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Feb 21, 2024

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Discovering Women’s Music At
The Maria Szymanowska Conference In Paris

What is it about Maria Szymanowska that attracts so much attention of scholars and musicians alike? Is it her personal charm, as depicted in the numerous portrait? Is it the sentimental or virtuosic quality of her music? Is it the association with the”stars” of Polish romanticism, Fryderyk Chopin and Adam Mickiewicz? Maybe a little bit of all… The 3rd International Symposium, Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831) and Her Times placed the celebrated pianist-composer in a different context, among her female colleagues, mentors, and peers (3e Colloque international Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831) et son temps).  The Symposium took place on 25-27 November 2015 at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Paris Center (74, rue Lauriston, Paris 16e), the site of two earlier conferences cosponsored by Maria Szymanowska Society in 2011 and 2014. This edition of the Szymanowska Symposium was dedicated to “Talents of Women: Myths and Reality” (“Talents au féminin: Mythes et réalité”). (In photo) Bart van Oort and Elizabeth Zapolska-Chapelle. From
The event was opened by the Director of the Paris Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Dr. Marek WIĘCKOWSKI with a minute of silence as a tribute to the recent victims of terrorist attacks. The proceedings were moderated by the President of the Maria Szymanowska Society, singer Elisabeth ZAPOLSKA-CHAPELLE.  The Symposium started on November 25 with a concert of music by women composers from several European countries active in the late 18th and first half of the 19th century. The highlight was a special instrumental treat: an original pianoforte by Johann Alois Graff made in 1825 and lovingly restored to its full, sonorous beauty. This concert, held on Wednesday, 25 November 2015, entitled “Fondness for music” started with a presentation of songs by Maria Szymanowska in the interpretation of  Ms. ZAPOLSKA-CHAPELLE, mezzo-soprano, accompanied on the Graff pianoforte by the instrument’s owner, Dutch pianist Bart VAN OORT.
_PAN 25-11-2015 - iFrancja-40Their haunting performance of The Lament of a Blind Beggar (Complainte d’un aveugle qui demandait l’aumône au Jardin du Roi à Paris) honored Prof. Irena Poniatowska of the Chopin Institute in Warsaw, who discovered this lost work in Paris archives. Zapolska’s half-recital was a tour de force of songs by women: Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797-1848), Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824), Hortense de Beauharnais (1783 – 1837), Hélène de Montgeroult (1764-1836), Isabelle de Charrière (1740-1805),  Louise Reichardt (1779-1826), Sophie Gail (1775-1819), and  Fanny Hensel née Mendelssohn (1809-1847).  (In photo: After the concert: Francoise Tillard, Elizabeth Zapolska and Maja Trochimczyk)
In the second half of the program, an international group of pianists brought to life pieces long forgotten but deserving our attention because of their historical importance and musical merits. Bart VAN OORT juxtaposed the expressive and capricious virtuosity of Szymanowska’s Romance du Prince Galitzine with technical prowess and brilliance of the Fourth Sonata by Hélène de Montgeroult (1764-1836). The same two composers were featured by Claudia Dafne SEVILLA CARRION, the youngest of the performers. Marcia HADJIMARKOS presented Szymanowska’s Polonaise in F minor and a Mazurka in new colors; while Edoardo TORBIANELLI focused exclusively on the music of a Swiss composer, Caroline Boissier-Butini (1786-1836). After revealing the depth of influence of Chopin and Szymanowska on the “mazurka-and-nocturne” style of the  young Clara Wieck (later Schumann), Petra SOMLAI joined forces with Bar van OORT in a delightful setting for three hands of Szymanowska’s Nocturne “Le Murmure.”
IMG_1479Two musicians preferred the rich volume of sounds of a modern Bechstein to the sophisticated diversity of sonorities of the Graff: Francoise TILLARD, an expert on the music of Fanny Hensel née Mendelssohn (1809-1847).  Bechstein was also the instrument of choice of a Russian virtuoso, Ekaterina GLAZOVSKAYA, who showed the beauties of the traditional piano performance during a short, 30 minute mini-recital held on the following day. It was one of the master-touches of the program design that the pianists were invited to prepare mini-recitals of up to 30 minutes to be interspersed between scholarly presentations during the two days of the conference. In this way, the music by a given composer was heard before it was discussed and the audience was keenly aware of the artistic value of the works research and analyzed by scholars. (In photo) L to R: Edoardo Torbianelli, Director Marek Wieckowski, Elizabeth Zapolska-Chapelle, Bart van Oort, Petra Somlai, Francois Tillard, Marcia Hadjimarkos, and Claudia Dafne Sevilla Carrion.
On Thursday, November 26, the first of the mini-recitals, subtitled Première madeleine musicale, was given by Marcia HADJIMARKOS ( She surrounded five dances by Szymanowska (A Contre-danse, two Anglaises, a Mazurka and a Polonaise in E minor) with music by Maria Hester Park (1760-1813) and Marianna Martinez  (1744-1812).  Two works by Szymanowska (Prélude No. 8 in E-flat Major, and No. 9 in B-flat Major) were heard during the Deuxième madeleine musicale – interpreted by a Spanish pianist, Claudia Dafne SEVILLA  CARRION.
Fot5The Troisième madeleine musicale by Ekaterina GLAZOVSKAYA  on the Bechstein piano consisted of two Polonaises by Michal Kleofas Ogiński (1765-1833), no. 17 and the “Favorite” No. 1, as well as three works by Szymanowska: Preludes No. 1 and No.3, and a Barcarolle. Her hauntingly expressive rendition of Ogiński’s Polonaises highlighted their melancholy tone; distant from the sparklingly brilliant Preludes and the sentimental Barcarole of Szymanowska.  (Perhaps, it is time to create a Michal Kleofas Ogiński Society to promote the music of this nearly forgotten composer? The problem is though that his oeuvre is so small: just 24 polonaises and an unpublished opera written for a celebration at the Czartoryski estate in Pulawy.) The final, Quatrième madeleine musicale performed by Edoardo TORBIANELLI introduced the audience to Szymanowska’s virtuosic and poignantPolonaise sur l’air national favori de feu Prince Joseph Poniatowski, a fallen hero of Polish battles for independence and a member of Napoleonic troops. If hearing the Polonaise was not enough, a revelation awaited for the conclusion of the recital, with Caprice et variations sur un air bohémien by a nearly completely forgotten (and unjustly so!) Swiss composer, Caroline Boissier-Butini (1786-1831). (In photo: Elizabeth Zapolska with Prof. Irena Poniatowska)
The discovery of the harmonic and forma sophistication of Boissier-Butini’s music was one of the lasting results of the Szymanowska conference for many participants who have never heard about this composer, nor have ever been able to experience her music. Dr. Irène MINDER-JEANNERET placed Boissier-Butini’s music between cosmopolitanism and patriotism as she outlined the composer’s approach to “national melodies” including Swiss, Scottish and Bohemian tunes, as well as Variations on the Dabrowski Mazurka.   Scholarly presentations filled November 26 and 27, and took the listeners on a tour of issues pertaining to women’s creativity, illustrated with papers about specific neglected composers and including three lectures about Maria Szymanowska.   Dr. Maria STOLARZEWICZ focused on the “History of a musical friendship: Michał Kleofas Oginski and Maria Szymanowska.”  The 24 Polonaises of Oginski (1765-1833) are an “outlier” in Polish music history, with their tone of nostalgia and sorrow, later assumed by Chopin’s Mazurkas.  At her recitals, Szymanowska was repeatedly asked to play the Polonaise Favorite of the exiled Count who left Poland  after the Partitions and settled in Florence where he died on October 15, 1833. Incidentally, this Polonaise was later overshadowed in popularity by the “Farewell to Homeland Polonaise” that remained the beloved piece of Polish emigres and exiles for over two centuries.


