The Keys Of A Genius
“We hear you have had brilliant successes in London and Paris, but let me tell you, Mr. Paderewski, you need not expect anything like that in America. We have heard them all, all the pianists, all the great ones, and our demands are very exacting. We are not easily pleased here…..we have a certain standard which is very difficult to overcome…. You should not expect extraordinary houses. Although I have done my best for you, it is nothing very remarkable.”
So stated the Steinway representative who was in charge of booking the first American tour of our own Ignace Jan Paderewski. Add to this the fact that during his voyage to America he had absolutely no opportunity to practice. What would you have done, my dear readers, had you been in the same situation.
Well, our well known historian Joseph Wytrwal tells us all — the first performance, the critiques and the man’s subsequent success….
“The evening of November 17, 1891, was an evening when a legend began, and a trend, and a tradition. That night, there was a stir in the crowd when a young pianist, Ignace Jan Paderewski, a picturesque young man, very slim, very nervous, with a colorless face surmounted by a shock of tawny reddish hair, vaulted on stage and played the first American concert of his career. The gross that night was only $500 and the enthusiasm of the critics was not unbounded. ‘He began by disappointing some of his auditors,’ said the TIMES, ‘next he interested them and finally he conquered them.’ The SUN described his technique by saying that he ‘coaxes, persuades and fascinates the piano to give forth the most varied and beautiful tones, to compel it to yield up its whole soul in immense volumes of sound.’ Although the first concert was no more than a modest success, a mixed blessing, Paderewski managed to set a chord reverberating in the hearts and minds of his audience.
“After the first concert Paderewski went directly to his hotel and began to practice the works scheduled for the next appearance. He was hard at work when the hotel manager tapped on his door. No piano playing, he was told. It disturbs the guests but Paderewski had to practice. Mulling over his problem, he remembered the dozens of pianos he had been shown at the Steinway warehouse. Routing out his secretary, the two men hurried downtown to Fourteenth Street, pounded on the door until the night watchman heard them and let them in. Then, by the light of two candles placed on the top of a piano, Paderewski who wished only for perfection in music, practiced in the unheated warehouse until dawn. Still he managed to be on time for a 10 a.m. rehearsal with the orchestra. That evening he was rewarded with a rush to the stage by the audience and a headline in the TIMES: “The Success of Ignace Jan Paderewski is Assured.”
“And indeed it was. Within a few months, the Madison Square Garden Hall proved too small, and Paderewski could pride himself in being the first virtuoso to give a recital in the vast newly-built Carnegie Hall, which held three-thousand people. It was the largest, the most elegant and most important hall in the most important city in America. In New York alone Paderewski played on eighteen occasions; altogether he gave one-hundred-and-seventeen recitals during his first American tour of six months duration. The Paderewski legend, as well as the Paderewski career, was well launched.
“The first American visit had brought Paderewski $95,000, his second $160,000, and the third, which lasted less than six months, $248,000. After Paderewski’s third American tour there was not a town or a ranch or a farm between New Orleans and Seattle, San Pedro and Boston, where the name and the face of the Polish pianist was not known.
“In the United States Paderewski traveled in his own railway coach where he had his piano, on which he practiced for hours while the train thundered across the American continent.
“The American climax was reached when, on March 8, 1902, Paderewski filled on the same afternoon the two biggest halls in New York, the Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House. He gave a recital at the Carnegie Hall, and at the Metropolitan his opera Manru was given. The critic of the EVENING POST wrote proudly: “The gross receipts of the two houses cannot have fallen far short of $20,000. This was something new under the sun.’
“Paderewski treated his audience, no matter where, with a gracious kindness which was the most delightful form of gratitude. Even when at the height of his fame, and when receiving, according to an industrious American critic who worked out the figures, almost $1,000 for each piece played at a concert, he would give encore after encore, sometimes remaining at the piano for an hour after the actual program was over. Twelve encores were by no means exceptional and the crowds adored him for that.
“Paderewski’s fame reached every land. Royalty, statesmen, people in all walks of life were attracted to him which, in turn inspired in him countless acts of kindness and a devotion to charitable philanthropy which was unique as it was broad in scope.
“Having great faith in the artistic realism of America, Paderewski presented a gift of $10,000 to establish a fund to encourage American composition. The document of this fund was sent to William Steinway on April 21, 1896. Another example of his charity was a concert given in Madison Square Garden for unemployed musicians. He played before the largest audience in musical history, totalling 16,000 and yielding $50,000. Paderewski also donated generously to veterans in America, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland. He contributed $28,000 to the American Legion endowment fund for disabled veterans.”
As you can see Ignace Jan Paderewski went on to be an internationally famous pianist. The man did have another side though, he was a great statesman as well — but we’ll leave that story for next time….
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .