Polish Music Journal
Vol. 5, No. 2, Winter 2002. ISSN 1521 - 6039

Sigismond Stojowski and His Views on Piano Study

by William Armstrong [1]

Stojowski's Portrait, 1906.


Poland has given many men to the world in different branches of art, but in none so effectively as in music, which, universally understood, is not called upon to suffer the loss that the poet, or novelist must sustain in translation from the original, or even the painter, whose subject if it be national, must make its strongest appeal in the national sense. Paderewski, Jean and Edouard de Reszke, Mme. Szumowska, and the Adamowskis, the three last named so long intimately associated through residence in this country, are some of these welcome Polish forces that we have had to reckon with musically. And to this group we now have to add, Sigismond Stojowski, the latest influence of this nationality that we have among us. Mr. Stojowski I met last summer at Mr. Paderewski's place at Morges, where he was going though his repertoire with his great compatriot. Modest, quite, self-effacing, he spoke really first through his music; but when he got up from the piano after an impromptu recital, one hot afternoon, there was left a clearer idea of his abilities and his ideals. The poetry in his playing, stamped by a cultivated intellectuality, is of the epic kind. His variety in tone color and rhythm are notable. That he has the prodigious modern technic goes without saying, for today this is the only type of pianist who rises above the horizon. Mr. Stojowski has concertized in France, Germany, Austria, Poland, Switzerland and England, and latterly, to some extent, in America. A prize pupil in the piano and also for fugue writing in the Paris Conservatoire, he composed the first published symphony for orchestra by a Pole, and which gained for him the Paderewski prize in Leipzig, where it was played under the direction of Nikisch, who also conducted its performance in Berlin.

Composition by Mr. Stojowski

Mr. Stojowski's list of published compositions is: Opus 1, Deux Pensées, piano; Op. 2, Deux Caprice-Etudes, piano; Op. 3, Concerto in F-sharp minor, piano and orchestra; Op. 4, Trois Intermčdes, piano; Op. 5, Quatre Morceaux, piano; Op. 6, Variations and Fugue on an Original theme, string quartet; Op. 7, Springtime, Cantata, Chorus and Orchestra; Op. 8, Legende, Mazurka, Serenade, piano; Op. 10, Deux Orientales, piano; Op. 11, Five Songs; Op. 12, Six Dances, piano; Op. 13, Sonata in G Major, piano and violin; Op. 14, Dumka, piano; Op. 16, Deux Caprices, piano; Op. 17, Polish Songs; Op. 18, Sonata in A Major, piano and cello; Op. 19, Arabesque, Barcarolle, Mazurka, piano; Op. 20, Romance, violin and orchestra; Op. 21, Symphony in D Minor; Op. 24, Polish Idylls, piano; Op. 25, Romantische Stücke, piano; Op. 26, Vier Stücke, piano. Op. 22, Concerto, violin and orchestra, and Op. 23, Rhapsodie Symphonique, piano and orchestra, are in manuscript. Beyond these Mr. Stojowski has composed a second piano concerto, a second orchestral suite, and some songs and piano pieces without opus numbers.

Cover of May 1906 issue of The Etude.

Mr. Stojowski's View of Piano Study

In the study of the piano Mr. Stojowski takes the identical view of Sevcik[2] in that of the violin, by going directly at the root of the trouble, cutting off the appalling waste of time given to technic without any apparent results; finding out what is needed, and securing it by the most direct method, individually applied. Beyond that he insists upon a widening of the mental horizon by a knowledge of things a long way removed from the piano, but which must be in the mind of the pianist if he would give anything out of it.

His Education and Career

The other afternoon in New York, Mr. Stojowski gave me some of the views that he holds on the study of the piano; afterward, when the subject had thawed out his reticence, he spoke, reservedly though, even then, of his career. As the personal side of things gives a more intimate interest to the views of a man, it is just now perhaps better to reverse the order of that afternoon ad place the personal side first. Strzelca,[3] in the government of Kielce, Poland, and near the Austrian frontier, was his birthplace.

"Profiting, as so many Poles of that government have done," said Mr. Stojowski, "by studying in the Austrian part of my country, I went to the town of Cracow, where we are taught our own language in the schools, and the free development of our national individuality is not hindered by laws. In music I studied as an amateur always. Being interested in all school subjects. I was never without a Greek grammar on my piano, but habit did, perhaps, more good to the Greek than to the piano, for as a boy, I had a miserable technic. Yet I was supposed to be very musical in my playing, and made my first appearance in the town of Cracow, at the age of fourteen. Playing the C Minor Concerto of Beethoven with the military orchestra, and a Caprice of my own, which was very much in the style of Mendelssohn, probably because my teacher, Zielinski, used to feed me with that composer.[4] Now I take my revenge by feeding my pupils in turn with this same master. It is needless to add, though, that the influence of Mendelssohn on my own work was felt for a very short time."

