USC Monogram Polish Music Center Books




Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Biographical Essay List of Works

1. Who was Paderewski?

November 6th marks the anniversary of the birth of the most famous and popular pianist of all times - Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941). Although discouraged by his teachers from becoming a pianist, he launched his artistic career in 1885 and literally swept the world with his playing and his dynamic personality.

In 1932 American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt called him a Modern Immortal and two years later in a book written by author Charles Phillips, The Story of a Modern Immortal, the introduction began as follows, "It is difficult to write of Paderewski without emotion. Statesman, orator, pianist and composer, he is a superlative man, and his genius transcends that of anyone I have ever known. Those of us who love Poland are glad that she can claim him as a son, but let her always remember that Ignace Jan Paderewski belongs to all mankind."

Yes, here was a personality that was not one in a million, but perhaps one in a century; an "artist of such a distinctly pronounced individuality as to be an exceedingly rare occurence -indeed - phenomenal." Paderewski was a genius, an intellectual, a "statesman par excellence;" a beautiful orator in a language that was not his; a linguist who spoke no less than seven languages fluently; a great musician; a patriot; and most of all, a humanitarian who was so generous that every act of kindness to him was always returned manifold.

2. The famous virtuoso...

He was befriended and adored not only by the most prominent people of his time, but by people from all walks of life. He travelled all over the world from Africa to Australia and across the European continent; crossing the Atlantic more than thirty times. He gave more than 1500 concerts in the U.S., appearing in every state and drawing the largest crowds in history at a time when the solo recital was still in its infancy. Up until then, all artists appeared with others during a recital to give it interest and variety. He was the first to give a recital alone in the newly built Carnegie Hall in New York City, which held almost 3,000 people. He was such a great showman and drawing card that he could be his own rival, as the newspaper headlines raved in 1902. While his opera was being performed at the Met, he was giving his recital in Carnegie Hall, and both places were filled to overflowing.

He travelled throughout the U.S. in his own private railroad cars with several pianos, not only for practical purposes, but also because he enjoyed living in a grand style. Whole towns would go out to meet him and escort him to the concert hall or would just come to see his train pass by. Trainloads of people would come in from outlying towns to hear him play. Once when a train from Montana was delayed by a snowstorm he waited for the arriving audience before beginning his recital. His audience did the same whenever he was delayed. They could not get enough of his playing and would refuse to go home even hours past the end of his program. He gladly continued to play encore after encore.

Why was he so popular? One reason was his magnificent physical appearance. His long, red hair inspired admiration and awe. The term "long haired music" may have originated with him. Many musicians tried to emulate him, wearing the familiar top hat, long coat and long hair. Candies, toys and soaps were designed with him in mind. One Christmas toy was that of a little man with a black frock coat, white bow tie and a huge head of flame-colored hair sitting at a piano. At the turn of a screw the little man's hands rushed up and down the keyboard while his head shook violently.

Paderewski's appearance, along with his blend of aristocratic refinement and power over the masses, was certainly what the time required. However, the main reason for his popularity was his magnificent playing. Each recital was a "spiritual happening." He excelled in the art of producing beautiful and varied tone colors never before dreamt of in a piano - from the lightest and most sparkling to the most violent extremes, which sounded almost orchestral. He was known for having perfected the touch that could literally make the piano sing. His pedaling was also perfect and his musical renderings, no matter how different, were the fruit of profound and serious study.

Even though he was criticized by some for his excessive use of "tempo rubato," meaning taking too much liberty with regular, mechanical time, and also for "breaking of the hands when playing chords," this can easily be explained. He belonged to the last group of "Romantic" pianists, whose style was becoming out-dated and not used by the new generation of pianists. However, he continued to use these devices in order to created particular dramatic effects.

Some musicians acclaimed him as the greatest Bach exponent of his time. Some of his Beethoven renditions cannot be surpassed. He was considered the best Chopin player of his time and no one could play the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies as he did.

3. ...admired for his music.

He inspired artists, poets, painters and composers. The most famous portrait of him is by Sir Edward Byrne-Jones, who accidentally passed him on the street one day. He went home to explain that he had seen an archangel and started sketching from memory. A few days later Paderewski was brought into his studio whereupon the artist shouted, " You are my archangel!" In two hours he completed the portrait.

Richard Gilder, editor of Century Magazine composed a poem, How Paderewski Plays, and American poet John H. Finley addressed the following poem to him:

" Your touch has been transmuted into sound
As perfect as an orchid or a rose,
True as a mathematic formula
Yet full of color as an evening sky.
But there's a symphony that you've evoked
From out of the hearts of men, more wonderful
Than you have played upon your instrument..."

