Chopin in Warsaw’s Salons

by Halina Goldberg


Much has been said about Chopin’s participation in Parisian salon life, but the salons frequented by Chopin in Warsaw are given marginal mention. Yet it is in Warsaw’s salons that the young Fryderyk received his social grooming, and it is here that he met many of his future Parisian hosts or made connections that opened the doors to the most respected households of European capitals. But more significantly, he was fortunate enough to mature amidst intellectual discussions of his elders, aesthetic battles of his artistic peers, and musical experiences unattainable in public concert – stimuli for his mind and senses above and beyond the already excellent education that he had received at the gymnasium and the conservatory.

There is scant modern scholarship on salon life in Warsaw. The post-war Polish research emphasized the indebtedness of Chopin’s music to folklore and down-played the contribution of intelligentsia and aristocracy as representative of bourgeois decadence and the aristocratic abuse of wealth. Yet I have found an abundance of information about this active salon culture in diaries, letters, and journal articles. Warsaw had over forty significant salons, and direct evidence of Chopin’s musical presence can be established in most of them. These salons were just as splendid and socially refined as their counterparts in Paris or Vienna, and they sought the same level of intellectual and artistic experiences. The picture that now unfolds contradicts the accepted image of Warsaw as a cultural backwater and instead restores the Polish capital to its European status. [Author]

Chopin’s involvement with the musical world of fashionable salons is a well-known aspect of his life, as is his life-long reluctance to participate in public concert performances. In fact, the great pianist’s preference for the salon has been somewhat of an embarrassment to scholars, who have had to reconcile the allegedly “frivolous” environment of the salon with the profound music of the Polish genius.

The nineteenth-century salon has been stigmatized as light-minded, effeminate, a playground for high society in contrast to the eighteenth-century “chamber.” Whereas the classical structures and contrapuntal underpinnings of eighteenth-century chamber music were viewed as conceptual art, the improvisatory nature of salon music caused it to be perceived as superficial, sensuous, and simply inferior. Only in recent years have scholars considered the nineteenth-century salon in a meritorious light. Some have addressed the complex question of what salon music is; others have dealt with the perception of salon culture as effeminate; still others have elucidated the nationalist clash between the French and German traditions, pointing out that German scholars included Chopin in the great tradition only reluctantly because of the French and Italian contexts for his music as well as his Polish origin.[1] These and other preconceptions associated with the subject of Chopin as a salon composer have had a profoundly negative effect on the reception of his music, obscuring his contribution even to salon music itself. Therefore it is important to recognize the role that salon context played in Chopin’s music, and the profound effect Warsaw’s salons had on the young artist’s intellectual and musical development.

Although much has been said about Chopin’s participation in Parisian salon life, the salons frequented by Chopin in Warsaw are, at best, given marginal mention. This void is partially a result of political circumstances: in post-war Poland, salon culture was scorned by the communist regime as representative of bourgeois decadence and the aristocratic abuse of wealth. In addition, the Chopin literature abroad almost invariably marginalized Polish culture as a whole. Yet it is in Warsaw’s salons that the young Fryderyk made connections that opened the doors to the most respected households of European capitals. More significantly, he was fortunate enough to mature amidst intellectual discussions of his elders, aesthetic battles of his artistic peers, and musical experiences unattainable in public concert—stimuli for his mind and senses above and beyond the already excellent education that he had received at the Gymnasium and the Conservatory.

Figure 1: Antoni Orłowski’s “Waltz on Themes by Fryderyk Chopin,” published by Brzezina (Jagiellonian Library, Kraków); a typical example of fashionable publishing trends.

Despite the political situation, Warsaw remained a vibrant European city, home to an opera house, various smaller theaters, one of the earliest modern conservatories in Europe, several societies which organized concerts, musically active churches, and a spirited salon life. For a short time it even had a weekly paper devoted exclusively to music. The instrument-building industry produced ever-growing numbers of pianos, and music printers issued large quantities of fashionable salon favorites: popular songs, dances, piano arrangements, rondos, variations, and fantasies.[2] (See Fig. 1)

The salons of the Polish capital very much resembled the salons of other European cities, but the atmosphere of Warsaw’s salons was much more intensely political and national. The tradition of salon gatherings in Poland goes back to the eighteenth century when, under the influence of Mme. Geoffrin’s Parisian salon, King Stanisław August instituted Thursday Dinners in his palace. Thursday Dinners were social gatherings to which the King invited distinguished scholars and artists. The King was not just blindly copying the French model of a salon, but instead—being a man of vast knowledge—he saw it as one of the ways to encourage the growth of learning and arts in his own country. Soon, following the King’s example, a number of Warsaw’s aristocrats gathered together interesting guests in salon meetings. After the fall of sovereign Poland in 1795 and the disappearance of all official cultural institutions, the need to provide a specifically Polish venue for artistic and intellectual endeavors through gatherings in private salons became even more pronounced.

Warsaw’s salons fall into three major categories: the social salon (which gathered together family and friends, served to introduce newcomers and to provide entertainment); the intellectual/literary salon (akin to a discussion club and sometimes devoted to a specific aesthetic agenda); and the musical salon (bringing together artists and amateurs in musical performances). Naturally, the boundaries within this classification must be viewed with flexibility. For instance, several social salons exhibited truly intellectual aspirations, and in some social and literary salons music played an important role.

