by Antonina Adamowska [1]

translated by Maria Piłatowicz

Volumes have been written about Paderewski as an artist during his long and phenomenal music career. Much was known about his role as a statesman during the turning point in Polish history; however, relatively little is known about his character, his private life, his closest relationships as well as his social connections, and in particular, his bonds with Polish society. The unique nature of this great man appears to be very engaging and unusual in almost all its manifestations, and is astonishing in its exuberance and versatility.

The most striking characteristic of Paderewski, according to the most intimate circle of people who shared his daily life, was his great kindness, which emanated from his person and created around him an aura of warmth, congeniality and sympathy. His peculiar charm was a cause of a lasting bond between him and all who came in contact with him, beginning with close family members and friends, and ending with domestic servants. He, who was always surrounded by adoring crowds, favored by the rich and eminent of this world, took lively interest in matters vital not only to his relatives, or students, but also to the most common domestic help.

He was compassionate whenever the need arose and always ready to come to one’s aid with great generosity and open-handedness. His action was spontaneous, almost like a reflex, which he then promptly forgot, so that his closest family often learned about his charity incidentally and long after the deed had been done.

Following is a small anecdote from the time of my musical studies in Paris, when I saw Paderewski daily while I lived at the Górski’s household, who were my relatives and his closest friends.[2] Once masquerading as a poor old woman, a Polish emigrant, I made rounds among our friends telling them the heartbreaking story of my misfortune. It was a great opportunity to observe various individuals’ responses to human misery. I remember that Paderewski rose above all in his heartfelt pity and generosity. During my graphic tale of hardship and severe trials in the foreign land he had tears in his eyes and immediately emptied his pockets of all the money while apologizing for not having more cash on him on that particular day.

It was so immensely difficult for Paderewski to refuse anyone a favor that the people closest to him were constantly on the look out to protect him from his own soft-heartedness. It is generally known how much he did for his homeland; considerable part of the fortune he had amassed from his concert tours was channeled to Poland, to satisfy the nation’s most immediate needs, especially during the time when the country was still in the process of consolidation after regaining its independence. Paderewski’s love for his homeland, his desire to see it flourish and rise to greatness was one of the fundamental traits of his character. He suffered deeply over his nation’s political blunders which threatened the country’s stable future course. This explains why he distanced himself early from national politics. The same qualities which made him a great artist – his sensitivity, refinement and emotional nature – made him ill- suited for the burdensome and ungratifying job of a statesman.

Past experience as well as the present cauldron of politics, in which future history is brewing, teaches us that during the times immediately following major wars, when the forces unleashed by recent cataclysmic events have not yet subsided, victorious are those not overly sensitive, who practice politics of the iron fist. Paderewski in his daily life was overly sensitive and so intensely emotional that it was difficult for him to tolerate someone’s displeasure or bad mood even if that someone happened to be a servant or a child. Whenever he saw someone’s long face he was tempted and often went to great length to raise his or her spirits.

Yet, artistic nature is full of contradictions and Paderewski, when irritated, could lose his temper and become (to be sure only for a moment) cruel. Then he was quick to retract. He was sorry for his anger and ready to do plenty to erase the impression or compensate for it. This sort of disposition as well as his great ability to take interest in human concerns and to show his compassion even to those whom he met only briefly, made him uncommonly charming and captivating. It also explains the fact that all those who came in contact with him, especially his subordinates, grew fiercely attached to him; very often they remained in his service for life, even though the work was sometimes arduous and draining.

Another remarkable trait of Paderewski was his vivid and lasting memory. He was able to recall incidental conversations with people whom he had casually met many years ago. And of course he made a point to bring up the matter when another meeting occurred years later. This practice gained him a host of devoted friends.

