A gifted musician, an excellent speaker and a prominent statesman, Paderewski seemed to attain perfection, fame and recognition in every walk of life. He was universally known as a philanthropist, a man with a great heart and mind, a devoted patriot and a citizen of the world. Surrounded by respect and admiration, he shared friendship of the most illustrious men of his time.


This great artist and a master pianist began his musical career as a composer and teacher at the Institute of Music in Warsaw [Instytut Muzyczny Warszawski]. His Paris debut, on 3 March 1888, began a career that lasted more than 50 years and a triumphant journey across the greatest concert stages of the world. Thousands of music lovers have listened to him, sometimes expressing their admiration in passionate and quite unconventional ways. Among his faithful audience one could find royalty, presidents, businessmen and artists; all of whom wanted to listen to him play, see him with their own eyes, and participate in the artistic mystery that surrounded him. Paderewski electrified his audience with his personality, the perfection of technique and his musical culture. He chose the repertoire of his concerts very carefully. Next to the works of Bach, Beethoven and particularly the masters of the Romantic era, he always included works by Chopin, and sometimes his own compositions. Paderewski was particularly noted for imprinting his own individual style on the interpretation of Chopin's music, establishing an ideal that has been emulated by future generations of young pianists.

Journalists and critics often compared Paderewski's talent with that of the other great masters of his time: Eugène d'Albert, Maurice Rosenthal, Emil Sauer and others. Yet, they were also unanimous in emphasizing that Paderewski was a great individual, a unique artist and a worthy successor to Franz Liszt and Anton Rubinstein. Conversely, many pianists belonging to the generation of Arthur Rubinstein did not accept Paderewski's interpretation model; they blamed him for an excessive use of tempo rubato, sentimentality, and unfashionable guitar-like chord breaks.

Imperfect traces of Paderewski's piano art can be heard today only on recordings reconstructed from records, and from pianola rolls. Paderewski's music is also preserved in the film Moonlight Sonata, produced by a London film company in 1936.

It was relatively late in his life, at the age of 24, that Paderewski decided on a new direction in his career, and began piano studies under Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna. Until that time, he had performed sporadically as a soloist, or in chamber ensembles and as accompanist to the violinist Władysław Górski, with whom he was befriended. His concerts were held mainly in Warsaw, or in some other cities in Poland, and in the summer at health resorts. Apart from these, he was absorbed mainly in pedagogical work and in, as it then seemed to him, his greatest passion and vocation: musical composition.


Paderewski wrote his first piano compositions as a pupil, and then as a graduate of the Institute of Music. In the years 1882 and 1884, he travelled to Berlin twice to perfect his knowledge of composition under Friedrich Kiel and under Heinrich Urban – both masters of the art of instrumentation. It was under the direction of Urban that Paderewski wrote, among other things, his first serious composition, an Overture for orchestra. He continued to write suites, miniature cycles for the piano, stylized dances, songs with piano accompaniment, a violin sonata and many other compositions. Among the compositions created at the threshold of his career as a pianist, the Piano Concerto in A Minor Op. 17, brought Paderewski the most acclaim.

His later compositions, Fantazja polska [The Polish Fantasy] Op. 19, Sonata, Wariacje fortepianowe [The Piano Variations], Pieśni [Songs] Op. 22 to the words by Catulle Mendès, the Manru opera, and the Symphony in B Minor Op. 24 were all created in the years 1893-1909, when the artist was also occupied with his career and working on a new repertoire for his concerts. Only in the summer months and during longer breaks between concert tours could Paderewski devote himself to writing new compositions.

Paderewski's miniature piano compositions gained great popularity during the composer's lifetime, and are still eagerly performed today. Minuet in G Major Op. 14 No. 1, Cracovienne Fantastique in B Major Op. 14 No. 6, and Mélodie in G-flat Major Op. 16 No. 2 were all published, recorded and arranged with different instruments, dozens of times.

