during World War II, he was the founder and chairman of the Polish Musicians’ Committee, which helped displaced Polish musicians in Western Europe, and the president of the Polish Review, a weekly magazine published with the assistance of the Polish Government Information Centre.
This extraordinary and sadly unsung Polish musician and patriot died in New York on 5 November 1946. The works included on the present recording suffice to document Sigismond Stojowski’s pre-eminent position in the pantheon of outstanding late-Romantic composers.
The Deux Pensées musicales, Op 1 were written in Paris in 1888 or 1889, when the composer was in his late teens and completing his studies with Léo Delibes at the Conservatoire National. From Delibes’ correspondence with Paderewski found in the latter’s archives at the Archiwum Akt Nowych in Warsaw, it is known that Delibes sent Stojowski’s compositions to him for his approval and comments. It is safe to presume that these two early works had both Paderewski’s nihil obstat as well as Delibes’ imprimatur before they went to print. Both pieces show the young composer’s gift for creating beautiful melodies accompanied by luscious harmonies.
Mélodie, No 1 of the Pensées, was undoubtedly the composer’s most popular and one of his most irresistible compositions. It has seen no fewer than sixteen editions, including five transcriptions for violin and piano, four for organ, and one for orchestra. This work was a favourite of violinists Mischa Elman and Jascha Heifetz. The organ transcriptions were probably heard less often in church than they were in the cinema as background music for many a romantic moment during silent motion pictures.
In addition to Boris Goldovsky’s 1955 recording of Mélodie on the Allegro Royale label, the composer himself recorded it on an Ampico piano roll under the title Musical Thought. His 1944 New York radio broadcast of the work can also be found on the 1976 LP of Stojowski’s works issued on the International Piano Archives’ Desmar label, along with a tender rendition of the Prélude performed by the composer’s wife, the Peruvian pianist Louisa Moralès-Macedo (1890–1982).
The Deux Pensées musicales were first published by V Durdilly in Paris in 1889 and are dedicated to the wife of Moritz Moszkowski, Henriette Moszkowska (née Chaminade).
The Deux Orientales, Op 10 – two musical impressions of the Orient by a twenty-four-year-old Polish composer living in Paris in the late nineteenth century – totally differ from each other in mood and character. The cantabile style and colouristic effects of Oriental-sounding scales make the Romance (Sostenuto e con molto espressione) quite striking. Ending the cadenza of the first section, Stojowski creates an interesting colouristic effect with the ascending Oriental-sounding passage held by the sostenuto pedal. Without re-striking the strings, the performer is instructed to hold down seven keys forming a G minor chord, quickly clear the pedal and then release the keys one at a time. A brief contrasting, impassioned middle section is followed by a closing passage similar in style to the opening. The composer makes use of mixed metres, alternating between duple and triple time in the key of F major.
If the first Orientale creates an impression of being somewhere in the Middle East, the second work, Caprice oriental (Allegro assai), brings the listener much closer to Constantinople. Stojowski’s ‘Turkish’ opus is a wild and exciting bacchanal, full of power and virtuosic bravura. A rhythmic ostinato leads the piece to its frenzied climax and dominates it from beginning to end.
Rafael Kammerer wrote that the work ‘… is quite remarkable and wonderfully idiomatic. It is a worthy substitute for, and welcome relief from, Balakirev’s Islamey’. This original and breathless pianistic tour de force was written for the composer’s compatriot and life-long friend, the pianist Josef Hofmann, who kept the work in his repertoire for over forty years, and added two arpeggiated A minor chords as an introduction when he performed it. (The score for this version of Caprice oriental, prepared by Fredric Dannen, is available from the University of Southern California Polish Music Center’s Website. This is the first of several planned editions of Stojowski’s music to be made available online.)
The Deux Orientales were published in 1894 by E Hatzfeld in Leipzig and London. The first is dedicated to Paul Bergon and the second to Josef Hofmann.
Stojowski’s Chant d’amour, the third miniature from the Quatre Morceaux pour piano, Op 26, was the composer’s claim to fame during his lifetime. He had been in America for less than two years when his teacher and mentor Ignacy Paderewski included Chant d’amour on his 1907–8 concert tour of the United States. Thanks to Paderewski, who performed it more than fifty times across the country, Stojowski became well known throughout American musical circles. Prior to a recording of the piece which Paderewski made in 1926 for Victor Records there had been several piano-roll recordings, including ones by Rudolph Ganz, Carl Friedberg, and the composer himself on Ampico. The work’s popularity continued into the 1950s when the flamboyant pianist and entertainer Liberace recorded a souped-up version with the George Liberace Orchestra on the Columbia LP ‘Moonlight Sonata’. This, until now, was the work’s last commercial release.
