*5 VII 1933 Góra Kalwaria
Irena Poniatowska was born on 5 July 1933 in Góra Kalwaria. From 1957 to 1962, she studied musicology at the University of Warsaw, and since 1965 she has been permanently associated with the UW’s Institute of Musicology, where she has passed through all the academic ranks: research and teaching assistant (1968), assistant professor (1970), senior lecturer (1984), associate professor (1991) and full professor (1996). In 1970, she gained her PhD with the dissertation ‘Faktura fortepianowa Beethovena’ [Beethoven’s piano texture], written under the guidance of Professor Józef Michał Chomiński. In 1983, she completed her habilitation with the Habilitationsschrift ‘Muzyka fortepianowa i pianistyka w wieku XIX’ [Piano music and pianism during the nineteenth century]. From 1974 to 1979 she was vice-director of the Music History Faculty of the UW’s Institute of Musicology, and from 1988 to 2003 head of faculty. From 1986 to 1990, she was also deputy dean for student affairs on the UW’s Department of History, and from 1993 to 1999 deputy dean for finances and academic research.
Over her forty-year-plus teaching career on the UW’s Institute of Musicology, Professor Poniatowska has taken lectures, classes and seminars dealing with a range of periods in music history from the Baroque to the twentieth century. Under her guidance, 73 masters and 8 PhD dissertations have been produced. She has written 30 reviews of works for academic degrees and titles. In the academic year 1993/94, she was also a contractual professor of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. She has given guest lectures at other Polish universities and music academies (including on post-graduate courses at the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw), in numerous learned societies, at the University of the Third Age and on courses run by the Polish National Children’s Fund, as well as abroad, including in Mainz, Paris (Sorbonne), La Châtre, Kiev and New Delhi.
Since 2001, she has been chair of the Programme Committee of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw.
The academic output of Professor Irena Poniatowska includes the following books:
Faktura fortepianowa Beethovena [Beethoven’s piano texture] (Warsaw, 1972)
Kronika wydarzeń muzycznych w Polsce w latach 1945-1972 [Chronicle of musical events in Poland 1945–1972] (Cracow, 1974)
Muzyka fortepianowa i pianistyka w wieku XIX [Piano music and pianism during the nineteenth century] (Warsaw, 1991)
Historia i interpretacja muzyki. Z badań nad muzyką od XVII do XIX wieku [The history and interpretation of music. From research into the music of the seventeenth-nineteenth centuries] (Cracow, 1993)
Słownik szkolny – muzyka [School dictionary – music] (Warsaw, 1991)
In addition, more than one hundred academic articles published in leading music periodicals in Poland and abroad, lengthy entries in music encyclopaedias (including on Beethoven and Mozart – both more than 120 pages – in the PWM Edition music encyclopaedia), and also numerous reviews, popularising articles and reports.
Poniatowska is editor or co-editor of a number of cyclic musicological publications, including the studies Chopin w kręgu przyjaciół [Chopin in his circle of friends] (five volumes to date, the sixth forthcoming), Prace Zakładu Powszechnej Historii Muzyki Instytutu Muzykologii UW [Works of the Music History Faculty of the UW Institute of Musicology] (six fascicles to date) and the interdisciplinary half-yearly Barok, published by the University of Warsaw since 1994.
From 1962 to 1972 she worked as an editor for PWN Edition, and from 1972 to 1991 she was head of the ‘nineteenth-century composers’ section of PWM Edition’s music encyclopaedia. From 1982 to 1992, she was also on the Editorial Committee of the series ‘Muzyka polska w dokumentacjach i interpretacjach’ [Polish music in documents and interpretations]. Since 1999, she has been a member of the Editorial Committee of Chopin in the World, published annually by the International Federation of Chopin Societies. She works with the world’s leading music encyclopaedias, including Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart and The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Her principal editorial achievements include the critical edition Maria Szymanowska, 25 Mazurkas (USA: Hildegard Publishing Company, 1993), a facsimile edition of the autograph of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Op. 28, with an introduction in Polish, French and English (Warsaw: Biblioteka Narodowa, 1999) and a source edition of Henryk Wieniawski’s first Polonaise brillante, Op. 4 for violin and piano (Poznań: Henryk Wieniawski Musical Society, 2000).
Poniatowska’s academic writings are dominated by works devoted to pianism, piano music in general and Fryderyk Chopin. Pianism seems particularly important to her, since she has turned to it at virtually all the stages in her academic work. Her PhD dissertation ‘Faktura fortepianowa Beethovena’ [Beethoven’s piano texture] (published by PWN Edition in 1972) established that dominant strand in her academic output, representing a significant contribution not only to research into the work of Ludwig van Beethoven, but also to the theory of piano texture in general, since it expands the very notion of texture to include determinants of individual composition style and enables us to treat texture as a factor helping to shape the form of a work, determining the quality of the sound. For Poniatowska, changes in the texture of Beethoven’s piano music became a criterion that allowed her to advance a new periodisation of that composer’s oeuvre (presented in her entry on Beethoven in the first volume of the PWM’s music encyclopaedia). By identifying the textural means employed by Beethoven in his piano music and their links with other elements of the musical work, Poniatowska proposed a considerable expansion of the scope of music analysis, which should be seen as a crucial contribution to further research into the history of pianism in general.
Her research into piano music, employing the methods initiated in the study of Beethoven’s piano texture, continued with the work Muzyka fortepianowa i pianistyka w wieku XIX [Piano music and pianism during the nineteenth century] (Warsaw, 1991), which won the Minister of Education Award in 1992. Here, nineteenth-century piano music was presented from the wide-ranging perspective of the instrument’s development (which enabled the factors determining the actual sound of the piano during the nineteenth century to be discussed), piano technique (addressed within the context of theoretical works, primarily through analysis of the major piano-playing schools of that period), the Romantic aesthetic, the social dimension of pianism (with an extensive look at salon and ‘trivial’ music) and the development of musical forms.
Particularly significant within the context of research into aspects of virtuosity and pianism during the nineteenth century are Poniatowska’s reflections on the relations between Chopin and Liszt, the effects of which have included a re-edition of Liszt’s famous book on Chopin from 1852 (Paris, 1990), preceded by a lengthy introduction written by Irena Poniatowska with Maria Poniatowska. The picture of the significance of research into this area in the academic output of Irena Poniatowska is completed by works devoted to Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Muzio Clementi, Maria Szymanowska, Theodor Leschetizky, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann, Antoni Kątski and other distinguished figures of Polish and world pianism. Poniatowska’s publications and conference papers in this field continue to arouse interest on an international level and are also taken up in works by her students. It is worth emphasising that this research – as Poniatowska has always stressed – was inspired from the beginning by the concept of ‘real sound’ formulated by Józef Michał Chomiński.
Moreover, Poniatowska’s wide range of academic interests – going far beyond the issues relating to pianism that dominate her publications – would appear to be a sort of continuation of Chomiński’s ‘school’. Thus Poniatowska addresses issues relating to methodology and theory, as well as subjects that recur in the titles of her works: historicism, inspired by the concepts of Carl Dahlhaus, Walter Wiora and other German musicologists, historical issues (from the Baroque to contemporary times), nationality and tradition, and the reception of the musical work. This last subject is always approached by Poniatowska from a broad interdisciplinary perspective (historical and social), as is exemplified in her works through reference to Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, Spohr and others.