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Prominent Poles

Ignacy Jan Paderewski, composer, pianist, statesman

Photo of Ignacy Paderewski, composer,pianist,statesman

Born:  18 November 1860, Kurylowka , Russian partition of Poland (presently Kurilovka,Ukraine)

Died:  29 June 1941, New York City, New York, USA

Early days. Father, Jan Paderewski- an Iwanowski’s estate administrator. Mother died few months after his birth. After his father was jailed during January 1863 Rising his aunt took care of him and of his sister in Nowosiolki. His father remarried in 1867. During 1872-1878 he studied at Warsaw’s Musical Institute. He was initially expelled from the Institute. He said that “everybody believed that I will be a composer not a pianist.” However after passing the final exam with an excellent result he was employed in the Institute and taught piano there during 1878-1881. Marriage; advanced musical education; early successes. In 1880 he married Antonina Korsak with whom he had a son, Alfred. She died a year later. In 1881 he went to Berlin where he studied composition with F. Kietel and H. Urban, then to Vienna to perfect his technique with T.Leszetycki. He met there Brahms and Wagner. His pianist debut took place in Vienna in 1887. In 1888 he had his first recital in Paris. Till 1896 he traveled as an honored pianist-virtuoso through Europe, Australia, North and South America and Africa. In 1896 he settled in the villa Riond Bosson in Morges, Switzerland. His first compositions were - Valse mignonne, Impromptu, Prelude and capriccio, Minuet in G-minor and Three pieces for piano. In May 1899 he visited Warsaw and married there Helena Gorska who devoted her time to care for Paderewski’s very ill son. In 1910 he founded the Grunwald Monument in Cracow. In 1913 he settled in the USA where he gave more than 1500 concerts, appearing in every state and drawing the largest crowds in history at a time when the solo recital was still in its infancy. He traveled 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. He composed several dozen works, which include two operas, a symphony, two piano 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 Poland. 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.
Political activities. At the beginning of World War I, Paderewski founded a committee to assist the people of Poland and established branches in Paris, London and throughout the United States. Paderewski's efforts, with support from the American government and American people, helped Poland regain her freedom after World War I. 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 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. At the request of Marshal Pilsudski, upon Poland's Independence in 1918, Paderewski became its Prime Minister and Secretary of Foreign Affairs. 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." As the Prime Minister he signed on June 28, 1919 the Versailles Peace Treaty in which Poland retained the Great Poland (Wielkopolska) and Pomerania (Pomorze). Paderewski became the chief framer of the Polish Constitution of 1919 and served as Poland's delegate to the League of Nations in Geneva. 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. Together with Henryk Sienkiewicz he founded a Committee of Assistance for Polish War Victims in Vevey and the Polish Relief Fund in London. In 1920 he resigned his political offices and resumed his musical career. On the 10th anniversary of Polish independence in 1928 Paderewski received messages from four U.S. presidents, Coolidge, Taft, Hoover and Roosevelt acknowledging his work as a statesman. 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." 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. In 1936 together with Wladyslaw Sikorski he founded Front Morges. 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.
Paderewski the 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. 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. 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. 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. Throughout the years he made substantial contributions for various causes: for unemployed musicians in England, funds for playwrights, for Polish 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 refugees 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. He also supported the organizations: “The Hospital for Brotherly Help in Zakopane” and the “Tatra Museum.” Paderewski became ill during a mission to the United States while requesting additional support for Poland against Hitler's Nazi invaders. He died in New York City on June 29, 1941. 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 in 1992 to a free Poland for burial in the Warsaw’s St. John’s Cathedral. There are hundreds of organizations around the world named after Ignacy Jan Paderewski to honor his life and efforts on behalf of the Polish people.
This biography is partially based on the article by Wanda Wilk published on the Webpage “Polish Composers” of the Polish Music Center of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA See:
Polish Music Center

For the list of Ignacy Paderewski’s works see the above URL.

Other sources:
Polish American Center
Bigos Bar
where are the original recordings of Paderewski at the piano:
Listen to Paderewski's music!
Chopin - Etude, Op. 25, No. 8 in D flat Recorded May 12th, 1924
Chopin - Etude, Op. 25, No. 9 in G flat (Butterfly) Recorded May 12th, 1924
Chopin - Etude, Op. 10, No. 3 in E major Recorded December 13th, 1926
Chopin - Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 2 in F sharp Recorded August 18th, 1927
Chopin - Sonata No. 2, Op. 35 - Funeral March III - Lento Recorded May 24th, 1928
Chopin - Sonata No. 2, Op. 35 - Funeral March IV - Presto Recorded May 24th,1928
Chopin - Polonaise, Op. 53 in A flat - Heroic Recorded January 30th, 1937
Paderewski - Minuet, Op. 14, No. 1 in G major Recorded January 30th, 1937
Polish Government
See also the Bigos Bar above for:
Poland in the Classroom - Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Paderewski Quotations
An attempt to define Ignacy Jan Paderewski's performing style
The composer and later leader of the exiled Polish Government broadcasts in English to Britain on the war looming before Poland

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