"Before that I had played once at the Princess Marceline Czartoryska's as a little boy. A remark made that day by a young medical student hurt me, and the memory it if lingered. 'Nowadays there are no children,' he said. For years I held a grudge against the man, until I met him in Paris, being myself then a young man studying at the Sorbonne and the Paris conservatoire, and he a physician in the same city. I discovered then that we were very good friends, indeed, and the home of his father, Ladslaus Mieckiewicz, the son of the great poet, was to me the greatest comfort, after I had voluntarily exiled myself from my own country by going abroad to study. It is so say, a Mecca to all Polish people who go to Paris, and where the most intellectual atmosphere is combined with the heartiest hospitality."

"M. Ladislaus Mieckiewicz [5] has devoted his life to collecting everything connected with his father and his work, and has founded a museum in Paris in connection with the Polish Library, under the direction of the University of Warsaw. In his house i spent many a happy hour with Paderewski, whom I had met in my won country as a boy, and he a man. I always felt his great personality, later on acknowledged by the world. I can only say that while my studies with him became regular much later in life, after I thought myself a finished artist, he had the kindly frankness to make me understand that this was not the case, and I the happiness to acknowledge it. Yet his influence upon me has really been continuous through the love and admiration that he, of course, won from me at once, and also through the noble example of work and will with which he fascinated me."

Writing A Prize Fugue

"As far as the regular course of my instruction is concerned, I have to mention with gratitude the Paris Conservatoire, where, of course, I found a very high atmosphere, and many good teachers, such as Delibes and Thčodore Dubois for harmony, counterpoint and composition, and Louis Dièmer for the piano, and also many interesting pupils, among them Edouard Risler, with whom I shared the first prize for piano playing in 1880.[6] That same year I also obtained the first prize for a fugue. The candidates were locked in a room from six in the morning until twelve at night, with a few bars of a theme given by the Directors to spin out, with permission to have luncheon brought in and, of course, no piano open. I must confess that when I walked out at midnight I felt rather dizzy. My success with the fugue appeared to make Delibes very happy; I seemed to be his first pupil getting a prize for so serious a thing. Delibes himself was a most attractive and kindly personality and his death to me was a very sad event. I always kept very friendly relations with him and with Dičmer, and he has contributed to making my music known in France."

"It would be unjust if I did not name another man who has been for years a sort of musical adviser, whose keen, critical insight, and friendly interest have been to me as a composer of the most valuable help—Mr. Górski, the violinist."[7]

Piano Study Should Be More General

"Every one who has a real liking for music should study the piano," Mr. Stojowksi had said at the opening of the interview. "It is the only instrument that reflects the work of art complete; complete in harmonic sense, complete in photographic reproduction of the picture. A very important educational thing both for the amateur and the professional. To the amateur who may take the old standpoint that only that worth being retained can be whistled, the piano teaches that more can be retained than melody. The professional who would later be a vocalist or violinist, learns from the piano the full contents of the work, that all music is not horizontal, but has its vertical meaning as well."

The Amount of Daily Practice

"The time to be devoted to piano practice varies with individual cases. The situation would seem to me to be determined by three things: First, the material ability, by that I mean the physical formation of the hand, the muscles, and pianistic facility: second, the capacity for brain work and power of concentration. That which requires a given volume of time for its accomplishment with one in this direction, may in the case of another need far less time to achieve. Different brains have different capacities for work; one works for hours, another for half an hour to master a given task, for the one is more able to keep persistent control of his brain than is the other. Third, will power, besides the brain, which makes the amount of work required largely dependent on the individual character."

What to Study

"I do not consider it necessary that students should all the five hundred etudes of Czerny and Clementi that their teachers give them. Get at the root of difficulties n the ones needful for application. What is needed beyond that sort of work is the education of the brain, a thing which average people find some difficulty in getting. The good results from the old method are that, after having swallowed bvottle sand bottles of medicine, perhaps a few drops of the vital, nutritious elements have remained in the blood. I cannot help contemplating things as they are, and as they ought to be; I am sorry that these numberless hours should contain so much wasted effort, instead of their being reduced to a much smaller effort though well-directed thought, and with greater result—or employed for the sake of widening horizons that in spite of seeming distance from the piano, are, nevertheless, valuable to have in the artist's mind, if he is really to give anything out of it."

