Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) was one of the greatest people in the history of Poland. His multifarious activities as a composer, a pianist, a politician, a prominent statesman and, last but not least, a generous philantropist, distinguished him from the group of the greatest individuals of the world of culture and politics of the first half of the twentieth century, both in Poland and world-wide.
Paderewski earned the reputation of one of the best pianists, and his virtuoso career spanned more than fifty years. A top-paid artist, he was coveted by crowds of listeners of the most famous concert halls and his recitals were honoured by the presence of Europe's royalty. Paderewski's concert itineraries took him to the countries of Europe, both Americas, South Africa as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania.
Paderewski was both a passionate performer and composer of music. Neo-Romantic in style, his compositions frequently take on classical or folk dance forms of masurs, kujawiaks and krakowiaks.
Leading orchestras have included compositions by Paderewski, such as his opera Manru, Polonia Symphony and Polish Fantasia for piano and orchestra, in their repertoires. Paderewski's mastery as a composer is also reflected in his two sonatas (for violin and piano), three cycles of variations, and songs to Polish and French lyrics (Op. 7, 18 and 22, respectively). Menuet in G-major Op. 14 No. 1, in the style of Mozart, Melody from Op. 8 and Nocturn from Op. 16 are the three of his miniature compositions to have enjoyed record popularity levels.
Popularity breeds financial success, and Paderewski used it for his public activity. He was generous in sharing his resources both with his compatriots and with citizens of other countries. He made donations to funds and foundations, and contributed to the construction of concert halls and monuments, such as those of Debussy and Colonne in Paris, of Liszt in Weimar, of Beethoven in Bonn, of Chopin in Zelazowa Wola, of Kosciuszko in Chicago. He sponsored the Arch of Washington and many other projects.
A number of countries bestowed their top honours on Paderewski in recognition of his artistic and patriotric merit and in appreciation of his generosity to war veterans, artists and intellectuals. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire, the French Legion of Honour and distinctions conferred by Belgium, Spain, Italy, Romania, Saxony, and Lombardy. Poland honoured him with the Great Ribbon of the Order of the White Eagle, Order of Polonia Restituta and, posthumously, the Virtuti Militari medal.
Non-existent on the political map of Europe for 123 years, from 1795 to 1918, Poland gives Paderewski credit for his political activity, too. A great statesman, friend of distinguished artists, writers and politicians, he directed all his acitivities towards the restoration of his country's independence. After World War I he headed the Polish government, his cabinet consistently pursuing the programme of defence of Poland's borders and of harmonious cooperation with the neighbouring countries.
The last years of Paderewski's long life were devoted mostly to charity work.