20th Anniversary of the Foundation of the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute - February 3rd 2001 - Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday National Fryderyk Chopin Institute !

The National Fryderyk Chopin Institute is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Chopin and the values ​​associated with him. The rich and multi-faceted activities of the  NIFC over two decades includes, among other activities sixteen editions of the "Chopin and his Europe Festivalthanks to which Warsaw has been visited by dozens of outstanding artists such as Martha Argerich, Maria João Pires, the late Frans Brüggen, Daniil Trifonov, Alexander Melnikov, Fabio Biondi and countless others of distinguished international reputation. You will find many detailed reviews of these festivals on this blog.


As part of the publishing house run by the NIFC (books, exclusive facsimile publications, e-books, audiobooks, mobile applications and scientific journals printed and online) 165 CDs have been published in 11 series. The phonographic activity of the Institute is focused on the work of Fryderyk Chopin, but not limited to it. The recordings issued by NIFC allow not only to allow us to get to know aesthetic contexts of Chopin's works, but they also increase universal access to Polish music, including the works of composers unjustly forgotten today. A separate thread series presents the operatic legacy of Stanisław Moniuszko on historical instruments. The recordings of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute are appreciated by critics around the world and have received many prestigious awards and distinctions.

The Museum of Fryderyk Chopin's Birthplace at Żelazowa Wola and the surrounding historical park, after successful revitalization, is one of the most magnificent tourist attractions in Poland. 

Piano by John Broadwood & Sons [c.1843]
A grand piano (serial no. 16000) made by a renowned English firm whose owners introduced many improvements to the construction of both upright and grand pianos.

Originally ordered from Broadwood by Georges Wildes of Manchester. Rosewood veneered, pie-crust model. Straight-strung, composite frame with six metal stress bars. English single repetition action with over dampers. Keyboard compass of 6½ octaves; two pedals, una corda and dampers. According to company archives, twice repaired in 1855.

Fryderyk Chopin played on a similar instrument in a Gentlemen’s Concert held on 28 August 1848.

Fully restored, it has regained its original technical efficiency as a concert instrument. Purchased in 2014 by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, it now stands in the Birthplace of Fryderyk Chopin in Żelazowa Wola.

My account of Chopin's Birthday Concert at Żelazowa Wola on March 1st 2018


Since 2010, the NIFC has been responsible for the organization of the Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition. 


In 2018, the Institute expanded the competition portfolio to include another important event - the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition Chopin on Period Instruments.


National Fryderyk Chopin Official Website :  https://nifc.pl/en//

Winter at the Chopin Museum in Warsaw

As an irresistible piece of nostalgia and a small gesture of celebration, I would like to share with you my first experience of the Chopin Museum in 1992, taken from my book A Country in the Moon : Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland 

After descending from the bridge I became lost in the labyrinth of socialist concrete that led to the elegant Ostrogski Castle, the seat of the Fryderyk Chopin Society. This small Palladian palace was destroyed by the Nazis at the time of the Warsaw Uprising but was rebuilt by the communists to its courtly late seventeenth century appearance. The original architect, Tylman van Gameren of Utrecht, brought Dutch classicism to many buildings in Poland when he settled here in 1666.

The museum is devoted to Chopin, one of the greatest of composers, comparable only to those he most revered,  Mozart and Bach. ‘You are to play Mozart in my memory’ were his last words in Paris to his friends the cellist Franchomme and Princess Marcelina Czartoryska. The lower floor is devoted to Chopin's life in Poland then under Russian domination. A feeling of sick longing for his native land emanates from the rooms, his music possessing all the yearning of the exile, his lost country a phantom limb that accompanied him through life. Glass cabinets display letters, engravings, manuscripts and other memorabilia that miraculously survived the depredations of the Nazis and the Soviets. So many of his priceless autograph manuscripts, diaries, and letters have disappeared forever in the bonfires of conflict and war. Cossacks threw his piano from the window of his sister’s flat. The extreme delicacy of the manuscripts that do survive make one feel Chopin was barely a corporeal being. He likened his own writing to cobwebs.

               I climbed the marble staircase to the first floor, the walls decorated with Pompeian frescoes. Here a letter from Hector Berlioz (whose music he loathed) addressing him affectionately as ‘Chopinetto mio’, there a letter from Georges Sand (Aurore Dudevant) declaring her love - ‘On vous adore’. This first overtly feminist writer and one of the most notorious and talented women in France wore men’s clothes, vented inflammatory political opinions and smoked cigars. She both horrified and terrified Chopin at their first meeting but his later affair with her was both turbulent and productive. A copy of his famous  portrait by his close friend and confidant the painter Eugène Delacroix adorns a wall on the landing. George Sand ironically remains a shadowy unfinished figure cut from the original double portrait and framed separately.

                Small cards informed me this was the saucer belonging to the white china cup with painted scene and gilded rim from which Chopin drank chocolate during his visits to his cultured Polish patrons the Prince and Princess Czartoryski at the Hôtel Lambert in Paris. A rose had been carelessly cast on the keyboard of the Pleyel piano he had used, the tone and varied colours of the early instrument perfectly suiting the inherent intimacy of his music. ‘I indicate, the listeners must finish the picture.’

On a satin cushion lay an inscribed pocket watch given him by the famous Italian soprano Angelica Catalani following a recital given by the child prodigy at the age of 10. Displayed under glass were the letters tied with a velvet ribbon that flowed from his blighted love affair with the beautiful sixteen year-old Maria Wodzińska whom he met in Paris and planned to marry. His love was reciprocated but her parents erected barricades against this frail suitor who was so often in poor health. This package of joy and desolation was inscribed by the composer  Moja bieda (‘My misery’).

