Warsaw: Salons

Warsaw: Salons Warsaw: Salons

The influence exerted on the young Fryderyk's artistic awareness by the Warsaw salons of the first half of the nineteenth century seems not altogether appreciated. After the first public recitals by the little Fryderyk, the news of his extraordinary talent went around the capital's artistic environment. Salon proprietors sought to have Chopin perform during the gatherings they organised. As soon as he entered the room, he was immediately requested to perform one of his compositions or to improvise, usually on a theme put forward from the audience. The young virtuoso's brilliant displays made a great impression on listeners, as is testified by numerous accounts of his performances in the letters and diaries of those who frequented the salons of Warsaw in the early nineteenth century.

Probably in the home of Konstantowa Wolicka, daughter of the Margrave of Kermançon, Chopin played as a ten-year-old in the presence of the famous singer Angelica Catalani, who, enthralled by the talent of the young pianist, presented him with a gold watch, together with a dedication. He could also be seen in the aristocratic salons of the Zamoyskis, Czartoryskis and Sapiehas, as well as the Skarbeks' home. It is very likely that in 1825, in a concert at the Warsaw home of Duchess Ludwika Czetwertyńska, he was first heard by Duke Antoni Radziwiłł, who later invited Chopin to his Antonin estate.

Also mentioned in the Chopin literature are his frequent and important performances in private concerts at the homes of the Cichowskis, Duke Maksymilian Jabłonowski, the widow of General Sowiński, Mrs Grabowska, Teresa Kicka and Klementyna Hoffmanowa, née Tańska, as well as the salons of the Chopins' friends, the Wodzińskis, and, hitherto overlooked in the subject literature, the Chodkiewiczes. [1] Chopin himself enthuses in his correspondence about taking part in the 'Fridays' chez Kessler. These celebrated musical gatherings attracted many outstanding Warsaw artists, who performed together in then fashionable chamber repertory. Fryderyk related to Tytus Woyciechowski in a letter of 20 October 1829 that Kessler 'gives at his home little musics. Everyone gathers there and plays - nothing is pre-arranged, only what comes up in the company, that is what's played'. [2]

Chopin was an occasional guest at the Belvedere and at Brühl Palace, [3] a building situated between the Saxon Garden, Fredry and Wierzbowa streets, at the invitation of Grand Duke Constantine. Also considered in the subject literature is the very likely possibility that Chopin performed at the nearby Kossowski Palace [4]: 'The plan is ready for a forthcoming soiree at the Lewickis', as Fryderyk wrote without undue enthusiasm to Tytus Woyciechowski in a letter of 10 April 1830. [5]

Another notable venue was Potocki Palace [Pałac Potockich] on Krakowskie Przedmieście. [6] In a residence belonging around the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to Stanisław Kostka Potocki and his wife Aleksandra Potocka, one of the most famous aristocratic salons in Warsaw was held. This was not a typical society salon, devoted exclusively to the aristocracy. Its frequent guests included almost all the outstanding figures in the cultural and political life of those times. The Potockis were patrons of the arts and valued the company of artists most highly. It is likely that the most brilliant Warsaw pianist of the day was also among their number.

In the Chopin literature, the Potockis' salon is enumerated among those venues at which Chopin performed, although his correspondence contains no unambiguous mention of him having played there. Since his childhood Chopin was connected with the social circle centred around Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, who lived at the Potockis' residence. Thus there is much to suggest that he was a regular guest in this sumptuous residence, particularly after returning from his journey to Berlin. As we know, in the years 1828-30 he led a particularly active social life. During this period the salon of Aleksandra Potocka was famed for the Polish and French theatre spectacles produced there. It is doubtless one such production that Chopin laconically mentions in a letter to Tytus Woyciechowski of 27 March 1830: '[Max] was at the theatre chez Mrs Potocka'. [7]

[1] The lack of the Chodkiewicz name in biographical studies was raised by Marta Pielech in a paper delivered to the Fifth International Scholarly Conference organised by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw, in December 2005: The Sources of Chopin's Creative Style: Inspirations and Contexts.
[2] F. Chopin Correspondence, ed. B. E. Sydow, vol. I, p. 110.
[3] Brühl Palace, also known as Ossoliński/Sandomierski Palace, stood on Wierzbowa street (plot no. 612) by the Saxon Garden. The palace originally belonged to the Voivode of Sandomierz, Jerzy Ossoliński. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, it was rebuilt to a design by Tylman van Gameren. It subsequently came into the possession of the Saxon minister Henryk Brühl, who initiated further rebuilding. The palace was given a late baroque appearance, with the exception of a classicist façade on the side of the splendid garden. Up to the second half of the eighteenth century, the building remained in the possession of the Brühl family. In 1787 it was purchased by the State Treasury and rebuilt to a design by Domenico Merlini; it was then that the palace gained its ballroom. At this time it housed the Russian embassy, and from 1809 the French embassy. After 1815 the palace became the residence of Grand Duke Constantine.
[4] This question is addressed and analysed in detail by H. F. Nowaczyk in his article ‘Czy Chopin grał w pałacu Kossowskich?', 32.
[5] F. Chopin Correspondence, ed. B. E. Sydow, vol. I, p. 117.
[6] The history of the building at 15 Krakowskie Przedmieście dates back to the beginning of the eighteenth century, when it was the mansion of E. Denhoff. Soon afterwards, the building came into the possession of the Czartoryski family, and in the mid eighteenth century it was rebuilt, gaining two side wings, the ‘corps-de-garde' pavilion, and also two new gates. This late baroque building was adorned with rococo sculptures by S. Ziesel. From 1782, to a commission from Izabela Lubomirska, née Czartoryska, the central portico was added and the interiors were given classicist decor. At the end of the eighteenth century, the building became the property of Stanisław Kostka Potocki and his wife, Aleksandra Potocka. At this time, Potocki Palace was one of the most magnificent magnatial seats in Warsaw. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a new pavilion was built in the palace courtyard as an exhibition hall. It was in this pavilion that Jan Matejko's most famous works, Hołd Pruski [The Prussian tribute] and Grunwald were placed on public display for the first time in Warsaw in an art exhibition. In 1897 W. Marconi oversaw a thorough renovation of the building, which now houses the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
[7] F. Chopin Correspondence, ed. B. E. Sydow, vol. I, p. 117.

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