In my paper about  “Szymanowska in the Circle of Duchess Maria Czartoryska de Wittemberg” I set to revisit the pianist’s association with the Duchess’s Azure Salons, held in Warsaw in 1808-1816 and gathering the creme-de-creme of Poland’s literary society, led by Kazimierz Kozmian and Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz.  Searching for confirmation of closer links between the two Marias I visited the archives of the Czartoryski Library in Krakow, where I reviewed family letters and other writings of Czartoryska-Wirtemberska, including letters to and from her mother, Izabella Czartoryski; her sister, Countess Zofia Zamoyska, and her illegitimate half-sister and foster daughter, Cecylia Beydale. Thanks to my search for Szymanowska’s musical associates from the Czartoryski circle, I was able to update the historical record about four of these composers:  Konstancja Narbut Dembowska, Count Henryk Rzewuski;  Cecylia Beydale, and Franciszka Kochanowska previously considered an unknown protege of Czartoryska, who turned out to be Szymanowska’s childhood friend, author of an hitherto-unknown French song in Szymanowska’s Album (No. 970), the wife of a hero of Napoleonic wars and the November Uprising, Kazimierz Kamienski and the mother of political writer and philosopher Henryk Kamienski.  My discoveries about the connections of these individuals and their links to Szymanowska happened in two archives – at the previously mentioned Czartoryski Library and at the Bibliotheque Polonaise in Paris, thanks to professional expert assistance of Ewa Rutkowska and Magdalena Glodek.


The third lecture on Szymanowska herself was given by Prof. Irena PONIATOWSKA of the National Chopin Institute in Poland, the organizer of two Chopin Congresses, and author of more books and articles on Chopin and his musical environment that we could count (over 300!).  Prof. Poniatowska focused on placing Szymanowska’s virtuosic Etudes and Preludes, published in 1819, in their European context.  She noticed the unique “marriage” of technical difficulties requiring exemplary virtuosic prowess with an expressive power of flowing melodies and a rich harmonic language.  There were many parallels between specific motives or technical issues presented by Szymanowska and those found in later works by well-known composers such as the classic Czerny etudes or other methods for piano.  The seasoned scholar urged the listeners to keep it in mind that Szymanowska’s set of Etudes and Preludes, issued by Breitkopf und Hartel in Leipzig in 1819 was the FIRST such set in all of Europe, preceding the well-known piano methods that have overshadowed Szymanowska’s oeuvre by today. 

Other researchers from France, Germany, and Switzerland discussed recent scholarly discoveries and the current state of knowledge about Szymanowska’s contemporaries, predecessors and followers: women of influence active in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Helen GEYER discussed the Four women conservatories of Venice.  Francoise PITT RIVERS compared two female painters who frequently portrayed musicians, Madame Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun and Angelica Kauffmann.  Jerome DORIVAL introduced the music of Hélène de Montgeroult, illustrated live by Marcia Hadjimarkos.  Jean-Marc WARSZAWSKI discussed the prejudices and challenges that marked the lives of Szymanowska’s contemporaries.
The Symposium “Maria Szymanowska and Her Times” ended with an elegant musical salon, subtitled “An Invitation to the Dance” (“Invite a la Danse”). Here, the musicians and scholars had a chance to present items of their own choice, play music, read poems, or make speeches advocating for whatever they wanted to discuss.  The two pianists Bart van OORT and Edoardo TORBIANELLI played another work for three hands.  I read poems of mine (with accompaniment improvised by Torbianelli) and two poems written for Szymanowska by Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz and Count Henryk Rzewuski in original Polish and my own English translation.
The 3rd International Maria Szymanowska Symposium  has been organized jointly by the Maria Szymanowska Society and the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Paris Center.
For more information contact the Maria Szymanowska
By Maja Trochimczyk, Ph.D.