"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."
, The Story of a Modern Immortal
Ignacy Paderewski (1860-1941) was one hell of a guy. He started career as a pianist in 1885 against the advice of his teachers, and by the end of his life had become one of the most famous and best-loved people the world has ever seen. As well as being an exceptional musician, he spoke seven languages fluently, able to deliver excellent speeches in many of them, he was an intellectual and general all-round genius and took some time out of his busy performance schedule to be Prime Minister of Poland.
He travelled all over the world, through five continents, crossing the Atlantic at least 30 times. He was especially popular in the US, giving upwards of 1500 concerts there, and was the first to give a recital alone in the new Carnegie Hall. He had his own luxury railroad cars that he would use for his tours, containing several pianos: He liked to live in style.
With his long, wild red hair, white bow tie, top hat and tailcoat, his fingers would rush up and down the keyboard, and he gave birth to the new stereotype of 'long-haired' musician. He was one of the last of the Romantic pianists, whose tradition was fast being replaced by those of the modernist movement. His style was similar to Debussy's in that it had an orchestral quality about it, and he used the new-found range of the modern piano to great effect: he was known as one of the greatest exponents of Bach, Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin. It was said that each of his recitals was a 'spiritual happening', such was the depth of colour and tone he brought to his interpretation of the music.
In addition to being a superlative musician, Paderewski was also great friends with many of Europe and America's leaders, and by World War I he had become an expert on matters connected with problems of Poland. In 1916 he was made a leader of Polish Americans, with all Polish organisations in the U.S. signing a document that gave him the power to act for them and decide political matters in their name. An army of Polish-descended volunteers was raised in the U.S. to fight for Poland's freedom in WW1. Paderewski was Prime Minister of Poland from January to November 1919, during which time the Treaty of Versailles was signed.
On the 10th anniversary of Polish independence in 1928, Paderewski recieved messages from Coolidge, Taft, Hoover and Roosevelt acknowledging his work as a statesman. When he arrived in Brussels during a concert tour, the king and queen of Belgium went to the station to greet him.
Paderewski had to resume his pianistic career in 1923 for financial reasons, even though he had earned more money than any artist before him: he spent it all on other people, whether for prize funds for American composers, or rebuilding a cathedral in Lausanne, or unemployed musicians in England. When World War II came, he was 79 and in poor health, but instantly agreed to help lead the Poles to freedom once again. While living in Switzerland he helped interned Poles, feeding and giving refuge to all those who came to his home. He then moved to the U.S. to continue helping the Polish cause.
After a rally in a very hot New York in 1941, Ignacy Paderewski became ill, passing away a few days later. His funeral in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York was attended by 4500 inside and 35,000 outside. By presidential decree, he was buried at Arlington Cemetary, 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, which took place in 1992. However, he always thought of America as "the country of my heart, my second home", and his heart lies in the Church of the Black Madonna, Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Credits: Polish Music Center - http://www.usc.edu/dept/polish_music/ CD Collection: "Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century", no. 74