Analytical Notes on Paderewski’s Programmes (1895-1908)

by Henry E. Krehbiel [1]

edited by Maja Trochimczyk




Fantaisie Polonaise, Op. 19. for Piano-Forte and Orchestra by Paderewski

Mr. Paderewski composed this Polish Fantasia after returning to his home from his second American tour in 1893, and before resuming his concert work in the fall of that year. It was first performed in public at the Norwich Festival, in England, on October 4, 1893, where it achieved a most pronounced success, and has since been the most popular number in his concert list.

There are circumstances which suggest the propriety of prefacing a study of its contents with a brief discussion of its title. The term fantasia, though exceedingly venerable and once of excellent repute, has lost caste through being employed to designate showy but empty transcriptions of popular and operatic melodies for the piano-forte or violin.[2] Mr. Paderewski does not use it in this sense, but in a most correct and dignified manner to define a composition which, while well-knit, symmetrical and logical in structure, is free from the shackles of conventional form. In this respect his Fantasia may be said to resemble the symphonic poems and concertos of Liszt, as it does also in the intimate relationship which exists between its various melodic subjects, most of which are developed out of a single motive which is thus shown to be the basic idea of the work. Secondly, the composition has only national color in common with two works of Chopin’s, whose titles may seem confusingly like that of Mr. Paderewski’s. Chopin’s Opus 61 is a Polonaise Fantaisie in A flat major; the composition now occupying our attention is a Fantaisie Polonaise. If it be remembered that the “Polonaise” of Chopin’s title defines the form of his composition and the “Fantaisie” qualifies it, while the “Fantaisie” of Mr. Paderewski’s title defines the form of his work and the “Polonaise” qualifies it, all danger of misconception will be avoided. As a rule Chopin’s Polonaises, though replete with contrasted sentiments, are proud, stately and aristocratic, as befits what may be called their political theme. The one in A flat major, however, is such a picture of hopeless sorrow and elegiac sadness that Liszt pronounced it outside the sphere of art “on account of its pathological contents.” Mr. Paderewski’s Fantasia is in a different case. In it are to be found proclamations of great pomp and pride, ebullitions of the most unconstrained merriment, tender plaints, dreamy musings and wild outpourings of passion. The other of Chopin’s pieces which might be associated in thought with it is the Grand Fantasia on Polish Airs in A major, Op. 13; but the difference between the compositions is marked and vital: Mr. Paderewski’s Fantasia, as expressly stated on the title-page is on original themes; Chopin’s consists of an introduction followed by variations on a Polish popular song and an air by a Polish composer named Kurpiński,[3] and ending with a Polish dance called Kujawiak.

Though Mr. Paderewski’s themes are of his own invention, however, they, and the manner in which they are employed, are strongly national. No one familiar with the physiognomy and spirit of Polish music will fail to recognize the soul of Poland on every page of the work. This fact will call for discussion after the thematic contents of the work have been marshalled. Before then let it be noted that the Fantasia consists of four movements, which succeed each other without interruption, and, though sharply contrasted in style and feeling, yet have thematic material in common.

If it be understood that the greatest conceivable freedom is exercised by the composer in respect of changes of tempo and tonality the general scheme of the work may be laid down as follows:

  1. Allegro moderato, in G-sharp minor, two-four time; introducing the principal melodic thought of the work, beginning its thematic development and employing, but not developing a subsidiary theme with a rhythm that returns in the finale.
  2. Vivace non troppo, ma poi molto accelerando; Key, C major, three-four time. A new chief melody in a Polish dance rhythm.
  3. Andante molto sostenuto; Key G-sharp minor, two-four time; the melody a development from a cadence employed in the first movement.
  4. Allegro giocoso; A-flat major, two-four time; introducing a new melody strongly syncopated, in the rhythm of the Polish Krakowiak, recapitulating material from the earlier movements and finding a stretto in an augmentation of the melody of the second movement.

