CHOPIN’S POLAND CHOPIN’S POLAND

Antonin Antonin

Antonin lies in the southern part of the Greater Poland voivodeship. Amidst picturesque woodland, Duke Antoni Radziwiłł, Prussian-appointed governor of the Grand Duchy of Posen, had his estate, named after him. Initially, it served him mainly during the summer months. The duke was a keen hunter, and Antonin was a stately hunting residence, to which society readily travelled from Poznań. There were also frequent visits from personages connected with the Berlin court. With time, as a result of political and personal changes, the governor moved to his Antonin palace for good, together with his wife, Duchess Luiza, the niece of Emperor Ferdinand II, and their two daughters, Wanda and Eliza.

The Antonin hunting palace was built in the years 1822-24, to a design by the famous Berlin architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. It is a four-storey timber building, laid out on the plan of a Greek cross: an octagonal main body with three-storey wings, each on a square plan, built onto four of the sides. Its original construction, extremely modern for those times and both refined and comfortable, also proved to be most ingenious. The palace, surrounded by an English-style garden, has survived to the present day without any extensive rebuilding. Erected nearby was a chapel, in which the members of the Radziwiłł family were interred.

Thanks to the Radziwiłłs, this beautiful estate, situated amidst extensive old woodland, close to two lakes-the Szperek and the Wydymacz-became a thriving cultural centre, in which, besides the above-mentioned hunts, the main pursuits were music, literature and art. The duke's elder daughter, Eliza, excelled in painting and produced two portraits of Fryderyk during this time, of which the composer was greatly appreciative.

Duke Radziwiłł, an educated man of wide-ranging interests, was on friendly terms with the leading artists of his day. He was an admirer and patron of the arts, a cellist and composer. His oeuvre included numerous small-scale instrumental pieces, many songs and also music composed to the text of Goethe's Faust, which he held in particularly high esteem. As an experienced patron, he was able to spot the genius of the young Chopin-his exceptional individuality as a composer and virtuoso. Fryderyk visited Antonin at the duke's invitation in the autumn of 1829. His stay lasted just over a week[1] during which time music could be frequently heard at the palace, as could discussion on musical subjects.

Also during his stay, Chopin composed his Polonaise in C major, Op. 3 for piano and cello, doubtless intended to be performed with the duke, who for his part showed Fryderyk the still incomplete score of his music to Faust. Besides this, Fryderyk also gladly gave a few lessons to Wanda, the Radziwiłłs' younger daughter. He mentions his stay at Antonin in a letter to Tytus Woyciechowski in Poturzyn: ‘I received your last letter, in which you bade me kiss myself, at Radziwiłł's residence in Antonin. I was there for a week, and you'll not believe how well I felt there. I returned by the last mail-coach and barely excused myself from extending my stay. As for my own person and passing amusement, I would have stayed there until I was chased away, but my affairs, and my Concerto in particular, not yet finished, and impatiently awaiting the completion of its finale, compelled me to leave that paradise. There were two Eves there, the duke's young daughters, extremely good and polite, musical, tender creatures.'[2]

After describing his impressions of the duke's musical style, Fryderyk proceeded to his traditional sharing with Tytus of a host of other detailed information: 'I wrote there an alla polacca with cello', he wrote of the Polonaise, 'Nothing to it but dazzle, for the salon, for the ladies; I wanted, you see, the duke's daughter Wanda to learn. - Young, 17 years old, pretty, and it was truly a pleasure to place her little fingers on the keys. But joking aside, she has a considerable and genuine feel for music, such that one need not chatter: crescendo here, piano there, now quicker, now slower, and soon.'[3]

The larch palace at Antonin, untouched by war, has survived to the present day in almost perfect condition. The building not only looks, but indeed is, the same building in which the young composer stayed. In the opinion of many observers and scholars, it is 'authentic testimony to Chopin's visit'. Unfortunately, only few such objects remain today on the map of Chopin sites in Poland.

The interior of the main body of the palace comprises a three-storey Hearth Room (also known as the hunting room), with a column rising through all three storeys, adorned by antlers, which emphasise the palace's hunting character. Hung on the walls are portraits of Antoni Radziwiłł, his daughters, Wanda and Eliza, and Fryderyk Chopin. There is also a grand piano in the room.

Since 1978 one of the side rooms has housed a Music Salon, containing such items as publications relating to Antonin, a cast of the composer's hand, his death-mask, a Buchholtz piano, portraits of Chopin and his bust. In one of the wings, by the main entrance to the palace, a staircase leads up to the floors and balconies located on the first and second storeys of the Hearth Room, from which one can see into the rooms of the side wings.

The palace stands in extensive grounds, with a moat and monuments of nature, dominated by oaks. The palace grounds and the adjoining wood occupy a total of over twelve hectares.

In the years 1974-78 the palace underwent conservation work. Since 1981 it has functioned as a Centre for Creative Work. In 1994 fire consumed part of the roof. In recent years a gas boiler-house has been erected and the main room has been refurnished. The palace offers accommodation for guests, and the Hearth Room houses a restaurant and cafe.

In front of the palace stands a bust of Fryderyk Chopin made by Marian Owczarski. By the entrance to the building a commemorative plaque has been set into the wall, funded by Igo Moś of Ostrzeszów, with the following inscription: 'Fryderyk Chopin 1810-1849 was a guest at the palace in Antonin in the years 1827 and 1829'. The building is owned by the Kalisz Centre for Culture and the Arts.

Antonin is situated on the edge of the Barycz Valley Landscape Park, within the commune of Przygodzice, in Ostrów county, in the Greater Poland voivodeship; it is a centre for rest and recreation. The Przygodzice commune is also home to the Wydymacz nature reserve, Przygodzice Lake and a Protected Landscape Area. The village lies 12 km from Ostrów Wielkopolski and 40 km from Kalisz.

Worth seeing in the area:

  • forester's lodge and two cottages designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (in Swiss style) in Antonin,
  • Dębnica-a village to which Chopin went on walks, picturesquely situated in the vicinity of fish ponds, surrounded on three sides by woodland,
  • Strzyżew-a village in which the composer stayed at the home of his godmother, Anna Wiesiołowska, née Skarbek.

[1] Chopin's visit to Antonin became a motif in the novel by Gustaw Bojanowski, Tydzień w Antoninie, in which the author describes in detail Chopin's stay on the Radziwiłł estate, his numerous trips to the surrounding towns and villages, walks to neighbouring villages and estates, and also a visit to Ostrów. Unfortunately, the situations described by Bojanowski, as well as the numerous names of places given as having been visited by Chopin, are for the most part unconfirmed by other sources.
[2] KCh, i, 112.
[3] Ibid.

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