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Michał Kleofas Ogiński   














Prince Michał Kleofas Ogiński was born in Guzów, near Warsaw, the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in 1765. Although he was groomed as a diplomat to follow in his father Andrzej’s footsteps, he learned the piano from Józef Kozłowski, and the violin initially from Giovanni Giornovichi, then, later, from Viotti. Despite his precocious talent for improvisation at the piano, being an aristocrat, there was never any question of a career in music. Aged only 21, he was elected to the Seym, the Polish Parliament, and the following year he married Izabela Lasocka of Brzeziny, central Poland. His first diplomatic mission in 1789 was to the Hague and London. 

He returned to Warsaw, where he continued his political activities. His piano improvisations, notably of Polonaises for listening, rather than dancing, became very popular for their taste, melodic invention and delicacy. His first major success, which won him international fame, was the Polonaise No 1 in F, the so-called Polonaise of Death (it coincided with a totally unfounded rumour that he had committed suicide as a result of a doomed love affair!).   



 Michał Kleofas Ogiński

by Józef Grassi  


During the War of the Polish Partitions, which Ogiński called the Polish Revolution, he fought under Kościuszko against the forces of Catherine the Great by leading a commando unit in northern Lithuania, where he wrought havoc with Russian supply lines. Ultimately, the war was lost, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned by Russia, Prussia and Austria, and ceased to exist. Ogiński, who had earned a Russian price on his head, escaped to Vienna disguised a grand lady’s servant. He spent the next five years in penniless exile, travelling to Italy, Constantinople, the Balkans and everywhere else in Europe, ending up in Paris, seeking the restoration of the Polish state by diplomatic means. Ultimately he failed, but was able to rejoin his wife, Izabela, at her parents’ estate at Brzeziny, now in Prussia, where their two sons, Tadeusz and Franciszek Ksawery – known as Xavier – were born in 1800 and 1801 respectively. When Tsar Alexander I ascended the Russian throne that same year, Ogiński, whose marriage to Izabela had disintegrated and ended in divorce, sought his permission to return to whatever would pass for home. The Tsar readily agreed, and Ogiński was not only rehabilitated but was appointed senator at the Court of St Petersburg. He was able to reclaim his family estate at Zalesie, half was between Vilnius and Minsk in what used to be Lithuania. He settled there with his second wife, the Italian-born Maria Neri, lately widowed on the death of Ogiński’s former comrade-in-arms, Kajetan Nagurski.    

Music played a very important part in life at Zalesie, where most of Ogiński’s compositions were written. 
Their first child,
Amelia, was born there in 1803, followed by Emma, Ireneusz and Ida. Ogiński did not maintain contact with his first family. 

The Tsar promised Ogiński the restoration of the Polish-Lithuanian state, and put him in charge of education in Russia’s western provinces.  




After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Ogiński considered the Polish puppet Kingdom of Poland, with the Tsar himself as King, a sell-out, and he lost faith not only in politics, but also in his marriage, which, like his first one, had gone sour. In 1823 he wrote his most famous Polonaise No 13 in A minor, known as Farewell to the Fatherland, and exiled himself to his beloved Florence, where he died and was buried in 1833. His tomb, with bas-relief and inscriptions, is the Capella del Santissimo in the Church of Santa Croce.  






Michał Kleofas Ogiński Tomb

Ogiński considered himself a politician first and a musician second, and so felt that he had failed in life. Music was to him a relaxation, and yet his Polonaise in A minor had become the most enduringly well-known and best-loved piece of music in all the Slav lands to this day.  





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