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Obscure Music Monday: Szymanowska's Nocturne in A-flat Major for Piano 3 Hands

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.

Her Nocturne in A-flat Major for Piano 3 Hands is one of the few works for piano 3 hands, though some pianists leave out the top melodic line, and play a 2-handed version. Thought to be written around 1825 in Paris, this work in 6/8 time has a continual sixteenth note line throughout, driving the work forward, and filling out the harmony. The melody (the third hand) floats wonderfully atop the driving right hand notes, and simply quarter note/eighth note lines in the left hand. The melody, in the upper register of the piano, sparkles and adds a great dimension to the work, versus just a two hand version of the composition. This is a rare gem of a work!

Here's a recording of this beautiful work for you to enjoy!

Polish Romantic Music

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