The country estate of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł, who greatly admired the genius of the young Chopin, is just under 13 km from Strzyżew. Despite initial objections, and no doubt at the prompting of his father, Fryderyk decided to take up an invitation from the prince and spend over a week there (from 30 or 31 October to 7 November 1829). Before setting off, he wrote to confide his dilemma to Tytus Woyciechowski in Poturzyn (20 October 1829): ‘The reason for my trip is also the presence of Radziwiłł on his estate near Kalisz. For there were proposals that I travel to Berlin, stay at his palace there, and similar little words, beautiful, amusing, but I see no profit in it, even if it were to materialise, which I doubt, because this is not the first dubious promise of lordly favour I have seen, but Papa doesn’t wish to believe that these are only des belles paroles, and that is the reason for my trip, about which I believe I have already written to you once’.
A wooden hunting palace, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, was built in Antonin in 1821–1826. There was nothing like this classicist residence of Prince Radziwiłł anywhere in the country. The building was laid out on the plan of a Greek cross. Although the palace is generally considered wooden, it was actually constructed using timber framing and brick infill (commonly referred to as ‘Tudor style’). The outside wooden walls give the impression that the palace was built using only this material.
The prince’s family led a very busy social life in Antonin, with many eminent people visiting the hunting palace. That a brilliant composer was performing there gave the prince an opportunity to show off the score of his opera Faust. Chopin was appreciative of Radziwiłł’s compositional skills and frequently accompanied his host, an accomplished cellist, on the piano during his stay. This mutual music making was almost certainly what induced Chopin to compose his Polonaise brillante in C major, Op. 3 for cello and piano there. Chopin wrote, with typical self-mockery: ‘I wrote while I was staying with him an Alla polacca with a part for cello. Nothing but baubles, for the salon, for the ladies’.
Chopin also spent some time with Radziwiłł’s daughters, Eliza and Wanda, whom he described as ‘unusually courteous and good, musical, tender beings’. He gave piano lessons to Wanda, which was not a particularly onerous responsibility if his own words are anything to go by: ‘A young thing, 17 years old, pretty, and, upon my word, it was nice to help place her little fingers’. Princess Eliza then asked Chopin to play his Polonaise in F minor for her. Chopin’s stay is documented by two drawings in Eliza’s album, of which he wrote: ‘she did my portrait twice for her album, and, so people tell me, they were good likenesses’. These are merely two of the many surviving depictions of the young Chopin.
Chopin would probably have stayed longer if he did not have to get back to Warsaw and finish his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor as a matter of urgency: ‘you will not believe how well I felt at his place – he wrote to Tytus – […] I would have stayed there until they drove me away, but my affairs, and more particularly my Concerto, which is not yet completed and is impatiently awaiting the completion of its finale, hurried my abandonment of that paradise’.
Antonin remained in the Radziwiłł family until the end of the Second World War. The building is now owned by the Kalisz Centre of Culture and the Arts, and the Centre for Creative Work has been housed there since 1981. There is a monument to Chopin, sculpted by Marian Owczarski, in front of the palace and a plaque commemorating his stay on the façade. One of the rooms has been furnished as a music salon with period instruments, paintings and lithographs, and a cast of Chopin’s hand. The palace additionally has a cafe, restaurant, and even a hotel, so you can stay in its refurbished rooms overnight. Antonin Palace was awarded the 1994 ‘Europa Nostra’ certificate in recognition of its heritage conservation (Europa Nostra is a federated European cultural heritage association).
The international ‘Chopin in Autumn Colours’ festival, which has been held every September since 1984, is the most important musical event in Antonin.