Obscure Music Monday: Szymanowska's Caprice sur la romance de Joconde
Maria Szymanowska (Dec. 14, 1789 - July 25, 1831) was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist. Born in Warsaw, the history of her musical studies is largely unknown, but we know that she gave her first public recitals in Paris and Warsaw in 1810.Just five years after her first public recital, her professional career began, with tours all throughout Europe, and a few performances in private for royalty. One of the first virtuosos of the 19th century, her playing was well received. She was also one of the first pianists to play performances from memory, far ahead of Liszt and Clara Schumann. After touring for a while, she relocated to Moscow, and then St. Petersburg, where she was court pianist to the tsarina.
Szymanowska mainly wrote music for piano, thought she also wrote a few songs and chamber pieces. Her work is usually stylistically described as stile brilliante and of Polish Sentimentalism, and many scholars have debated her influence on Chopin.
One of her many works for piano is the Caprice sur la romance de Joconde, which is based off the opera comique Joconde by Nicolo Isouard, and dedicated to the Irish pianist and teacher John Field. Opening, with a relaxed and laid-back theme, this piece opens with everything you expect from one of her works for piano: ornamentations, fancy runs, a salon-like feel at times, and writing that will keep the pianist musically and technically busy. When the theme is repeated later on, it gets busier in both hands as she embellishes upon the main melody. The way her work is intricate and busy, yet never too heavy, is brilliant.
Here are some recordings of this wonderful work for you to enjoy!