Fryderyk Chopin

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The Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw is a refuge for many illustrious souls. A walk through Powązki Cemetery is an excellent history lesson, because it is not an emotionless lecture consisting of dates, dry facts, or even cause and effect continuities. It is a lesson about living people, family fates, heroism, cruelty, love, birth, and death. Among old, beautiful, ornamental tombstones overgrown with moss, surrounded by old trees, where birds sing their melodies, where man forgets that he is in the middle of a bustling city and feels as if time has stopped, there is the grave of the Chopin family. This is where the parents of the great pianist Frederick Chopin rest. The name Chopin is known across the globe, in every corner of the world where you can find a piano. To this day, there is an unofficial dispute between Poland and France about Chopin. The truth about the great virtuoso is hidden, among others, in this modest tomb in Warsaw's Powazki cemetery.

Mikołaj Chopin and Tekla Justyna Krzyżanowska met in 1802 in Żelazowa Wola and joined their fates, creating a family and a home for their children. It is said that they found understanding through music. They both took pleasure in playing and singing. Tekla played the piano and sang, while Nicholas played the flute and violin. It is hard not to mention this common hobby knowing that this marriage gave birth to one of the greatest composers of all time, but it was not only Fryderyk who devoted his life to music. Ludwika, the eldest daughter of the Chopins also composed and together with other sisters, Emilia and Izabela, published several literary works. Undoubtedly, music was a permanent guest in the Chopin household.

Before fate led Nicolas to Tekla he traveled a long way, more than 1300 km from Marainville-sur-Madon in France, where he was born as a son of wheelwright Francois. He and his family lived in the estate belonging to Michał Jan Pac of the Gozdawa coat of arms, a Polish general, marshal and chamberlain to King August III Sas. Pac was a member of the Radom Confederation and the Bar Confederation, after the fall of which he left for France, and although he was against Stanislaus Augustus for the rest of his life and protested against the partitions of Poland, he did not return to his homeland and became a landowner in Marainville-sur-Madon. The Pacs' estate was administered by a Pole, Adam Weydlich, who became friends with the Chopin family and took Nicolas under his wing. Michał Jan Pac died in 1787 and Weydlich took Nicolas Chopin with him to Poland. Chopin never returned to France and did not seek contact with her. Based on Nicolas' only surviving letter to his parents (dated September 15, 1790), we know that they initially stayed in contact, but soon the parents stopped answering Nicolas' letters. Nicolas was 16 years old when he arrived in Warsaw, and began working at the tobacco factory founded by Adam Weydlich. As a result of the Second Partition of Poland, the factory was closed down, and Nicolas, looking for an idea for himself, joined the militia as a result of the outbreak of the Kościuszko Uprising. He attained the rank of lieutenant, but left the service at the end of the uprising due to a wound he sustained.

The nineteenth century in Europe was the time of French fashion, so Nicolas Chopin born in France eventually found work as a tutor at the Łączyński home. One of his charges was Maria Łączyńska. The history of Maria's personal relationships testifies to the position of the Łączyński family. Maria became the wife of Anastazy Walewski, whose previous wife was Anna Pulaski, the sister of Casimir Pulaski. Pulaski after the participation in the Bar Confederation landed in the emerging United States of America and is credited with the creation of the local cavalry. Anastazy Walewski was the flag captain of the 1st Brigade of the Crown Cavalry and the royal chamberlain. Maria Walewska began an affair with Napoleon Bonaparte, known throughout Europe, by giving him a son, who for moral reasons was given the surname Walewski. Even after the end of the official affair, she maintained contact with Napoleon. Mikołaj Chopin worked as a tutor for the Łączyńskis (Maria had two brothers) for six years. It is said that the fact of receiving such a position despite his low birth testifies to Chopin's good education and manners.

Another home where Mikołaj educated his children was that of the Skarbek family, who were related to the Łączyński family. The Skarbek family lived in Żelazowa Wola. It was here that his paths crossed with his future wife, Tekla Justyna Krzyżanowska. Tekla was born on September 14, 1782, in Kujawy. She came to Żelazowa Wola to live with her relative Ludwika Skarbek, where she was a housekeeper. On 2 June 1806 they married in Brochów, and a year later their first daughter, Ludwika, was born. In 1810 the Chopins gave birth to their son Fryderyk, whose godfather was Fryderyk Skarbek, a Polish writer, economist and president of the Heroldia of the Kingdom of Poland. After his family grew, Nicolas took up a job as a French teacher at the Warsaw Lyceum. This entailed moving to Warsaw and living in the Saxon Palace, where the school was located. The following year another daughter was born, Izabela, and in 1812 the youngest of the Chopin siblings, Emilia.
While Nicolas was busy teaching, Tekla traveled with the children. However, in August 1835 she traveled with her husband to the Czech town of Karlsbad. This was five years after Frederick left the country. In Carlsbad Tekla saw her son for the last time.
Justyna successively buried her daughter Emilia in 1827, her husband Nicholas in 1844, her son Frederick in 1849, and her daughter Ludwika in 1855.
Emilia died as a teenager. Her mother tried to cure her daughter with stays in spas. Emilia was talented in literature, already as a child she made attempts to write dramas. She was closely related to her brother, with whom they created, among other things, a literary and entertainment society that made the surroundings more pleasant. In 1826 she helped her sister Ludwika "with the translation and adaptation to Polish conditions of a didactic novel by the German children's author Christian Gotthilf Salzmann. People who knew Emilia said that she was distinguished by her kindness and intelligence. She was most likely taken by tuberculosis. In April 1827 she was buried at Warsaw's Powązki cemetery.
Another member of the Chopin family who passed away was Nicolas. Like his wife, he spent his retirement years at the home of his daughter Izabela. Here, too, the presumed cause of death was tuberculosis, although Nicolas was 74 years old at the time of his death, and until then had enjoyed rather good health and, interestingly, full dentition. Suspicions of tuberculosis stem from a persistent cough in the last years of Nicolas' life. Old Chopin closed his eyes at around 3 p.m. on Friday, May 3, 1844, in his own bed surrounded by his loved ones. His funeral took place three days later at Powązki Cemetery. Born in France, his spirit was connected with Poland. The great events of the turn of the century took place in close proximity. The Polish-Russian War of 1792, Kosciuszko Insurrection, Third Partition of Poland, Prussian occupation, establishment of the Warsaw Duchy, Napoleon's Moscow campaign, November Uprising - this is the story of Mikołaj Chopin's life. Although he shunned radical views, and was thus suspected of caring primarily for his own peace of mind, but also of not succumbing to mass opinion, Nicolas considered Poland to be his home, his homeland, he raised his children with a feeling of love for Poland, and he considered France to be "abroad".