Typically, class divisions were very pronounced, and the aristocratic and bourgeois circles did not mingle, but social class and age considerations were overlooked in salons with a particularly strong interest in culture, learning and the arts. Thus among the participants of intellectual and musical gatherings at the homes of highly educated aristocrats, one would find artists, representatives of free professions, University and Gymnasium professors, students and new graduates of Warsaw University. Chopin had close associations with all these circles: his talent opened for him the doors of the most discriminating aristocratic salons; his educational background placed him among the young poets, literati and artists; and from his earliest childhood he mingled with the faculty of the Gymnasium and the University through his father’s professional connections.

The gatherings in the home of Chopin’s parents can be classified within the social salon category. The favorite pastimes of their Thursday meetings were card games, dancing, reading aloud and discussing of new books, conversing about music—especially Cherubini, who at the time was everybody’s favorite—and musical performances.[3] It is easy to imagine, however, that the sprit of these meetings was not quite the same as in other social salons. They involved members of the French colony, as well as University and Gymnasium professors, who were Chopin’s father’s colleagues and the Chopins’ neighbors at the Kazimierz Palace:[4]

We lived on the second floor in the wing on the right, next to the Gymnasium, which was downstairs in a building known as “Cadets Quarters,” where the public library is today. On the first floor of the same wing lived Samuel Bogumitł Linde, the rector of the Gymnasium, and Father Wojciech Szwejkowski, the rector of the Warsaw University. Downstairs were University professors [Juliusz] Kolberg, Kazimierz Brodziński and many others.”[5]

Further, Fryderyk’s uncommon musical gifts attracted Warsaw’s best musicians, both professionals and skilled amateurs. Among the musicians present one would often find Chopin’s first piano teacher Wojciech Zywny, as well as conservatory professors Elsner (his composition teacher), Jawurek and Würfel. Mikołaj Chopin’s name-day celebrations were particularly solemn and joyful occasions for Fryderyk’s musical performances: “Every year, on father’s holiday he gave a concert with the accompaniment of other instruments . . . and every year one could observe the astounding advancement of the young artist [Chopin].”[6] (The Kazimierz Palace is reproduced in Fig. 2)

Figure 2: The Kazimierz Palace; the Chopins’ apartment in the right wing (National Museum, Warsaw).

The second group of salons—the so-called intellectual or literary salons—generated much of the new ideology and aesthetics. Among the oldest of the distinctly Polish intellectual salons were the two hosted by Counts Sołtyk and Potocki. It is very possible that Chopin still might have met the elderly Sołtyk, and he most certainly would have known Potocki since as a child he performed in his distinguished home. In later years, the young composer continued to attend soirées organized after Potocki’s death by his wife, Aleksandra. He was ostensibly also well familiar with the Count’s contributions to the renewal of Polish culture, since a copy of Potocki’s celebrated 1815 treatise on rhetoric entitled On Articulation and Style, inscribed with Fryderyk Chopin’s name in the adolescent composer’s own hand, still exists in the National Museum in Kraków.[7] The salons of Sołtyk and Potocki witnessed the birth of several projects aimed at the preservation of Polish culture and fostered the creation of a number of important institutions: most significantly Warsaw University, later attended by Chopin, and the Society for the Friends of Learning, which gathered Warsaw’s most prominent scholars, scientists, artists and thinkers; provided the most important forum for discussion; and facilitated the dissemination of new ideas—scientific, humanistic, aesthetic, literary and musical.

Similarly, in the years 1815-19, a group of amateur literati—including several erudite women—gathered for meetings in various homes to read their works and take turns preparing theater reviews, which they published and signed X, hence they were known as the Society of Exes. The principal members of the Society included the founder of the society, Minister of the Interior and the Police, Tadeusz Mostowski, as well as Prince Adam Czartoryski, General Krasiński, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, the Plater brothers, Maksymilian Fredro, Kajetan Koźmian, and ladies versed in literary matters—Princess Würtemberg, Róża Mostowska, and Zofia Zamoyska.[8] Their gatherings provided a forum for lively debates on current literary issues and during some of these meetings the works of Romantic poets were read. When this happened, young Romantics (Chopin among them) were invited to participate in literary and aesthetic discussion.[9]

Chopin had many contacts with members of the Society of Exes. He performed for the Mostowskis as a child, [10] and the youngest one of the Mostowski children, Róża, is said to have been Chopin’s pupil.[11] A confirmation of a continuing relationship with Miss Mostowska comes from Chopin himself, who inscribed his Mazurkas op. 33, composed in 1838: A Mademoiselle la Comtesse Rose Mostowska. A few years earlier Chopin dedicated the Mazurkas op. 6 to another young Polish gentlewoman who studied with him in Paris, Paulina Plater: the daughter of Ludwig Plater, who helped Chopin greatly during his first days in the French capital.[12] Fryderyk was also well-acquainted with Kajetan Koźmian, whose sons were his colleagues at the Gymnasium. One of them remembered the young virtuoso’s visits at the Koźmian home in his memoirs: “Frequently I brought him to holiday dinners at my parents’; already then he amazed everybody with his extraordinary gift and through his politeness and good heart won approbation.”[13]

The most pleasant and cheerful gatherings in the circle of the Society of Exes were hosted by General Krasiński. Often, the meetings in his house ensued after Professor Osiński’s lectures:

From the time when Osiński began his literature class in the University building and every Saturday gave lectures between 3 and 4, straight after the lecture, the society—including Osiński—gathered in the house of General Krasiński for dinner. How much learning, amusement and cheer accompanied these gatherings, for the host—an enthusiast of learning and literature—was gracious, generous, cheerful and witty; he encouraged and permitted good humor.[14]

Since it is likely that during the years 1826-28 Chopin attended Professor Osiński’s lectures, he might have spent some Saturday afternoons in this choice company. Here, he would have found the older generation of writers and poets Niemcewicz, Osiński, Koźmian and Fredro; scholars and university professors Linde, Lelewel, Bentkowski, Brodziński, Ciampi, and Szubert; and the young writers and poets Korzeniowski, Odyniec, and Grzymała.[15] The jewel of these meetings was the General’s son, the young Count Zygmunt Krasiński, who was to become one of the most important Polish Romantic poets.