I know, for instance, of a person, who two years prior to meeting Paderewski at one of his New York recitals, wrote to him asking to perform her favorite Nocturne by Chopin. During their conversation he reminded her of her request. His intellect was marked by an exceptional memory, quick grasp and swift adaptation. It was enough for him to pick up a book, glance over the title and a few of the opening and closing pages, and browse through its middle, to be able to discuss the work with familiarity and clear understanding. In spite of his arduous musical work regimen, which totally absorbed him, he was always well informed about many current world issues, and those were very often of interest only to specialists in that particular field. Many times I witnessed his discussions with theologians, politicians, historians, etc. – they all came away with the impression of Paderewski as a person deeply interested in their specialty and very well informed. Saint Saëns had been frequently quoted as saying about Paderewski that “he was a genius who also happened to play piano.” Indeed, his talents were manifold and he would probably excel in any profession he would chose.

Paderewski and Adamowski.
Życie muzyczne i teatralne, 5/6, 1935. USC Polish Music Center.

Paderewski also had a reputation as a phenomenal orator; he was able to publicly speak, ex tempore, in any major European language: French, English, German, and, of course, Polish. In his advanced years, when he was almost seventy years old, he learned Spanish, while during his youth he fluently spoke Russian. My husband Józef Adamowski, who was Paderewski’s closest friend and colleague since childhood and throughout his life, related to me the following story.[3] Its basic facts I still well remember, although the passage of time may have blurred my memory of some of the details. During his youth (sometime when he was between eighteen and twenty years old) Paderewski had a civil case against him pending in court. Instead of hiring a lawyer he decided to argue the case himself. For a few weeks he intensively studied the laws pertaining to his circumstances and then he delivered in court a superb case presentation, in Russian, cleverly dismantling the arguments of the professional lawyers representing his adversary and winning the case.

For a biographer and a psychologist the person of Paderewski represents an extremely interesting, almost inexhaustible source of material, which is not easy to analyze and sensibly organize even if one produced volumes on the subject. Because of the wealth of his psyche and his super sensitivity his motives were not always readily apparent, and he had been, occasionally, seriously misjudged.

Paderewski’s character may be compared to a harp, which instead of the customary number of strings has thousands of them. These strings vibrate either in sequence or in groups, and produce chord combinations and sounds too complex to comprehend by the average intellect, which is accustomed to much simpler and less refined blends.


[1]. Original publication data: Antonina Adamowska, “Paderewski w życiu prywatnem,” [Private Life of Paderewski] in Życie muzyczne i teatralne vol. 2 no. 5/6 (May-June 1935), 23-24. Antonina Adamowska-Szumowska (1868-1938), was a pianist and a student of Strobel and Michałowski in Warsaw, as well as Paderewski in Paris. In 1891 she gave concerts in England and Poland; then she moved to the U.S. and frequently appeared on concert programs in New York and Boston. She was a professor at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and a member of the Adamowski Trio, with her husband, cellist Józef Adamowski. [This and all subsequent notes are by the editor, Maja Trochimczyk]. [Back]

[2]. Władysław Górski (1846-1915) was a violinist, composer and teacher; he studied with Apolinary Kątski at the Institute of Music in Warsaw as well as with Ferdinand Kiel in Berlin (composition). Since 1871 he was the soloist of the Grand Theater and since 1884 professor of violin at the Warsaw Conservatory. He gave concerts in many European countries and moved to Paris where he played in the Lamoreux orchestra and gave chamber music courses. He published reviews in Słowo and Echo Muzyczne, Teatralne, i Artystyczne. His wife, Helena, b. Rosen (1857-1934), received an annulment of their marriage and married Paderewski, becoming his second wife (he was a widower with one handicapped son) in 1899.[Back]

[3]. Józef Adamowski (1862-1930) was a cellist and composer; after completing studies at the Institute of Music in Warsaw he studied cello, piano and composition in Moscow (with Tchaikovsky among his teachers). Since 1883 he gave concerts as a soloist. After emigrating to the U.S. he played for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and since 1896 in the Adamowski Trio. Since 1903 he was a professor of cello at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.[Back]