London, The New Houses of Parliament, tinted lithograph. Original in the collection of Biblioteka Narodowa, Warsaw. Collection: Photographic collection of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Warsaw [F.6022].
The license is accorded by the owner.
In 1837, Chopin was in a state of constant expectation for news from his fiancée, Maria Wodzi˝ska, from S│u┐ewo, yet he decided to make a spontaneous trip during the second week of July. Chopin travelled to London accompanying Camille Pleyel on his business trip. Unfortunately, it is not certain where they stayed, as he decided to keep this almost three-week-long visit secret. Some scholars consider that he probably used a pseudonym, which makes it even more difficult to ascertain the places he visited. It is likely, however, that they stayed at the then fashionable Sablonnière Hotel on the corner of Cranbourn Street and Leicester Square. ‘If you know of a good hotel in your neighbourhood, then give the address to Chopin. I am recommending him the Sablonnière, as I cannot remember any other names’, wrote Julian Fontana in a letter to Stanis│aw Egbert Ko╝mian during the first days of July 1837, asking him to look after Chopin during his stay in London. ‘I assured him [Chopin] that he would have pleasant company with you, and an excellent adviser in all things concerning the city. – You will render me a friendly service if you’ll be a help to him in this respect. What I think of him, you have long since known, so I need add nothing here. He is travelling for a short time, a week or ten days, just to breathe the English air. He does not wish to see anyone, and so I entreat you to keep his sojourn secret – as he would have artists on his back, led by the female Paganini.’
On arriving in London, Chopin went straight to Ko╝mian’s home at 28 Sherrard Street, Golden Square. Not finding him in, he most probably put up at the address recommended to him by Fontana—the Sablonnière Hotel. The trio of Chopin, Pleyel and Ko╝mian spent their days visiting important and fashionable places, including Hampton Court, Richmond, Blackwall, Chichester and Royal Windsor, whilst the evenings were devoted to operas at Covent Garden. The atmosphere of this sojourn is attested by a laconic reference from Ko╝mian’s family correspondence: ‘I’m spending whole days and even, like yesterday, whole nights with Chopin. We’re making merry, having fun, throwing money around by the handful […] Besides the planned amusements, Chopin was also brought to London by business…’
During his first stay on the British Isles, Chopin signed a contract for his 12 Etudes, Op. 25 with Christian Rudolf Wessel. This took place on 20 July 1837, probably on Hanover Square, in the musical centre of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century London. In the home of the English piano maker James Broadwood, at 46 Bryanston Square, he was mysteriously introduced by Pleyel as ‘Monsieur Fritz from Paris’, but he played just a few bars before being unerringly recognised as Chopin by those assembled in Broadwood’s drawing-room. Chopin gives a caricatural account of his impressions in one of the extant letters from that trip: ‘now I’ll just tell you that I am most respectfully amused, you can tell Jan that with some circumspection one can easily have fun here – when one’s here for a short time. Huge things! – Great urinals. In spite of this, there is nowhere to take a pee. – But the Englishwomen, but the horses, but the palaces, but the carriages, but the riches, but the splendour, but the space, but the trees, but everything, from the soap to the razorblades, everything extraordinary – everything identical, everything refined, everything washed, but black as a noble arse!!! […] Now praise London!’