Paderewski, Ignacy (Jan)

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Paderewski, Ignacy (Jan)

Paderewski, Ignacy (Jan), celebrated pianist and composer; b. Kurylowka, Podolia (Russian Poland), Nov. 18,1860; d. N.Y., June 29,1941. His father was an administrator of country estates; his mother died soon after his birth. From early childhood, Paderewski was attracted to piano music, and he received some musical instruction from Peter Sowinski, who taught him 4-hand arrangements of operas. His first public appearance was in a charity concert at the age of 11, when he played piano with his sister. His playing aroused interest among wealthy patrons, who took him to Kiev. He was then sent to Warsaw, where he entered the Cons., learned to play trombone, and joined the school band. He also continued serious piano study; his teachers at the Warsaw Cons, were Schlözer, Strobl, and Janotha. In 1875 and 1877 he toured in provincial Russian towns with the Polish violinist Cielewicz; in the interim periods, he took courses in composition at the Warsaw Cons., and upon graduation in 1878 was engaged as a member of the piano faculty there. In 1880 he married a young music student named Antonina Kor-sak, but she died 9 days after giving birth to a child, on Oct. 10, 1880. In 1882 he went to Berlin to study composition with Kiel; there he met Anton Rubinstein, who gave him encouraging advice and urged him to compose piano music. He resigned from his teaching job at the Warsaw Cons, and began to study orchestration in Berlin with Heinrich Urban. While on a vacation in the Tatra Mountains (which inspired his Tatra Album for piano), he met the celebrated Polish actress Modjeska, who proposed to finance his further piano studies with Leschetizky in Vienna. Paderewski followed this advice and spent several years as a Leschetizky student. He continued his career as a concert pianist. On March 3,1888, he gave his first Paris recital, and on Nov. 10, 1888, played a concert in Vienna, both with excellent success. He also began receiving recognition as a composer. Anna Essipova (who was married to Leschetizky) played his piano concerto in Vienna under the direction of Hans Richter. Paderewski made his London debut on May 9,1890. On Nov. 17,1891, he played for the first time in N.Y., and was acclaimed with an adulation rare for pianists; by some counts he gave 107 concerts in 117 days in N.Y. and other American cities and attended 86 dinner parties; his wit, already fully developed, made him a social lion in wealthy American salons. At one party, it was reported, the hostess confused him with a famous polo player who was also expected to be a guest, and greeted him effusively. “No,” Paderewski is supposed to have replied, “he is a rich soul who plays polo, and I am a poor Pole who plays solo.” American spinsters beseeched him for a lock of his luxurious mane of hair; he invariably obliged, and when his valet observed that at this rate he would soon be bald, he said, “Not I, my dog.” There is even a story related by a gullible biographer that Paderewski could charm beasts by his art and that a spider used to come down from the ceiling in Paderewski’s lodgings in Vienna and sit at the piano every time Paderewski played a certain Chopin etude. Paderewski eclipsed even Caruso as an idol of the masses. In 1890 he made a concert tour in Germany; also toured South America, South Africa, and Australia. In 1898 he purchased a beautiful home, the Villa Riond-Bosson on Lake Geneva, Switzerland; in 1899 he maried Helena Gorska, Baroness von Rosen. In 1900, by a deed of trust, Paderewski established a fund of $10,000 (the original trustees were William Steinway, Henry Lee Higginson, and William Mason), the interest from which was to be used for triennial prizes given “to composers of American birth without distinction as to age or religion” for works in the categories of syms., concertos, and chamber music. In 1910, on the occasion of the centennial of Chopin’s birth, Paderewski donated $60,000 for the construction of the Chopin Memorial Hall in Warsaw; in the same year, he contributed $100,000 for the erection of the statue of King Jagiello in Warsaw, on the quinquecentennial of his victory over the Teutonic Knights in 1410. In 1913 he purchased a ranch in Paso Robles in Calif.

