Paderewski and Kraków

From the very early stages of his career Paderewski was closely linked with Kraków. In February 1883, as a 23-years-old he gave his first concert here. Though little known, he managed to impress the critics with his artistic talent to such an extent that they prophesied he would make a dazzling career, particularly as a composer.

A year later, in October 1884 he performed his latest compositions at the side of Helena Modrzejewska for the most elegant audience. This time the concert halls were filled to the rafters. Side by side with representatives of the aristocracy and the clergy, Paderewski was warmly applauded by the local musicians. Revenues from the concert enabled the artist to go to Vienna to take up piano studies which were immensely helpful in his later career.

During holidays spent in Zakopane in 1883 and 1884, Paderewski became acquainted with a group of Kraków university professors. In Kraków he was a frequent guest of such notable families as the Estreichers, the Żeleńskis, the Stojowskis. He became friends with the musician Vincenty Singer. He frequently strolled along the streets of Kraków from Niedzielskis' apartment at 21 Św. Jana Street to the Polski Hotel in Floriańska Street. It was in Kraków that he sketched large parts of his Piano concerto in a minor op. 17.

All of his later visits to Kraków (in 1889, 1903/1904, 1913) became major artistic events which electrified the city, especially when the artist donated his entire proceeds from them to the needs of its inhabitants.

It was also in Kraków, which enjoyed relatively more political freedom in the times of partitions, that Paderewski founded the Grunwald monument. The celebrations connected with unveiling the monument, in July 1910, were huge demonstration of the Poles' striving for independence. Visitors came from all corners of this country divided by the partitioning powers. Paderewski delivered a patriotic speech, beginning with the words: The monument we are looking at was not born out of hatred. It was born out of deep love for the fatherland, not only for its past greatness and today's powerlessness, but also for its bright and helpful future.

He spoke again at the foot of this monument an a January morning in 1919. Seeing the failure of his talks in Warsaw and the unfavorable balance of forces grouped around Commander Józef Piłsudski, he decided to leave Warsaw and come to Kraków to negotiate with the political parties here. Amidst innumerable crowds Paderewski walked from the railway station addressing the crowd so: I laid down this modest gift in homage to the nation, with faith in its future [...] Greet me as a symbol of this idea, as a vessel which holds the contents of your wishes. Not me but you should be paid homage to [...]. The people and the workers understand what we are fighting for, but the leaders cannot find common grounds. They are divided into camps, parties and factions. Brothers! Let us build unity.

The stay in Kraków was to last longer, but on the night of January 6, after a successful coup aimed at Jędrzej Moraczewski's government, general Stanisław Szeptycki came to Kraków with Piłsudski's proposition for Paderewski to come back to the Belvedere presidential residence and form a new government.

In recognition of Paderewski's great deeds for the national cause, in June 1919 the authorities of Jagiellonian University, conferred on him its highest distinction, an honorary degree. At that time, Paderewski wrote a letter to the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, Prof. Stanisław Estreicher, in which he thanked him for the great honour which ‘this most respected and ancient of our universities chose to confer on me. And although this honour is unmerited, yet it is also too generous and tempting for the hand of a Pole not to reach out to it with joyous affection. For there is no greater and more lasting reward for a Polish mind then this distinction.'

Because of the duties and travels connected with his many political functions, Paderewski could not come to the ceremony to receive the honorary diploma, and its original is still carefully preserved in the University archives.


Paderewski's bequest to the Jagiellonian University

The University in Kraków was particularly honoured by I.J. Paderewski as after the expiration of all annuities and the distribution of legacies, it was to inherit all of the remaining fortune. Paderewski's last will, opened in Paris in 1949, contained the following words: I consider this money to be the property of the [Polish] nation, and that is why I would like it to be donated to the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

In  accordance with Paderewski's will, the proceeds from the sale of his houses in Switzerland, Brazil, and California, as well as from some other possessions, was to form a special scholarship fund for young Polish Christians between 18-22 years of age who displayed the best knowledge of the Polish language.

After bequests to around 30 individuals and institutions had been satisfied, and after the enormous fees for the services of American lawyers (hired by the authorities of the Polish People's Republic) had been covered, very limited funds came  to Poland from abroad. These funds were transferred to Polish banks and then paid to the University in Polish zlotys (at a very unfavourable exchange rate), which reduced the funds even further. The University used the funds it had received to support such activities as one-off awards for talented students. Also, since it was impossible in post-war Poland to establish a foundation or make any investment for profit, the money was used for one-off expenses and was thus lost almost irretrievably. In accordance with Paderewski's will, the University used  a further 20% of the funds to cover its own needs. What remained was shared with other universities, since Paderewski had stipulated in his will that the proceeds from his estate should be shared with the Polish University in Lwów, the Polish University in Poznań, and the Warsaw Conservatory (in order to enable the Conservatory to fund the Chopin scholarship and the Paderewski Lower Secondary School in Poznań). Financial documents kept in the Jagiellonian University Archives indicate that the University honoured these stipulations after having received subsequent instalments (in June and August 1954, and in August 1955).  In the 1960's, the University used further instalments (in accordance with a decision by the Senate of the Jagiellonian University) to support the construction of the Collegium Paderevianum building, and also to buy important and expensive scientific equipment needed for the study of natural sciences. As a result of some negotiations, the University also inherited books that, according to the artist's will, had been bequeathed to Sylwin Strakacz (Paderewski's secretary) and to Henryk Opieński (a composer and friend of Paderewski). Because the political atmosphere in post-war Poland was highly unconducive to honouring Paderewski's memory, the library collection was stored in the Jagiellonian Library for almost 20 years. It was only after many years that the collection was moved to a more appropriate location, i.e., to the Pusłowski Palace in Kraków (cf. Paderewski Library).

Małgorzata Perkowska-Waszek