               The eloquent fourth Ballade in F-minor was playing as I moved along the cases containing plaster casts of his hands, his death mask and bunches of faded violets cast aside as if in grief. The accumulated emotion of many years of familiarity with his music affected me deeply. I recalled the glittering career of Uncle Eddie who had studied with the great French pianist Alfred Cortot in Paris and the Polish pedagogue Theodor Leschetisky in Vienna. He would have loved this museum.

               Each year the Kościół Świętego Krzyża (Holy Cross Church) is the site for a concert and ceremony to celebrate Chopin’s birth on March 1st. 1810, although there is ambiguity here, as reflected in his music, of a birth date of 22nd. February. Wreaths are laid at the plaque behind which lies the urn that contains his heart brought from Paris by his sister Ludwika Jędrzejewicz. His body was interred at the Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. It is a small and remarkably moving ceremony. Many private people move forward to lay single blooms or bunches of flowers while the organist plays a festive organ work. Two beautiful children, one a tiny three year old in a red bobble hat, laid a single tulip. This simple ceremony set the tone of nostalgia and melancholy for the day.

               After I had laid my single red rose I walked to the monumental brick Cytadela (Citadel) on Żoliborz Hill, built by the Tsarist authorities after the November Uprising of 1830 against the Russians. I wanted to immerse myself in the historical source of so much of Chopin's anguished music. Tsar Nicholas I exacted a terrible revenge for being dethroned as King of Poland. The sledges and columns of prisoners soon began to leave for Siberia. The Citadel was built high on the Vistula escarpment to intimidate Warsaw and hold thousands of political prisoners for interrogation, torture and execution. By September 1831 the Kingdom had once again fallen under the Russian yoke and a distraught Chopin wrote in his Stuttgart diary in painful, dislocated sentences

‘The suburbs in ruins - burnt down -  Jaś - Wiluś no doubt died on the ramparts - I see that Marcel has been imprisoned - Oh God, have You not had enough of Moscow's crimes – or – or – You are a Moscovite yourself! …..sometimes I only groan and express my pain on the piano - I am in despair……’.[1]

An undocumented tradition states that he wrote the  ‘Revolutionary’ Study in C-minor and the final tempestuous Prelude in D-minor while in Stuttgart after the fall of Warsaw.  Princes and nobles were humiliated and Polish officers in their thousands were exiled to the Caucasus. Intellectuals, agitators and insurrectionists were executed on the steep slopes or in the fosses of the Citadel. The spirit of fierce resistance alternating with hopeless pain and despair are the womb of Chopin's patriotic music, not the salons of Paris although later in his life they too played their part.

               It was snowing heavily and -6C as I laboured up the Żoliborz Hill through the neoclassical ‘Execution Gate’  near the site of the gallows that had stood under a broad chestnut tree. A forest of crosses on the wooded slopes marks the place where thousands suffered a miserable death, particularly following the subsequent January Uprising of 1863. After this hopeless gesture tens of thousands of young people were marched to their deaths in Siberia. The nation never recovered. Many of the leaders passed through the Wrota Iwanowskie (Death Gate) and along Death Road into the horrors of Pavilion X.

               The approach to the museum in winter is across a bleak, open area with snow-covered cannons, broken bricks and striped sentry boxes. A black wagon used for collecting prisoners around Warsaw for transport to Siberia was parked negligently at the entrance. The museum contains fascinating documents, tickets of incarceration, chessmen made of bread, prisoner's photographs (the Tsarist police would shave off half the hair, moustache and beard to mark a convict and so prevent easy concealment). So many men of brilliant intelligence and creativity perished here between 1822 and 1925. My friend Irena who is a custodian says she is distinctly aware of the metallic smell of blood in the corridors. Paintings, daguerreotypes and photographs record endless lines of tattooed, tattered prisoners - portraits of men of striking intelligence and sensibility - heading off on foot into the icy wastelands. The prisoners were forced to walk some five thousand kilometres from Warsaw to Siberia, a journey on foot that took eighteen months if you managed to survive. Wealthy families riding on a sledge might be permitted to accompany the condemned men. At the Siberian camp men were chained permanently night and day to their wheelbarrow, sleeping with this ghastly succubus and finally dying upon it. I slipped on the frozen cobbles of  Death Road.

               It was against this historical background I was to listen to a Chopin recital given by the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov. Electricity was in the air. The audience was the customary group of elderly Central Europeans with the ravages of high culture etched into their faces together along with the ubiquitous Japanese music students. The instrument was placed near the serliana under a blazing chandelier. Sokolov emerged from the artist's door and walked to the piano. He was most unprepossessing in appearance - a bearish Russian figure with rather muscular hands.

                   Within a few seconds of the impassioned opening bars of the C-minor Polonaise I knew I was in the presence of true greatness, playing of profound spiritual intensity and technical achievement. The cantabile love melody that forms the centrepiece of the work was intensely lyrical. The passionate, patriotic nature of Chopin, the revolutionary fervour carried one away. We passed through a programme of brooding extremes, from a group of mazurkas haunted by rural nostalgia to the the tragic nobility of the symphonic F-sharp minor Polonaise with its brutal, repetitive, military central section which linked me directly to the Citadel, a military snare drum approaching, passing and retreating.  He received a standing ovation and spectacular bunches of flowers (a charming tradition of all concerts in Poland). Placing them to one side of the music desk he launched into the mighty twelfth Etude from the Op.25 set. There is something frightening in his intensity, the deeply disturbing feeling of a man in touch with a pure creative force. The greatest living pianist to my mind. I stumbled out into the snow in a temperature around -10C in a daze to make my way home to the forest prison.

[1] Fryderyk Chopin : A Diary in Images Mieczysław Tomaszewski trans. Rosemary Hunt (Warsaw 1990) 92


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