Born on this day in 1810, March 1st marks what would have been Fryderyk Chopin’s 213th birthday – in tribute, join us for a look at the iconic monument dedicated to the composer.
First unveiled on November 14th, 1926, the Chopin monument had been years in the planning – as early as 1889, members of the Warsaw Musical Society had discussed such a memorial to mark the 40th anniversary of the composer’s death, and in 1901 Tsar Nicholas II bent to the growing clamour for a monument after the Polish opera singer Adelajda Brocholska personally appealed to him following a performance in St. Petersburg.
The Tsar ceded to her appeal but is said to have imposed a cap of 100,000 roubles on the cost of the monument’s construction – moreover, he ordered a ban on any advertisements promoting the collection of funds in case they turned spurred anti-Tsarist demonstrations.
Despite this apparent green light, it would take years before plans moved further. In 1908 a competition was launched to settle on a design, and though the field of sixty-six entrants included such luminaries as Xavery Dunikowski, Émile Antoine Bourdelle and Paul-Albert Bartholomé, it was Wacław Szymanowski that won following a unanimous decision.
Art Nouveau in its style, Szymanowski’s depiction of Chopin showed him in thoughtful pose underneath a wind-blown willow tree. The pond in front, meanwhile, was to be decorated with several ornamental frogs, themselves a popular Art Nouveau motif.
However, thereafter not much went to plan. Completing a 1:1 model in his Kraków workshop, Szymanowski then argued that the final bronze casting should be carried out in France – something which proved a sticking point with the committee, most likely due to the extra financing this would involve. When, finally, they agreed to Szymanowski’s demands, WWI broke out.
By the time the armistice was signed, the world had moved on – both culturally and artistically. Art Nouveau had lost its popularity, and Szymanowski faced a fierce battle persuading the committee to revive his project. His perseverance paid off, and it was finally unveiled over the course of a two-hour ceremony in 1926.
Attended by President Ignacy Mościcki, the monument’s premier made national headlines with the press left bowled over by the results. Kurier Warszawski, for instance, described it as “an immensely beautiful and everlasting monument to the genius of Chopin”.
Unfortunately, they could not have been more wrong. On May 31st, 1940, it became the first Warsaw monument to be destroyed during the German occupation. Chosen specifically due to its patriotic value, its destruction was personally approved by Hans Frank and the smelted materials used in the manufacture of ammunition.
Apocryphal it might be, but the next day it is said a slogan appeared on the plinth as if painted by the composer: “I do not know who did this,” it read, “but I know why: so that I won’t play the funeral march for your leader.”
Rebuilt after the war, the 16-ton statue was cast was constructed based upon old photographs as well as miniature gypsum model found in a destroyed cellar belonging to Wacław Szymanowski.
Officially debuting on May 11th, 1958, the following year saw the introduction of free summer piano recitals held in the shadow of the monument – continuing to this day, these have become a defining element of summer in the city, and almost as iconic as the composer himself.
(Lead image: Shutterstock)