Composers dedicated their music to him. Sir Edward Elgar used various motives taken from Paderewski's Fantaisie Polonaise in his symphonic Prelude 'Polonia' and Camille Saint-Saens dedicated a Polonaise for two pianos to him.

Although Paderewski aspired to be a great composer and considered it his most enjoyable pursuit, he devoted only a relatively small portion of his energies to it. He composed several dozen works, which include two operas, a symphony, two opiano orchestral pieces, a violin and piano sonata, several beautiful songs and many, many pieces for the piano. His two most powerful and inventive piano works are the Sonata, op. 21 and the Variations and Fugue, op. 23. Since they require a powerful piano technique, Paderewski himself predicted that they would never be too popular because of this. The variety of tone color that he creates in his Variations is incredible. Most of the piano works reflect the singing quality in his playing and they can easily be called songs for the piano. He also made use of Polish dance rhythms in many of his compositions. Throughout his music one can hear the national idioms of his country. Two of the most popular miniature piano pieces that he included in his own programs were the Cracovienne Fantastique and Chants du Voyageur, op. 8.

Who has not heard his famous Minuet in G? In the 1920s and 1930s every doting parent anxiously awaited the day when their child could, at last, perform the Minuet in a local recital. This was the goal of every child taking piano lessons and considered a mark of achievement. In reality, the piece written in a Mozart style, is not very difficult to play, but was written so that it displayed a certain amount of virtuosity.

4. The consummate patriot...

His intimate friendships with many of the leading statesmen of Europe and America paved the way for future political activity. In a matter of a few years he became to be considered one of the experts on matters connected with problems of Poland. At the end of World War I the Big Four (Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Orlando, unanimously expressed their opinion of the Polish Prime Minister in a joint letter signed by them: "No country could wish for a better advocate."

During World War I the U.S. Congress passed a resolution of sympathy and President Wilson, by proclamation, set January 1, 1916 as a day for giving to the suffering of the Polish people. Polish American organizations united to choose him as their leader, conferring upon him the power of attorney to act for them and decide all political matters in their name. This document, unique in history, bore the seals and signatures of all the Polish societies in the U.S. Through his leadership an army of volunteers of Polish descent was organized in North America to join in the fight for Poland's freedom during World War I. Every day during roll call, Paderewski's name was called and the entire army answered, "Present."

During this time he undertook the task of preparing a document (which took over 36 hours of uninterrupted work) and delivered this memorandum on Poland to Colonel House on January 12, 1917, who in turn gave it to President Wilson. On January 23rd the president spoke of a "New Poland" saying, "I take it for granted...that statesmen everywhere are agreed that there should be a united, independent, autonomous Poland." This became Point Thirteen of Wilson's proclamation, which insured a new independent Poland after World War I.

The Versailles Peace Treaty was signed in 1919 with Paderewski as Poland's Prime Minister. Thus, a pianist's hands helped shape a new Poland, for the country had been wiped off the map in the 18th century when its neighbors Prussia, Russia and Austria divided it amongst themselves. He became the new Poland's first delegate at the Council of Ambassadors and the first Polish delegate to the League of Nations. At Geneva he was looked upon by everybody as a great patriot and distinguished statesman.

His speeches were considered among the finest oratorical achievements of the League. "Every speech of his was a masterpiece of clear thinking and brilliant verbal form." When Paderewski left Paris, his colleagues thought of him as a great "statesman, an incomparable orator, a linguist and one who had the history of Europe better in hand than any of his brilliant associates. Had he been representing a power of the first class he easily would have become one of the foremost of those whose decisions were finally to be written into the peace. As it was, he played a great part nobly, and gave the world an example of patriotism and courage." (Landau, p. 158). When he addressed the League of Nations in Geneva in 1920, he received a standing ovation before and after his speech. He spoke for more than an hour without notes in French and then repeated it in English. He was the only speaker who did not use an interpreter. (Strakacz, p. 52)

The American Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, who distrusted Paderewski at first, later wrote about him in his book, The Big Four, that "His views were essentially sane and logical. What Mr. Paderewski has done for Poland will cause eternal gratitude. His career is one which deserves to be remembered not only by his countrymen, but by every man whom love of country and loyalty to a great cause stand forth as the noblest attributes of human character."

Before World War I Paderewski spoke at the 100th anniversary of Chopin's birth in 1910 in the city of Lwow, where he erected a monument to the great Polish composer. He finished his speech to a crowd of thousands of people at a time and place when they were under Russian rule with the following:

"Let us brace our hearts to fresh endurance,
Let us adjust our minds to action, energetic, righteous;
Let us uplift our consciousness by faith invincible
for the nation cannot perish that has a soul so great, so immortal!"