Gatherings in literary salons provided a forum for lively debates on current literary issues. Whereas some guests defended classical values, others were open to the new German and English Romantic ideas. The most prominent family to foster the new aesthetic values were the Czartoryskis, led by the matriarchal Izabela, who already in the 1780s rebelled against the prevalent neo-classical attitudes: she kept a common-book containing mediaeval poetry and myths; had English gardens and gothic structures designed for her estate; and collected historic memorabilia, priceless artwork, and precious books.[16]

Chopin’s path frequently intersected with the Czartoryskis and the related Zamoyskis: he played in their salons in Warsaw, was a frequent guest in Hôtel Lambert in Paris—where Prince Adam Czartoryski, the cultural and political leader of the Parisian émigré community, gathered Polish exiles—and dedicated several works to the members of these families. For instance, his Mazurkas op. 30 are inscribed to Izabela’s daughter, Princess Maria Würtemberg (member of the Society of Exes) and his Rondo á la Krakowiak in F Major, op. 14 bears the name of Anna Czartoryska, née Sapieha, the wife of Prince Adam. One of Chopin’s most talented pupils, said to have had a pianistic style closest to that the master, was Marcelina Czartoryska—married to Izabela’s grandson.

Another one of the Czartoryski children, Zofia (member of the Society of Exes), and her husband Stanisław Kostka Zamoyski kept a famous literary salon in the Azure Palace, to which they invited high officials, members of the social elite, literati, journalists and musicians. Chopin was first invited to this refined home as a child, [17] and he visited it frequently in later years: “… Sunday, today a week ago, I was at the Zamoyskis, where almost the entire evening they admired Długosz’s eolipantalion.”[18]

Under the Zamoyskis, the Azure Palace housed several literary and cultural establishments and a number of outstanding young people were invited to live there: including the realist writer Józef Korzeniewski, the Italian painter Luigi Rubio, the poet Antoni Edward Odyniec, and the writer Klementyna Tańska.[19] Among the works read and discussed during literary meetings at the Zamoyskis and in other salons, the most provocative were the fiery poems of Adam Mickiewicz—the revered bard of Polish Romanticism, whose ballads are said to have influenced Chopin’s compositions and whose poems Chopin set to music. (The Zamoyski Palace is reproduced in Fig. 3)

Figure 3: A lithograph of the Zamoyski Palace, where Izabela Czartoryska’s daughter Zofia hosted literary meetings (National Library, Warsaw).

The roots of Polish Romanticism can be traced as far back as the 1780s, but during the first years after the Vienna Congress, with the publication of Franciszek Wężyk’s first articles on Romanticism, the new aesthetic tendencies became more common and pronounced. The most influential declaration of the new style arrived in Mickiewicz’s response to the 1818 attack on Romanticism published by Jan Śniadecki, mathematician and philosopher at the Warsaw University. The young bard replied to Śniadecki with a poem entitled “Romanticism,” which encapsulated the Romantic aesthetics in the words:

Feeling and faith speak to me more strongly
Than a wise man’s looking glass and eye.

The poem’s closing line, “have heart and look into the heart,” became a Romantic manifesto opening and closing every conversation about Polish poetry.[20]

Mickiewicz’s poems were saturated with new aesthetic and moral values, as well as revolutionary language. The young intelligentsia responded to these works with great enthusiasm and delighted in their subtle political undertones. Mickiewicz and his followers defended their vision of art and all of Warsaw’s youth were captured in the whirl of new ideas—”… Everything that breathed of novelty and audacity was sought after and gladly accepted.”[21] Andrzej E. Koźmian, Chopin’s older colleague at the Gymnasium and the University, summarizes these emotions in his memoirs:

Today, this unconditional adoration of the entire youth for the author of Forefathers’ Eve [Mickiewicz] can be easily explained and understood; already then he had sung his hurrahs and the apotheosis of youth. This admirer of Youth conquered all young people by indulging their tempestuous nature; prophesying that the Leyden jar was about to explode, he became their leader and worshipped bard.[22]

After the publication of Mickiewicz’s Romantic works in 1822, the quiet discussions between representatives of the Classic and Romantic schools of thought transformed into an open conflict, which lasted until 1830. Some more progressive members of the Society for the Friends of Learning made efforts to create a middle ground between the battling parties, but the tensions were unmistakable.

