Bohdan Zaleski (1802–1886)
Photograph of a drawing by an unknown artist, 19th c., 100 x 60.
Collection: Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina, Warsaw [M/1395].
Józef Bohdan Zaleski belonged to the group of young poets, enthusiasts of the new Romantic art and ideology, with whom Chopin met in the years 1829–1830. The young Romantics (Stefan Witwicki, Seweryn Goszczyński, Edward Odyniec, Dominik Magnuszewski, Kazimierz Brodziński and Maurycy Mochnacki) would gather in the Dziurka café on ul. Miodowa to talk about literature and art, and to read the poetry of Mickiewicz. These encounters usually ended in the home of one of the participants, where they would read their own works out loud and listen to Chopin and Mochnacki playing the piano. Bohdan Zaleski recalled those evenings spent together: ‘Stefan Witwicki and I were frequent visitors at Fryderyk’s or Maurycy’s, listening to their pianistic displays; Chopin, then cheerful, fresh-faced, would play to us his wonderful works. A brilliant mind, bright, witty, sensitive, he would toy with his art with the utmost mastery, captivating the listener with the original richness of Polish rhythms and melodies’ [Czartkowski and Jeżewska, p. 347].
From 1832, Zaleski lived in exile in France; in Paris, he was often a guest of Fryderyk, who felt best among his compatriots. After one visit to Chopin’s, in 1843 (accompanied by Stefan Witwicki and Emilia Hoffman, née Borzęcka, a pupil of Chopin’s), Zaleski wrote the following in his diary: ‘Impossible to say what and how he played. The first time in my life that I’ve felt the beauty of music so strongly that I burst into tears. I caught all the shades of the master’s emotions on the wing, and I remember most perfectly the motif and impression of every piece. He played first of all a wonderful prelude, then a lullaby, then a mazurka, again a lullaby, about which Mrs Hoffman said to me that the angels in Bethlehem must have sung like that, then a marvellous polonaise and finally, in my honour, an improvisation in which one heard the plaintive weeping of dumkas, and finally he ended with ‘Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła’ in all the tones, from the bellicose to children and angels’ [Czartkowski and Jeżewska p. 348]. On 28 December 1846, Chopin was a witness at Zaleski’s church wedding with Zofia Rosengardt (his pupil), and he composed for the occasion two works of a religious character, of which Veni creator—an unknown and unpublished autograph—is probably in the possession of the Bourbon-Parme family. Chopin also composed four songs to words by Bohdan Zaleski.