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KAROL LIPINSKI  

(1790 - 1861)

Karol Józef Lipiński was born on 30 October 1790, on the estate of the aristocratic Potocki family near Lublin, Poland. His father was director of music for the Potockis, and in this music-friendly aristocratic setting young Karol soon surpassed his father’s musical ability. By the age of eight Lipiński was playing concertos of Pleyel and Giornovichi. His father suggested a tour in the manner of Mozart, but Lipiński flatly refused, showing a humility that remained a part of his character. Following the partition of Poland in 1795 by Prussia, Austria, and Russia, thus ending Poland’s independent existence until the twentieth century, many Polish court orchestras were disbanded, and the Potocki orchestra was no exception. Lipiński’s father moved the family to Lwów (the German Lemberg, capital of the Austrian partition called Galicia), where he served as Kapellmeister of Count Starzeński’s musical establishment. He shared some of his father’s duties as Kapellmeister, composing several dances and three symphonies before 1810. After a brief flirtation with the cello, Lipiński returned to the violin with renewed passion and obsessive practice, never sure that his technique was fine enough, though he would soon rival Paganini for the title of greatest violinist in Europe. In 1809 he was appointed concertmaster of the Lwów Theatre. Promoted to Kapellmeister in 1812, he was able to champion serious dramatic efforts while using his own talents in a lyric or comic way. Lipiński’s career in light opera began when he met the dramatist and impresario Jan Kamiński. whose productions often featured music—the Austrians allowed Polish performances in the German theatre twice a week. Soon Lipiński was contributing music for operettas, the first of which, The Danube Mermaid, was performed in 1814. His solid professional attainments provided a level of financial security that enabled him to marry his life-long love Regina Garbaczynska. In 1814 Lipiński was granted an extended release from his theatre duties to visit Vienna, and while in the city made the acquaintance of Louis Spohr, one of the finest violinist-composers in Europe. Lipiński heard Spohr play in February 1815 and was so impressed that he abandoned the theatre and decided to pursue the life of a virtuoso. He spent two years preparing for public performance, and first performed as a committed virtuoso in Lwów in May 1817. Later that year he departed for Italy with the aim of hearing Paganini. Catching up with the Italian master in Padua, Lipiński was invited by Paganini to dinner and to breakfast the following day. Lipiński played for Paganini his Three Capriccios, Op 10, which he had dedicated to the Italian. Paganini immediately picked up his guitar and played an accompaniment, much to Lipiński’s delight. In April 1818 the two violinists appeared in Piacenza, performing one of Kreutzer’s Symphonie Concertantes for Two Violins and Orchestra. Paganini invited Lipiński to tour Italy with him, but Lipiński missed his wife, who was about to give birth, and returned home. On the way he met one of the last surviving pupils of Tartini and was much impressed, and while continuing to admire Paganini, he followed more closely the Tartini-Spohr artistic ethos. He gave concerts in Galicia and neighbouring areas beginning in 1821; in 1823 he gave joint concerts in Kiev with the pianist Maria Szymanowska and in Poznań with the violinist Jacques Mazas. He appeared in Warsaw in 1827–28, and was appointed First Violinist of the Royal Polish Court. At the coronation of Tsar Nicholas I as King of Poland in 1829, both Lipiński and Paganini gave concerts in Warsaw, which caused a furor in the press, especially since an unsuccessful attempt was made to dissuade Lipiński from performing. From 1830 to 1833 Lipiński suspended touring, with the aim, again, to perfect his technique. In 1834 he performed in Poznań and Warsaw, and in 1835–1840 he toured Germany, where he met the Schumanns and unsuccessfully vied for the position of concertmaster in Mendelssohn’s Gewandhaus Orchestra; France, where Chopin helped him organize concerts and taught his daughter the piano; and Russia, where he met Richard Wagner in Riga. In 1839 Lipiński moved his family to Dresden after his appointment as concertmaster of the royal orchestra. There he worked with Wagner and Berlioz, became friends with Robert and Clara Schumann, and mentored a younger generation of violinists, among them Wieniawski and Joachim. In 1840 Paganini died and bequeathed his eight best instruments to the eight best violinists in Europe—he gave Lipiński an Amati. By 1846 Lipiński was gradually withdrawing from the rigours of the life of a virtuoso, concentrating on preparing or re-editing his compositions for publication. He still played in public occasionally and performed Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Liszt in 1853. His beloved wife died in 1856, and by 1859 his health had begun to decline. He moved to an estate near Lwów in 1861 and established a music school for peasant children, but died shortly afterwards on 16 December 1861.

Courtesy of Bruce R. Schueneman

Role: Classical Composer 
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