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- Tarantella In A Minor (No. 1 of 10 Dances de salon)
Although long shrouded in mystery, the life and works of Albert Pieczonka, composer of the famous Tarantella in A Minor for piano, have now come to light.
Albert Emil Theodor Pieczonka was born in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kalinigrad, Russia), on February 10, 1828. The Pieczonka family was originally from Lissa, Poland and immigrated to Königsberg shortly after the French Revolution. The name is pronounced: pyeh-CHUN-kah.
From 1847 to 1849, Albert studied at the Leipzig Conservatory as a student of Moscheles and then concertized in Germany, where he reportedly studied with Franz Liszt. In 1855 he married his student, Emeline Florentine Nancy Wohlgeboren (1836–1916), a singer and pianist, in Memel, East Prussia (now Klaipeda, Lithuania).
They moved to London in 1858, where Albert had success as a performer, composer and teacher, and where he associated with many of the prominent musicians of the day — Anton Rubinstein, harpist Aptommas, Adelina Patti, Sir Charles Hallé, and others. He published several works for piano in London including the Danses de Salon (1879), a collection of ten dances that was framed by two Tarantellas — the famous Tarantella in A Minor was first and the Tarantella in E Minor ended the set.
In 1880 and 1881, the Pieczonka family immigrated to New York, where Albert, his wife and six daughters formed the Kempa Ladies’ Orchestra. This ensemble toured the United States from 1882 to 1887, performing a wide variety of music — from classics and flashy solos to operetta overtures — in many different venues — from formal concert halls and theaters to Dime Museums; in cities from Boston to Milwaukee to Houston.
Albert performed widely as a solo pianist and continued to perform into his 80s. His expressive interpretations were praised by reviewers, who also made favorable comparisons to Anton Rubinstein.
Tragedy permeated the Pieczonka household with the untimely deaths of his children. Albert’s mourning his youngest daughter’s tragic life and death can be heard in his only piano sonata, L’Ame Perdue (The Lost Soul) — Grande Sonata Infernale, which still exists in manuscript and was never published.
Albert lived longer in the United States than in Prussia or England; his composing, performing and teaching in America constituted a major part of his musical career. To date over 50 compositions have been documented. A complete list of his known works can be found at www.keyboardcompanion.com, where performances of his works by his descendents can be heard; where rare family photographs of this once mysterious musician and the score to his famous piece, Polish Chivalry can be viewed.
Pieczonka was always noted for composing effective, pianistic works that are rewarding to play with minimal technical demands.
Albert died on April 12, 1912 of pneumonia at the age of 84 at his home in New York City. He is buried in New York with his wife, Nanny.
[Extracted from Keyboard Companion, Summer 2008]
Born in Prussia (now part of Russia), Albert Pieczonka married Nanie, aged 19, also of Prussia, in 1855. They emigrated to the US in 1880, settling in Manhattan. They had eight children, only two were still alive as of 1910. Source: the 1910 Census data in NY thru Ancestry.com. [Note: This source actually mention 1850 as dat of marriage, when Nanie would have been 14 years old. The Pieczonka family and a church registry give 1855 as date of marriage. There are speculations about the reason of this difference.]
Actually they arrived in NY on September 9, 1880 on the ship "The Queen" accompanied by 3 of their daughters including Helen and Emily. Source: passenger list thru Ancestry.com
His daughter Emily died in an accident in 1915, here’s the newspaper article.
His wife died in 1916, here’s the obituary.
Found sheet music for another three Pieczonka pieces (search here): Serenade, published in 1881 in NY; Perpetuum Mobile, Valse grand etude de perfectione, published in 1900 in NY; Prire, Grand Etude, published in 1882 in NY.