"There are a certain number of things without which no pianist can do—scales, five-finger exercises, and arpeggios. Reduce the purpose of the study, and go at that point until it is overcome. Then you will be amazed to find that, as a whole, it is easy. Czerny is the first and indispensable source of study with the student. I have never yet had a pupil to whom I would not give his opus 740, the first three studies of which I especially recommend. These three contain so many of the elementary difficulties that you can meet concert pianists who are supposed to play all right, and yet who cannot execute them perfectly. The first and second studies in Tausig's Clementi, and the study in F major, No. 17, for the fourth finger, are valuable and excellent."[8]

Equalizing the Fingers

"We have to reckon with the fact of the normal structure of the hand, all fingers not being equally strong. This short-coming we have to master when it becomes a question of equalizing the fingers and requires a special work in a special way. One means of overcoming this lack of equal strength is by accents. In many runs the rhythmic accents are already a great help, but beyond these every run has its own accents which the clever performer must discover—the accent that will help him over the difficulty. This universal fact of accent is one not generally observed. The construction of the hand requires a similar fingering of similar intervals. A logical observance of this has led some teachers to find that the fingering of all scales in the old way is unpractical. I was one of the first to adhere immediately to this theory."

Two Great Works

"The same intervals demand the same fingering, as the inverted counterpoint tells us. For instance, intervals fingered a certain way in going up a scale in the right hand, and identically occurring in the left hand in going down, demand an identical fingering. This we find especially recognized and treated in Moszkowski's 'School of Double Notes.'[9] In octave playing there is one wonderful work, a classic, Kullak's Oktaven Schule.[10] I do not mean to say that either one of the works mentioned should be studied from beginning to end, but used as a lexicon which one would consult in special cases."

Arm and Wrist Work

"About octaves there are many peculiar and unclear ideas, and a strange confusion between arm work and wrist work. This is partially due to ignorance of anatomy, and partly to the thoughtless clinging to inveterate habits. While some people believe in the wrist as originating the staccato work by a sort of attack from above, which is an absolutely useless thing, some others will neglect wrist work entirely, of confuse it with arm motions. The real purpose for which your wrist has to be exercised is to quickly enable you to leave a key or a position for the following one. This means that the wrist has to be used after, and not before, the attack."

"In the same way, and for the same reason, few people are conscious of the connection between arm and fingers; in other words, they fail to recognize the influence that good or bad use of the arm motions can produce upon the tone. Yet the strengthening of the finger joints is a necessity of training in order to make them obey any impulse from above."


This and all subsequent notes by Maja Trochimczyk. Article published in The Etude (May 1906): 288-289. Polish Music Collection, PMC. American music writer William Armstrong (1856-1942) was the author of The Romantic World of Music (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1922). [Back]

Otakar Sevcik (1852-1934), violin teacher in Prague; his students formed a string quartet named after him. Two of his pedagogical works were published in the early 1900s in the U.S.: School of Violin Technics, Op. 1 (New York: G. Schirmer, 1905) and School of Bowing for Violin, Op. 2 (New York: C. Fischer, 1904). [Back]

Proper spelling: not "Strzelca" but "Strzelce." [Back]

Stojowski's teacher in Kraków was Władysław Żeleński, Zieliński left Poland before Stojowski's birth. [Back]

Władysław Mickiewicz (1838-1926), son of Adam Mickiewicz. [Back]

Leo Delibes (1836-1891), French composer with Polish interests (see the article by Joseph Herter for a discussion of this subject). Louis Dièmer (1843-1919), French pianist praised for the clarity and precision of his interpretations. He was involved in the early music revival, gave concerts on the harpsichord at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Edouard Risler (1873-1929), French pianist, teacher and conductor known for his interpretations of Beethoven. [Back]

Władysław Górski (1846-1915), Polish virtuoso violinist, friend of Paderewski and first husband of Paderewski's second wife, Helena. He composed a "school" and small pieces for the violin; he also wrote music criticism and poetry. [Back]

Carl Tausig's (1841-1891) edition of Muzio Clementi's (1752-1832) Gradus ad Parnassum, issued with the subtitle "Selected studies systematically arranged and the fingering and marks of execution critically revised, with instructive notes [English and German] by Carl Tausig." (New York, Schuberth, 1877). [Back]

Moritz (Maurycy) Moszkowski (1854-1925), École des doubles-notes Op. 64, pour piano [Schule des Doppelgriff-Spiels] = [School of double notes] (Paris: Enoch, 1901). English and American editions became available in 1907. [Back]

Theodore Kullak (1818-1882), Die Schule des Octavenspiels: Supplement zur Methode des neueren Clavierspiels, Op. 48 (Berlin: Schlesinger, 1877). [Back]


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Copyright 2002 by the Polish Music Journal.
Editor: Maja Trochimczyk. Assistant Editor: Linda Schubert.
Publisher: Polish Music Center, Winter 2002.
Design: Maja Trochimczyk & Marcin Depinski.
Comments and inquiries by e-mail: polmusic@email.usc.edu