Ignacy Jan Paderewski, GBE (Polish: [iɡˈnat͡sɨ ˈjan padɛˈrɛfskʲi]; 18 November [O.S. 6 November] 1860 – 29 June 1941) was a Polish pianist and composer, politician, statesman and spokesman for Polish independence. He was a favorite of concert audiences around the world. His musical fame opened access to diplomacy and the media.
Paderewski played an important role in meeting with President Woodrow Wilson and obtaining the explicit inclusion of independent Poland as point 13 in Wilson's peace terms in 1918, called the Fourteen Points. He was the prime minister of Poland and also Poland's foreign minister in 1919, and represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. He served 10 months as prime minister, and soon thereafter left Poland, never to return.
Pianist, composer, and supporter of new composers
After three years of diligent study and a teaching appointment in Strasbourg arranged for by Leschetizky, Paderewski made his concert debut in Vienna in 1887. He soon gained great popularity and his subsequent appearances (in Paris in 1889 and in London in 1890) were major successes. His brilliant playing created a furor that reached to almost extravagant lengths of admiration. A large part of his great success stemmed from his stage presence and his striking looks. Paderewski had immense charisma, which would prove equally important in his political and charitable activities. In 1891 the pianist set for a tour of the United States, which brought him great acclaim and fortune as well as access to the halls of power. His name at once became synonymous with the highest level of piano virtuosity. Not everyone was equally impressed, however. After hearing Paderewski for the first time, Moriz Rosenthal said: "Yes, he plays well, I suppose, but he's no Paderewski". America became the place he toured most often (over 30 times in 50 years) and his second home.
Paderewski kept up a furious pace of touring and composition, including many of his own pieces for piano in his concerts. He also wrote an opera, Manru, which to date has been the only opera by a Polish composer ever performed in the Metropolitan Opera's 135-year history. A “lyric drama,” Manru is an ambitious work formally inspired by Wagner’s music dramas; it lacks an overture and closed-form arias, rather employing Wagner’s device of leitmotifs to represent characters and ideas. The story centers on a doomed love triangle, social inequality and racial prejudice (Manru is a Gypsy) and is set in the Tatra Mountains. In addition to the Met, Manru was staged in Dresden (in a private royal viewing), Lviv (its official premiere in 1901), Prague, Cologne, Zurich, Warsaw, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Moscow, and Kiev. In 1904, Paderewski, his second wife, entourage, parrot, and Erard piano gave concerts in Australia and New Zealand, in collaboration with Polish-French composer, Henri Kowalski. Paderewski toured tirelessly around the world, he pioneered the format of the solo recital as most public concerts at the time featured multiple artists in the interest of variety; he was the first to give a solo performance at the new 3,000-seat Carnegie Hall. In 1909 came the premiere of his Symphony in B minor "Polonie", a massive work lasting 75 minutes. Paderewski’s compositions were quite popular during his lifetime and for a time entered the orchestral repertoire, in particular his Fantaisie polonaise sur des thèmes originaux (Polish Fantasy on original themes) for piano and orchestra, piano Concerto in A minor, and Polonie symphony. His piano miniatures became especially popular; the Minuet in G major, Op. 14 No. 1 written in the style of Mozart became one of the most recognized piano tunes of all time. And even though his relentless touring schedule and his increasingly more valuable and urgent political and charitable engagements imposed on his composition, Paderewski left a legacy of over 70 orchestral, instrumental and vocal works.
In 1896, Paderewski donated US$10,000 to establish a trust fund to encourage American-born composers. The fund underwrote a triennial competition that began in 1901 called the "Paderewski Prize". Paderewski also launched a similar contest in Leipzig in 1898. He was extremely popular internationally, to such an extent that the music hall duo "The Two Bobs" had a hit song in 1916, in music halls across Britain, with the song "When Paderewski Plays". He was a favorite of concert audiences around the globe; women especially admired his performances.