The Man Behind the Star
150th anniversary of Paderewski's birth
By Art Wielgus (US)
"There is no man in public life I admire more than Ignace Jan
Paderewski," Colonel House wrote to Charles Phillips.
"Paderewski the Story of a Modern Immortal" by Charles Phillips, page. 339.
He was the boy from the borderlands of the Podolian manor, born November
6, 1860 in the village of Kurylowka then under the occupation of Russia,
presently in Ukraine. He did not know his mother. She passed away, few
months after giving birth to her son. When he was 3 years old, he
witnessed his father's arrest and imprisonment.
Ignacy’s childhood house was surrounded at night by Russian soldiers.
They came to arrest his patriotic father, because the Russian authority
suspected him of supporting his country's independence against assassins
-enemies of hiscountry in the "January Uprising" of 1863, which lasted
from January 22, 1863 to the Spring of 1864.
The Russian soldiers beat the 3 year old boy with the whip,
after he asked them "where are you taking my father?"
"…I approached a Cossack very timidly and asked him about my father,
because he was the most important thing in our lives. I was rather badly
received, with the knout!"
The Paderewski Memoirs by I.J.P. and Mary Lawton, published by Charles
Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1938, page 4.
"I realized the danger. So I ran again to the tallest of the Cossacks,
frightened as I was and cried, ‘What is happening to my father?’ But he
never answered or even looked at me. But I insisted and I kept on
asking, as a child will, what had happened- why they were taking my
father away, and if he would soon be back again. And then, the tall
Cossack laughed, threw back his head and again gave me several very
heavy strokes with the knout. This first contact with the Russian
authorities affected me very deeply – it will always affect me. First of
all it was very painful, it cut my flesh, but I also considered it a
supreme insult – in the pride of boyhood, not quite four years old!"
Ibid, page 5.
Russian soldiers were searching and demolishing the house. They broke
all the glass in the house. Then they threw out the window all the books
and burned them. They arrested Paderewski’s father and were dragging
him to prison in front of his three year old son, Ignacy and five year old
daughter Antonina. Their country did not have independence at
that time. Their nation was partitioned and enslaved by 3 totalitarian
countries. Two of these countries were German speaking people and the
other was Russia.
They were educated at home for in school they could not study in their
When their father was in prison in Kiev, the sister of their father
took the children to her home, a hundred miles away and cared for them
for more than a year. "I began writing letters to my father in prison…",
Ibid, page 6.
"After a year or more of imprisonment, my father was set free, and this
is of interest because it came about in a most remarkable way. The
peasants from the surrounding villages went in great numbers to the
prison and asked the authorities to release him."
The boy was talented, musically apt. He had a partial photographic
memory. "When I was a small boy I could multiply four figures by four figures in
my mind with great ease."
At twelve years old, his father enrolled him in the Warsaw Conservatory
and he lived with the Kerntopf family.
The Kerntopfs were piano producers. Paderewski met renowned musicians in
their house and went with Ed Kerntopf to many concerts and operas.
As a youth, he was slender and tall with a pale face under the bright
mop of golden-auburn hair. He had a small chin, great forehead and
dreamy eyes. His looks were as good as his disposition. He had a
straight nose, blue eyes, blond eyelashes and high cheek-boned contour.
Throughout musical conservatory school, Paderewski wanted truly to learn
to play the piano as best as he could.
He knew that he had to work hard.
"And you might spend the whole of your life playing without learning
anything. You can become drunk in any art on your own emotion – a great
many people are wasting their time in that way – arriving at no results
Ibid, p. 43
He graduated from Music Conservatory when he was 18. Upon graduation he
was offered employment in the school he attended for a few years. As a
teacher he fell in love with his former student. They got married, but a
year later his young wife died a few days after she gave birth to a son,
leaving her husband with a few days old, infant son. They
called the child Alfred. That poor boy never walked in his life
unsupported, because he had infantile paralysis also called
Heine Medina. But Paderewski, the great man never lost his
courage. He was unbroken by misfortune. He entrusted his infant son
to the care of his mother in law, later his father and later his friends.
Meanwhile in 1882 Paderewski traveled to Berlin to study at the Royal
Academy of Music, the musical compositions under Friedrich Kiel, a
distinguished professor. In Berlin he met and became friends
with Moritz Moszkowski who introduced him to Hugo Bock. In Bock’s home
Paderewski met many other musical celebrities.
"It was not exactly a student ‘s life that I led in Berlin at that
time . I was too serious a man then to join the student group and the
people who were so constantly enjoying themselves. I was already
considered as a teacher, a former teacher of the Conservatory at Warsaw
and I was a father of the child. Therefore, I did not belong to that gay
clique of students and musicians, though occasionally I joined with them
in their festivities. Most of them were much older than I and still
studying! In fact I am sure they would always be students! There is a
certain type of person, you know, who always remains a student – always
studying, but learning nothing."