After her husband, Justyna Chopin said goodbye to her eldest daughter Ludwika. Ludwika is considered the godmother of Fryderyk's talent, since it was her sister who gave the maestro his first piano lessons. She herself took lessons from Wojciech Żywny, pianist to Kazimierz Sapieha (one of the signatories of the 3rd May Constitution). Later Fryderyk himself was a pupil of Żywny and dedicated to him the Polonaise in A flat major from 1821. Wojciech Żywny's grave can be found among the monuments at Warsaw's Powązki Cemetery. Ludwika was very close to her brother and taught him to read and write both Polish and French. She was his friend and Fryderyk confided in her. She was also a musician herself. She composed several mazurkas. In addition to music, she was also engrossed in writing, some of her works were written in collaboration with the sisters, and she translated the life of St. Veronica from Italian. After the end of the November Uprising she joined the Polish Ladies Patriotic Benevolent Association, which supported repressed and destitute people. The presidents of the Union were Klementyna Hoffmanowa and General Katarzyna Sowińska, two extraordinary women who marked their presence in the pages of history. Ludwika also joined the Warsaw Charity Society, where she took care of orphans and poor children. It is said that her desire to join the Society after the fall of the November Rising stemmed from the patriotic spirit living in her home. At the age of 25 she married Józef Jędrzejewicz. The couple had four children: Henryk, Ludwika, Fryderyk and Antoni. Unfortunately, Ludwika's marriage was not a successful one. Jędrzejewicz felt resentment towards the Chopin family and allegedly spread disgraceful rumours about Fryderyk. Ludwika maintained very close relations with her brother, visiting him in Paris, and letters exchanged between the siblings constitute a source for biographies of Fryderyk Chopin. She took care of her brother during his illness and was present at his death, after which she took care of the pianist's legacy. It is said that on her return to Warsaw in January 1850 she brought Fryderyk's heart and correspondence with George Sand. Apparently, fearing border controls, she hid the letters with an acquaintance in Mysłowice, who lent them to Alexandre Dumas (the younger), who gave them to Sand, who was to burn them all. Ludwika died in 1855 most probably of cholera. She was buried at Powązki Cemetery.

The Chopins' mother, Tekla Justyna, died in 1861. She was the soul of the family, she made sure that the children attended mass, went to confession or prayed, but she was not devout. Friends said that she was a very sincere, kind person, who was surrounded by love and respect. She was known for her thrift and modesty. For this reason, not many sources about Justyna have survived, but her death was a famous event. "This noble woman died on October 2, 1861, and was buried next to her husband. With quiet resignation, though evidently painful, she bore the loss of her son, husband, and daughter. She demanded that she be taken to her grave as modestly as possible, poorly dressed, for her eternal journey'. On October 4th, the funeral of Fryderyk Chopin's mother took place at Warsaw's Powązki cemetery.
Left behind was the Chopins' "middle daughter," in whose home their parents found their last haven. Izabella Chopin, like her older siblings, received piano lessons from Wojciech Żywny, but she did not show the same talent as her sister and brother. Instead, she realized herself through writing. Like Ludwika, she belonged to the Polish Ladies' Patriotic Charity Association and the Warsaw Charity Society (of the Orphans and Poor Children's Home), as well as other organizations supporting the needy. In 1834 she married Feliks Barciński (professor of mathematics). They lived in Warsaw, where they owned several properties and eventually moved to the Zamoyski Palace on Nowy Świat Street. While living there, they became participants in the tragic events of 1863, when a bomb was thrown at the tsarist governor, Fyodor Berg. The attack was unsuccessful but it had unpleasant consequences for the residents as the bomb was thrown from the Zamoyski Palace and everyone was punished. The inhabitants were arrested and their belongings thrown away and burned. This event is described in Norwid's work entitled Chopin's Piano. Among those burned by the soldiers of the Lithuanian regiment was Fryderyk's piano and other memorabilia of the pianist. Izabela enjoyed the best health in the family. On many occasions, she supported her parents and siblings by caring for them during illnesses, taking care of orphaned children and helping with organizational matters. After her death, newspapers described her as a selfless and generous person. Izabela's farewell took place on the sixth of June 1881 at Powązki Cemetery.
The story of the Chopin family shows the spirit of those times. It was a difficult time for Poland, but it created a strong sense of nationality among people who, deprived of a country on the map, built Poland in their hearts, in their homes, in their relationships, and in their achievements. They showed the world their homeland in literature and music. They were looking for a way to freedom. They tried to live in the Polish style, manifesting their internal independence.

(Translated with


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