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Duke of Gloucester unveils Southbank Chopin statue

 

Duke of Gloucester speech© 2011 Alex AtwaterTwenty years after Poland achieved Chopin’s dream of a truly free nation, a restored statue of the great composer and Polish patriot was unveiled outside the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre on May 18th by HRH the Duke of Gloucester, in the presence of The Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the United Kingdom, Her Excellency Ms Barbara Tuge-Erecińska.

The statue was a gift of the Polish people to the British nation in the 1970s for its help in fighting Nazi tyranny. It is also inscribed as a memorial to the 250,000 Poles who fought under British Command “for your freedom and ours”.

Following the unveiling of the restored monument, Ambassador Tuge-Erecińska laid a wreath in memory of Britons who paid the ultimate sacrifice in World War II.  Greg Hands MP, Vice Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Poland, also laid a wreath in memory of the Poles who gave up their lives defending the United Kingdom.

 “It is a great privilege to lay a wreath here today; Chopin is one of Poland’s greatest sons and, through his music, he is the incarnation of the passion of a resilient people and of the drama of its history,” Ambassador Tuge- Erecińska said. “Like all great artists, he does not belong to one country alone. He is a treasure and a joy for the world at large.”

Duke_of_Gloucester© 2011 Alex Atwater

 “It is also fitting that the unveiling of the statue takes place now, in light of Poland’s Presidency of the European Council which will begin in July – a poignant moment for our nation, emphasising that we have achieved the freedom that was Chopin’s lifelong dream and inspiration to his music,” she added.

It has long been a tradition in Poland for people to lay flowers on statues to Chopin and it is hoped this tradition will be adopted by visitors to the Southbank Centre.

“The statue has a symbolic significance for the Polish people as the music of Chopin is regarded as the highest expression of Polish patriotism and an emblem of Poland’s historical struggles,” said Dr. Marek Stella-Sawicki, Chairman of the Polish Heritage Society.

The abstract bronze (weighing 2 tonnes) was designed by the Polish sculptor Bronislaw Kubica. A Daily Telegraph report of the original unveiling said it was perfectly adjusted to its setting.  “Its austerity is in tune with the buildings around it, but it has sufficient references to direct human connotations to evoke an immediate response, providing an admirable foil to the surrounding buildings,” the paper said.

Following the unveiling, pianist Alexander Ardakov gave a Chopin recital in front of 400 guests in the Purcell Room.

Chopin_statue© 2011 Alex Atwater

The statue was originally unveiled on 26th February 1975 by HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, the mother of the present Duke of Gloucester, and for more than 10 years stood outside the entrance of the Royal Festival Hall opposite the Hayward Gallery. It was removed for safe-keeping during the refurbishment of the Hall and has remained in storage since then.

To mark the bicentenary of the birth of the composer in 2010, The Polish Heritage Society, with the support of Ambassador Tuge-Erecinska, proposed that the statue be renovated and finally returned to its original home near the banks of the River Thames, in the City where Chopin performed his last public recital.

Southbank Centre and its Chief Executive, Alan Bishop, responded positively to the proposal and in October 2010, the statue was carefully packed and transported back to Poland to be restored by the Society to a condition fit for public display.

“It is a source of great satisfaction to all those who have contributed to the project to see the statue standing proudly once again at Southbank Centre,” said Alan Bishop. “The statue is a symbol of the enduring friendship between the British and Polish peoples and to the power of music and culture.”