In a general way this scheme will be found to preserve symphonic outlines, the second movement filling the place of the Scherzo and the last that of the old Rondo finale. The basic motive has a pompous proclamation in octaves by all the instruments of the orchestra at the opening of the work. It is as follows (see Example 1):

Developed to its close, the second half being harmonized, the phrase gives way to a brief cadenza for the solo instrument. Again does the orchestra give it utterance, and again it is answered by the piano-forte. The French horn, English horn, and violins in alternation now tranquilly sing a melody, which is the first exemplification of Mr. Paderewski’s method in respect of the fundamental motive. Only the beginning and end of the melody need to be quoted.–The beginning (IIa) to show the motivo which is destined to play an extremely important part in the work later (see Example 2):

The broad stride of the opening phrase is now moderated to the tranquil movement introduced by the new melody and its severity of outline clothed in harmonies by the piano-forte thus (see Example 3):

If we except a subsidiary melody of a strongly marked character, whose rhythm (eighth, quarter, eighth) will be found infusing energy into the last subdivision, we have now seen all the material out of which the composer weaves not only his first movement, full of pomp and circumstance, but also his sweetly contemplative third movement. The melody of this slow movement is a development of the cadence IIb. It is in the nature of a Dumka, an elegiac song, but at the outset it is already associated with the rhythm of the fundamental phrase, which filled with a new and strange feeling appears in the accompaniment, and also with the Krakowiak rhythm which is destined to dominate the concluding portion of the work. Amidst the boisterous swing of the last movement the material of the earlier portions undergoes further transformations and the peroration of the work, after an introduction again of the quasi-cadenza from the first movement, is built up on an augmentation of the melody of the Scherzo.

It is in the second and last movements that Mr. Paderewski lifts the characteristic dances of Poland into prominence. In these movements there is none of the stateliness of the Polonaise which belongs to the court, but instead the unbridled merriment of the democratic Oberek (a species of Mazurka) and Krakowiak (or Cracovienne). These, again, we must call to mind not in the idealized form in which Chopin has taught us to think of the dances of Poland, but as the tonal accompaniments of wild gesticulations and furious leapings and clatterings of boot heels. If this be done we shall find how truthfully one phase of nationalism is illustrated in the second movement which begins as follows (see Example 4):

and also in the Krakowiak theme which begins the last movement (see Example 5):

Those who desire to observe wherein the national characteristics of Mr. Paderewski’s music lies, will do well to begin observing the rhythmical structure of the melodies last quoted. In both will be found the energetic, propulsive effect which comes from shifting of the dynamic effect either by syncopation or forced change of accent from the first beat to the second in a measure. This is a characteristic of the Mazurka and Oberek as well as the Krakowiak, which are people’s dances in Poland. Mr. Paderewski is also persistent in his use of what might be called an abbreviation of the characteristic accompanying rhythm of the Polonaise (see Example 6):

which also belongs to the Krakowiak, the metrical scheme of which can be expressed as follows (see Example 7 below):

The rhythmical structure of the cadence IIb is also exceedingly common in Polish music and Mr. Paderewski has lifted it into prime importance in his work. Melodically the chief characteristics are the occasional omission of the seventh interval of our diatonic scale and the frequent use of augmented intervals, especially seconds and fourths. It is the first of these peculiarities which makes the first theme of the Fantasia sound like old Scotch music. The effect of an augmented second has its most striking exemplification in the passage for the piano-forte which follows the orchestral statement of the melody of the Dumka (see Example 8):

It is a relic of the Orientalism of Slavonic music.

As for the spiritual contents of the Fantasia they are those which make Chopin’s music so eloquent and faithful a reflex of the national character of the Poles. A Dresden critic recognized them when he described the Fantasia as “now lifting itself up proudly and haughtily, now rushing along wildly and passionately, and anon gloomily bewailing glories that are gone and fame that has passed.”

Mr. Paderewski has placed piano-forte and band on an even plane of importance, and the orchestral dress of the Fantasia is peculiarly striking and rich in colors. Besides the customary apparatus he employs an English horn, tuba, an extra kettle-drum (he has three, tuned in C sharp, D sharp and G sharp), triangle, Glockenspiel, tambourine and harp. The introductions of a harp into a work in which the piano-forte is a solo instrument is an innovation.



Nocturne, B-flat, Op. 16, No. 4 by Paderewski

This most gracious nocturne, with its burden of gentle melancholy and sweet resignation, was given to the world shortly before Mr. Paderewski came to the United States for the first time. It is quite unique among latter-day piano-forte compositions in its directness, clarity and simplicity–qualities which were essential to the publication of its most engaging charm. It rests upon a rhythmical figure consisting of two sixteenth notes and an eighth, which is repeated twice in every measure in the composition save when, as an accompaniment of the second subject (which appears in the tenor voice) it is modified temporarily into a sixteenth rest, sixteenth note and eighth. A tender song rises, like incense, from this figure at the outset and twice is answered with two notes from above, which, like the strain with which Duke Orsino fed his love, have a “dying fall.” This fall is characteristic too of the sustained melody which anon soars up above the accompaniment figure with its persistent, yet tender beat.


Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 16, No. 6 by Paderewski

The Cracovienne fantastique is the last of a set of “Humoresques de Concert” to which Mr. Paderewski’s bewitching first minuet belongs. It is short and highly characteristic. Cracovienne is the French for Krakowiak, which is the name of a popular dance indigenous to the district of Cracow, whence its name. Its rhythmical elements are these:


Menuet, A-major

The minuet is a French dance and came from Poitou. Louis XIV danced it to Lully’s music for the first time at Versailles in 1653, and it soon became the most popular of court and society dances, holding its own down to the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was long called the queen of Dances, and there is no one who has grieved to see the departure of gallantry and grace from our ball-rooms, but must wish to see Her Gracious Majesty restored to her throne. The music of the minuet is in 3-4 time and of stately movement. Mr. Paderewski’s first minuet (from his “Humoresques de Concert,” op. 14) is known wherever the pianoforte is played. His second is the present one in A major, which G. Schirmer published along with a Nocturne and a Legende No. 2, just before Mr. Paderewski paid his third visit to the United States in 1895.



Nocturne, B-flat, Op. 16, No. 4 by Paderewski

This most gracious pianoforte song, with its burden of gentle melancholy and sweet resignation, was given to the world shortly before Mr. Paderewski came to the United States for the first time. It is quite unique among latter-day pianoforte compositions in its directness, clarity and simplicity – qualities which were essential to the publication of its most engaging charm. It rests upon a rhythmical figure consisting of two sixteenth notes and an eighth, which is repeated twice in every measure in the composition save when, as an accompaniment of the second subject (which appears in the tenor voice) it is modified temporarily into a sixteenth rest, sixteenth note and eighth. A tender song rises, like incense, from this figure at the outset and twice is answered with two notes from above, which, like the strain with which Duke Orsino fed his love, have a “dying fall.” This fall is characteristic too of the sustained melody which anon soars up above the accompaniment figure with its persistent, yet tender beat.



Sonata, Op. 21 by Paderewski

  1. Allegro con fuoco, E-flat minor, Alla breve
  2. Andante ma non troppo, G-flat major, 6-8
  3. Finale: Allegro vivace, E-flat minor, 2-4.

The Sonata, one of the latest compositions of Mr. Paderewski (it was published in the early part of 1907, and is inscribed to His Imperial Highness, Archduke Charles Stephen of Austria), shows a blending of the composer’s respect for solidity and symmetry of form and his predilection for romantic expression. Its structure is in no sense revolutionary. On the contrary, the balance of parts is maintained with the greatest of care, and logical development is consistently pursued. The themes are clearly and plastically set forth, and many of the approved prescriptions in respect of transitions and repetitions are obediently followed. The motivi used in the development portions are outshoots of the principal melodic thoughts, and unity between the parts is preserved by material as well as spiritual relationships. The modern pianoforte spirit pervades it, but brilliancy of utterance is placed in the service of the musical idea and does not exist for its own sake. Reverence for the strict style is proclaimed in the last movement, but no more eloquently than love for romantic freedom in the first and second movements.