Chopin was right in the midst of the debate, living among the Gymnasium and University professors, artists, musicians, poets and cultural activists of the older generation on the one side, and the enthusiastic, fervent Gymnasium, University and Conservatory students, young poets and influential young teachers on the other. Many among the Romantic poets were Chopin’s close friends: Antoni Edward Odyniec, a poet, a writer, and a translator of Byron; the poets Konstanty Gaszyński and Bohdan Zaleski, both of whom settled in France after the fall of the November Uprising; Stefan Witwicki whose verses Chopin set to music; and Dominik Magnuszewski, a writer, a translator of Hugo, and the main representative of Romantic expressionism in Polish literature.[23]Within this intimate circle were also two pianists: Julian Fontana, who remained among Chopin’s closest friends during the years of common exile in Paris, and Maurycy Mochnacki—one of the first Polish music critics who wrote some of the best-known reviews of Chopin’s early concerts.[24]

Chopin often spent evenings with his friends and during these meetings he was usually asked to improvise. He would draw hours of improvisation from a single song. After that, the dreamy improviser took turns with Fontana playing joyful mazurs, polkas and waltzes for everybody to dance.[25] Chopin was welcomed to his peers’ gatherings not only for his wit, charm and learning, but more importantly because his presence was recognized as pivotal in the articulation of Polish musical Romanticism and rewarded with utter admiration for his genius:

It was a time of Romantic awakening in literature, and music did not hesitate to pursue its sister, poetry, which boldly hastened toward the zenith of its excellence. Nourished by such forces of nature, as inspired as the most superb bards of the time, to whose thoughts and feelings he tuned his lyre, Chopin emerged, the coryphaeus and representative of this musical epoch, though devoted exclusively to the piano.[26]

Like his literati friends, Chopin sought new, free forms of expression and turned to poetry, literature, and folklore for inspiration. For instance, already in 1829 he composed song-settings of Romantic poems by his peers, which very quickly traveled through the country and gained tremendous popularity.[27] Novel melodic and harmonic vocabulary and the preference for typically Romantic genres were undoubtedly already present in many of his works from the Warsaw period. So were the particularly Polish characteristics of his style:

Chopin—then cheerful and young—whom we all called Szopenek [diminutive of Szopen], played for us his marvelous pieces. Equipped with genius mind—quick, witty and sensitive—he frolicked with the art, mastered it and captivated listeners with the natural abundance of his Polish rhythm and melody.[28]

The Polishness of Chopin’s music was of utmost significance to the young Romantics: given the tragic political circumstances of the enslaved nation, Romantic ideology became both the means to recapture the heroic past and the prelude to a future armed revolt. These young people, who barely remembered past events, grew up among stories about the splendor of old Poland and the brave deeds of Polish soldiers. They readily assimilated these memories and the national pride into their creative work and made them integral to Polish Romanticism. Echoes of these stories, as well as Polish musical genres and patriotic songs, continued to reverberate in Chopin’s music long after he left Poland, defining the very soul of his art.

While most of Warsaw’s gatherings invited some kind of musical entertainment, the salons from the third group—the musical salons—were devoted primarily to serious performance.

In the first part of the nineteenth century, Warsaw had about a dozen musical salons. The social standing of Warsaw’s musical homes varied: the Cichockis were of lesser nobility and Kessler was a pianist; of the others the Jabłonowskis were of the highest aristocracy, Sauvan and Wolff [29] were medical doctors, Ludwika Linde was married to a prominent University professor, and the Wołowskis[30] were wealthy brewers. What they shared was the aspiration to experience fine music (The Jabłonowski salon is reproduced in Fig. 4).

Figure 4: The salon of Princess Teresa and Prince Maksymilian Jabłonowski where musical evenings were held (National Museum, Warsaw).

Chopin was involved with many musical salons: he is known to have attended soirées held by the Sauvans, the Cichockis, Kessler, Soliva, and Mrs. Linde—a friend and a neighbor of the Chopins, to whom Fryderyk dedicated his Rondo in C Minor, op. 1. (See Fig. 5)

Figure 5: Fryderyk Chopin’s Rondeau op. 1, dedicated to Mme. Linde, who hosted a musical salon. First edition published by Brzezina (Chopin Society, Warsaw).

There is also indirect evidence of the young composer’s participation in other musical gatherings. The most significant, however, were his visits in the homes of the Cichockis and Kessler.

“Mann von Geist und sogar poetischen Geist,” as Robert Schumann called him, Kessler spent many years in Poland.[31] He arrived in Warsaw in 1829, hoping to settle there as a piano teacher, and, after giving numerous concerts, he quickly became known in the local musical circles. The Austrian was especially fond of Chopin; they often met, played together and spoke much about art and music. Chopin frequented Kessler’s Friday soirées, where Warsaw’s best musicians, professionals and amateurs, gathered for “quartets” and made music impromptu—without a pre-arranged program.[32]

It is at Kessler’s that Chopin heard Spohr’s Otteto, which he thought incredibly beautiful.[33] On other occasions he witnessed performances of Ries’ Concerto in C sharp Minor (in “quartet” version), Hummel’s Trio in E Major (piano, viola and cello), Prince Ferdinand’s Quatuor (which contemporaries incorrectly suspected to be the work of Dussek), and Beethoven’s last Trio [“Archduke,” in B flat Major, op. 97], which left Chopin completely dumbfounded: “… It’s a long time since I heard something equally great; there Beethoven mocks the whole world.”[34]

In Kessler’s home Chopin had not only the opportunity to become acquainted with great works of music, but also the chance to share his experiences with other musicians and to learn from them. Apparently, he also learned a great deal from Kessler, who was a composer of nocturnes, variations, preludes, bagatelles and etudes highly valued by his contemporaries. Since Kessler’s etudes are technically quite complex and stylistically stand between Hummel and Chopin, one must consider their relationship to Chopin’s oeuvre, especially to the earlier etudes from op. 10 which were composed while Chopin kept company with Kessler. Perhaps Chopin’s greatest tribute to Kessler is the dedication of the autograph manuscript and the first German edition of Preludes op. 28 to him. It demonstrates that nearly a decade after his departure from Warsaw, Chopin still felt it important to reciprocate for the Twenty-Four Preludes that Kessler had dedicated to him and to acknowledge the brief but profound friendship with the Austrian composer.