Although cosmopolitan in his culture, Paderewski remained a great Polish patriot. During the First World War he donated the entire proceeds from his concerts to a fund for the Polish people caught in the war between Russia and Germany. After the establishment of the independent Polish state, Paderewski served as its representative in Washington; in 1919 he was named prime minister of the Polish Republic, the first musician to occupy such a post in any country at any period. He took part in the Versailles Treaty conference; it was then that Prime Minister Clemenceau of France welcomed Paderewski with the famous, if possibly apocryphal, remark: “You, a famous pianist, a prime minister! What a comedown!” Paderewski resigned his post on Dec. 10, 1919. He reentered politics in 1920 in the wake of the Russian invasion of Poland that year, when he became a delegate to the League of Nations; he resigned on May 7, 1921, and resumed his musical career. On Nov. 22, 1922, he gave his first concert after a hiatus of many years at Carnegie Hall in N.Y. In 1939 he made his last American tour. Once more during his lifetime Poland was invaded, this time by both Germany and Russia. Once more Paderewski was driven to political action. He joined the Polish government-in-exile in France and was named president of its parliament on Jan. 23, 1940. He returned to the U.S. on Nov. 6, 1940, a few months before his death. At the order of President Roosevelt, his body was given state burial in Arlington National Cemetery, pending the return of his remains to Free Poland. While his body was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, his heart was buried in Brooklyn and finally entombed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czesto-chowa in Doylestown, Pa., in 1986. His body was finally removed from Arlington National Cemetery and returned to Free Poland, where a Mass and state burial was accorded him at the St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Warsaw on July 5, 1992, with President Bush of the U.S. and President Walesa of Poland in attendance. Paderewski received many honors. He held the following degrees: Ph.D. from the Univ. of Lemberg (1912); D.Mus. from Yale Univ. (1917); Ph.D. from the Univ. of Krakow (1919); D.C.L. from the Univ. of Oxford (1920); LL.D. from Columbia Univ. (1922); Ph.D. from the Univ. of Southern Calif. (1923); Ph.D. from the Univ. of Poznan (1924); and Ph.D. from the Univ. of Glasgow (1925). He also held the Grand Cross of the French Legion of Honor (1922). A postage stamp with his picture was issued in Poland in 1919, and 2 postage tamps honoring him in the series “Men of Liberty” were issued in the U.S. in 1960.

As an artist, Paderewski was a faithful follower of the Romantic school, which allowed free, well-nigh improvisatory declensions from the written notes, tempi, and dynamics; judged by 20th-century standards of precise rendering of the text, Paderewski’s interpretations appear surprisingly free, but this very personal freedom of performance moved contemporary audiences to ecstasies of admiration. Also, Paderewski’s virtuoso technique, which astonished his listeners, has been easily matched by any number of pianists of succeeding generations. Yet his position in the world of the performing arts remains undiminished by the later achievements of younger men and women pianists. As a composer, Paderewski also belongs to the Romantic school. At least one of his piano pieces, the Menuet in G (a movement of his set of 6 Humoresques de concert), achieved enormous popularity. His other compositions, however, never sustained a power of renewal and were eventually relegated to the archives of unperformed music. His opera Manru (1897–1900), dealing with folk life in the Tatra Mountains, was produced in Dresden on May 29, 1901, and was also performed by the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. on Feb. 14, 1902. Another major work, a Sym. in B minor, was first performed by the Boston Sym. Orch. on Feb. 12, 1909. His other works included a Piano Concerto in A minor (1888); Fantaisie polonaise for Piano and Orch. (1893); Violin Sonata (1880); songs; and the following compositions for piano solo: Prelude and Capriccio; 3 Pieces (Gavotte, Melodie, Valse mélancholique); Krakowiak; Élégie; 3 Polish Dances; Introduction and Toccata; Chants du voyageur (5 pieces); 6 Polish Dances; Album de mai (5 pieces), Variations and Fugue; Tatra Album (also arr. for Piano, 4-Hands); 6 Humoresques de concert (which includes the famous Menuet in G); Dans le désert; Miscellanea (7 pieces); Légende; Sonata in E-flat minor (1903). A complete list of Paderewski’s works was pubi, in the Bolletino bibliografico musicale (Milan, 1932).


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—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire