Tadeusz Sygietyński was born on September 24, 1896 in Warsaw. As he wrote in his memoir: “I grew up surrounded by the most notable writers, painters, musicians, and scholars of the time. Scientifically, the home was filled with positivism, with the underlying focus on ethnography, folklore, and humanities.”
Since early childhood, he had shown remarkable musical talents. At eleven, he began composing music. His family moved to Lviv, where he attended a school of music. Because of his family’s difficult financial situation, he was forced to start working, and at the age of fourteen he was already a choir tutor at Lviv Conservatory and Lviv Opera.
In 1911, he returned to Warsaw. There, in the Institute of Music, he was tutored by the most notable instructors – Henryk Melcer and Zygmunt Noskowski. He continued to study in Leipzig and Vienna, under celebrities such as Max Reger, Hugo Riemann, and Arnold Schönberg.
In 1913, Sygietyński’s original piece Kantata na setną rocznicę śmierci Księcia Józefa Poniatowskiego [Cantata for the Hundredth Anniversary of the Death of Prince Józef Poniatowski] was performed for a public audience for the first time.
In the 1920s, he conducted operatic ensembles in Gratz, Zagreb, and Ljubljana. At that time he also set up the philharmonic orchestra in Dubrovnik, which operates to this day.
After his return to Warsaw in 1926, he worked with Polish Radio for a very long time, as a music director and an author of popular radio plays. He also worked as a conductor and composer for revue theaters, such as the Merry Evening, the Variety Theater, the Qui Pro Quo, the Summer Theater, and the Ali-Baba. He was also a theatrical conductor in Lviv, Cracow, Łódź, and Warsaw.
During World War II, he composed and acted as accompanist for Mira Zimińska-Sygietyńska at her concerts. It was at that time that he had the idea of creating a folk ensemble, which later turned out to be the creative and artistic fulfillment of his dreams.
“So when during the uprising Tadeusz said ‘Give me your word –ʼ , I answered ‘Well, alright, if we survive, we’ll go to the countryside, and I’ll help you some! But first we survive’.” (Mira Zimińska-Sygietyńska, Nie żyłam samotnie, WAiF, Warszawa, 1985)
Sygietyński was always preparing for the project – gathering folk songs and chants, working on them, collecting information on talented young people.
He was a remarkable composer and arranger, a wonderful teacher and an authority, but most of all, he was a warm, modest, and sensitive person. His works include various folk songs, twenty folk dances (e.g. Trzy polskie tańce na orkiestrę [Three Polish Dances for Orchestra] and Oberek na orkiestrę [Oberek for Orchestra]), twenty-eight stage songs, an operatic ballet Karczma na rozdrożu [A Tavern at the Crossroads], Szkice mazowieckie [Masovian Sketches], and a piano concerto Capriccio.
Tadeusz Sygietyński died on May 19, 1955 in Warsaw.
“It was almost the time at which classes at Karolin usually started.
That day, not even one song sounded, not one melody. Not one dance pas was taken.
There was terrifying silence in the hallway.
There was no call ‘Children, go to class!’
His voice was not going to sound again – Tadeusz Sygietyński was dead.”
(Tadeusz Kruk and Alojzy Sroga, Mazowsze tańczy i śpiewa, Iskry, Warszawa, 1960)
“We obviously know the extent Chopin to which was inspired by folk creativity. But Tadeusz Sygietyński discovered the beauty of real folk songs and showed us their amazing artistic richness. He made Mazowsze an instrument that enriched the songs in a tone previously unknown and totally unexpected by a regular listener. Adam Mickiewicz’s heart and ears could hear that ‘no other frogs sing as beautifully as the ones in Poland’. In a similar way, Tadeusz Sygietyński’s heart and ears discovered the treasures of musical folk genius hidden in simple, common folk songs. In his masterful hands, the diamond was cut and polished, and gained dazzling brightness.” (Jan Brzechwa)
“The name Tadeusz Sygietyński, closely connected with Mazowsze, has become a symbol of the ensemble. His songs are sung on several continents. They have opened the hearts of millions of people, shown them the beauty of Polish folklore, and taught them to love, understand, and value it.” (Andrzej Wróblewski)
“When Mazowsze was on tour abroad, the world’s most prominent critics wondered at Tadeusz Sygietyński’s musical work. During the ensemble’s last visit to Paris, Artur Rubinstein came to see Mazowsze’s performances several times. He kept talking about the great works of art that Tadeusz Sygietyński had created.” (Karolina Beylin)
“Mazowsze – Sygietyński. These two words are enough to fill the biggest performance halls and open-air theaters. Hundreds of thousands of people have lived the joyful, sorrowful, frisky, or pensive pieces, in which the genius of our people and the great talent of the composer came hand in hand, and produced a wonderful artistic effect.” (Jerzy Kuryluk)
“He personified passionate, frantic youth. Always active, never resting, bursting with creative uneasiness [. . .]” (Jerzy Ficowski)
“He was also such a modest, charming person – a little stooping, slim, nervous artist. He had his own, well thought out point of view on everything, and he was able to defend it. He was never satisfied with what he had already achieved; he was always looking for something new – searching, trying, working for it.” (Roman Szydłowski)