Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)
Polish Fantasy was composed by Paderewski in July 1893 during his vacation at Yport in Normandy. It was dedicated to Princess Rachel de Brancovan, with whom he had had an affair for three years. Performed at the Erard rehearsal room in Paris, the piece was fully appreciated by Camille Saint-Saëns, who congratulated Paderewski on his remarkable harmonic ideas. The first public performance of Fantasy took place on 4 October 1893 at the Norwich festival; the enthusiastic audience amounted to 8,000 people. Critics compared the composition to the best Hungarian fantasies by Liszt. Based on Polish folk music, it contains no authentic quotations. All its themes were created by Paderewski, using mainly the mazurka and krakowiak forms. Its attractive virtuoso solo part and fine instrumentation won great popularity to the piece. When touring America for the third time, on 4 November 1895 Paderewski played Polish Fantasy. Chopin’s Concerto in F Minor and Liszt’s Concerto in E Flat Major at Carnegie Hall in the concert conducted by Walter Damrosch. Paderewski came back and the city is kneeling at his feet again, wrote The New York Times. The American audience could hear the voice from the beautiful Polish land in Fantasy, much to Paderewski’s satisfaction, for with this music he wanted to remind them of Poland’s existence.
Piano Concerto in A Minor took much longer to be created than Fantasy. Paderewski started to write it in Vienna in 1884, when he studied under Theodor Leschetizky, but he did not arrange it for instruments till the spring and summer of 1888. The work was ready by the end of September. According to the Viennese Music, Theatrical and Artistic Echo, its orchestral rehearsal was held in December in front of a small audience at Erard’s in Paris. Finally, on 8 April 1889, Leschetizky’s wife. Anette Essipoff played Concerto in A Minor in Warsaw. The well-known Warsaw critic Jan Kleczynski wrote that the themes of Paderewski’s composition were lovely and warm in its first, mazurka part, poetic in the Romance and full of passion in the Finale, the orchestra joined the piano in some witty combinations and the solo instrument itself was treated in the grand manner. In the same year Essipoff played the Concerto in Paris, where it was widely acclaimed. A year later the composer performed his own work in London. The local press described it as pervaded by the mood of Polish national music with its proud, knightly and dreamy accents. On 17 November 1891 Paderewski made his debut in America with the Concerto played with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Walter Damrosch at Carnegie Hall. The United States was to witness the greatest, dazzling successes of Paderewski the pianist. He ended his first American tour with the same Concerto in A Minor played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera of New York City on March 1892. In gratitude for his reception by Americans, Paderewski donated the proceeds from his last concert to the Washington Arch construction fund. The gift was viewed as one more sign of mutual attraction between the Polish and American nations and their shared love of human freedom and democratic institutions.
Translation: Elżbieta Kowalewska-Mroczek