In a July 1928 article in The Musical Mirror, the British composer Alec Rowley described Chant d’amour as ‘… a gem of the first water. A ravishing melody, with harmonies that thrill …’. The 1907–8 Paderewski concert tour programme contained the following analytical notes by H E Krehbiel:
The piece is in the key of G flat, and is marked by a formal feature of an original nature. The principal melody dies away in a cadenza in D flat which leads to a middle part of a duet-like character, which, after working itself up to an impassioned climax, gives way to a return of the first theme by means of the same cadenza, this time in G flat. (Paderewski Archives 258, Archiwum Akt Nowych, Warsaw)
Chant d’amour was first published in 1903 by C F Peters, Leipzig, and dedicated to Julia Appleton Fuller. Because of mistakes in several editions, the G Schirmer edition of 1908, with the composer’s own fingering, is the most reliable.
The Thème cracovien varié is based on the delightful melody of the Polish folksong Bartoszu, Bartoszu, written in a Polish krakowiak dance form.
The text of this song is both patriotic and religious in nature. The title is the Polish vocative case of the surname ‘Bartos’, referring to Wojciech Bartos, a hero of the Battle of Raclawice. This victory for the Poles, led by Tadeusz Kosciuszko, was fought against their Russian oppressors in April 1794. Thus, the folksong is sometimes referred to as the Kosciuszko Krakowiak. The words can be translated to mean:
Bartos, Bartos, do not give up hope.
The piece, which begins and ends in the key of G major, is a set of nine variations on this theme. There is a gradual increase of tempo in the first five variations: Allegretto moderato; Con grazia, un pochettino più animato; Più mosso; Leggiero e veloce; and Molto vivace. The fifth variation is also marked by a change to compound duple metre and staccato articulation. A sudden change of tempo, metre, key and mood takes place in the sixth variation as the composer modulates to the key of G minor, switches to compound triple metre, gives the tempo marking as Andante con moto and replaces the staccato articulation with the markings sempre legato and ben cantato. Another sudden change of tempo takes place in variation 7 (Con moto). Here the composer returns to duple metre and uses the opening figure of the theme in canonic imitation, briefly modulating to B minor before ending in G minor. In variation 8 (Allegretto capriccioso, ma non vivace), Stojowski returns to the original key of G major, changes to triple metre and switches the dance form to a mazurka. Variation 9 (Allegro vivo) is the longest and most developed of the set and forms an effective coda for the work. The opening motif is masterfully braided into a semiquaver configuration heard throughout. Here the harmonies are more complex than those used in previous variations, and the melodic progression is strongly chromatic.
A radio recording of the composer performing this work, dated 15 October 1944, can be found on the LP Desmar 115 released by International Piano Archives in 1976. Thème cracovien varié was first published in 1903 by C F Peters, Leipzig, and is dedicated to Marie Panthès-Kutner.
Most of Stojowski’s solo piano compositions are classified as piano miniatures. The Fantasie, Op 38 and his Variations and Fugue are among his few major works for solo piano. The title Fantasie is misleading in that one might expect a free fantasy-like piece, improvisatory in style. Instead the composer shows his mettle by providing the listener with a solidly constructed musical form rich in melodic and rhythmic interest, reminiscent at times of Chopin’s Fantasy in F minor, Op 49.
The composition is divided into two main parts. The first (Sostenuto, molto cantabile e poco rubato), in quasi sonata-allegro form, is characterized by a seemingly simple melody which contains a key rhythmic motif repeated throughout the work.
The second section is in ABA form. It is immediately recognizable not only by a change of tempo (to Allegro energico) and key (to F minor), but also by the change from triple to quadruple metre and, above all, by a new heroic, rhythmically driving four-bar theme.
Following the exposition of this theme, Stojowski cleverly restates all of the thematic material of both sections.
When the theme above returns, the composer brilliantly transforms it into the subject of a three-voice fugue forming the middle section (B). The fugue’s exposition ends with a short transition based on the dotted rhythm found at the end of the subject. The development begins with the subject heard in the tenor range and then one octave lower in the bass register. A six-bar chromatic episode follows and once more the subject is heard, but this time two and three octaves higher. In the recapitulation, instead of returning – as might be expected – to the original key of the fugue’s exposition, the composer opts for the key of F minor. Thus, he enables the fugue’s coda to become the beginning of the third section (A1).
Having done this, Stojowski modulates to F major and presents the appassionato theme of the first section. As the work draws to a close, the composer masterfully combines a simultaneous restatement of the opening themes of both the first and second sections of the Fantasie. He briefly revisits the work’s opening tonality, after which he returns to F major. The Fantasie quietly ends with thematic material from the first section, underlined by a subtle reminder of the second section’s opening motif in the bass.