A warm relationship also appears to have existed between Chopin and the Cichockis, who were great proponents of his talent: in the archives of the Warsaw Music Society, there is a manuscript of flute variations on Rossini’s La cenerentola attributed to Chopin and bearing a dedication from Chopin to Cichocki. This work is not well known, mainly because of questions concerning its authorship, but also because the accompaniment is so flawed—possibly a reconstruction executed by a poor composer. Fryderyk thus describes an evening spent at Cichocki’s apartment:

Yesterday I was at Cichocki’s, the heavy fellow’s, for his name-day celebration. I played in Spohr’s Quintetto for piano, clarinet, bassoon, French horn and flute. Most beautiful. But terribly uncomfortable for the hand; everything that he deliberately wanted to write as a display for the piano is insurmountably difficult and often it is impossible to find fingerings…[35]

Count Cichocki was an extraordinary figure: an amateur flutist, an organizer of public musical life, a musical journalist, an arranger, a music historian and a musical benefactor. His most noticeable organizational achievements were connected with the Merchant Club, where he instituted weekly chamber concerts, engaged a permanent string quartet, and established a choir to make possible the performances of large choral works. He was a dedicated patron of musicians, and his effort was crucial to the creation and operations of the Society for the Assistance for Destitute Musicians and Their Widows and Orphans. Cichocki also collected old manuscripts, and perhaps his greatest contribution to music history was his publication of Polish Renaissance and Baroque compositions in modern transcription. In addition to being an editor of a musical journal, he often wrote reviews and articles about music, including a well-known article in which he compared Chopin to Mozart and called for more performances by the young virtuoso.

Cichocki and his wife Anna, who was a pianist and a singer, kept “Musical Mondays” gathering Polish and foreign musicians, critics and literati:

… He gathered not only local, but also foreign artists. There, visiting guests gave their first performances; there was formed the opinion about the abilities and talents of musical artists—opinion gained in this artistic circle was a guarantee of public success. Visiting celebrities: Henselt, Servais, Perelli, Nicolai, and many others, also performed in this home. It was, I would say, the musical heart of all Warsaw, and the famous Mondays gathered and united nearly all talents—literary and scholastic luminaries and generally people of distinction in the fields of the arts and sciences or of other personal merits.[36]

Warsaw had plenty of local musicians—professionals and skilled amateurs—to organize salon performances. These included the older generation of musicians and the young professionals, as well as students and new graduates of the Warsaw Conservatory. In some cases entire families participated either as professionals or as amateurs. In addition to local talent, visits of renowned Polish artists in between European engagements, performances of foreign virtuosi, and appearances of touring Wunderkinder added zest to private concerts.

Appearances in the most influential households and the more reputable musical salons would frequently precede public performances. For some the reputation gained in a private setting could open the doors to a public concert. Thus it was common for an artist first to be heard in salons and to make many more private than public appearances.

Naturally, salons welcomed artists of great acclaim who needed no endorsement. Paër, Rode, Steibelt, Cherubini, Spontini, Dussek, and many others are reported to have performed in Warsaw’s salons. At the turn of 1819, the famous singer, Francesca Catalani, visited Warsaw. Chopin met her in the salon of her relative, Konstanty Wolicki. It was here that the young virtuoso was heard by her: a performance for which the highly impressed diva awarded him with a golden watch adorned by an engraved dedication which read:

Mme Catalani
à Frédéric Chopin
agé de 10 Ans
à Varsovie
le 3 Janvier 1820.

In the late 1820s the most memorable salon concerts were the private appearances of Niccolò Paganini, the world-famous Polish violinist Karol Lipiński, Anne Caroline de Belleville (an excellent pianist), and the renowned singer Henrietta Sonntag. (See the likeness of Paganini from the time of his visit in Poland, Fig. 6).

Figure 6: Niccolò Paganini on the cover of an arrangement of his composition made and published by Karol Magnus after the virtuoso’s visit in Warsaw (Jagiellonian Library, Kraków).

From various sources we learn about the nature of music performed during typical musical soirées. The guests would hear chamber performances, vocal and instrumental soloists, or solo piano recitals. The piano was an unquestionable star of Warsaw’s salons, but the salons of musical connoisseurs also invited chamber performances. As we learn from a contemporary source:

The so-called quartets are the most pleasant chamber music. In a short time the taste for this kind of music became so popular in Poland, and especially Galicia, that in every significant household one would be entertained by quartets….[37]

The term “quartets,” however, was used in the first half of the nineteenth century to denote more than just an ensemble of four instruments. It designated chamber music in general, and it also described salon-size ensembles performing orchestral music:

Muzyka kammerowa—from musica da cammera—is not the most descriptive term: firstly because it is a foreign expression, secondly since it does not differentiate this kind of music from concert salon music, which has as its purpose an opportunity for display of individual instruments. Quartet music does not just include a quartet of four instruments but also quintets, sextets, duets, tercets, quartets and quintets with the piano, flute or other wind instruments and pieces for seven or eight instruments.[38]

Such tradition was not just limited to Poland. Elsewhere in Europe, hundreds of chamber arrangements were published: works by contemporaries and composers of past eras featuring the piano and other instruments. Some of them were labeled quartet or quintet, while others called for additional instruments. Many were not just arrangements of simple orchestral accompaniments to solo virtuoso works, but rather transcriptions of overtures and symphonies.

