2010 Paderewski Festival to Hail Maestro’s 150th Birthday Anniversary

Paso Robles Magazine
Melissa Chavez

One hundred fifty years after his birth, the world continues to reap the fruits of Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Through music, one mortal has soothed the souls of the melancholy, memorialized his countrymen, inspired multitudes to action, and imparted pride in the freedom of a homeland reborn.

In 2010, nations have cause to commemorate the anniversary of Paderewski’s birth. As much a composer and pianist, his successes were equally profound as a statesman, patriot, and relentless pursuer of democracy.

Though generations have since passed, Paderewski’s artistic significance and a lifetime dedicated to the preservation of liberty remains as timeless and relevant as ever. How fitting then is it that community leaders, Polish dignitaries, and honored guests of all ages would reunite in a place where Paderewski worked, lived, laughed and healed – Paso Robles.

Passion for music born from adversity.

Life began as a trial by fire for Ignacy Jan Paderewski, but his experiences forged a future that became anything but ordinary. Born in the small Podolia Governorate village of Kurylowka in 1860, Paderewski’s mother died just months into his infancy. When the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, challenged the oppression of the Russian Empire in the January Uprising of 1863, retributions came swiftly. Soon, Paderewski was witness to the violent abduction and imprisonment of his own father, rendering him parentless at age three. Entrenched in political strife at great personal cost, it was his aunt’s inferior piano that sparked in Paderewski a passion for music.

Largely self-taught before education began in Warsaw, young Paderewski developed his work ethic and thrived. Though not initially regarded as a promising pianist and even discouraged on occasion from seeking out serious study, it did nothing to thwart the respect of his Russian-speaking instructors or tutoring other students. By age 20, he would marry 17-year-old Antonia Korsak, father a physically disabled son, and become widowed within the year. formal

Abandoned to his work, Paderewski sought guidance by Friedrich Kiel, the talented, yet unassuming chamber music composer. He also mentored with German violinist Heinrich Urban and prolific Austrian composer Teodor Leszetizky. By Paderewski’s early 20s, he would begin performing publicly in what has been described as neoromantic in style. A few short years later, fame would soon repay a young lifetime of dedicated study in earnest.

Throughout all of Central Europe, Paderewski proved himself a magnetic performer, diligent composer and purposeful traveler. Arriving in Manhattan at age 31, he made his American debut. Committed to a receptive and faithful following, Paderewski returned to the United States several times, including tours throughout Canada. His performances were not merely entertaining; some onlookers regarded them as virtual epiphanies. Soon after establishing his Polish estate in Kasna Dolna, Paderewski remarried and established residence in an idyllic palatial chateau in Riond-Bosson, Switzerland.

Globally revered for his musical masterpieces and ability to perform, Paderewski was at home in front of any audience, whether to thousands in the sophisticated concert halls of major cities, to captive audiences at intimate gatherings. Beloved by people from all walks, the maestro’s very likeness permeated the daily lives of ordinary citizens, from miniature toy replicas to barbershop duplications of his flowing mane.

For all of the trappings and acclaim heaped on Paderewski, he seemed to transcend their flattery. Instead, he would return the favor as if on a mission and on a larger scale. It could be argued that, in this life, “Paderewski gave much more than he got.”

A unifying force for the cause of liberty

Only equal to Paderewski’s musical genius was his prominence as an electrifying and unifying force among his compatriots and in the world. On the commemoration of the Battle of Grunwald, in which Polish forces subdued Knights of the Teutonic Order, Paderewski riveted his listeners in Krakow with a momentous speech, rallying the crowd.

To help ease subsequent losses in World War I, Paderewski was only too eager to gather support on the behalf of his people and Poland’s independence. Backing conviction with his wallet, Paderewski forsook concert tours during this time to mount a fundraising spree. Fervent persuasion coupled with hands-on effort yielded millions of dollars of aid in support of those paying the ultimate price in the trenches of war.

In January 1919, Paderewski served as Prime Minister and Secretary of Foreign Affairs of a regenerated Poland and as her representative at the Paris Peace Conference where President Woodrow Wilson headed the U.S. delegation. Among Paderewski’s first order of business was his January 12 correspondence to Wilson’s closest advisor, U.S. Colonel Edward House. Paderewski requested that Poland be recognized as its own government and sought support. The colonel replied warmly with cable correspondence from President Wilson. Not only did the message affirm Poland’s independent status and the United States’ eagerness to enter into official relations, it included the offer of possible aid sent in the same spirit of solidarity in which Americans have enjoyed with the Polish people.

Paderewski was elated to have found success in confirming the presence of Allied Government backing to help sustain Poland’s independence, Britain and France added their support six weeks later. Italy joined the very day after, followed by Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden and Spain. More than a musician, Colonel House found Paderewski the consummate diplomat and held him in high esteem. What Paderewski lacked in political experience, he more than redeemed himself in the wee hours through careful study, consultation, and preparation.

Forsaking even the possession of written copy and committing drafts of his own speeches to memory, Paderewski’s intellectually sound and passionate delivery caused even the most adverse of skeptics to rethink previously held presumptions. President Wilson’s own Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, reportedly admitted “how wrong this impression was and how completely I failed to estimate correctly his (Paderewski) attaintments and his real mental strength,” he said. “Paderewski was a greater statesman than he was a musician...he was an able and tactful leader of his countrymen and sagacious diplomat.” Lansing added, “What others, certainly more experienced than he in public affairs and credited with greater political shrewdness, failed to accomplish, Mr. Paderewski accomplished. Raw amateur though he was in politics, nearly everything that he said and nearly everything that he did seemed to be the right thing.”

By summer, Paderewski put his mark on the Treaty of Versailles to reinstate her territories from outside Gdansk. Serving as Polish Ambassador to the League of Nations, he readily enlisted President Herbert Hoover to lend his support toward the Polish Relief Fund. Grateful for his partnership, Paderewski responded in kind by donating his own concert series residuals to subsidize impoverished American citizens. Less than a decade later on the 10th anniversary of Poland’s sovereignty, four more American presidents would join Hoover in honor of Paderewski’s many achievements.

By the end of his life, Paderewski invested more monies into other’s livelihoods than can likely be documented. His investments included the financial support of starving musicians, concert hall, dormitory and hospital construction, church restoration, and funds for disabled veterans for Poles and Americans alike. Ever the voice for the politically exiled and socially oppressed throughout Central Europe, Paderewski established himself on the world stage as a musician, but he also engraved his name on people’s hearts as one of the greatest freedom fighters and philanthropists of his time.