The Fantasie was published in 1912 by G Schirmer in New York and Heugel in Paris. It is dedicated to the pianist-composer Moritz Moszkowski.
Aspirations, Op 39 bears witness to Stojowski’s studies in France. It sees him standing at the Impressionistic threshold, with one foot inside its door while the other remains firmly planted in post-Romanticism. At times the composer abandons the functional harmony of Romantic idioms and approaches the colourful harmonic palette of Debussy. The French titles of the five movements themselves express the intangible and atmospheric impressions the composer wished to create. As if the composer feared that one might interpret his impressions as vague or ambiguous, he adds the names of typically Romantic forms in parentheses.
Stojowski’s fascination with musical vibrations of colour and light can be clearly seen in the first piece, L’aspiration vers l’azur (Prélude). The title itself betrays this, and instead of a dedication there is a reference to Goethe’s poem Mehr Licht. The piece is in duple metre and in the key of D flat major; the tempo marking is Andante non troppo, ma molto cantabile.
L’aspiration vers le caprice (Intermède) is in 5/4 metre and in the key of D minor; the tempo marking is Allegretto capriccioso. The descending tritone, which was used forebodingly in the second piece of this set, L’aspiration vers la tombe (Elégie) – not included in the present recording – now forms a whimsical motif for this movement and is quoted throughout the piece. The application of parallel major thirds, like the melodic use of the tritone, is one of many Impressionistic techniques used by Stojowski.
The fourth movement, L’aspiration vers l’amour (Romance), in 6/8 metre and in D flat major, is thoroughly Romantic in style. In this Andante appassionato Stojowski abandons his pretensions of Impressionistic style and reveals himself as a conservative in matters of the heart. Impassioned indeed!
The last piece of the set, L’aspiration vers la joie (Rhapsodie) uses triple metre for its Allegro molto quasi presto sections and duple metre for the sections marked Vivace. Formally in the key of D major, the work nonetheless begins with a daring, almost atonal melody ending on the tonic D in the fifth bar. This theme returns four times, creating a quasi rondo form. The alternating Vivace sections are marked by the use of semiquaver triplets, suspiciously similar to figures used in Debussy’s second Arabesque in G major (1888–1891). As in Debussy’s work, this motif serves to create an atmosphere of joyous celebration.
Aspirations was first published in 1914 by Heugel in Paris. The first piece has no dedication, but the others are dedicated to the following: 2. Donald Johnson; 3. Miss Elenore Altman; 4. Mrs Ch. A Scudder; and 5. Ernest Schelling.
The Variations et Fugue sur un thème original, Op 42 proves Stojowski to be a master of counterpoint and fugue. The jurors at the Conservatoire National, who had conferred upon him the first prize for these skills in 1889, could not have been disappointed. The composition is a set of ten variations based on an original theme and followed by a fugue. It begins in E minor and ends in E major. The theme’s easy-to-follow question (antecedent) and answer (consequent) phrases make it possible for the listener to keep track of its progress throughout the work.
In this composition Stojowski shows himself to be a daring composer. His harmonies are bold, even shocking at times, and clearly signify the composer’s advance into the language of twentieth-century modernism. The penultimate chord in the coda, for example, is a ninth chord with an augmented fifth which contains a whole-tone pitch collection. Played in the piano’s lower register, this dissonant chord has a stunning jazz-like effect.
The theme is written in the unusual metre of 7/4. This technique, however, appears to have more in common with the written-in rubato typical of Brahms than with an effort to impress the listener with effects associated with mixed metres. In the sixth variation there is the simultaneous use of 20/16 metre in the right hand with 4/4 metre in the left hand. In fact, this is merely an alternate way of notating an effect which other composers before him had simply rendered as five against four. In the ninth variation, Stojowski unexpectedly throws off modernist conventions and returns to his Romantic roots in a movement highly reminiscent of Chopin’s Prelude in B flat major, Op 28 No 21, with its style of a nocturne. At the end of the tenth and final variation, Stojowski uses harmonics by instructing the performer to hold an arpeggiated chord with the sostenuto pedal, depress the keys of certain notes without striking the strings, and then suddenly clear the pedal. This results in a barely audible harmonic effect, possibly only appreciated in the auditorium’s front row. A similar effect was earlier achieved by Debussy and Schoenberg.
The subject of the fugue, which begins in E minor, is derived from the original theme.
Variations et Fugue sur un thème original was first published in Paris by Heugel in 1923. It is dedicated to the composer’s wife Louisa, ‘A ma très chère femme’.
Joseph A Herter © 2004