by Nellie R. Cameron Bates [1]

You who dwell in the large cities where the advent of great artists is an everyday affair can hardly imagine the sensations of a little country girl when she hears a great artist for the first time. All my life long I had dreamed of Paderewski. What romances I had woven about the aureole of fair hair, the soulful eyes, and slender white hands of that young manhood picture of his!

Now I was actually to see him and hear him! The paltry payment of two silver dollars for my ticket and two more for my railroad fare to the city was to admit me into Paradise! How strangely is the mundane linked with the spiritual in this life! I could hardly believe that these prosaic dollars earned by teaching Johnnie and Pearl the major scales and Mamma’s Pet Waltz were the passport to admit me into the presence of this master pianist. [2]

It still seemed like a dream to me as I sat waiting in the big auditorium with three thousand, three hundred and ninety-nine other persons for the appearance of the magician. [3] The auburn-haired friend next to me was telling how she had walked two miles from the depot instead of taking a street car for the sake of a glimpse of Paderewski’s private car, with its flowers and canary bird in the window, when the clapping of hands riveted all eyes to the platform. [4]

Two or three imperative chords commanded absolute silence which was maintained unbroken throughout the three hours over these thousands of people by the wonderful spell of his magnetic presence as well as the charm of the music he evoked.

How shall I begin? There was music to see as well as hear! Oh! the poetry and grace of the swiftly flying supple hands and the ever-moving feet! Sometimes his arms were lifted as high as his head; sometimes they glided on the surface of the keys like foam on the waves, but always with absolute ease and precision.

And the music! You soon forgot to note the amazing technic, the endless variety of tone quality, the kaleidoscopic change of effects. You felt only that a great soul was speaking to you and drawing you close to the heart of life. He was opening God’s great book of human life for you and letting you read the pathos, the grandeur, the terror, the hope, the joy, the love which lie deep in the heart of this life of ours. You heard that song which has pulsed for so many years – old, old as the world and yet, forever new.

It was almost with a shock that you realized that the music had ceased as you saw him rise and heard the wild storm of applause. As for me, I sat breathless, awed and silent. A great peace and rest had taken possession of my soul. It would have been no expression of my feelings to have clashed my hands together and jarred the floor with my feet. I think it would have jarred my soul also. But I felt vaguely thankful that others could do it and thus express in some way, although a rude, barbaric one, our appreciation of the artist and man who had spoken to us.

Paderewski bowed stiffly again and again without a smile or light of the eye. I had expected grace and poetry of motion and I wondered if this angularity was a part of the quaint foreign flavor or – a sudden thought gave me a queer tender feeling about the heart – perchance this stiffness was the result of that martyrdom of ceaseless hours of toil at the piano that he might speak to us thus of the highest and holiest in fitting strains.

What a demand this constant bowing must be upon the soul of an artist, to rise from the absorbing abandon of a soul outpouring at the piano, to call himself back to earth in his acknowledging the applause of an insistent, ofttimes greedy public! Over and over did the great master acknowledge the storm of applause and then patiently did he return to play four times, before the impulsive western audience would let the exhausted artist rest.

I went home that night inspired with new courage and zeal. Lesser artists had made me discontented. This great man seemed to say to me: “Go home, live earnestly your life, spare not pains to do your best. Feel genuinely and sincerely, and express that feeling simply and earnestly. Try to catch the thought of the great composer and express it reverently and with the very best effort of your limited powers, humble though that may be. Fulfill your little allotted task as though it were a holy mission, as indeed all useful work is.”


[1]. Original publication data: Nellie R. Cameron Bates, “A Country Girl at a Paderewski Concert,” (Musician vol. 19; February 1914), 125-126. [Back]

[2]. Mama’s Pet Waltz by E. Mack was published by W. F. Shaw in 1883; a copy is found in the collection of American 19th-century sheet music. Copyright deposits, 1870-1885 at the Music Division of the Library of Congress. [Back]

[3]. Paderewski toured the U.S. between October 1913 and April 1914. It is possible that Bates attended a concert held either in late November or December 1913. He performed at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C.; Carnegie Hall in New York, Symphony Hall in Boston, and Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh. The latter concert on 16 December seems a likely candidate for this report; since the hall itself was relatively new and attractive. For details see Małgorzata Perkowska, Diariusz Koncertowy Paderewskiego (Kraków: PWM, 1990). [Back]

[4]. For a description of a visit to Paderewski’s Pullman see the article by Łabuński in this Journal.[Back]