Ignacy Jan Paderewski – artist, pole, patriot

He quickly became one of the most famous pianists in Poland and Europe. Intelligent, witty, physically attractive and socially refined, Ignacy Jan Paderewski became an ornament of concert halls and salons, and an audience favorite. At the same time, he perfected his artistic craft in Berlin and in Vienna with Teodor Leszetycki and became friends with Camille Saint Saëns. In 1891 he began his triumphant artistic your of the United States, invited by the piano manufacturer, William Steinway, supported by world famous Polish actress, Helena Modrzejewska.

At the same time, the artist accumulated a large body of work as a composer. He was the author of the “Manru” opera, with a libretto based on the novel by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski “Chata za wsią” (1893-1901), a Piano Concerto (1882-1889), numerous songs and musical miniatures, the immensely popular Fantasie Polonaise (1891-1893). His Works, very Polish in their nature, also relating to Eastern Territory subjects, were not always understood by foreigners. Finally, after the unfavorable responses to the Symphony in h-minor (1903-1909, relating to the drama and heroism of the January Uprising), the artist decided to suspend his composing activity and focus on performing. He actively performed until the end of his life.

In 1899 he married Helena Górska and since that time divulged increasing amounts of time to social and political matters. Due to his great performing activity, characteristic attitude and immense popularity, he became a Polish patriot, but also a citizen of the world. He took residence in Switzerland, in the Riond Bosson estate near Morges, for some time even owned a ranch in the United States, and since the year 1897 also a manor in Kraśna Dolna near Tarnów.

The period preceding the First World War was for Paderewski a time of active promotion of Polish interests, international relations with the most important politicians associated with the future Triple Entente, mainly with the United States, England and France. He was received with deference by presidents and prime ministers alike. He could not achieve much for the sake of independence, but he reminded other countries of Poland and the harm done to its people by the country’s neighbors. In July 1910 the Grunwald Monument, funded by Ignacy Jan Paderewski, was formally unveiled in Kraków. From that moment on, the artist clearly defined his political standpoint, in addition to preparing a memorial for Polish interests, presented to the president of the United States, Thomas W. Wilson. In the year 1915 he also became involved in charity work as a member of the General Committee for Aid to the War Victims in Poland.

By the end of 1918 Ignacy Jan Paderewski became especially associated with Greater Poland. The artist performed in Poznań on the 13th and 15th of February 1890 in the Polish Theater, and on the 29th of November 1901 played a piano recital in the (now non-existent) Lambert Hall in Poznań’s Piekary district, as always evoking the enthusiasm of the audience. That time, however, he had another role to perform. Poland, undergoing a rebirth since November 1918, was still a country without borders, but with an existing political system, government and foreign representatives. The increasing struggle between political parties resulted in the need to introduce a new character to the game – a politician unassociated with any political party, with great authority and generally respected, who would stand above the petty quarrels. Ignacy Jan Paderewski fit that role perfectly. Soon enough, the artist set out for Poland.

On the evening of the 26th of December 1918, together with the coalition mission officers, he arrived in Poznań to conduct diplomatic talks regarding the future of Greater Poland within the borders of the revived Polish country. The artist’s visit, even in the preparation period, caused a significant increase of patriotic moods in the city; out of fear for Paderewski’s safety, the National Guard in the city and its area was put on high alert. The Germans failed to discourage the artist from staying in the Greater Polish capital. They then began to place formal obstacles, turned off the city lights. Despite that, the artist was warmly greeted by the numerous manifest participants gathered under the window of the “Bazar” hotel, from which Paderewski delivered his introductory speech, thanking for his welcome. He found himself in an awkward situation, as he could not personally be associated with the uncontrolled events in Poznań. Paderewski, despite internally accepting the attitudes of the Polish people, had to act in a diplomatic manner. He had already acted as a representative of the Warsaw government, and had the possible Greater Polish riots somehow been linked to him, Polish interests at the peace conference in Paris would have been in a difficult situation. So the artist decided to resort to a contrivance: a diplomatic illness. Following that, he would no longer be publically seen outside the hotel. The following day at noon, on the 27th of December 1918, a march of several thousand in honor of Paderewski took place in front of the “Bazar”; the artist, lying in bed, only received their delegation. The Germans organized their own demonstration whish was to balance out the Polish one from the day before. By accident, fights began to break out in front of the “Bazar” and soon spread all over the city and the region. It was the beginning of the eventually victorious Greater Polish Uprising. Ever since that time Paderewski was permanently associated with that event and the inhabitants of Greater Poland considered the artist as somewhat of a spiritual leader, a man who gave them the will to fight. He in turn, while completely sympathizing with the cause, had to maintain an official distance – and remained consistent in this standing until the end of his life, even though he wholeheartedly became connected with Poznań. Also due to political reasons.

Between the 16th of January and the 9th of December 1918 Ignacy Jan Paderewski held the positions of prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Poland. In time it turned out to be a difficult period for Poland, only just building its nationality, as well as for the artist himself, who did not always manage in the midst of faction quarrels. At that time in early March he was also in Poznań in order to settle the matter of military aid for the struggling Lviv together with Commander-in-Chief of the Greater Polish Armed Forces, gen. Józef Dowbór Muśnicki. On the 28th of June 1919 in Versailles, with Roman Dmowski and on behalf of Poland, he sighed a peace treaty. After leaving the position of prime minister, on the 27th of December 1919, the first anniversary of the Greater Polish Uprising, the artist arrived to the Greater Polish capital – greeted festively, just as he was a year before.

In January 1920 Ignacy Jan Paderewski went to Switzerland, and later to the United States. He returned to Poznań between the 21st and 29th of November 1924, but did not yet perform. Back in 1919 he became the first Honorary Citizen of the City of Poznań, and in 1924 he also became doctor honoris causa of the Poznań University, and met with students of the grammar school named after him. It was the artist’s final visit in Poznań during his lifetime. In 1931 he funded a monument of United States president Thomas W. Wilson for the Capital of Greater Poland.

During the interwar period Paderewski visited Poland, but following Józef Piłsudski’s May 1926 Coup d’Etat he became a strong opponent of the Sanation government. Following Józef Piłsudski’s death, he headed the Morges Front established in Switzerland and gathering main opposition leaders.

The outbreak of the Second World War and Poland’s defeat in the September campaign were tough blows for the, then elderly and widowed (in 1934) artist, but they did not break him. In December 1939 in Paris, he headed the National Council of Poland which substituted for the Parliament. Much like twenty years prior, he set out on a concert tour and spoke out in favor of Polish interests. He died of a cold on the 29th of June 1941 in New York. The coffin with the patriot-artist’s remains rested for several subsequent decades at the Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, awaiting the return to an independent Poland. In Summer 1992 the artist’s dream came true: the coffin with his remains was laid to rest in the catacombs of the St. John’s Cathedral in Warsaw. On the way, however, on the 2nd of July a recreation of the 26th of December 1918 route was organized in Poznań. Since 1959 Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s heart rested at New York’s Cypress Hill Cemetery in Queens, and is currently located in the “American Częstochowa” – Doylestown.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski received many of the highest Polish and foreign distinctions, as well as honorary doctorates at numerous universities. In Poznań he is primarily associated with the Greater Polish 1918-1919 Uprising and is the patron of the Academy of Music, VI Comprehensive School and the street connecting the Old Market with Freedom Plaza. The capital of Greater Poland is a Polish city in which the artist is especially commemorated.

The Greater Polish capital has a tradition of recreating the master’s historic route taken on the night of the 26th of December. An actor characterized to look like Paderewski arrives in a special train to a platform of the Imperial Train Station and greets the gathered citizens of Poznań, which is followed by a choir concert of patriotic songs.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski is among the greatest Polish historic figures; he was an artist, patriot, political and charitable activist, a noble man dedicated to serving his Homeland, deserving our memory.

Marek Rezler