Warsaw is obviously one of the most important places connected with Fryderyk Chopin. After all, it is the city in which he spent the first half of his life (1810–1830). The Chopins moved to Warsaw permanently after their son was born (in Żelazowa Wola, on either 1 March or 22 February 1810), as Mikołaj Chopin had taken up a position as a French teacher at the Warsaw Lyceum.
The Chopins initially lived in a townhouse at ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 7 (then 411). That is where their second daughter, Izabella, was born, in July 1811. The building now houses the Księgarnia im. Bolesława Prusa [Bolesław Prus bookshop]. The Lyceum assigned the family an apartment, probably on the second floor in the right wing of the main Saxon Palace building. This was the seat of the Lyceum at the time (all that remains is the colonnade where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier now rests on Piłsudski Square).
When the Lyceum moved to Casimir Palace (now the office of the vice-chancellor of Warsaw University), at the beginning of 1817, the Chopins were moved to the second floor of the right annexe (as viewed from the front). They moved again after the untimely death of their youngest daughter, Emilia, in 1827, this time to the palace of Wincenty Krasiński (known as Czapski Palace, this building, which stands opposite Warsaw University, is now the seat of the Academy of Fine Arts). The Chopins rented an apartment on the second floor of the left annexe of the palace. It was from here that Chopin left his homeland forever on 2 November 1830.
Chopin owed his musical education to Warsaw. As soon as his parents noticed his musical talent, they sent him to Wojciech Żywny for piano lessons. Chopin had two piano compositions to his name before he had even turned eight: the Polonaise in B flat major and the Polonaise in G minor. The latter was even published through Izydor Cybulski’s music engraving shop on ul. Przyrynek in December 1817. Chopin was enrolled in the 4th grade of the Warsaw Lyceum in September 1823, after years of home tuition. On completing his studies there (1826), he attended the Main School of Music, which was part of Warsaw University. The school was run by Józef Elsner, who had already given Chopin private lessons in music theory. Elsner’s final appraisal of Chopin reads: ‘Remarkable aptitude – a musical genius’.
Chopin was invited to play in Warsaw salons from a very early age. His first public appearance was in a charity concert at Radziwiłł Palace in February 1818. The concert was organised by the Warsaw Charitable Society and was to have important consequences for Chopin. Word of his amazing talent reached Grand Duke Constantine, who frequently invited him to give concerts at his official residence (Brühl Palace, later the Belvedere). Everyone wanted to invite Chopin to their salons. The composer received invitations from the Czartoryski, Radziwiłł, Zamoyski, Czetwertyński and Potocki families.
Chopin was also a gifted actor. As a youth, he often performed in the amateur theatrical productions that his or his friends’ parents put on in their salons. Chopin’s meticulous upbringing, together with the social refinement of the salons of Warsaw, made it easy for him to make contacts with the Parisian aristocracy later in life.
Warsaw was where Chopin experienced his first youthful love. He met Konstancja Gładkowska, who was studying singing at the Conservatory, in April 1829. That was the beginning of a youthful fascination, told musically in the Larghetto of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21.
Chopin gave his last concert in Warsaw at the National Theatre, then housed in Krasiński Palace, on 11 October 1830. He played two of his works for piano and orchestra: the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 and the Fantasy on Polish Airs, Op. 13. When he left on 2 November 1830 (four weeks before the outbreak of the November Uprising), Chopin was not aware that he would never return to Warsaw. When he died, in 1849, his sister Ludwika brought his heart back to the city of his youth, in accordance with his dying wish. The heart was placed in Holy Cross Church on Krakowskie Przedmieście. Chopin had returned to Warsaw in spirit.