NEW EXHIBITION IN FRYDERYK CHOPINS BIRTHPLACE
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Located on the outskirts of Sochaczew, the House where Fryderyk Chopin was born in Żelazowa Wola has for years been the Polish composer’s most famous place of worship.

After complete renovation works of the whole complex, the exhibition space inside the historic annex has also been changed. Its new shape substantially differs from the presentation of the manor house to date.  The exposition is unlike a traditional Museum, but instead provides a place for individual experience of the atmosphere and space, in which Fryderyk Chopin was born and lived. To achieve this it was decided not to use a large number of exhibits, hence instead an essential element of the exposition is a narration that leads the visitor (audio guide) through the memorial park and the manor house interiors. Transferring emphasis to the sphere of imagination enabled the designers to use visual objects sparingly.  

In the “Preludium” (Reception Building), visitors start their tour by watching an introductory film, which helps to understand the nature of Chopin family’s association with the Skarbek family and their estate, the then owners of Żelazowa Wola. The film illustrates the uniqueness of the place, the history of changing a modest manor house annex into a manor house of the gentry and its importance to the national memory and identity. Visiting Żelazowa Wola becomes a feast for al. the senses, a place for rest and reflection.

The audio guide script was written by Zbigniew Brzoza, Tomasz Śpiewak and Mariola Wojtkiewicz. The visual design was created by Marcin Jarnuszkiewicz, Beata Nyczaj and PPH Mega. The graphic project was jointly designed by the Warsaw Bakalie Studio and Italian Migliore e Servetto Architetti Associati., who had designed the permanent exposition in the Fryderyk Chopin Museum in Warsaw.  

 

The tour

In the “Preludium” building visitors receive audio guides which direct them through the main avenue of the memorial park to the manor house. The exposition in the manor house during renovations was divided into two parts, which corresponds with the original division of the building’s functionality into the living quarters and the housekeeping part.  

The tour starts from “The Bakery” which interior is dominated by a monochromatic photograph of people who came for the unveiling of Chopin’s monument in 1894. In front we see the Russian composer Milij A. Bałakiriew and representatives of the Warsaw Music Society. It is one of the earliest depictions of the annex. There is also a photograph depicting people in carriages who came for this unique celebration and a photograph of the annex from 1920s. It is an introduction to the story of Żelazowa Wola, the abandonment of it over many years, and then its rediscovery and rebuilding.

In “The Bakery” one can already see the dominating element of the next area, “The Housekeeper’s Room”.

A photograph presented on a glass pane shows people participating in the unveiling of the obelisk to commemorate Chopin in 1894. It is also a monochromatic photograph; in the background there are postcard reproductions from the beginning of the last century and posters from concerts, proceeds from which went towards the purchase, and later the rebuilding of the House where Fryderyk Chopin was born. All this was placed in the room where the housekeeper most likely lived. The exposition, based on iconography from early 20th century to 1930s, is a continuation of the story about the rebuilding of the manor house.

The next room, “The Servants’ Room” takes us back to the 1930s, that is to the historic moment when the annex becomes a manor house of the gentry.

The Visitors’ Book which was placed in the annex in 1895 is presented on the left side in the “Alcove”, a place in the past wrongly considered to be Fryderyk Chopin’s birthplace. In it are entries of the first guests visiting Żelazowa Wola. In the window behind the Visitor’s Book a photograph has been hung illustrating a plough during the establishment of the garden in the 1930s. Selected entries from the first Visitors’ Book are presented on the alcove’s side walls. There are also watercolours painted by Kazimierz Hugo-Bader depicting furniture design reproductions. 

The piano has been left in the room, where it was also located before the manor house renovations. The exposition is completed by a stereoscope, which shows photographs from the 1930s depicting subsequent renovations of the Chopin annex.

Next visitors go through to the originally lived in part of the annex. In “The Family Skarbek and Family Chopin Room” visitors learn about the close relations between the two families.  Their portraits hang on the walls, and in three display cases there are reproductions of the first edition of the Polonaise in G minor from 1817 dedicated to Wiktoria Skarbek, Fryderyk Chopin’s letter written to Jan Białobłocki from Żelazowa Wola on Christmas Eve on December 24, 1825 and a French translation of Georgik by Vergilius which was a gift from Anna Skarbek to Mikołaj Chopin.

“The Room where Fryderyk Chopin was Born” is the culminating point of the exposition in the manor house. Two streams of light give the room atmosphere, which from the darkness bring out the interior of the open piano and Fryderyk Chopin’s portrait. Two prints of documents associated with the composer’s birth, which illustrate the disparity between Fryderyk’s birth dates, complete the scene.

“The Room with the Visitors’ Book” completes the tour of the little Manor House, which constitutes a symbolic farewell with the extraordinary place, which Żelazowa Wola undoubtedly is. Visitors may sign the book thus cultivating the memory of Frederyk Chopin in the same manner as did the first guests visiting this place at the end of the 19th century. In this way they convey their feelings evoked by Żelazowa Wola’s genius loci.

 

Transmitters positioned in selected places in the park, which similarly as near the “Preludium” building exit, are automatically activated giving brief information associated with interesting areas in the park itself.  Whereas audio guides activate the plates with the names of the new multifunctional buildings, which enable visitors to listen to Chopin’s music.

 

The restoration of the park was a big undertaking; several thousand new plants have been planted, 120 km of irrigation pipe have been laid underground and 30 km of electrical cable to light the park after sunset. A unique sound system in the park makes it possible to listen to concerts even in the most remote corners. The park, similarly as al. the buildings, is adapted for disabled people, with special ramps and alleys leading to every part of the park.