On the 10th anniversary of Polish independence in 1928 Paderewski recieved messages from four U.S. presidents, Coolidge, Taft, Hoover and Roosevelt acknowledging his work as a statesman. He was respected by leaders throughout the world. When he arrived in Brussels on one of his concert tours, the King and Queen personally went to the station to greet him; an action unheard of on the part of Royalty.

5. The model humanitarian...

He had to resume his piano career in 1923 for financial reasons, even though he had earned more money than any artist ever did. He had spent it all for his country and for mankind. As early as 1895 he founded the Paderewski Fund in New York to establish triennial prizes to American composers, regardless of race or religion. Some of those winners were David Diamond, Gardner Reed and Wallingford Rieger. He established a similar fund for Composition in Leipzig in 1898. In London he gave to the Transvaal War Fund for the wounded, widows and orphans. To express gratitude to Herbert Hoover and other Americans for helping with the Polish Relief Fund, he turned over the proceeds of a concert series to purchase food for unemployed Americans in the 1920s. In 1932 he faced an audience of 16,000 in Madison Square Garden, the largest crowd in the history of music at that time, making $50,000 for the benefit of unemployed American musicians. He even paid for his own tickets to the event.

Throughout the years he made substantial contributions for various causes: for unemployed musicians in England, funds for playwrights, for Polishs composers in Poland, for the construction of a concert hall in Switzerland, for rebuilding a Cathedral in Lausanne, for unemployed workers, for wartime orphans in Italy, for the building of dormitories for music students in France, for the Allied Soldier's Hospital, for Jewish refugess from Germany in Paris in 1933, etc.. His was the largest individual contribution ($28,600) to the American Legion for disabled veterans. In 1924 during a benefit concert for Belgian charities the King and Queen rose together with the audience upon his arrival on the stage, a disarming violation of protocol. In Poland he commissioned the sculptor Gutzon Borghum to make a statue of Woodrow Wilson to be unveiled in Poznan to symbolize Poland's gratitude for their newly acquired freedom.

6. ...tireless artist, activist...

His presence and mastery has been recorded for posterity in 1936 when he made a motion picture produced by British filmmakers called the Moonlight Sonata. He was so well liked by all who came in contact with him that he was deluged with flowers from the "extras" working on the film as an expression of homage and gratitude. He was 76 years old at the time.

Three years later, when Paderewski was 79, Poland was invaded and World War II began. The Poles and their allies looked again to him to lead them. Although in ill health, he agreed without hesitation to travel to Paris to inaugurate a new government, but declined to be named Prime Minister again. His home in Switzerland was a place of refuge for emigres of many nationalities during WWII. No one was turned away without having been fed. His personal library was at the disposal of the members of the Polish Army who had been interned in Switzerland during WWII. Although living in Switzerland, he returned to the U.S. to continue efforts to help the Polish cause. It was after one of the rallies in New York in extremely hot weather that he became ill and passed away a few days later. His funeral mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York in 1941 was attended by 4,500 inside and 35,000 outside, It included statesmen and leaders of the political and musical world . By presidential decree (an action taken only once before in U.S. history) he was buried at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. He was laid to rest under the mast of the battleship Maine until his body could be transported to a free Poland for burial. This event took place in 1992.

7. ...and Californian.

Paderewski's presence in California has been immortalized in two places.

At the turn of the century he commissioned Polish artist, Jan Styka, to paint The Crucifixion, a gigantic canvas (93 feet by 178 feet wide) which is now on display in the massive Hall of the Crucifixion at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale. At the same location there are also life size portraits of Paderewski and of Styka.

The other place is located in northern California near Paso Robles, where Paderewski came in 1913 to visit the hot mud and sulfur water baths to relieve his rheumatism. The pianist purchased what was to become Rancho San Ignacio, 2800 acres of sprawling hills, upon which he planted walnut, almond and plum trees. In 1922 he planted 200 acres of zinfandel and petit syrah grapes. Wines produced from these grapes won several awards, beginning with a gold medal at the 1933 California State Fair. A memorable article in the LA Times stated: "Some of his Zinfandel was as coveted as his music." Each year in March the community sponsors a Paderewski Festival weekend with music concerts, lectures, tours of wineries and a Polish breakfast. Memorabilia, such as T-shirts, are available and plans for a statue of Paderewski to stand in front of the Paso Robles Hotel are under way. The Paderewski Festival in 1997 is scheduled for March 21-23.

Although Paderewski travelled all over the world and had a home in Switzerland, he wrote in his memoirs, "America, the country of my heart, my second home." His heart is interned at the church of the Black Madonna in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.





Source Polish Music Center
Send your comments and inquiries to:
This page updated in June 2001 by M. Trochimczyk