Of course, the phrase "pianist and Polish patriot" brings to mind the great Ignacy Jan Paderewski. But overshadowed by this illustrious man was another accomplished musician and proud Pole, a resident of America for the last forty-one years of his life.
Zygmunt Dyonizy Antoni Jordan de Stojowski was born in Strzelce near Kielce in southern Poland in 1870. His family had noble roots and his parents were well educated landowners. His first piano teacher was his mother before he went on to more formal training. By age seventeen, he had already become such an accomplished pianist and composer that he gave his first formal concert, in Kraków.
Also at that time, Stojowski was accepted to study at Paris' National Conservatory and Sorbonne University, where he befriended Tchaikovsky and Brahms, as well as the son and daughter of the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz. In 1891, Stojowski took piano lessons from the master himself, Paderewski. The two men greatly admired each other's talents on the keyboards. Stojowski settled in Paris, and gradually achieved international acclaim as both musician and composer, giving regular performances. Praise came from famous musicians throughout Europe.
By 1905, Stojowski had become one of the world's most respected pianists and piano teachers. That year, Frank Damrosch, founder of the Institute of Musical Art in New York, now the famous Julliard School, hired Stojowski to teach piano at his newly form institute. He now took the anglicized name of Sigismond Stojowski. He could not confine himself to instruction. He almost immediately began public performances, appearing as guest soloist with many American symphony orchestras throughout the years, as well giving numerous solo recitals.
Stojowski had a great admiration for Americans, calling them hospitable and enthusiastic in their every endeavor. He learned English well enough to speak and write it on a collegiate level. In 1906 he began a long association with Etude music magazine, to which he contributed many articles, interviews and lessons.
Though he had become a resident of New York and would eventually become an American citizen, Stojowski never abandoned Poland. He rejoiced when Poland regained its independence in 1918. Paderewski became the country's new premier, and he invited his old friend to take a position in his government. Stojowski, however, declined, choosing to remain in America where he promoted Polish culture. In 1920 he started a twenty year presidency of Koło Polskie, a club that debated Polish politics and culture in the U.S. He authored articles and gave lectures combined with recitals at universities and public halls that educated people about Poland, its music, people and their concerns. His composing and performing took a back seat to the Polish cause in America, and to his teaching.
He participated in events of the Polish Singers Alliance. He co-founded the short-lived Polish Institute of Arts and Letters in 1932 to present Polish culture to the American people. He was a charter member of the American Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry and served on the board of the new Kościuszko Foundation. He was active in the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences.
Upon the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Stojowski helped found the Commission for Polish Relief and was a sponsor of the Paderewski Testimonial Fund, another relief group. He founded the Polish Musician's Committee, a group of such performers living in America. It gave shows and raised money for Polish musicians in Europe, both during and after the war. He also oversaw protection of Polish gold reserves on deposit in America and France for the Polish Government-in-Exile. In late 1944, he spoke out against the West for its apparent plans for Poland, the shifting of its borders and its inclusion in the USSR's sphere of influence. He sent a Christmas message to President Roosevelt urging him to oppose such a fate for Poland.
Stojowski died of cancer in New York City on November 5, 1946 and was buried in Queens. Eventually, his archives were donated to the Polish Music Center at the University of Southern California. Among the awards he received during his life were Poland's Polonia Restituta and the Distinguished Service Medal of the United States.
The Polish influence in his music was obvious in many of his compositions, even after he left his native land, in pieces such as the cantata "Prayer for Poland" and "Polish Idylls." He wrote mazurkas and polonaises and many of his works contain elements of Polish folk songs.
Following his death, the musical accomplishments of Zygmunt Stojowski became largely underappreciated and his pieces rarely performed. But the early 21st century has seen a modest revival of interest in his work. Largely responsible for this have been the award winning recordings of Jonathan Plowright, who has been described as an "ideal advocate" of the composer's music, with a "natural affinity" for Polish romanticism.
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