The great pianist, composer and Polish nationalist, Paderewski was born on this day in 1860.
He had the most unusual fate to be both a famous musician and President of his country – although he fairly quickly moved on to being Poland’s representative at the League of Nations. He was the first musician to occupy such a post in any country. Known as a wit and raconteur, he certainly had the right personality for politics. This is one famous story told about him:
At one party, it was reported, the hostess confused him with a famous polo player who was also expected to be a guest, and greeted him effusively. ‘No,’ Paderewski is supposed to have replied, ‘he is a rich soul who plays polo, and I am a poor Pole who plays solo.’
In 1922 he retired from politics and returned to his musical life, although he was to come out of retirement during World War Two protect his country’s interests once more.
He was considered a foremost interpreter of his fellow countryman Chopin and the greatest virtuoso since Liszt. His playing career spanned 50 years and he played in New Zealand twice, performing in Auckland and Wellington in 1904 (wisely bringing his own piano) and visiting again in 1927.