Nineteenth-century sources make it clear that while quartet/quintet performances of orchestral works (or works with the orchestra) were very much a part of the early nineteenth-century tradition, the ensemble size was by no means fixed: on occasion, quartet instruments were doubled and a double bass was added resulting in a nonet performance; in other instances, obbligato or ad libitumwinds would be included in the transcription; yet another option was to work out of the full score, but to use a reduced orchestra of about twelve members.

It typically consisted of four violins, viola, cello, flute, two oboes or clarinets, two French horns and a bassoon. Such ensemble was deemed inappropriate for large performing spaces but perfect for salons, although it required good performers who could control and balance their sound.[39] (See Fig. 7 for a contemporaneous illustration)

Figure 7: A lithograph by R. Babajev features a chamber orchestra similar to the one described here. Lithograph held in Central State Museum of Musical Culture (Moscow), reproduced after Musikgeschichte im Bildern: Konzert, vol. 4 no. 2.

The performance of the Ries concerto at Kessler’s salon (described by Chopin in a letter) and the rehearsals of Chopin’s concertos must have featured a comparable performing group.[40] According to the press, on March 3, 1830, the young virtuoso performed the Concerto in F Minor and the Fantasia on Polish Themes with the accompaniment of a reduced orchestra, in front of a gathering of musicians and music lovers, in preparation for his performance at the National Theater. [41] A similar rehearsal of the Concerto in E Minor happened on September 22 of the same year and Fryderyk commented:

Already this week I am to rehearse the entire [E-Minor] Concerto in quartet, so that at first this quartet can communicate with me—get accustomed a bit—without which, says Elsner, an orchestral rehearsal would not proceed smoothly.[42]

The benefits of such rehearsal to the performer and the conductor are apparent, but Chopin says clearly that the intention is for the orchestra to become acquainted with the work. If we keep in mind that the term “quartet” denotes more than the customary four string instruments, it makes perfect sense that the orchestral rehearsal would be more efficient after the leaders of each section had an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the composition in a “quartet” reading.

The implications of recognizing the existence of these widely spread practices are far-reaching. Firstly, the adventurous pianists who are nowadays performing and recording chamber versions of the Chopin concerti may want to investigate the other ensemble options available to them. Secondly, Chopin’s orchestration choices may be better understood within the context of this rather fluid notion of orchestral sonority. Thirdly, our perception of the nineteenth century audiences as learning orchestral music almost exclusively through the medium of a piano transcription needs to be revisited. Especially since chamber versions were not destined for the salon only—for “quartets” accompanied also public concerts when a decent orchestra was not available.[43] The cognizance of such tradition helps us realize that there were generations of listeners who came to know concerti, symphonies and other orchestral works through the medium of a chamber ensemble transcription: the closest to the original and the most democratic vehicle for the dissemination of orchestral music before the advent of the phonograph.

Because of the trend for hosting musical soirées, Chopin was able to reap the benefits of participating in frequent music-making sessions with experienced elders and peers in an environment free of the public concert spectacle. Perhaps nothing captures the intimate, unpretentious atmosphere of a connoisseur salon better than an article sent to a Warsaw newspaper during Paganini’s visit to the Polish capital in 1829. It describes this acrobat of the concert stage in a stunningly unexpected role of a lyrical chamber musician during a private performance:

Whereas in public concerts this great virtuoso amazes with fluency, overcoming extraordinary difficulties and bringing heretofore unknown sounds out of the instrument, in quartets a new [experience], almost ecstasy, intoxicates the senses of the listener. [Unlike in concert], he does not try to impress the general audience with the use of means known to him only, but plays without additions, with a moving simplicity and ease typical of himself, yet he amazes and touches.[44]

Such a description and others like it indicate that the nineteenth-century salon should be viewed more as a continuation of the eighteenth-century chamber. Whereas the concert stage presented the public persona—the artist for the broader audience, the salon was a home of the private artist performing with and for other musicians and educated amateurs. One of Chopin’s acquaintances stated:

Chopin did not like to perform in public. Although he could bring forth from the piano a powerful and ringing sound, his playing was too learned and did not make an impression in a big room. Since he deeply felt the music and liked tender melodies, he was better understood in a small circle.[45]

In the same vein, Chopin was reported instructing a student: “concerts are never real music; you have to give up the idea of hearing in them the most beautiful things of art.”[46] Based on that and other evidence, maybe it is high time to recognize that Chopin chose the salon over the concert stage precisely because it was the better forum for a serious musician and for sophisticated compositions, a place that nurtured him into his intellectual and musical maturity.