The Sonata’s prevailing mode, E-flat minor, is also that of the “Variations and Fugue” with which it is historically associated rather intimately. It is not a common key, and the composer’s obvious fondness for it invites to speculation. The subject of key-color is extremely debatable ground. That there is a difference in what may be called the psychology of the keys is quite as persistently asserted by many composers and performers as it is denied by theoreticians of the Hauptmann class. the choice of keys made by composers for works of different character is certainly not a matter of haphazard, nor are the differences arising from the mechanism of tone-production (a matter that is easily understood) the only or even the chief determining factors. Beethoven seems to have indicated a feeling for the psychology of keys when in his sketches for the Violoncello sonata he wrote, “H moll, schwarze Tonart,” in his notebook. So, too, in a conversation with Rochlitz. he had been speaking of Klopstock and Goethe, and said that the latter had robbed him of some of the enjoyment which the former had given him. “You laugh,” said he, “at the idea of my reading Klopstock? Well, I must confess I have read him for many years during my walks in the country. Did I always understand him? No. He begins too low; always maestoso; always in D-flat. But he is grand. He elevates the soul, and , if I do not altogether comprehend him, I can divine him pretty nearly.” In his scheme of key-characteristics (which he applies, however, only to string instruments), Berlioz says that E-flat minor is “very vague and very mournful.” Of the composers most admired by Paderewski, Beethoven scarcely used the key at all (though he has five movements in the “majestic” D-flat major among his piano-forte sonatas), and Chopin uses it in only five of his works, namely: the Etude op. 10, no. 6; the Mazurka op. 6, no. 4; the Polish song “Śpiew grobowy;” the Polonaise op. 26, no. 2; and the Prelude op. 28, no. 14. The remote keys, as they may be called, came into favor with the growth of romantic feeling in music.

First Movement. Allegro con fuoco.

The principal theme is announced in extenso at the outset without a note of preparation. It has two portions (a) and (b) each of which provides motivi for the future development and for the last subdivision of the Sonata.(see Example 1):

There is a complete exposition of the theme twice, whereupon there ensues a transition theme (molto agitato) which ushers in the second theme in an entirely orthodox manner, the key of B-flat minor. (see Example 2):

A conclusion theme leads to the first ending in G-flat major. The development begins with the first period of the principal theme, which proceeds by reiteration through a group of related keys, and leads up to a pompous proclamation of the entire theme in the original key and tempo con tutta la forza and the recurrence of the second theme in E-flat minor. Before the coda there is an effective treatment in the lyric vein of the conclusion theme.

Second Movement. Andante ma non troppo.

In the style of a romanza with cantabile themes,(see Example 3): The second of [these cantabile themes] is effectively used in the working up of climaxes (see Example 4):

Third Movement. Allegro vivace.

From the slow movement we are launched without pause through the medium of two vigorous and poignant chords into the last movement, which begins busily in the toccata style, with the theme, derived from the first section of the principal subject of the first movement, in the bass (see Example 5):


There is an interchange of material on the staves, the theme next appearing with chordal harmony in the treble, while the toccata figure is assigned to the bass. A transformation of the theme adapts it to fugal treatment, which, with the employment of many learned devices, brings the piece to a close (see Example 6):



[1]. The programs for these concert tours are at the Research Collection, New York Public Library, Performing Arts Division. Copies at the Polish Music Center. The tours of 1899-1905 were sponsored by Steinway Pianos whose advertising appeared in them; the tour of 1907-1908 was sponsored by Weber piano. Henry Edward Krehbiel (1854-1923), was an American critic and writer on music. As the main critic for the New York Tribune, he held a position of authority among critics and did much to advance the cause of Wagnerian opera in the U.S. He is remembered for his revised and completed edition of Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, published for the first time in English in that edition. Krehbiel also wrote several popular books on music and translated the libretto of Manru into English.[Back]

[2]. Krehbiel uses two spellings for the instrument, “piano-forte” and “pianoforte.” Both are preserved in this reprint. [Back]

[3]. Karol Kurpiński (1785-1857) was a Polish composer of operas, director of the Warsaw Opera and music critic, the founder of the first musical periodical in Poland (Tygodnik Muzyczny, 1820-21). Among his operas, Zabobon, czyli krakowiacy i górale remains in the repertoire; he also composed cantatas, songs, dances, religious and patriotic music, including the anthem Warszawianka. [Back]