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Karol began his studies under his father, Marcin Kurpiński, an organist. At the age of 12, he became organist at a church in Sarnowa, Konin County, near Rawicz, where his uncle Karol Wański was a parish priest. In 1800 his other uncle, the cellist Roch Wański, took him to the estate of count Feliks Polanowski near Lviv, who had a private orchestra of which Wański was a member, and in which the young Kurpiński played violin.
There, around 1808, Kurpiński composed his first opera, Pygmalion. In 1810 he settled in Warsaw. With the help of Józef Elsner he became a conductor of the Warsaw Opera, a position he held until 1840. He taught music at several prominent schools including one he founded. In 1815 he became a member of many musical societies in Poland and abroad, including the Société des Enfants d'Apollon in Paris. He became Kapellmeister of the Polish royal chapel in 1819 and in the same year received a lifetime achievement award for his services to music. In 1820 he founded and edited the first Polish music newsletter. He was decorated with the Order of Saint Stanislaw in 1823.
Kurpiński was one of the most revered composers before Frédéric Chopin, and helped to lay the foundations of a national style and prepared the ground for Polish music of the Romantic period. He contributed to the development of Polish opera, introducing new musical devices and achieving a novel mode of expression.
He died on September 18, 1857, in Warsaw, aged 72.
Works, editions and recordings
- Zamek na Czorsztynie, czyli Bojomir i Wanda opera in 2 acts. Libretto: Józef Wawrzyniec Krasiński z Radziejowic (recording by Polska Orkiestra Sinfonia Iuventus - conducted Michał Niedziałek, with soloists Aleksandra Orłowska-Jabłońska, Hubert Stolarski, Jadwiga Niebelska, Tomasz Raff, Witold Żołądkiewicz Dux Records)
- Concerto for Clarinet in B-flat Major
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