[1]. Most notable are the extensive studies of the German salon tradition by Andreas Ballstaedt and Tobias Widmaier, Salonmusik: zur Geschichte und Funktion einer bürgerlichen Musikpraxis(Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 1989); Wilhelm Gradenwitz, Literatur und Musik im geselligen Kreise: Geschmackbildung, Gesprächstoff und musikalische Unterhaltung in der bürgerlichen Salongesellschaft (Stuttgart, 1991); and Petra Wilhelmy, Der Berliner Salon im 19. Jahrhundert: 1780-1914 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1989). Issues pertaining to Chopin and the salon context have been addressed by Andreas Ballstaedt “Chopin as Salon Composer,” in Chopin Studies 2, eds. John Rink and Jim Samson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); and Jeffrey Kallberg, “Small Fairy Voices: Sex, History and Meaning in Chopin,” in Chopin Studies 2 and idem, Chopin at the Boundaries; Sex, History, and Musical Genre (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996). [Back]

[2]. For extensive discussion of Warsaw’s musical life see Halina Goldberg, Musical Life in Warsaw During Chopin’s Youth, 1810-1830 (Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1997) and idem, Music in Chopin’s Warsaw (forthcoming, Oxford University Press). [Back]

[3]. Ferdynand Hoesick, Chopin, 2 vols. (Warszawa: Hoesick, 1927), 1: 65-67. [Back]

[4]. Later they moved across the street to the Krasiński Palace. [Back]

[5]. Ferdynand Hoesick, “From Marylski’s Memoirs” in Słowacki and Chopin (Warszawa: Trzaska, Evert i Michalski, 1932), 1:90. [Back]

[6]. Andrzej E. Koźmian, Memoirs, 2 vols (Poznan: Letgeber, 1867); 1: 210. [Back]

[7]. Krystyna Kobylańska, Chopin in His Land: Documents and Souvenirs (Kraków: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1955), 53. [Back]

[8]. In Warsaw, as elsewhere in Europe, women held a particularly significant position in the salon culture. It is significant that the salon was not just a place for young ladies to show off their talents to potential suitors, but also it was a perfect outlet for more aspiring women. Warsaw had a myriad of erudite, talented hostesses involved with literature, poetry, theater, music, fine arts, politics, social issues, historical projects, etc. A few extraordinary women were able to nurture their talents beyond the requirements of good breeding. In music the most famous was certainly Maria Szymanowska, nominated the Imperial Court Pianist by Czar Alexander. Chopin was among the many great musicians who admired her pianistic skill; her talent, erudition, and beauty captivated the whole European artistic elite, including the great poets Goethe and Mickiewicz. [Back]

[9]. Stanisław Koźmian, Przegląd Polski, June 1885, quoted in Kobylańska, Chopin in His Land, 232. [Back]

[10]. Hoesick, Chopin, 1:52. Although Mostowski did deny Mikołaj Chopin’s application for a grant supporting Fryderyk’s foreign education, he was no enemy of the musical art—the Mostowskis even hosted musical performances. Kajetan Koźmian, Memoirs, (Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Ossolińskich, 1972), 3: 208-09. The Minister’s cold refusal to assist Chopin is even more surprising in light of his acquaintance with the young composer’s singular talent. [Back]

[11]. Ferdynand Hoesick, “Warsaw Luminaries as Chopin’s Friends and Acquaintances” in Warsaw: Loose Leaves from the Past of the Mermaid City (Poznań: Księgarnia Ś w. Wojciecha, 1920), 303. [Back]

[12]. Albert Sowiński, Dictionary of Polish Musicians Old and Modern (Paris: Księgarnia Luxemburska, 1874), 55. [Back]

[13]. Andrzej E. Koźmian, Memoirs, 1:210. [Back]

[14]. Ibidem, 2: 21. [Back]

[15]. Andrzej E. Koźmian, “Images of Warsaw’s Socialites,” Przegląd poznański 24 (1857): 20-21. [Back]

[16]. Count Ludwik Dębicki, Puławy (1762-1830); A Monograph on Social, Political and Literary Life Based on the Princes’ Czartoryski Archives in Cracow, 4 vols. (Lwów: Gubrynowicz i Schmidt, 1888), 4: 100; and ibid, 1: 254-78. [Back]

[17]. Hoesick, Chopin, 1: 52. [Back]

[18]. Fryderyk Chopin, Warsaw, Jan Białobłocki, Sokołów, [15 May 1826], in Correspondence of Fryderyk Chopin, 2 vols., collected and edited by Bronisław Edward Sydow (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1955), 1: 65. Eolipantalion: a newly-invented Polish ancestor of the harmonium, very popular during the 1820s. Chopin often performed at the eolipantalionand even composed for it (the works are no longer extant). [Back]

[19]. The admiration Chopin’s sisters had for Klementyna Tańska can be intimated from his letter. Fryderyk Chopin, Vienna, to his family, Warsaw, 1 August 1829, Sydow edition, 1:89. Tańska wrote for adults and for children, books and articles, but the purity of the Polish language remained of utmost importance to her. Her magazine Diversions for Children was conceived to inspire writing, and it was especially loved by little Emilia Chopin—a child with uncommon literary talents. In her journal, Tańska with affection wrote about the Chopins and when Emilia died, she published a lengthy eulogy. She maintained contact with Fryderyk in Paris, where she settled after her brave involvement with the November Uprising. [Back]

[20]. Kazimierz Wójcicki, Warsaw, Its Literary and Intellectual Life 1800-1830 (Warszawa: Gebethner i Wolff, 1880), 174-77. [Back]

[21]. Andrzej E. Koźmian, Memoirs 2: 68. [Back]

[22]. Ibidem, 2: 47. [Back]

[23]. Zaleski was the poet of several of Chopin’s songs. In Paris, Zaleski married Chopin’s pupil Zofia Rosengardt, who came from Warsaw to study with Chopin. Zaleski must have been very close to the Chopins since at the end of his life, in 1882, he sent a letter from France asking for help in recovering “my papers once left in Warsaw with Chopin’s sisters.” “Józef Bogdan Zaleski” in Kronika rodzinna (1886), 228. [Back]

