|Maria Agata Szymanowska: Etude No.9
Maria Szymanowska was born Marianna Agata Wołowska in Warsaw on December 14, 1789 to a Jewish Frankist family. She was a Polish
composer and one of the first professional virtuoso pianists of the 19th century. She toured throughout Europe, before settling permanently in
St. Petersburg and continued to compose for the Court, gave concerts, taught music.
Her compositions were largely piano pieces, songs, and other small chamber works. In addition were also the first piano concert etudes and
nocturnes in the brilliant style reminiscent of the era before Chopin.
She was the mother of Celina Szymanowska, who married the Polish Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz. Her early years are somewhat obscure but
she had studied piano with Antoni Lisowski and Tomasz Gremm, and studied composition with Franciszek Lessel, Jozef Elsner, and Karol
Kurponski. She gave her first public recital in 1810 in Warsaw and Paris.
In the same year, she married Józef Szymanowski, with whom she had three children; Helena (1811–61, who married a man named Malewski)
and twins Celina (1812–55, who married Adam Mickiewicz) and Romuald (1812–40, who became an engineer). The children remained with
Maria after her separation from Szymanowski in 1820. The marriage ended in divorce. Maria Szymanowska died on July 25, 1831 in St.
Petersburg, Russia. Józef Szymanowski died in 1832.
She began her professional piano career in 1815, with performances in England in 1818. From 1823 to 1826 she embarked on a tour of
Western Europe making both public and private performances in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, and many occasions in England.
She also gave private performances for royalty. On May 18, 1824, she performed at the Royal Philharmonic Society in England and at Hanover
Square on June 11, 1824, for an audience which included the royal family, and several performances for English dukes.
Her performances were widely acclaimed by audiences and critics everywhere. She garnered a reputation for having a delicate tone and lyrical
sense of virtuosity. She was one of the first professional piano virtuosos in 19th-century Europe. After years of touring, she returned to Warsaw
and remained for some time before relocating in early 1828 to St. Petersburg, where she was appointed court pianist to the tsarina.
Her work is categorized as part of the pre-romantic period of Polish Sentimentalism. Like other women composers of her era, she wrote music
largely for the instrumentation she had access to, such as solo piano pieces and miniatures, songs, and some chamber works.
Sławomir Dobrzański describes her playing and its historical significance as follows:
"Her Etudes and Preludes show innovative keyboard writing; the Nocturne in B flat is her most mature piano composition; Szymanowska's
Mazurkas represent one of the first attempts at stylization of the dance; Fantasy and Caprice contain an impressive vocabulary of pianistic
technique; her polonaises follow the tradition of polonaise-writing created by Michal Kleofas Ogiński. Szymanowska's musical style is
parallel to the compositional starting point of Frederic Chopin; many of her compositions had an obvious impact on Chopin's mature musical
Although scholars have debated the extent of her influence on her compatriot Chopin, her career as a pianist and composer strikingly
foreshadows his own as well as the broader trend in 19th-century Europe.
Szymanowska developed a strong web of connections with some of the most notable composers, performing musicians, and poets of her day,
including: Luigi Cherubini, Gioacchino Rossini, Johann Hummel, John Field; Pierre Baillot, Giuditta Pasta; Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Adam
Hummel and Field dedicated compositions to her. Goethe is rumored to have fallen deeply in love with her. The salon she established in St.
Petersburg drew especially prominent crowds, increasing her status as a court musician.
Album per pianoforte. Maria Szmyd-Dormus, ed. Kraków: PWM, 1990.
25 Mazurkas. Irena Poniatowska, ed. Bryn Mawr, PA: Hildegard, 1991.
Music for Piano. Sylvia Glickman, ed. Bryn Mawr, PA: Hildegard, 1991.
Six Romances. Maria Anna Harley [now: Maja Trochimczyk], ed. Bryn Mawr, PA: Hildegard, 1999.
Maria Szymanowska: Piano Works. Anna Ciborowska, piano. Dux, 2004.
Szymanowska: Album. Carole Carniel, piano. Ligia Digital, 2005.
Chopin und Polish Piano. Jean-Pierre Armengaud, piano. Man, 2001. (Includes works by other composers as well.)
Inspiration to Chopin. Karina Wisniewska, piano. Denon, 2000.
Riches and Rags: A Wealth of Piano Music by Women. Nancy Fierro, piano. Ars Musica Poloniae, 1993. (Includes works by other composers.)