CHOPIN’S POLAND CHOPIN’S POLAND

Żelazowa Wola

Żelazowa Wola Żelazowa Wola

From the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the estate of 'Żelazowa Wola and Orły with adjoining properties' belonged to the Skarbek family. Here lived Ludwika Skarbek with her children: Fryderyk, Anastazy-Teodor, Michał, Anna and Kazimierz. Żelazowa Wola was probably the place where Chopin's parents first met: Justyna, née Krzyżanowska, was the housekeeper and Mikołaj Chopin, an immigrant from France, was tutor to the children. After their wedding, the Chopins lived in the left annexe of the walled manor house, and there, on 1 March 1810, Fryderyk Chopin entered the world. His sisters, the elder Ludwika Marianna and his two younger siblings, Justyna Izabela (known as Izabela) and Emilia, were born in Warsaw. Fryderyk's childhood was not, however, associated with Żelazowa Wola, since in the autumn of 1810 the Chopin family moved to Warsaw for good. In later years, the Chopins would visit the Skarbeks at Żelazowa Wola, mainly during the summer or on religious holidays.

The Chopin literature contains several accounts of Fryderyk's stays in the place of his birth. He probably spent some time there in the summer of 1823. Together with his sister Ludwika he spent there also Christmas 1825 and New Year 1826. In the summer of 1830 he visited his friend Tytus Woyciechowski at Poturzyn, then stopped over for a few days in Warsaw before making his way to Żelazowa Wola, where the Chopin family was staying on a summer break. This was the composer's last stay in his birthplace.

During his visits to the Skarbek estate, he spent a great deal of time playing music. In the summer, the piano would be taken out into the garden, where under the spruce or linden trees Fryderyk gave concerts. Besides his family and friends, these exceptional performances were heard by numerous guests, and also doubtless, by chance, the inhabitants of the nearby villages.

The history of Żelazowa Wola dates back to the second half of the sixteenth century, its earliest documented inhabitants and landowners being the brothers Mikołaj and Piotr Żelazo. The next identified proprietors of the estate came from the Paprocki family; it was during their times, or those of their heirs, towards the end of the eighteenth century, that the walled manor house was built. In May 1798 the Skarbeks purchased Żelazowa Wola from Piotr Łuszczewski. In 1801, after Count Kacper Skarbek had fled, leaving huge debts, the estate and all the onerous duties related to it were taken over by Countess Ludwika Skarbek. It is difficult today to judge how exactly the manor and its surroundings looked. The subject literature gives many diverging opinions on this matter. One of these (very widely held) is that part of the building was destroyed in a fire that supposedly broke out during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. This would explain how mainly the right annexe was used as living quarters. However, in light of the most recent research, this hypothesis should be rejected in favour of versions closer to descriptions contained in notarial documents. Thus it should be assumed that during the period of interest to us here, when the manor belonged to the Skarbeks, Żelazowa Wola comprised the 'Manor, Annexes, Orangery, Stables and Coach House'. The manor house itself was a typical walled building of those times and of the region, 'on a rectangular plan, with a double entrance hallway down the middle, ending with an exit onto the garden. On either side of the hallway were the rooms of the members of the household, a large dining room, a kitchen, and also a pantry, known as the treasury. It is presumed to have been covered with a "Polish" mansard-style hip-roof with a shingle thatch, as was typical of that period.' [1]

Żelazowa Wola was taken over [2] from Countess Ludwika Skarbek by her sons-first Fryderyk and then, in 1825, Michał, who committed suicide in 1834. The further history of the estate is not associated with the Skarbek family. Named among its successive owners are Franciszek Kwiatowski, Józef Wiśniewski (to 1842), Henryk Peszel (to 1856) and Paweł Jaworski. [3]
In the years 1859-1878 [4] the manor house was inhabited by Adam Towiański, son of the famous philosopher Andrzej Towiański. It is thanks to him that the building was renovated, and also that plans were drawn up to establish a place devoted to the memory of Chopin. In 1879 the estate came into the hands of Aleksander Pawłowski, who was not interested in carrying out his predecessor's ambitious plan. As a result, the fortunes of the composer's birthplace began to be addressed by artistic milieux in Warsaw. From 1891, work began on transforming the manor house into a Chopin museum. However, the venture proved time-consuming and the formalities extremely complex, and a constant lack of funds further hampered their efforts. Assistance in the realisation of the project was given by the Warsaw Music Society, and also the composer Mily Balakirev, thanks to whom, in 1894, permission was granted to erect a commemorative obelisk on the grounds at Żelazowa Wola.

