The first Chopin concerts were organized in Łazienki Park in 1959, shortly after the composer’s monument was rebuilt and put back in its place near the park’s main entrance next to the Belweder Palace. The monument itself has had a troubled history; the idea to raise a statue for Poland’s greatest classical composer first appeared when Warsaw was a provincial yet troublesome outpost of the Tsarist Empire. A competition was held and the winning sculptor, Wacław Szymanowski, set to work on the statue depicting Chopin sitting on a Mazovian pussy willow tree. The First World War and Poland’s various campaigns to establish its new borders delayed the project and the monument was first revealed in 1926.
On May 31st, 1940, on the orders of General Government chief Nazi Hans Frank, the monument was blown up, cut into small pieces, melted down and used to make weapons. It was the first monument to be destroyed by the Germans in Warsaw, possibly because of its location in the German district and the need for raw materials but also for its symbolic significance. The Germans said it was ugly.
The Nazis also ordered all copies of the monument around Poland to be destroyed, meaning that after the war it was difficult to find a faithful imitation that could be used for its reconstruction. A complete copy was only discovered when Szymanowski’s house in Mokotów was cleared of rubble in 1946. On May 11th, 1958, the monument was placed on its pedestal, which had earlier received the inscription: “This statue of Frederic Chopin, demolished and taken away by the Germans on 31 May 1940, is being rebuilt by the nation – 17-X-1946.”
The recitals that take place under Chopin’s gaze also have their history. Initially, the season of outdoor concerts was inaugurated with a performance by a full orchestra. In the 1970s, additional evening concerts were held that played music by contemporary composers, while in the 1980s the late afternoon concert included readings of romantic poetry by well-known stage actors. The popular current formula consists of two performances, at noon and 4 p.m., each Sunday from May till September. World-class pianists have always regarded playing in Łazienki as a great honor, despite the unpredictable weather and poor acoustics. In fact, on occasion performers have had to endure danger – during one of her recitals, Polish pianist Halina Czerny-Stefańska was stung on the hand by a wasp, yet bravely completed the piece to the delight of the audience. (By Stuart Dowell)