Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) was as wildly popular in his time as any of today’s rock stars. Also a composer, he wrote the well-known “Minuet in G,” among other compositions. He was an ardent Polish nationalist as well. ; Jan Paderewski began his musical studies as a child, entering the Warsaw Conservatory at 12. After graduating at 18, he became a piano tutor at the school. He later continued his piano studies—first in Berlin, then at age 24, in Vienna, where he studied with the most famous piano teacher of the day, Theodor Leszetycki. Leszetycki, however, thought Paderewski was too old to develop the technique required to be a concert pianist. Paderewski nevertheless persisted and practiced constantly. After making his debut in Paris a year later, in 1888, he began a worldwide tour, and his popularity was enormous. He made his U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall in 1891. ; Paderewski was a charismatic figure at the keyboard: strikingly handsome, tall, and with abundant golden-red hair. His appearance seemed to match his sensitive, poetic playing (his repertoire consisted mainly of Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt), and he always moved his audiences, even though his technique was not considered the best. ; During World War I, Paderewski raised considerable sums for Polish war victims by giving benefit concerts. He also actively worked to try and create a united Poland. When he returned to Poland after World War I, he was considered a hero and was made Prime Minister. ; Paderewski retired from politics in 1922 and returned to being a pianist, although he again raised funds for Poland when the Nazis invaded that country in 1939. He continued to play until about a year before his death.