Vilnius (Wileński) Hotel
The outstanding singer Henriette Sontag stayed at the luxurious Vilnius (Wileński) Hotel on ul. Bielańska in 1829 and again in 1830. It was during her second stay, from May to June 1830, that the beautiful and talented soprano had the chance to become acquainted with Fryderyk Chopin. This contact must have given him great pleasure, as in a letter to Tytus Woyciechowski dated 15 May he gushed: ‘And so learn now, my little soul, that Miss Sontag will most certainly come in June, and perhaps toward the end of May. […] I also think that you will not pass up the opportunity to hear Miss Sontag. How grateful I am to this Miss Sontag!’
Henriette Sontag (real name Gertrude Walpurgis Sontag) was four years Chopin’s senior and was in any case, as Henryk Nowaczyk notes, no longer a single woman. In 1828, she had secretly married Count Carlo Rossi, secretary at the embassy of the Kingdom of Sardinia in The Hague. In 1830, she was at the height of her career, having made prodigious progress over the previous decade. The only person who wished her ill was Ludwig Rellstab, who in 1827, hiding behind the nom de plume ‘Freimund Zuschauer’, had penned a nasty lampoon entitled ‘Henriette oder die schöne Sängerin’ [Henriette, or the beautiful singer]. Rellstab, who was to become a virulent critic of Chopin’s work, eventually spent several months in prison for libelling Sontag.
Although Sontag’s schedule was more hectic than usual during her stay in Warsaw, Chopin (who seemed happy with the arrangement) was given the privilege of being with her thanks to Antoni Radziwiłł. ‘You won’t believe how much pleasure I had in getting better acquainted, that is to say, on a sofa in the room […]. I would not have visited her at all, but she demanded to see me on account of one song that Radziwiłł had arranged for her, and he had me transcribe it. […] Miss Sontag isn’t beautiful, but she is pretty to the highest degree. […] She is of an indescribable goodness. […] In morning dress, she is a million times prettier and more pleasant than in a formal dress in the evening, although those who haven’t seen her in the morning adore her‘, enthused the young composer, clearly enchanted with the artist and the situation.
The meetings came to an end in early June, when Sontag, after giving five concerts, left Warsaw to embellish a gathering of the Prussian royal family with her singing. Chopin eventually informed Tytus Woyciechowski, in a long letter full of rapture over the singer, that ‘Miss Sontag, who told me yesterday with her lovely little lips that she was traveling to Fischbach at the behest of His Majesty the King of Prussia. […] When she returns, she will give her concerts until the 22nd […]. Just come here to rest a bit in the bosom of friendship after your rural travails. Miss Sontag will also sing for you, and thus you will gather new strength to face your tribulations.‘