[24]. Mochnacki is most remembered as a revolutionary and a historian of the November Uprising (several of Chopin’s close friends were very active in the conspiracy that led to the Uprising—Mochnacki was at the very heart of the plot). He also distinguished himself as a writer and a journalist, who in the years 1825-1830 wrote many superb articles in the daily press. He involved himself with the public dispute between the Romantics and the Classicists, eloquently advancing the Romantic cause. Drawing on his vast knowledge of aesthetics, metaphysics, and literary and cultural history, he defended Brodziński, Mickiewicz, Zaleski and Witwicki. [Back]

[25]. Anna Wóycicka, “Fryderyk Chopin’s Farewell Evening” Pion (1934), 24: 1-2. [Back]

[26]. Oskar Kolberg, Music Writings (Wrocław: Polskie Towarzystwo Ludoznawcze, 1961-1990), 62: 379. [Back]

[27]. Wójcicki, Warsaw, 168. [Back]

[28]. Hoesick, Chopin, 1: 243. [Back]

[29]. Józef and Eleonora Wolff were the parents of Edward Wolff, who became a prominent pianist in Paris, and the grandparents of Poland’s most famous nineteenth-century violinist, Henryk Wieniawski. [Back]

[30]. The Wołowskis were parents of the above-mentioned famous virtuosa Maria Szymanowska. [Back]

[31]. Riemann Musik Lexikon, Personenteil, 1:917; and F. Pyllemann, Algemeine musikalische Zeitung, 1872, no. 12. [Back]

[32]. Fryderyk Chopin, Warsaw, to Tytus Woyciechowski, Poturzyn, 20 October 1829, Sydow edition, 1:110. [Back]

[33]. Fryderyk Chopin, Warsaw, to Tytus Woyciechowski, Poturzyn, 3 October [1]829, Sydow edition, 1:108. [Back]

[34]. Fryderyk Chopin, Warsaw, Tytus Woyciechowski, Poturzyn, 20 October 1829, Sydow edition, 1:110. [Back]

[35]. Fryderyk Chopin, Warsaw, to Tytus Woyciechowski, Poturzyn, 18 September 1830, Sydow edition, 1: 139. [Back]

[36]. Bronisław Dobrzyński, Ignacy Dobrzyński in the Arena of Activities Aiming at Musical Progress During His Time (Warszawa: Felicyia Krokoszyńska, 1893), 29-30. [Back]

[37]. Łukasz Gołębiowski, Games and Amusements of Various Classes (Warszawa: Glücksberg, 1831), 255. [Back]

[38]. Ruch Muzyczny (March 1861) 165-66. Fr. Stevich from Puławy. [Back]

[39]. Tygodnik muzyczny i dramatyczny 7 (23 May 1821):26. [Back]

[40]. Fryderyk Chopin, Warsaw, to Tytus Woyciechowski, Poturzyn, 20 October 1829 in Correspondence, Sydow edition, 1: 110. [Back]

[41]. Kurier Warszawski (5 March 1830) no. 62, quoted in Kobylańska, Chopin, 293. [Back]

[42]. Fryderyk Chopin, Warsaw, to Tytus Woyciechowski, Poturzyn, 31 August 1830, Sydow edition, 1: 132. [Back]

[43]. Józef Sikorski, “Wspomnienie koncertowe,” Biblioteka Warszawska (1845) 1: 361. [Back]

[44]. Kurier warszawski (18 July 1829) no. 189: 848. [Back]

[45]. Sowiński, 53. [Back]

[46]. Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, Chopin: Pianist and Teacher as Seen by his Pupils, translated by Naomi Shohet, Krysia Osostowicz and Roy Howat (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 5. [Back]



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  • Eigeldinger, Jean-Jacques. Chopin: Pianist and Teacher as Seen by his Pupils, translated by Naomi Shohet, Krysia Osostowicz and Roy Howat. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
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Halina Goldberg currently serves as Visiting Assistant Professor at Indiana University. She studied musicology at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Her dissertation on Musical Life in Warsaw During Chopin’s Youth, 1810-1830 completed in 1997 will provide the basis for her book on Music in Chopin’s Warsaw forthcoming from Oxford University Press. Her latest articles include “Chopin in Literary Salons and Warsaw’s Romantic Awakening,” published in The Polish Review, and contributions on “Chopin-biography,” “Chopin-works,” and “19th-Century Ornamentation” to Reader’s Guide to Music: History, Theory and Criticism. She has presented papers at the national meetings of the American Musicological Society, the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America, and other organizations. This fall, at the 2nd Chopin’s Congress in Warsaw, she read a paper on salon arrangements of Chopin’s works with the orchestra. She has been invited to speak at the Smithsonian and, most recently, gave a talk at Mannes College of Music entitled “The Prophetic Voice in Chopin’s Music.” Her radio interviews include WETA in Washington, D.C. and Warsaw 2 in Poland. She also was an invited speaker at the 1998 international conference on “Polish/Jewish/Music!” held at the PMRC, USC School of Music, November 1998. Dr. Goldberg served as the main organizer of “The Age of Chopin: A Sesquicentennial Chopin Symposium,” a series of interdisciplinary symposia and period concerts held at the University of Indiana in Bloomington in September 1999. The paper published in this issue of the Polish Music Journal was awarded the 1998 Wilk Prize for Research in Polish Music (professional category).