This past weekend I was honored to be a guest of the Polish American Congress of Arizona at the lovely 41st Polish Heritage Ball. The musical program honored three Polish composers: Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Henryk Wieniawski and Michal Kleofas Oginski. In honor of Polish heritage month I’ll highlight the contributions of Ignacy Jan Paderewski who I’m most familiar with.
I grew up in a household of piano players
I grew up in a household with a piano and two parents who loved to play. They ensured that I took eight years of piano lessons, and I in turn made my children take lessons. I was familiar with the name Paderewski simply as a name in a book of piano music, most notably for his classic Minuet in G. Yet, when we toured Warsaw in 2013, our guide began talking about the Polish “politician” Paderewski. Confused, I asked “Do you mean the pianist Paderewski?” Her surprised response back was “You know Paderewski?”
Paderewski was Poland’s first prime minister
After the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 when Poland regained her status as an independent nation, Paderewski was named the first prime minister of Poland. He resigned in 1922 to resume his concert schedule. I find it appropriate that he once said The culture of any country is gauged first by its progress in art.
Paderewski had strong ties to the United States
In 1914 he purchased a large tract of land in Paso Robles, California, a city about halfway between Santa Barbara and San Francisco. He traveled to California many times between 1914 and 1939 and thought of the United States as a second home. In 1932 he held a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City that raised $50,000 for the benefit of unemployed American musicians.
Paderewski passed away in 1941 in the United States shortly after a rally to raise support for Poland. His funeral was held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, which was attended by 4,500 people inside, and 35,000 outside. By presidential proclamation he was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery until his body could be returned to a free Poland; his body was not transported to Poland until 1992.
Consider attending the 2015 Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles, California
The city of Paso Robles, California, in conjunction with the Polish Music Center at the University of Southern California will host its next Paderewski (Piano) Festival November 5-8, 2015. November 6 is Paderewski’s birthday.
For further information: If you go to YouTube, lots of musicians perform the Minuet in G. I include links to two videos. Watch Paderewski play his own Minuet in G in the 1937 film “Moonlight Sonata.” Trust me, the film is cheesy, but you’ll see Paderewski and hear his voice. (The first fifteen seconds are priceless, then skip to 2:45 minutes.) Every other “video” is just a radio recording with a photo of him. The second is one where Liberace pays homage to Paderewski in a 1950’s video accompanied by violinists (before Liberace became, well, flamboyant.)
Photo of Paderewski statue taken in Warsaw in October 2013.
Information compiled from Wikipedia, and websites for the Paderewski Festival 2015, and USC Polish Music Center.
Dziekuje Bardzo again to the members of the Congress and to our gracious hosts Roman and Lucyna Spychalski. I’m so blessed to have met you both.