Apartment of Stefan Witwicki
Stefan Witwicki was born in Janów, Podolia, in 1801 and came to Warsaw in 1822. He took up work as a clerk at the Ministry of Education and wrote poetry in his spare time. Ferdynand Hoesick describes him as ‘reticent and pensive, he looked at the world around him with sadness, always held himself aloof, stood in the shadows and never put himself forward. There were few people who could have summed him up. […] In 1824, he published two volumes of Ballady i Romanse [Ballads and romances], of which he was later embarrassed and which he bought up wherever he could. In 1829, Stefan Witwicki published the dramatic poem Edmund, the product of a morbid fantasy along the lines of Werther. It was not a success’.
Popularity eluded Witwicki until he published Piosenki sielskie [Idyllic songs]. Fryderyk Chopin liked some of them so much that he set them to music. Apart from that, Chopin knew and liked Witwicki (in an 1848 letter to Julian Fontana, the young composer even numbered the poet among those with whom he was ‘in the closest harmony’) and could have visited him in his luxuriously furnished apartment on ul. Żabia (now plac Bankowy 1). Antoni Edward Odyniec commented on the decor in his Wspomnienia z przeszłości [Remembrances of the past]: ‘Witwicki did not live like a fellow man of letters of all. A manservant would meet us in the hallway, help us with our coats and open the door to the salon, where we would be received by our host. He would be elegantly attired and his greeting, while admittedly cordial, would merely convey a tone of common courtesy. Witwicki’s favourite English greyhound would jump into his lap and he would play with it for the brief duration of the visit’.
There can be no doubt that their innate charm, chic, subtlety and refinement of character, and also their inner calm, brought Witwicki and Chopin together.
Witwicki was musical, sensitive and passionate about national affairs. In 1831, after Chopin had left Poland, he wrote him an impassioned letter in which he urged him to write a Polish opera. ‘May you just constantly bear in mind nationality, nationality and again nationality’, entreated Witwicki. ‘This word is virtually meaningless for common writers, but not for someone of your talent. A native melody is like a native region. Hills, forests, waters and meadows have their own inner, native voice, although not every spirit can understand it. I believe that a Slavic opera, brought to life by a real talent, by a thinking and feeling composer, would shine like a new sun in the musical world […]. I have thought about this so many times, dear Fryderyk. I constantly rejoice in the expectation that you will be the first to be able to draw from the extensive treasury of Slavic melody. If you do not go down that road, you will be willingly renouncing the most beautiful laurels’.
Chopin did not follow those suggestions and never wrote an opera, although he did meet Witwicki again in Paris, when the poet emigrated there in 1832.
Witwicki maintained close contacts with Polish émigrés in Paris, especially Mickiewicz (with whom he eventually fell out after criticising Andrzej Towiański), for many years. He died before his time in Rome, in 1847.