Grand Duke Constantine resided in Brühl Palace, next to the Saxon Palace on ul. Wierzbowa, from 1815, while the Belvedere was being made ready for him. This beautiful palace originally belonged to the Ossoliński family. It was renovated for Heinrich von Brühl, a statesman who served under King Augustus III, in the mid eighteenth century. Curiously, in the 1770s, the wife of this all-powerful minister established a park near ul. Nowy Świat. She named it ‘Vauxhall Gardens’, after the park in London. This soon became polonised to ‘Wokshal’ and eventually simplified even further to Foksal.
After the death of Augustus III, Brühl Palace changed hands frequently. Members of parliament, Prussian and French governors, many high-ranking army officers, and even Louis-Nicolas Davout, a marshal of the empire under Napoleon, lived there.
Any petitioner entering this residence in Grand Duke Constantine’s day would have done so under the vigilant gaze of soldiers. ‘The Grand Duke was protected by an infantry platoon stationed in a small guardhouse in front of the palace’, writes Jerzy S. Majewski, describing the scenery and customs of Warsaw during the period of the Kingdom of Poland (Congress Poland). ‘All the gateways and walkways were guarded by armed sentries. As you passed through the main gate, you came to a deep forecourt, all the while under the observation of the sentries. You then stood before the main entrance of the palace. You went up a wide Baroque stairway. […] Uniformed adjutants could be seen in the first room you came to. Some were awaiting orders, others were receiving them or popping in with reports. The next room, adjacent to the office of Grand Duke Constantine, was somewhat smaller. Here, ministers, senior civil servants, departmental heads and high-ranking military officers would be awaiting an audience. […] No movement here was incidental. Protocol governed the ceremony of an audience down to the last detail’.
The palace vaults kept the tragic secrets of the prisoners interrogated there, while a life of socialising and refinement was played out in the drawing rooms of the annexes adjoining the main residence.
The family of Count Alexandre de Moriolles, the French governor of the Grand Duke’s son, lived in one of the Brühl Palace apartments. The count, a French aristocrat who fled the country before the revolution, befriended Mikołaj Chopin and also showed his growing son a great deal of affection. There are several references to dining at ‘Moriol’s’ in letters Fryderyk wrote around 1830.
The friendship between the young Chopin and the count’s daughter, Alexandrine, had another basis entirely. Alexandrine, whom Chopin called ‘Moriolka’, was around nine years older than him. She first met him as a ‘17-year-old genius’, when he performed before Grand Duke Constantine. As the years passed, she began to harbour deeper feelings for the maturing young man.
Chopin was only too happy to be friends with ‘Moriolka’. He even dedicated his Rondo à la Mazur, Op. 5 to her. But as he was secretly in love with Konstancja Gładkowska, he did not treat their friendship as seriously as she did. On 15 May 1830, for example, Chopin wrote to Tytus Woyciechowski that ‘Doctor Biżel, that 63-year-old doctor, got married to his deceased wife’s niece, a 17-year-old girl. The entire church was filled with the curious, and the bride found it strange that they were pitying her so. I know this from the mouth of the bridesmaid, Miss Moriolówna, to whom I will pay a visit just as soon as I take this letter to the post, because she sent for me; you know that these are my romances, which I admit quite willingly, and therefore one has to be obedient and respect the hiding of secret feelings’. Chopin wrote to Woyciechowski again in September: ‘I can’t be effusive in today’s letter, because if I were to allow myself this, Moriolka wouldn’t see me today, and I like to give other good-hearted people pleasure, if I’m convinced of their friendliness. I haven’t yet been there since my return, but I will admit to you that I often attribute the cause of my sorrow to her, and in this manner it seems to me that people believe, and I am at peace on the surface. Father will burst out laughing at what he might lament, and I, too, will burst out laughing, but also on the surface’.
After the November Uprising, Alexandrine de Moriolles left for Paris via Wrocław. She even got in touch with Chopin there, although he was not particularly interested in maintaining their friendship. His sister Ludwika wrote to him in 1835 to chide him: ‘You never write anything about Alexandrine. Is she really not deserving of your affection?’
‘Moriolka’ died in Lorient, France, in 1842. She never married.