Visitandine Church of St Joseph
‘I have become the school organist’, Chopin informed Jan Białobłocki, mocking himself a little. ‘My wife, as well as all my children, have two reasons to respect me. Ha, Noble Sir. What a head I’ve got! The most important person in the entire school after the Father Provost!”.
It is known from other accounts that young Chopin played the organ in the Church of St Joseph of the Nuns of the Visitation on Krakowskie Przedmieście not just during school masses but on other occasions as well. Józef Sikorski is one of those who wrote down his recollections: ‘In the days of the former University of Warsaw, a morning service was held for the students in the Visitandine church on Sundays and feast days at 11 a.m. The choir consisted of students of what was then the Conservatory, and they performed religious songs accompanied by an organ and an orchestra under the direction of Elsner. Chopin was a regular guest of the choir during his last year in Warsaw and loved to play fugues by various masters, as well as his own improvisations, on the organ. The hard part about playing the organ, that is, the ample and dexterous use of the pedal, came really easy to him and sometimes nearly induced him to show off, which once more led him to accentuate the keyboard part just right. Once, during an interval between sections of a mass performed with the orchestra, Chopin sat down at the organ and, having selected a theme from the previous section in the manner of famous organists, began to pour forth such a tremendous wealth of ideas in such an uninterrupted stream that everyone, from the oldest to the youngest, squeezed around where he was playing. They were so engrossed and swept away that they forgot all about where they were and the duties they had gathered to perform until the sacristan came rushing over, breaking into a tirade while still running. “And what the deuce do you think you’re doing here? The priest has begun the Dominus vobiscum twice, the altar boys have been ringing and ringing, and the organ still hasn’t ceased. The mother superior is frightfully angry”’.
The history of the convent of the Sisters of the Visitation, the oldest in Poland, goes back to 1654, when twelve nuns came here from French convents at the behest of Queen Marie Louise Gonzaga, the wife of King John Casimir. A wooden convent was initially erected and granted to the sisters. Krakowskie Przedmieście was immediately chosen as its location, on account of its proximity to the royal residence at Casimir Palace.
In the second half of the seventeenth century, the convent was extended, while the present church, designed by Karol Bay and Jakub Fontana, began to be erected in 1727 and was consecrated in 1761. The church survives in its original form and has never been demolished or destroyed – not even during the bombardments of 1939 or 1944.
The organ now in use in the church is not the same instrument on which Chopin improvised. That one was sold to a church in Nieznamierowice in 1869, where it burned down in 1923.