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Karol Kurpiński

A composer, conductor and pedagogue, christened on 6 March 1785 in Włoszakowice (Wielkopolska region), died on 18 September 1857 in Warsaw.

Having learnt to play violin and organ from his father, Kurpiński took the position of an organist in the church in Sarnów near Rawicz, his uncle the parish priest there. In 1800 he moved to Myszków in the eastern part of the Małopolska region to become the second violinist in Feliks Polanowski's court ensemble. At that time, mostly through his trips to Lvov, he got acquainted with Italian and German operatic music and acquired musical education through self-study. In the spring of 1810 he arrived in Warsaw. At first he earned his living by giving private music lessons, and in July Wojciech Bogusławski appointed him second conductor of the opera of the National Theatre (Józef Elsner being the first one), a tenure he was to hold for thirty years. In addition to conducting, he was the tutor of the opera's soloists and choir, whom he successfully expanded and raised their performance standards.

Kurpiński first conducted on 5th August 1810, and his composing debut - a cantata in honour of Napoleon Bonaparte - was on 4th December of the same year. In 1811-21 he was a mason, achieving the ultimate degree of initiation. He was a music teacher at the National Theatre's School of Drama in 1812 and at the Warsaw School of Music and Dramatic Arts in 1812 and 1817-19 respectively. In 1819 tsar Alexander I appointed him the court kappelmeister and in 1823 decorated him with St Stanislaus Order.

In 1820 Kurpiński established the first Polish music magazine, the weekly "Tygodnik Muzyczny", and became its contributor. In March 1823 the management of the National Theatre sent him on a journey across Europe, to Germany, France, Italy and Austria, so that he could learn about the operation of operatic theatres in Western Europe. He wrote his Dziennik z podróży / Travelling Diary; it was published by PWM in 1954 (ed. Zdzisław Jachimecki).

After Jozef Elsner left the Theatre in July 1824, Kurpiński became its only conductor and director of the operatic stage. He produced a number of foreign operas, including Gasparo Luigi Spontini's La Vestale, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Juan, Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz, François-Adrien Boieldieu's The White Lady, Daniel François Auber's La Muette de Portici and Fra Diavolo, Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, Ferdinand Hérold's Zampa, Gaetano Donizetti's L'Elisir d'amore, Vincenzo Bellini's La sonnambula, operas by Gioacchino Rossini: Tankred, The Thieving Magpie, The Barber of Seville and The Italian Girl in Algiers, as well as Polish operas, including many of his own. Alongside opera productions, he was involved in concertizing activities, conducting nearly all of Warsaw concerts, including the first performance of Frederick Chopin's Piano concerto in F minor on 17th March 1830, with Chopin as the soloist. In 1835 he set up the Teatr Wielki's School of Singing, intended as a replacement of the Main School of Music, closed down after the uprising of November 1831; he managed it until 1840. He left the National Theatre in 1840, and lived the last years of his life in solitude.

Major compositions

Orchestral music:

  • Bitwa pod Mozajskiem / The Battle of Mozajsk (Grand symphony representing this battle)
  • Concerto for clarinet and orchestra in B flat major
  • Elegy in C minor (ca 1825)
  • Harmonic elegy in memory of the death of two heroes of Russia
  • Concerto for horn and orchestra
  • Polish dance in D major composed for the day of the city ball for Her Majesty the Mother of the Emperor of all Russia and the King of Poland
  • Polonaise in D major on the themes of "Rule Britannia" and "God Save the King"
  • Polonaise played for the Tsar of Russia and Polish King at a ball at His Imperial Highness Duke Governor
  • Polonaise in D major for dancing composed from the first finale of G. Spontini's opera "La Vestale"
  • Polish dance in D major played at the ball at His Imperial Highness Duke Governor
  • Polonaise in B flat major for dancing
  • Polonaise in C major for the annual nameday ceremony of His Majesty the Tsar of All Russias and Polish King
  • Polonaise in F major called "Pustota", from an allegory staged at the Warsaw Theatre on the Eve of the New Year 1823
  • Polonaise in A major played for His Majesty the Tsar of All Russias and Polish King at the ball at Duke Governor's (using the themes of Rossini's opera "Zelmira")
  • Polonaise in B minor for the annual nameday ceremony of His Majesty the Tsar and Polish King
  • Polonaise in D major for the benefis concert of Zofia Kurpinska
  • Polish dance in D major played at the ball at His Highness Duke Governor's on the occasion of the ceremony of birthday of His Imperial Highness Tsarevitch Constantine
  • Polish dance in B flat major played at the ball at His Highness Duke Governor's on the occasion of the ceremony of birthday of His Imperial Highness Tsarevich Constantine
  • Polonaise played in C major at the ball at His Highness Duke Zajaczek's last Tuesday
  • Polonaise in D major composed for the distinguished annual nameday ceremony of His Majesty Tsar and King Nicholas I
  • Polonaise [Pocztarka] in E flat major composed for the annual nameday ceremony of His Majesty Tsar of all Russias, King of Poland Nicholas I
  • Polonaise in D major composed for a ball at the Court
  • Polish dance in D major composed for the National Ball held at the Exchange Hall for Their Imperial and Royal Highnesses
  • Polonaise in E flat major played at a ball at the Court
  • Polonaise in C major played at a ball at the Exchange Hall on the occasion of the announcement of His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Grand Duke Alexander Nicholaievich's coming of age
  • Mazurka in D major played at the ball at His Highness Duke Zajączek last Tuesday
  • Grand waltz in B flat major using the motifs from Weber and Rossini, danced by Miss Mierzyńska and composed for orchestra and pianoforte

Chamber music:

  • Fantasia in C major for string quartet (ca. 1823?)
  • Nocturne in G major for horn, bassoon and viola
  • Musical scene in F major for horn and bassoon
  • Reverie over Wanda's tomb in B minor for clavichord and violin
  • Cavatina for trumpet or trombone and piano (ca. 1823)
  • Fantasia for horn and bassoon

Piano music:

  • Six variations in C major
  • Nine variations in D minor
  • Potpourri or Variations on various national themes composed by Karol Kurpiński for the seven-year-old J. Krogulski
  • Fantasia in C minor "A Dreadful Dream"
  • Fantasia in A minor
  • Fantasia in F major
  • Fugue and coda in B flat major (on the theme of "Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła" / "Poland Has Not Yet Perished")
  • Ball mazurka in D major
  • Angloise in D major
  • Mazurka in D major (1821)
  • Mazurka in D major (1823)
  • Waltz in B flat major
  • Grand waltz in B flat major
  • Polonaise in G major
  • Polonaise in D minor
  • Polonaise in G minor
  • Polonaise in E major
  • Polonaise in F minor
  • Polonaise in A major
  • Polonaise in A minor
  • Le reveil de J.J. Rousseau au printemps, romanza (1823)
  • Polonaise dedicated to Zofia Mentzel (1834)

Songs for many voices:

  • March of the year 1812 (Do koni, bracia, do koni / Get on your horses, brothers) for a 4-voice male choir and piano (1812)
  • To a Hero (Nieśmiertelność nieba w nagrodę co dały / The immortality which heavens have bestowed in reward), mason chant for a mixed choir (1814)
  • Hymn (Próżno na piasek słonce śle oświaty / Idle are the Sun's reflexes on the sand) for 4 equal voices (1820)
  • Vocal canon (Szanuj niewinność, szanuj mądrość / Respect innocence, respect wisdom) for 3 voices

Songs for voice and piano:

  • Bolesław Krzywousty / Boleslaus the Wry-mouthed
  • Krol Aleksander / King Alexander
  • Zygmunt August / Sigismund Augustus
  • Władysław IV / Ladislaus IV
  • Stefan Czarniecki
  • Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki
  • Dumka (Gdy słowik zanuci / When the nightingale croons)
  • Elfryda (Gdy w kwiecie młodości/ When at the peak of youth), romanza
  • Ludmiła in Ojców (Nastała cisza z nocą ponurą / Silence has fallen with a gloomy night)
  • Song of Jabłonna's peasants about their master (Była ta pora przeszła nie wróciła / The past is gone, will not be back )
  • Czerna (Piękna i śmiała / Bold and beautiful)
  • Etwin and Klara (Klara przecudnej urody / Klara of wondrous beauty)
  • To Ludmiła (Ozdobo wioski / The gem of the village)
  • For Zosia (Sprawiedliwość Zosiu śmiała / Justice, bold Zosia) (1823)
  • Potpourri or variations on Polish chants composed for Miss Henrietta Sontag (1830)
  • Lament on Generał Jasiński (Ze łzą bracie wspomnij sobie / Remember tearfully, brother)
  • War Mazur (Nasz Chłopicki wojak dzielny, śmiały / Our Chłopicki, brave and valiant soldier) (1830)
  • Camp March (Bracia do bitwy nadszedł czas / Brothers, the battle time is come) (1831)
  • Warszawianka / Varsovienne (Oto dzień dziś krwi i chwały / Today is the day of blood and glory)
  • A Lithuanian, or the Hymn of Lithuanian Legionaries (Wionął wiatr błogi na Lechitów ziemie / A blissful wind has blown onto the Lechian land)
  • The Patriot's Feelings - A National Chant (Jakiż to odgłos uszy me uderzą / What is the Sound that Strikes My Ears)
  • The Day of Holy Fighting Is Approaching, a march (1831)
  • A Serenade, or the Deadly Goodnight (1835)

Songs for voice and orchestra:

  • A Song to the White Eagle (Powstań Biały Orle czarne pióra z siebie zrzuć / Rise up, White Eagle, throw off the black feathers) (1831)
  • The Siege of Warsaw (Moskal chce dostać Warszawy / The Muscovites want to get Warsaw), a mazur (1831)


  • Elegy on the Death of Tadeusz Kościuszko for reciting voice and orchestra

Sacred music:

  • Hymn for the Holy Mass of the Polish Catholic Community [Country mass] for soprano, tenor, bass and organ
  • Mass in C major for mixed 3(4) voice choir and organ (ca. 1835)
  • Mass in E minor for mixed 4 voice choir and organ
  • Oratorio in C major for alto, 2 tenors, bass, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, double bass, kettledrum and organ (ca. 1840)
  • Hymn to God - Pleading to Remain Free for solo voice and piano
  • Zdrowaś Maryjo / Hail Mary for solo voice, choir, wind instruments and organ
  • Pious chants by Karol Kurpiński to poetry by Feliński, Minasowicz and others, in honour and glory of one God in the Holy Trinity, for use by the Roman Catholic Christians in Poland for 1-3 voices accompanied by organ or piano and trombone ad libitum
  • Te Deum laudamus for solo voice, choir and orchestra
  • Święty Boże / Good Lord, a psalm for solo voice, choir, harp and organ
  • Na śmierć Chrystusa / On Christ's Death for solo voice and harp
  • Wzniesienie myśli do Boga / Offering Up Our Thought to God for solo voice and organ or piano

Stage music:

  • Two Cottages, comic opera in 1 act
  • Lucifer's Palace, comic opera in 4 acts
  • The Ruins of Babylon, melodrama in 3 acts
  • Marcinowa z Dunaju w Stambule w seraju / Mistress Marcin of the Harem, comic opera in 3 acts
  • The Charlatan, comic opera in 2 acts
  • The Emperor's Generosity, comic opera in 1 act
  • Jadwiga the Polish Queen, comic opera in 3 acts
  • Alexander and Apelles, melodrama in 1 act
  • Reward, or the Resurrection of the Polish Kingdom, melodrama (?) in 2 acts
  • Zabobon czyli Krakowiacy i Górale / Superstition, or Cracowians and Mountaineers, opera in 3 acts
  • The Grandfather and the Grandson, melodrama in 2 acts
  • Jan Kochanowski in Czarny Las, comic opera in 2 acts
  • Bateria o jednym żołnierzu / The Story of a Soldier, melodrama [intermezzo] in 1 act
  • Czaromysł the Slavic Prince, or the Nymphs from the Goplo Lake, comic opera in 1 act
  • The Castle of Czorsztyn, or Bojomir and Wanda, comic opera in 2 acts
  • Kalmora, or the Paternal Right of the Americans, melodrama in 2 acts
  • The Forester from Kozienice, comic opera in 1 act
  • Cecylia Piaseczyńska, comic opera in 2 acts


  • Terpsichore's New Colony on the Vistula in 1 act
  • Mars and Flora, allegorical ballet in 1 act

Author: Małgorzata Kosińska, Polish Music Information Center, October 2006.'s picture
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