Sunday, 14 April 2013

Discovery of Chopin's piano in a château in the Loire. A letter from pianist Joyce Clarke

Chopin's Piano
Château de Montrésor

To let you know a little about Chopin's Piano at the French château that we visited last year, I'll briefly describe our experience there last September.

Château de Montrésor
épartement Indre-et-Loire)

The village of Montrésor
The Château de Montrésor was very close to where Peter and I rented a little cottage, and we like to visit the smaller châteaux of the area - Cher, Indre etc. - so we popped along as we'd never actually been inside Montrésor, only passed it many times on previous trips. You enter through a stone gateway where someone in the little office there will take your entrance fee - a few euros - then you're given a pamphlet guide and you just wander through the château at your own pace.

to the Grand Salon
up the spiral staircase
It wasn't until we ascended the amazing mahogany spiral staircase to the first floor that we entered the Grand Salon and there in the window stood this beautiful Erard piano. I knew that Chopin played and taught on an Erard, and at this point I began to feel somewhat excited - could there, by any chance, be a link? When I saw that the piece of music laid on the piano rest was his Waltz op 64 no. 3 dedicated to la Comtesse Catherine Branicki, well it was almost too much to bear without really knowing more, because she was the wife of Count Xavier Branicki (pronounced Braniski!)

(Pause for breath!) It was at this very moment that the gentleman from the office appeared asking if we he could be of any assistance on our little tour. I thought, if I say nothing now I could regret it forever!

La Comtesse
Delfina Potocka
Delfina's portrait in the library
We asked about the piano and he replied that Chopin had indeed played it in Paris and there had taught a young lady, Delphine Potocka (Pototska!), the daughter-in-law of the Count, and who attended Chopin on his eventual death-bed in Paris.

All was now clear at last! The 'gentleman', so we learned, is a descendant of the Count and loves to share his knowledge with visitors. He invited me to play the piano and without doubt it was the most thrilling, and at the same time poignant and overwhelming moment imaginable for a pianist such as I...devoted as I am to the works of Chopin and to understanding more and more about his life. There were a few tears!

Frédéric Chopin
I still needed to know more of the piano, 'though, so we went back the next day, and in gratitude for the kindness he had shown the day before, I took him a copy of my Piano Favourites CD and asked about the instrument - the kind of wood and did it have an iron frame etc.. He made no entrance charge but insisted that that I go and play the piano again for "as long as I wanted"! Well, I couldn't refuse?

I played a couple of waltzes and his Barcarolle. Peter said that the gentleman stood with tears down his cheeks at the end of the Barcarolle ....had I played that badly!....and wouldn't let us go without showing us the room (unfortunately not open to the public), containing much Chopin memorabilia including a miniature of Delphine and the bronze cast of his hand taken at the time of his death.

In the garden: Sculpture of a 26 year old soldier
Mieczysław Kamieński
who died in 1859 at the Battle of Magenta
 while serving with Count Xavier Branicki
(Bronze by Jules Franceschi 1862)
After a short walk around the grounds, I left on cloud 9, feeling as if I'd been to another world. I'll never forget it!

The 'gentleman' in question is tall, rather lanky, very casually dressed and has a typical Polish style of droopy moustache. He speaks excellent English!

If you get to the Chateau, I do hope you have a lovely visit. The interior, paintings, photos, sculptures etc. are unaltered and you do feel as if any member of the Count's family could walk in at any moment!

Many thanks to Joyce Clarke
- Who better to play Chopin's piano?


  1. Good to read about your experience Joyce -
    Best Wishes from Christine Marsden

  2. Hello I am an avid erard fan and collection photos and serial numbers of pianos, do you have more photos and the serial number ? Thank you very much.

  3. I have sent a message to Joyce. she knows how to contact you. I hope she will write an answer below - or contact you directly.

    Ik heb een bericht gestuurd naar Joyce. ze weet hoe om u te contacteren. Ik hoop dat ze een antwoord hieronder te schrijven - of rechtstreeks contact met u op.