Paderewski – The Lucrative Pianist

Leschetizky’s most famous student was the most publicized, most admired, and most legendary pianist after Liszt. Ignaz Jan Paderewski has been the headliner for more than half a century and had made ten million US dollars.  He bought himself a house in Paris, a Château in Switzerland and indulged in expensive hobbies and habits.


Despite this however, most of his colleagues did not think that he was the greatest pianist of his time. Rosenthal went to attend Paderewski’s concert in London and came out shrugging his shoulders. Others were not envious of him but admired and respected him. How he did it and accomplish what he did is in his personality, said Sauer. ” His long, curly blond look, a kind of melancholy that he surrounded himself with, were just what hero-worshipers were looking for.

In the public’s eyes, he was an idol but for those who had worked with him they were not enchanted with his personality. He seemed to be vain, spoiled and a bully (targeting people who were no in position to fight back). According to Alexander Greiner, a manager of the concert and artist department of Steinway and Son, Paderewski had an appointment at 11am to try out some pianos for his upcoming tours but did not turn up until 4pm. He tried out six instruments playing Étude Symphoniques by Schumann. Greiner was surprised because all other pianists played a few scales and immediately knew if the instrument was to their liking or not. Greiner said he never heard Paderewski’s play well and never understood his success.

Pianists and critics got together to talk about the fabulous pianists, but Paderewski’s name seldom came up. He did not become famous overnight. He was self taught with no systematic instruction until he was twelve. He had been badly trained with no chance to build up the set of reflexes that a gifted child should have had and ended up struggling his life with the technical difficulties on the piano which accounted for his nervousness before the public.

At twelve, he received decent instruction when he entered Warsaw Conservatory, but his bad technical habits were deeply ingrained. Besides, he received no encouragement at the conservatory and was repeatedly told that he would not make a pianist. He toured Russia for three years with a remarkable lack of success. He returned to Warsaw Conservatory then studied in Berlin before he finally studied with Leschetizky in Vienna. Paderewski was only twenty-four at the time and was looking for a career more than anything. Paderewski had taught him more in few lessons than he had ever learned in twenty-four years. He had Paderewski train with Czerny’s exercises and worked on tonal production. ‘It’s too late, too late’, cried Leschetizky. Paderewski had offered nothing but determination and dedicated commitment that scared Leschetizky.

In 1887, Paderewski made his official debut in Vienna and played in Paris the following year. Two conductors, Cologne and Lamoureux hastened to invite Paderewski to play with their orchestra. He had no concertos repertoire and only one recital program. In 1890, he advertised his public appearance as ‘The Lion of Paris’. Such flamboyant advertising was in bad taste and definitely not English in it’s mannerism and flash. He arrived at the America in 1891, under the auspices of the Steinway piano firm and made his debut for the Carnegie Hall on November 17, 1891. He grossed five hundred dollars that night as the audience was not big. The New York Times said, ‘It was not an ideal pianist’. During his time in New York, his schedule demanded three concerts a week with six concertos plus solo groups at each concert.  Subsequently, he practiced seventeen hours daily for an entire week and at the end of the series, he become the biggest attraction New York ever seen. Steinway immediately increased his tour. He was engaged with 80 concerts and a guarantee of thirty thousands dollars. At the end he had played 107 concerts and negotiated an appropriate raise to his net income.

He played Beethoven’s Appassionato, Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, in addition to the standard Chopin and Liszt. Emil Liebling, Liszt’s fine pupil commented that Beethoven was not Paderewski’s strong point, but he nevertheless impressed Liebling as a ‘sublime’pianist.

Midway through his concert, he tore a muscle but he finished his concert despite excruciating pain. A medical team diagnosed that he had torn and strained tendons. He lost the use of his fourth finger and had to re-finger everything. He received treatment in Paris but was not completely cured.

William Mason wrote:

‘It sees to me that in this matter of touch, Paderewski’s as near perfection as any pianist I have ever heard, while in other respects he stands out more nearly on a plane with Liszt than any other virtuoso since Tausig. It possesses that subtle quality expressed in some measure by the German word ‘Sehnsucht, and in English as ‘’ intensity of aspiration’ – the quality that both Chopin and Liszt spoke of it that defined Paderewski and renders him so unique and impressive among modern pianists’.

In 1896, he toured the United States, gave three concerts, and earned half a million dollars. At one concert, he earned $7,382, an amount unheard of in those days. He gave four concerts in one week – two in Chicago and two in St. Louis which brought $21,000. Audiences refused to leave the concert hall and demanded encores for a solid hour. Students from different schools across the states would travel many miles to attend his concert. Railroad stations were crowded with passengers, hotel rooms were full of guests and streets were crowded with people to get to the concert hall.

The honeymoon did not last long as critics started to accuse Paderewski of pounding  wrong notes and playing erratic rhythms Bad reviews were written ‘uneven and unsatisfactory reading, with faulty technique, punching on the part of the left hand, and plenty of wrong notes.’ Too many critics made the same review ‘the blurred rhythms’. In recordings, when the music is difficult in its tempos, he is always on the safe side. He never had technical authority and his rhythm tends to be flurried and eccentric. His best recording was probably Liszt’s Tenth Rhapsody. The glissando section was done with grace and style but the coda was rather scrambled. He made his triumph with his persona of manner.

In the public eyes, Paderewski was the personification of the piano. As a composer, he enjoyed success mostly due to his personal popularity. He kept playing till the end of his life. He was a tired old man whose trembling fingers tried unsuccessfully to evoke the glory of his youth. The man has dignity and glamour but few pianistic gifts. As the critics were counting his wrong notes, he was counting his dollars.

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