In the course of research it turned out that many more, unpublished or incomplete, compositions remained in the composer's files. Luckily, these were not destroyed. However, the identification of manuscripts discovered both in Poland and abroad was not easy. In many cases, it was only due to the information contained in the artist's correspondence that the circumstances of their creation could be revealed. These compositions include: the above-mentioned Overture; Variations for a String Quartet; the songs Dans la forêt (to the words of Pierre-Jules-Théophile Gautier); Konwalijka [The Lily of the Valley] to the words by Adam Asnyk; the outline of a Cantata to the words by Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer; a violin concerto and several piano compositions – all of which considerably broadened Paderewski's output as a composer.

When his Symphony in B Major op. 24 (performed for the first time in 1919 by Max Fiedler and the Boston Symphony Orchestra) was created, Paderewski was going through a crisis as a pianist and composer. The crisis was due to overwork and the hardships encountered by a travelling artist. Following it, Paderewski refused all offers of concerts and tried to strengthen his nerves. It was at this time that he met Roman Dmowski and the politicians representing the National Democratic Front, whose aim was to restore the independence of Poland.

Philanthropic, patriotic and pro-independence activities

Paderewski had no political ambitions at that time; yet, when he appeared in Kraków in July 1910 at the ceremonial unveiling of the monument commemorating the Polish victory at Grunewald, his fiery speech to the gathered crowds started his new role as a spiritual leader for an enslaved nation.

In the autumn of the same year, during celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Fryderyk Chopin in Lwów, Paderewski delivered his famous speech about Chopin (which did not lack a patriotic accent) at the 1st Congress of Polish Musicians.

The outbreak of World War I spurred Paderewski to even greater efforts, whose aim was to bring assistance to the victims of war in Poland and to convince worldwide public opinion that a necessary condition for peace in post-war Europe would be the creation of an independent Polish state. With the authority of many outstanding artists, scholars and politicians, a General Committee for Aid to the Victims of War in Poland (Comité General de Secours pour les Victimes de la Guerre en Pologne), was created in Vevey, Switzerland, in January 1915. The Committee was chaired by Paderewski and included, among others, Henryk Sienkiewicz. Branches of the Committee were formed in Paris, London and New York. Among the members of the London branch, known as the Polish Victims' Relief Fund, one could find Arthur James Balfour, the Earl of Norfolk, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Arthur Neville Chamberlain, Rudyard Kipling, and many other influential personalities. In New York, William Howard Taft, the former President of the United States of America, was the Honorary Chairman of the Committee.

Paderewski put all his strength, used personal contacts and financial resources to serve the Polish cause in the United States. He was active in the Polish American community, and tried to obtain permission and funds for the recruitment and training of volunteers in the Polish army, which was being formed and was to fight on the side of the Allies. He began to go on concert tours once again: in the years 1915-1917 he devoted his income from over 300 concerts (which were preceded by patriotic speeches) to the Polish cause. Paderewski's memorandum of January 1917, submitted at the request of President Wilson, was an important contribution to the final shape of Point 13 of the President's appeal to the Senate, concerning the Polish question and the restoration of Polish independence. Many voices resounded in similar pronouncements, such as the Italian prime minister, Vittorio Orlando; the French minister of foreign affairs, Stephen Pichon; and the British prime minister, David Lloyd George. They focused the public opinion of the world concerning the problems of Poland, the country torn apart by three partitioning powers.

After Paderewski left the United States and gave political talks in London, he returned to Poland via Gdańsk and Poznań. The people of the Wielkopolska region, strengthened spiritually by his arrival, seized arms to defeat their oppressors.

In the world of politics

On 1 January 1919, Paderewski arrived in Warsaw where he was cheered by crowds. Over the next few days, he talked with representatives of various political parties.  He also met with Józef Piłsudski, who as Commander General of the Polish Army since November 1918 had held the reins of power in Poland. The first talks did not lead to an agreement between the parties, and Paderewski went on to Kraków, where he was again warmly welcomed by the people and the town authorities. On 6 January 1919, he was summoned to Belvedere (Piłsudski's residence) in Warsaw, where he was offered a proposal to participate in the formation of a coalition government. He became President of the Ministers' Council, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. As a Polish delegate (together with Roman Dmowski), he then participated in the talks on the peace treaty in Versaille and signed the final document. However, an unsuccessful domestic policy, lack of support from some political parties, and especially differences of opinion about foreign policies with the Commander General, caused Paderewski to resign in December 1919. In the years 1920-1921, Paderewski was Poland's delegate to the League of Nations and to the Ambassadors' Conference.

In the autumn of 1922, Paderewski made his triumphant comeback to the world's concert halls. In the subsequent years, there were times when he travelled and gave concerts almost as often as in the early days of his career. But Poland's problems, and particularly the political situation that arose after the May coup, continued to interest and worry him. In 1936, at the initiative of Władysław Sikorski, the Centre Party representatives Wincenty Witos and Józef Haller came to Riond-Bosson in Morges. There, they created the so-called ‘Front Morges' under the leadership of Paderewski. The main objective of the Front was to consolidate opposition against the dictatorial methods and pro-German policies of the Polish government. But Paderewski was in poor health, suffering from high blood pressure, and apart from moral support he could not actively participate in the realisation of the group's objectives.

After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, many people gathered around Paderewski including the organisers of humanitarian aid to the victims of war and to Polish soldiers interned in Switzerland, as well as informational campaigners whose aim was to bring help to occupied Poland. Paderewski corresponded with the world's most influential leaders. He sent letters, testimonials, and he broadcasted radio appeals for aid to Poland.

In January 1940, an émigré Polish parliament, the National Council, was created. Its first session on 23 January was inaugurated with Paderewski's speech, which ended with the following words: Poland shall not perish; it shall not perish but it will live forever in greatness and glory for you, for us, and for all of humanity. Old age and poor health did not allow Paderewski to participate actively in the work of the Council, and he could not accept the office offered to him. Paderewski placed all his hopes and unreserved confidence in Władysław Sikorski.

In September 1940, after his last journey across the Atlantic at the personal invitation of the US President, Paderewski continued broadcasting speeches on the radio and made further efforts to appeal to all Americans, as well as to Polish Americans. To honour his 80th birthday, and the 50th anniversary of his American debut, many concerts were organised throughout the United States. Revenue from these concerts went to the Paderewski Testimonial Fund, to purchase food and clothing and to support many other charitable actions helping the victims of war (e.g. buying medical equipment for the Polish military hospital in Scotland).

In the last years of his life, Paderewski was forced to lead a less active lifestyle and to limit the number of visitors and guests he saw. Yet, only a few days before his death, he accepted an invitation to participate in a convention of veterans of the Polish ‘Blue Army'. He met with the soldiers who responded to his appeal during the First World War and volunteered for the army to fight for Poland. He addressed a public gathering for the last time on 22 June 1941 in Oak Ridge, New Jersey.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski died on 29 June, 1941, in New York. A requiem mass was held for him on 3 July in St. Patrick's Cathedral celebrated by Archbishop Francis Spellman. Paderewski's coffin was draped in the Polish flag. He was buried with all military honours in Arlington National Cemetery, thanks to a special decree issued by American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives. The funeral ceremony was another great tribute that the city's inhabitants and American authorities paid to the artist. Paderewski's heart was entrusted by his sister to the Polish community in the USA. However, it wasn't until 1986 that the heart was placed in the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa near Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where it has remained ever since. In 1963, American President John F. Kennedy unveiled a memorial plaque alongside the vault where the artist was buried.
In 1992, Paderewski's remains were repatriated to Poland, and placed in the crypt of St. John's Archcathedral.

Małgorzata Perkowska-Waszek