Karol Kurpiński: Polonaises

In 2020, I was commissioned to record five films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…

Karol Kurpiński (1785-1857) was a leading figure in the musical life of Warsaw in the early nineteenth century, and a significant inspiration to his younger compatriot Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849).

So much so that Chopin’s enduring respect for Kurpiński is evidenced in his use of quotations from his senior colleague’s works in his Fantasy on Polish Airs Op.13 and Fantasy in F minor Op.49. But perhaps the most direct influence of all is in his adoption, following Kurpińsky’s example, or the Mazurka and Polonaise as regular forms in his piano music.

Now PWM Edition bring us Three Polonaises for piano, all suitable for the early advanced player (around UK Grade 6-7) so that we can discover for ourselves this music which had such a decisive impact on Chopin’s musical development, and hence on the piano repertoire…

The Music

Kurpiński was impressively industrious as a performer, conductor, composer and music teacher; for several decades he combined these activities with his role as Director of the National Theatre.

In his day he was especially known for his many Operas, as well as his Polonaises for piano, a popular success which drew on the heritage of Polish traditional music and helped shape patriotic sentiment.

The three Polonaises in PWM Edition 12295 highlight the range of mood and musical character that Kurpiński successfully wove into these dance pieces.

We have here Polonaises in G major, D minor and G minor, each of them in ternary form with a central Trio section in the relative minor or major key.

According to the editor Agnieszka Kopińska in her enlightening preface,

“Originally a ‘walked’ rustic dance, the polonaise entered the courtly repertoire, its popularity peaking in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With its moderate tempo, dignified (major) or elegiac (minor) expression, triple metre and characteristic cadence, resolved on a weak beat, it is impossible to confuse with any other dance.”

These characteristics are writ large in Kurpiński’s pieces here, as is the composer’s innate gift for Romantic sentiment and elegant melodic writing in the Classical style.

The Publication

This simple music collection is tastefully presented in PWM Edition’s house style, with a sturdy stiff card cover:

Within, the book has 16 pages, of which the music itself takes up 8 (the Polonaises occupying 2, 3 and 3 pages respectively).

Kopińska’s preface occupies two pages in the original Polish, and two in English translation (by John Comber). The edition dates from 2018, and the notation engraving enjoys superb clarity and is well spaced. Helpful fingering suggestions are included throughout.

PWM have also published a second volume with three more Polonaises for those whose appetite is not satiated by the first!

Tutorial Video

In this PWM tutorial video, French pianist Ernestine Bluteau explores these pieces, includes extracts, and offers tips for playing and teaching. For English subtitles click on the “CC” icon once the video is playing:

Closing Thoughts

Having watched the video, you hopefully have a taste of how delightful these pieces are, as well as a starting point for playing them.

These highly attractive pieces offer a glimpse of the roots of a tradition whose subsequent, spectacular flowing in the music of Chopin has given us some of the most treasured works of the concert repertoire.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, published author and composer based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs a successful private teaching studio.

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