The basis of this text is found in my 2001 article, "Paderewski in Poetry: Master of Harmonies or Poland's Savior?" (Polish Music Journal, vol. 4, no. 1, 2001). During, the reading, I cut down the narrative and explanatory text and the poems were accompanied by Paderewski himself, from a CD of piano roll recordings, played on a modern Steinway, and professionally recorded. The Minuet, Melodie, Legende, and Nocturne written by Paderewski were followed by two Rhapsodies by Franz Liszt, and provided the shifting moods for the recitation of lofty and ardent poems (though a bit old-fashioned to modern ears) written by luminaries of American culture.
To decorate the stage for my Paderewski and Poland's presentation, I unrolled two piano rolls by Paderewski, one with his portrait and a copy of his signature - and fixed them in place with a box of vintage Paderewski postcards, chocolate gold coins, and some jewels. This was to symbolize the multiple types of "gold" associated with the pianist of "gold-red" hair... and riches collected through his music and given away to charitable and patriotic causes... The piano rolls are very original stage decoration... and you can find lots of them on eBay!
Watch Paderewski play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata in the film of the same title: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idmYXaIhh2A
Listen to Paderewski play Chopin's Etude Op. 10 No. 3 "Tristesse"
Richard Watson Gilder's poem about Paderewski's talent as a performer belongs in a cycle of his works celebrating great musicians. In this extended simile, the poet brings up a range of synaesthetic comparisons of music with natural phenomena and surreal, enchanting imagery. Paderewski's contacts with Gilder (1844-1909) resulted from the latter's long-lasting friendship with the Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska. Gilder, the editor of the Century Magazine, published numerous volumes of poetry and that many of his poems dealt with other arts, painting, acting, and music. He wrote about actresses Helena Modjeska and Eleonora Duse, composers Beethoven and Chopin, MacDowell and Paderewski, and many others. The Polish pianist became a good friend of the poet, considering Gilder's house to be his "real home during those first years in America." There, Paderewski had the opportunity to meet Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie, among other members of American society. Gilder was also among the first Americans creating the myth of the Archangel Paderewski, a spiritual genius.
Let us start the review of Paderewski-themed poetry from the text of his last work, On, White Eagle, Hej Orle Bialy, a military song of 1917.
Has honed its sorrow into song
And taught the world that grief is less
When voiced by Music's loveliness
How shall its newer anguish be
Interpreted, if not by thee?
Thy land's lost century of pride
Since triple tyrants tore in three
That nation of antiquity—
But could not lock with prison keys
The freeman's sacred memories.
By cruel waves of warfare spent,
Till Jeanine [?] counts so many slain
It looks on Slaughter with disdain
However others grieve, thou show'st
The noble spirit suffers most.
Like meadow with the wind at play
May Heaven send thee, at this hour,
Such access of supernal power
That every note beneath thy hand
May plead for thy distracted land.
Finley reminded his listeners that in April 1918 before the Versaille Peace Conference, he “made a presentation to Mr. Paderewski of a print of an allegorical subject which was a prophecy. It was prophetic of Poland as a nation, representing Poland as a white eagle about to rise free once more. I find on the margin of my program of the evening this notation: "May we all live to see the White Eagle mount again, … daring to look into the sun and flying with our American Eagle beside it, equal with equal, free with free."
by John Huston Finley (1928)
As God with all His earth-orchestral range
From cataract through soughing wind to lark
Could not produce without the skill of man.
But there's a symphony that you've evoked
From out the hearts of men, more wonderful
Than you have played upon your instrument.
Composed of the praises of mankind
For what you've nobly done to lead again
To its proud place amid earth's greatest States
Your land that gave the world Copernicus,
And for our freedom Kosciuszko gave.
As ancient Orpheus trod the aisles of hell
To rescue from its thrall Eurydice,
So you for Poland. But though Orpheus failed
You won. Polonia Restituta lives.
Where on her bier with hushed breath dear Poland lay—the wept, the scorned.
In all the darkened air no sound save muffled drum and funeral bell:
Deep-chorded Chopin's anthem found refrain but in the tears that fell -
Until the music of your soul, great Master of the Harmonies,
Broke on her listening ear to roll with echoing note across the seas.
Mother to son, she called; and son to mother hastening fore came...
Now mark the mighty chords that run to music of her golden name!
Now mark the hand that strikes the chord—and strikes the shackles off! O, hand
Of filial love, of flashing sword, that lifts and waves with one command!
What music ever heard of men is sweeter than these chords that wake
Within her prisoned heart again—the sound of yokes that fall and break!
... She rises, beautiful, renewed! She lifts her golden voice—she sings—
And in her song, sweet plenitude of love, O, son, your bright name rings!
Paderewski in Gold
by Maja Trochimczyk (2018)
(c) 2018 by Maja Trochimczyk