Not until the 1920s, when Poland regained her independence, was the building officially awarded the status of an historical building of exceptional significance for Polish culture. Thanks to the efforts of the Society for the Friends of Chopin's Home, established in Warsaw, and the Chopin Committee in Sochaczew, the manor house was finally purchased, along with the park surrounding the building and several hectares of land belonging to the estate. In 1930 the Committee for the Construction of Chopin's Home initiated the manor's renovation and rebuilding, and Professor Franciszek Krzywda-Polkowski began implementing his plans for the gardens.

Thanks to enormous help from the general public, a collection of historical items dating from the early nineteenth century was soon assembled. A Pleyel piano was brought to Żelazowa Wola, and the numerous donations also included cuttings and seedlings from around Poland and abroad, specifically intended to enrich the park with an interesting collection of dendrological specimens.

The outbreak of World War Two made it impossible to continue work at Żelazowa Wola. During the war, the historical piano was stolen and the manor's interiors, as well as most of the exhibits from the collection, were heavily damaged. After the war, in 1945, the Temporary Committee for the Care of Chopin's Home at Żelazowa Wola was appointed. The Committee's work was soon taken over by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, to which, in the name of the State Treasury, the General Conservator of Historical Buildings and Artefacts entrusted the care of Żelazowa Wola.

Up to 1949, work continued on renovating the building, reconstructing the garden, and assembling a collection of period furniture and objects. On the centenary of Chopin's death, the display was ceremoniously opened. From 1950, Chopin's home was administered for two years by the National Museum. From 1953, the Fryderyk Chopin Society was guardian of the Żelazowa Wola estate, and on 1 August 2005 these functions were taken over by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute.

In Chopin's home at Żelazowa Wola, the atmosphere of a Polish manor house from the early nineteenth century has been recreated. However, there are no objects that belonged to the composer's family. The original layout of the rooms has also been changed. Today, the house is divided by a hallway running along its centre; on its right-hand side are the hearth room, the dining room and the music room; on the left-hand side are the mother's room, the children's room and the father's study.

Among the items assembled in the house are a piano by Leszczyński of Warsaw, from the first half of the nineteenth century, a nineteenth-century giraffe piano by Fried, Külbors of Wrocław, nineteenth-century Biedermeier-style furniture, and portraits of Fryderyk Chopin and his family. Standing in the music room is the modern-day piano played by pianists in the Chopin concerts held during the summer season.

Erected in the landscape garden, rich in original plant species, which is traversed by the River Utrata, are four monuments to Fryderyk Chopin. The first of these is an obelisk resembling a gravestone, ceremoniously unveiled in 1894. This bears a medallion with a bust of Chopin and the inscription 'F. Chopin 22. II. 1810' above a lyre ringed with leaves. This monument was designed by Bronisław Żochowski, and the composer's likeness, after a medallion by J. F. A Bovy, was produced by Jan Wojdyła.

Unveiled in 1968 was a sandstone bust of Chopin made by Stanisław Sikora, and the following year, on the 120th anniversary of the composer's death, a bronze statue by Józef Gosławski placed on a grey granite pedestal. The most recent work is Zofia Wolska's bronze bust of Chopin on a sandstone base, funded by the Stadtmuseum in Düsseldorf. In addition, in 1984 the Chopin Society erected near the house a rock commemorating the contribution of professor Franciszek Krzywda-Polkowski to creating the park at Żelazowa Wola.

Since 1954, a season of Chopin concerts has been held annually, from the first Sunday in May to the last Sunday in September. These recitals were initiated by the pianist and pedagogue Zbigniew Drzewiecki. A separate initiative, from 2006, is the programme of Music Presentations showcasing young pianists held during the same period (May-September).

The village of Żelazowa Wola is situated in Sochaczew county, on the edge of Kampinos Forest, 54 km from Warsaw. It is the most famous 'shrine' to the composer in Poland, visited in great number by tourists and music lovers from Poland and abroad.

Worth seeing in the area:

  • Trojanów church, in late Baroque style, reconstructed after a fire in the first quarter of the twentieth century.
  • Chodaków cemetery, for soldiers killed in the Battle of Bzura.

[1] The conclusions and quotations contained in this paragraph are the result of source research, in particular a painstaking analysis of notarial documents relating to the Skarbek family, carried out by Marek Wojtyłak. See M. Wojtyłak, 'Tajemnice dworu w Żelazowej Woli', Rocznik Mazowiecki, xii (2000).
[2] In actual fact, the estate was purchased, rather than inherited, by both Fryderyk and Michał.
[3] These names are given in their work by P. Mysłakowski and A. Sikorski, Chopinowie. Krąg rodzinno-towarzyski, 159, referring to information taken from the Księga hipoteczna dóbr Żelazowa Wola [Mortgage book of the estate of Żelazowa Wola].
[4] Source as above. From the end of December 1859, for about six months, Jan Kanty Kobylański is entered as the estate's proprietor.

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