Vienna, Hofburg

Vienna, Hofburg, unsigned steel engraving, 19th c. Collection: Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina, Warsaw [M/3008].


Here are Fryderyk’s impressions from his first sojourn in Vienna, in August 1829: ‘I like Vienna, and there are quite a few Poles here; at the ballet there is even one who took so much care of me during my performance that he personally brought me water with sugar, gave me encouragement, etc. – Please tell all of this to Mr Elsner and say that I am sorry for not writing, but I am so much in request that I don’t know where all my time goes. Thank Mr Skarbek, who urged me the most to give a concert, as it gives me entry into the world.’ His emotions were so great because quite unexpectedly a jaunt to Vienna with a few friends from Warsaw turned into Fryderyk’s concert debut abroad. He was doubtless in a rush when writing a letter to his parents, in which he informed them: ‘I am to play the Rondo and improvise. I’m healthy and cheerful, eating and drinking well’ (Vienna, Thursday, 13 August 1829). This first stay in Vienna should be regarded as a most successful sojourn. Fryderyk was shown around the city by Würfel, visiting a magnificent picture gallery, spending three evenings at the Opera, and making the personal acquaintance of Haslinger, the publisher of his Variations, Graf and Stein, the piano manufacturers, and many musicians and composers (including Ignaz Xaver Seyfried, Joseph Christoph Kessler, Joseph Mayseder, Vojtech Jírovec, Franz Lachner, Konrad Kreutzer, Count Wenzel Robert Gallenberg and Carl Czerny). Encouraged by the success of his first concert, Chopin decided to perform a second time at the same hall—the Kärntnerthortheater. ‘My spies in the parterre affirm that they were even leaping on the benches. […] And so my first performance was as successful as it was unexpected […] Today I am some four years’ wiser and more experienced.’


His second stay in Vienna (planned as a stop on the way to Paris) was incomparably longer than the holiday sojourn the previous year, as it lasted from 23 November 1830 to 20 July 1831. Over those eight months, Fryderyk lived at three different addresses: in the Zur Stadt London and Zur Goldenen Lamm inns, and then in a house at 9 Kohlmarkt. He spent the first few days here in joyous mood, together with his best friend, Tytus Woyciechowski, with whom he travelled to Vienna. Full of plans for the future, he began to renew his social and musical contacts, and the two friends attended the Opera daily. However, they soon received news of the outbreak of insurrection in Warsaw and the dramatic situation back home in Poland. Tytus dissuaded Fryderyk from returning at once to Poland, but he left himself, as quickly as he could, leaving his despairing friend behind: ‘Since the day when I learned of the events of 29 November to this moment I have felt nothing but disturbing fears and longing; and Malfatti vainly tries to convince me that every artist is cosmopolitan. Even if that were the case, as an artist I am still in the cradle, and as a Pole I have already begun my third decade’, wrote Fryderyk to his teacher, Józef Elsner, after several months spent in Vienna. Chopin was distraught and lonely, and, to cap it all, good fortune had abandoned him: he did not give his first concert in public until 11 June, and that only after a great deal of effort. The musical life of Vienna provided him with extreme emotions at that time: one the one hand, he met and admired many wonderful virtuosos and composers; on the other, he complained at the Viennese people’s lack of taste. In salons, at teas and soirées, his mood improved somewhat, but in the long run he was wearied by society and when alone he still despaired. He composed a few works in Vienna, including the songs ‘Wojak’ [‘Before the Battle’], Narzeczony’ [‘The Bridegroom’s Return’], ‘Poseł’ [‘The Messenger’] and ‘Smutna rzeka’ [‘Troubled Waters’], to words by Stefan Witwicki, nine mazurkas (Opp. 6 and 7), and possibly more (some of the opus 17 set), four nocturnes (Op. 9 and Op. 15 No. 2) and at least two etudes (Op. 10 Nos. 5 and 6). It is also likely that Chopin finished here the Polonaise in E flat major from Op. 22. Among the works of the ‘society’ strand of his oeuvre, Chopin wrote in Vienna the Mazurka in G major (WN 26), Waltz in A minor (WN 36), Lento con gran espressione (WN 38) and a few songs, including ‘Piosnka litewska’ [‘Lithuanian Song’] and the final version of ‘Precz z moich oczu’ [‘Remembrance’] [see Tomaszewski, Chopin…].