Biography of Pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski Part 2

About the famous pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, biography and history of the performer.



Like Franz Liszt, Paderewski was a charismatic performer whose striking appearance and intense personality combined with his virtuosity to electrify audiences--particularly female audiences. Helen Modjeska described the young Paderewski as resembling "one of Botticelli's or Fra Angelico's angels." He had a delicately handsome face and profuse golden hair, and he maintained a robust figure with regular exercise. Later he proved as impressive an orator as he was a musician, and he combined his talents in the cause of Polish nationalism. Up until his very end, he remained a powerful presence wherever he appeared. (During a brief premiership in Poland, when he was nearly 60, Paderewski personally overwhelmed a knife-wielding would-be assassin.)

Before the arrival of the Beatles, probably no European performer equaled Paderewski's impact on Americans. Crowds mobbed him wherever he went, and his journeys across the continent resembled royal progresses. He traveled in a private train with his own butler, chef, doctor, masseur, piano tuner, and servants. For relaxation, he indulged in his two passions: billiards and bridge. Occasionally he looked further afield for entertainment. While dining in St. Louis with George Johns, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Paderewski asked him if there was anything unusual to see in the city. Johns responded by taking the pianist to Babe Connor's famous brothel. When they arrived, a large black woman named Mama Lou was belting out "Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-Der-E," a bawdy song which was to become enormously popular in both the U.S. and England. Paderewski was so taken with the song that he sat down at the piano and had Mama Lou sing it through several times while he learned it.

During the period Paderewski was pursuing his career in America and throughout Europe, his invalid son was being taken care of by the pianist's old friend and admirer, Ladislas Gorski, and his wife, Helena. Over the years Paderewski's friendship with Helena ripened into love. With the consent of Ladislas, whom Paderewski praised as "a noble man," the Gorski marriage was annulled on a technicality, freeing Helena to wed Paderewski in May, 1899. She accompanied him on an extensive tour of America that same year. He continued his heavy schedule until 1905, when he developed a nervous disorder that made piano playing so painful he had to give up performing. But because his philanthropy kept him ever on the brink of insolvency, he soon resumed his career. Also, the pressing demands of Polish nationalism gave his work an even greater urgency.

Seeing W.W. I as an opportunity to restore independence to his native country, Paderewski rallied support for Poland in the U.S. He personally persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to include Polish independence in his 14 Points for a postwar settlement. After the U.S. entered the war, Paderewski raised a Polish army to fight in France. In January, 1919, he became prime minister and foreign secretary of newly independent Poland and represented Poland at the Versailles Peace Conference. A staggering burden of economic and political problems overwhelmed his government, however, and--smarting from criticism--he resigned the following December. Twenty years later he became the head of Poland's government in exile after Germany reoccupied his country. The 80-year-old pianist and statesman died in the U.S. during yet another campaign to gain support for Poland. Although he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, his heart was removed from his body before interment. His last request was that it be returned to Poland when his native country was once again free. After spending 12 years in a Brooklyn mortuary, Paderewski's heart was moved to Cypress Hills Abbey Mausoleum in New York City, where it remains to this day.

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