Polish Music in Scotland, part 1 – Chopin

The way British music currently dominates the whole of Europe, if you asked a Scot about a Polish musician, they wouldn’t know what to say. But some time ago, the opposite was the case. Historically, some great Polish musicians have influenced Scotland’s high culture, and this influence remains in many ways.

Let’s start with the biggest star and his dramatic Scottish tour. Before we begin the story please play the link below, listen and be transported to the atmosphere of Scotland’s Georgian period.

 

 Frederick Chopin was one of the greatest composers, and definitely the greatest pianist, in history. As his name does not end with ‘ski’, some people would never stop to think he was Polish.

 

Plaque at 10 Warriston Crescent, Edinburgh
Plaque at 10 Warriston Crescent, Edinburgh
Jarek Gąsiorek www.edinburgh.com.pl

Frederick’s mother Tekla from Żelazowa Wola was the one who taught him how to play piano. His father Nicolas, also a musician by passion, was a Frenchman who migrated to Poland when he was a teenager. The Polish spirit, culture and language dominated the Chopin’s home. While young he was exposed to folk melodies that he later transmuted into original compositions. His famous compositions, called Polonaise (in French it simply means Polish), sourced much from the spirit of Polish folk music. George Sand, a French writer and Frederick’s lover, described him as being “more Polish than Poland”.

The Polonaise was the favourite dance in Georgian Scotland, danced by the Scottish high class in the newly built new town of Edinburgh. The Polonaise is still sometimes danced, in amazing costumes from the period, in the Georgian House Museum in Charlotte Square and also at the Scottish-Polish Cultural Association annual ball.

Chopin’s only visit to ‘this beautiful land of Walter Scott’, how he described Scotland in one of his letters, took place in 1848. That yearprompted by his Scottish pupil and admirer Jane Stirling (1), daughter of a wealthy Scottish landowner, the composer travelled to Britain. On 5 August, he took the train from London to Edinburgh, and toured around Scottish country seats like Calder House, Johnstone Castle, Milliken House, Keir, Wishaw House, Strachur and Hamilton Palace tuting and giving recitals. He also gave two big concerts in Scotland – the Merchants’ Hall in Glasgow, and the Hopetoun Rooms in Edinburgh.

Adam Łyszczyński house at 10 Warriston Crescent, Edinburgh - Jarek Gąsiorek www.edinburgh.com.pl
Adam Łyszczyński house at 10 Warriston Crescent, Edinburgh – Jarek Gąsiorek www.edinburgh.com.pl

When in Edinburgh he stayed with his friend, Polish doctor, Adam Łyszczyński (2) at 10 Warriston Crescent 26 pin. At the door number 10 you can see a plaque memorizing this occasion. Chopin composed here the only piece during his stay in Scotland. It was a song to a poem by Stefan Witwicki titled ‘Spring’ especially for Łyszczyński’s wife.

 Chopin was already very ill and weak during his Scottish tour. It’s easy to imagine his reaction to Scottish weather. He wrote in one of his letters:

“I am cross and depressed, and people bore me with their excessive attentions. I can’t breathe, I can’t work; I feel alone, alone, alone, although I am surrounded. There are a whole lot of ladies, 70 to 80 year-old lords, but no young folk: they are all out shooting. One can’t get out of doors because it has been raining and blowing for several days.”

Obviously he was not in this grim mood all the time. When he felt better, he enjoyed his celebrity status and was quite curious about Scotland.

“If the weather is fine I will stay here for October, for I have more invitations than I can reply to and life in the stately homes of grand people here is truly curious. It is something unknown on the continent. If it is fine I will go to the Duchess of Argyll … and to Lady Belhaven. She is here at the moment where there are 30 people, very beautiful, very spiritual, very original, very deaf, even an illustrious name (Sir Walpole) blind. Dresses, diamonds, pimples on noses, beautiful hair, marvellous outfits, the beauty of the devil himself, and the devil without the beauty. The last category is the least rare. Everyone is going today to Edinburgh for the Caledonian Rout. All week there will be races, amusements, balls, etc. All the nobility will be there. I look forward to some gossip.”

cudzyslowChopin was to give a concert in Edinburgh during the Caledonian Route and this took place at the Hopetown Rooms on October 4th. It was a unique occasion as not only was he the only artist in the concert, but it would seem that he played for nearly two hours, an extraordinary feat for a dying man. One can say that this Edinburgh concert was his last real performance in public.

Judging by the favourable reviews, like the dying swan, he must have given of his best, and fortunately there was an audience of connoisseurs including many of his compatriots who were well able to appreciate what they were hearing.

From then on it was a downhill path. After the concert he returned to Calder House, where Katherine Erskine, a devout Protestant, tried to convert him. In addition to his health steadily worsening, he was being driven mad by poor Jane and her sister, Katherine. He complained: My Scottish ladies won’t leave me in peace and keep coming to fetch me and drive me round their family.” (3)

Piano on which the composer played in 1848 during his stay in the home of Jane W. Stirling in Scotland, with a dated signature inside the soundbox: ‘Fr. Chopin 15 novembre 1848’. Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Kraków - www.kalejdoskop-chopin.pl
Piano on which the composer played in 1848 during his stay in the home of Jane W. Stirling in Scotland, with a dated signature inside the soundbox: ‘Fr. Chopin 15 novembre 1848’. Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Kraków – www.kalejdoskop-chopin.pl

He left Scotland at the end of October and died a year later in Paris.

Chopin’s music influenced and still influences many people around the globe. His spirit is also still present in Scotland. The Edinburgh Chopin Circle was officially constituted in 1972. The circle focuses on promoting, continuing interest in and appreciation of Frederick Chopin and his music by organising recitals and events around Scotland. The Chopin Circle was re-established in 2010 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the composer.

The 200th anniversary of Frederick Chopin’s birthday in 2010 was a great reason to celebrate his heritage and his extraordinary last tour in “the beautiful land of Walter Scott”. 2010 was officially a Chopin year in Scotland – full of grand concerts (a particularly unforgettable concert of musicians from the Academy of Music in Kraków filled the enormous St. Giles Cathedral with lovers of classical music), lectures and exhibitions. More than 150 years since his death, in the face of very different aesthetic values, interest in Chopin’s music is still alive.

A friend of Haydn and Mozart, and co-organiser of the first Edinburgh Music Festival, Feliks Janiewicz was another eminent Polish musician who actually had far more influence on Scottish cultural life than his more famous peer, Chopin. Please follow the link for more on Janiewicz.

  1. Two of his nocturnes were dedicated to Jane Stirling
  2. Adam Łyszczyński was one from the group of exiles from Poland hosted in Scotland after the fall of the November Upraise – Powstanie Listopadowe.
  3. Source  www.chopin-society.org.uk

 

Jarek Gasiorek

 

Polonika

26 pin  Adam Łyszczyński house at 10 Warriston Crescent , Edinburgh

Further reading:

Literature

“Chopin in Britain: Chopin’s visit to England and Scotland in 1837 ans 1848: people, places and activities.” Willis Peter. link

„Historia Polonii w Szkocji na przestrzeni XV-XXI Wieku: Motywy emigracji, Aspekty życia” . Magdalena Czarnecka. (POL)

Internet

www.kalejdoskop-chopin.pl

Chopin Society

Edinburgh Society of Musicians

Szkocki epizod Fryderyka Chopina – historia (POL)

 


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