Ibid, p. 61.
"I was a Pole and very much alone. As I remember it, there were few
Polish students there at that time. The Germans were not at all
sympathetic to me. That was a time of great persecution of the Poles in
Germany and I felt it constantly and deeply. Even in that charming
family of my kind publisher, Mr. Bock, I sometimes had to hear very
cutting and bitter remarks about my country. And I disliked Berlin very,
very much on that account. There were certain political regulations
which made me feel rather disgusted with these people and their system.
For example, of all the foreign newspapers, only the Polish were
prohibited. There was no sale of them at the railway stations (the
stations always have foreign papers). Some individuals were very nice,
very civilized, but the entire atmosphere was positively antagonistic to
"To continue a little further with the Berlin experiences, I want
especially to speak of Mr. Hugo Bock, the publisher. I was introduced to
Mr. Bock by a very fine man and good musician who enjoyed much
popularity. His name was Moritz Moszkowski, and it was through this
introduction of Moszkowski’s that my compositions were published,
because it was extremely difficult, being young and unknown, to find a
publisher. He, Bock, gave me for those first compositions (about nine
pieces) the enormous sum of 200 marks, that was about $50.
Ibid, p. 63.
In Berlin, he enjoyed meeting great composers, pianists and conductors.
After one year of study in Berlin, he was out of money and had to return
to Warsaw, where he taught piano at the Conservatory school.
He was determined on the pianistic career however. He taught for one
year in Warsaw and went back to Berlin. He studied counterpoint,
instrumentation and musical forms under professor Urban. "So I returned
to Berlin. But before going there I had to do something about my poor
boy, who had become very ill. I took him to my father because he was
living in a place where there was a possibility of having a good
physician. He was already showing a serious weakness in walking. It was
practically the beginning of infantile paralysis."
Ibid, p. 77.
After he had studied orchestration under professor Urban in Berlin for a
year, he returned to his native country and went to the mountain region.
In the city of Zakopane he composed the "Tatra Album", a highlanders’
folk music album.
In Zakopane he met Titus who always wanted Paderewski to play
Mozart for him. One day Paderewski tricked him by
composing Minuet and playing it to Titus, who immediately started to
praise Mozart for it. When he found out, he pretended to like
by then not well known, 23 years old composer.
Titus introduced Paderewski to Modjeska. Paderewski became a frequent
visitor in her house. She told him. "Now you must start your career as a
pianist; you must not wait any longer…"
Ibid p. 82.
Paderewski wanted to study more however and he told her. "I said, I
should like to go to Leschetizky, who was the greatest teacher of that
time and who had produced many pupils who played really beautifully. And
then I said I must give a concert before leaving in Cracow"
Ibid, p. 82.
She helped him with this concert. She was reciting poems and Paderewski
accompanied her on the piano.
After the concert, Modjeska gave Paderewski all the money they made, "At
that time it was about $200…"
Ibid, p. 83.
She told him to travel to Vienna to study under professor Leschetizky. At the age of 24,
Paderewski became a student of Theodore Leschetizky, a highly regarded
piano teacher and composer.
"I was at that time twenty four and I had to start from the beginning –
finger exercises! I had to make up for all the years lost when nobody
showed me how to work. I was already dancing, without having learned to
But Leschetizky was kind and generous; he never charged me anything for
the lessons-never; he gave me freely and generously of his time and
The Paderewski Memoirs by I.J.P. and Mary Lawton, published
by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1938, page 83.
"When I went to Vienna I had no letters of introduction to him. I had
never met him before…"
Ibid, p. 85.
"..I really learned from Leschetizky how to work."
When Paderewski was out of money, he returned to Warsaw, but soon
Leschetizky sent him a letter. "Leschetizky wrote
enthusiastically and said, ‘I have an interesting proposition from the
Strasbourg Conservatory. They ask for the musician, a professor of
harmony and counterpoint and at the same time a professor of piano
playing for the upper class of pupils. I have recommended you
So Paderewski accepted this position for one year and then he came
back to study further with Leschetizky in Vienna.
Paderewski made a lot of progress by then and Leschetizky liked that. He
asked Paderewski to play at a charity concert in Vienna with Pauline
Lucca, the singer. It was Paderewski's debut. Paderewski
made a real impression. The audience applauded Paderewski’s
performance and Leschetizky praised him. He was already almost
27 years old. After some more practice with Leschetizky, Paderewski soon
left for France. "I gave my first recital in Paris, in the Salle Erard,
with great hope. It was in March, 1888."
His concert was an instant success. "At my second recital I made a
little more money, and I was then invited to play in private homes
and at the Lyons Philharmonic Society."
When his son Alfred was 8 years old, a secret lover of Ignacy Paderewski
offered to take Alfred to her house and care for him, although she was
married and had her own child. Her name was Helen Gorska von Rosen.
The line of Paderewski’s career as a pianist was extending. After
concerts in Paris, Paderewski returned to Vienna and began to prepare a
large repertory. Leschetizky gave him a few more lessons and approved
the principal pieces from his repertory.
"Then came another great event for me-I had a real debut in Vienna in
1889, and that was an immense, an immediate success. It was my first
recital in Vienna. It took place in the Bosendorfer Hall."
Later that year he returned to Paris and played three more concerts
there. "Knowledge, whether in science or in art, or in any human
occupation, can be achieved only through daily toil and effort."
Ibid, p. 131.
Paderewski finally felt confident in his pianistic abilities and wanted
to tour the world. Next year, after his well received concerts in France,
he went to tour England in 1890.
With some initial struggles in London, he later received positive
receptions from his audiences.
After England he toured the USA. The first of
Paderewski's many American tours began in New York in 1891
and included 107 concerts in 90 days.
"Before going there I had to prepare a very large repertoire. I was
aware of the fact that I should have to play many recitals in New York,
Boston and Chicago, and several orchestral concerts too."
Ibid, p. 189.
The first American tour consisted of eighty concerts. He had a
contract with the Steinway piano manufacturer. He had to work very
His concerts were all sold out but he received little money
for them. He was still young however and not famous yet in America. His
fortune and career were ahead of him.
"I am still paying in flesh and blood for my first New York season and
you shall soon see why. When I was told that the rehearsal for my next
concert was to take place directly after my first one, it is not
exaggeration to say that I was really overcome. I was frightfully
exhausted from the first, and knew that I must be up and ready in the
morning for the colossal task of an orchestral rehearsal."
Ibid, p. 196
He could not practice in the hotel. He had to practice in a cold
warehouse at night to prepare for morning rehearsal.
There were no lights except the two candles on the piano and he
practiced for 5 hours during the night. "After the rehearsal, I
practiced again all day for the concert. How did I do it? Ah, I cannot
tell you how I endured it, but the second concert, in spite of my
fatigue, was much better than my first one. There was a larger
attendance (again at Carnegie Hall) and some real demonstration of
public favor that day which gave me still more courage to help the
As my first American tour drew to a close I was more and more fatigued
and anxious to get home. My one idea was to give as soon as possible the
eighty recitals and return to Europe. I suffered so much through
overwork and in consequence an unbearable pain in my arm…"
Ibid, p. 215.
"My first tour became a long series of concerts, 107 in all, and before
it was over I was asked to return the following season. So it all ended
very happily, and I looked forward with great hope to my return to
Ibid, p. 223.
Second American tour 1892 –93.
"My season began with the greatest satisfaction, and I played everywhere
to enthusiastic houses. My return to America was a
happiness to me. I already felt I was a part of the life there and I
felt a real affection for the country and the American people. There
were many recitals in New York and in Philadelphia."
Ibid, p. 249.
He played in Chicago and many other American cities. At one place his
finger became infected and the doctor said, "It must be operated upon immediately."
Ibid, p. 254.
This was painful and the healing took time, however the entire tour was successful.
His second tour began in December 1892 and included 63 concerts in four
months. For this and subsequent tours of the United States, he was
provided by Steinway with the use of the private railway car equipped
with bedroom, dining room and a living room with the piano.
In 1894, when Paderewski was 34, his father passed away and his son
could not even attend his father's funeral in the city of Zhitomir. He did
not have a valid Russian passport as that part of Poland was occupied by Russia.
Ibid, p. 272.
His third American tour lasted from 1895 to 1896 and was the most
successful of all.
In 1897 he bought his villa in Morges, Switzerland, which became his
home for the rest of his life, but he still traveled extensively all
over the world so he was seldom home.
Some of Paderewski’s pianistic compositions include:
Caprice, Opus 14-3, Minuet, Op. 14-1, Legende, Op. 16-1, Cracovienne
Fantastique, Op. 14-6, Chants du voyageur, Op. 8 number 3, Miscellanea,
Op. 16 numbers 1-3, "Tatra Album".
In 1893 he wrote "The Polish Fantasia". He finished composing his
opera "Manru" in 1900. In 1903 Paderewski composed Piano Sonata in E
flat minor, opus 21, Variations and Fugue in E flat minor op. 23. He
composed the impressive symphony "Polonia", (H-moll op.24, B-minor) as
a patriotic tribute to Poland.
Some criticized him for attempting to make political points through the
medium of his compositions. America honored Paderewski with a star
on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"And highest bliss of knowledge—
that all life, grief, wrong,
Turn at the last to beauty and to song!
That is his music
and how Paderewski plays".