Janusz de Kopczynski
String Quartet No.1 in D Major, Op.9 'On Russian Themes'
Very little information is available about the Polish composer Janusz de Kopczinski. Even his dates of birth and death are not certain. French sources state he was born in 1831 but the Polish National Library lists him as being born in 1838. As for his death, the Polish National Library notes it was after 1882, perhaps 1883. What little we know comes from two 19th century French dictionaries: Les musiciens polonais et slaves, anciens et modernes (1857); and Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie générale de la musique (1884). The entries on Kopczynski are quite brief. They tell us that he was born on the estate of his family near Horokhiv in western Ukraine. From his surname, we can deduce that he was part of the Polish nobility. He studied piano with Ignacy Platon Kozlowski, a student of John Field, in the Podolian town of Vinnytsia. Some time in the 1850s, he subsequently traveled to Paris where he studied piano and composition with the piano virtuoso Charles Valentin Alkan. It is reported that he became a very accomplished pianist. While in Paris, he wrote several works for piano in the then popular style brillant that achieved some degree of popularity. Virtually nothing is known of his later life.
His String Quartet in D Major was not published until 1912 when it was brought out by the Polish firm of Anton Piwarski of Cracow. From the cover, which is in French, we can see that it is listed as his first string quartet and it is subtitled On Russian Themes. It is unknown if he wrote a second. Though published in 1912, it seems unlikely that it was composed anytime around then. Rather, judging from the style, its opus number, and the cover which is in French despite the fact that the music was engraved in Germany and published Poland, makes it seem more likely that the Quartet was composed sometime in the 1860s or early 1870s, perhaps while Kopczynski was still in France. Of course it is possible, though unlikely, that Kopczynski could still have been alive in 1912, but he would have been near or in his 80s and few composers were active so late. Unfortunately, until more information can be found, all of this is just an educated guess. Kopczynski may have got the idea of writing a quartet on Russian folk melodies from his teacher Kozlowski who wrote an Opera, Marylla czyli Dożynki (Marylla or the Harvest Festival) which is based on Ukrainian themes. Kopczynski's quartet is in four movements and each movement is based on one or more well-known Russian folk melodies. Right from the opening bars of the first movement, Allegro moderato, comes a stately, famous Russian folk tune. After its development comes a jaunty melody, obviously another Russian folk melody. The second movement, Andante, is a theme and set of variations. The lovely theme is sad and plaintive. The variations are interesting and well-done. Next comes a lively Presto prefaced by a short, slower introduction. The finale, a Rondo Allegro vivo, like the preceding movement, begins with a brief, slow introduction, Un poco con moto e sostenuto. The theme in the Allegro is a bright, charming Russian peasant dance.
Out of print for a century we are pleased to make this appealing work available again. It can be recommended for the concert hall and to amateurs. Anyone who can find a picture of the composer or more information about him for us will receive a free set of parts.