PADEREWSKI by Adam Zamoyski


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Though Zamoyski occasionally labors too hard to rescue once-celebrated pianist/ statesman Paderewski from more recent ""near-oblivion,"" this is a sturdy, generally well-balanced biography, outlining both the strengths and weaknesses of Poland's ""knight errant."" Motherless son of an ailing, poor minor-noble, Ignacy showed early musical talent--but, unlike other prodigies, had to slave for hours to conquer technical problems; hence, his lifelong stage-fright. As a composer, too, his gift was limited: Zamoyski (Chopin) offers brief, reasonable critiques of the oeuvre. Yet some of Paderewski's early piano pieces sold in the millions--and, despite mixed reviews, he triumphed as a popular performer first in Paris, then (after a rough start) in London, and finally, above all, in America. . . where his ""perfect pre-Raphaelite face"" and his famed aureole of hair contributed to the unprecedented swell of celebrity known as ""Paddymania."" Soon, then, ""he was caught in a pursuit of fame and fortune which would lure him on and on""-though Zamoyski strongly argues against those who now deride Paderewski's super-rubato style as mere showmanship: it was, rather, ""an emotionally live rendering based on a deeply intellectual understanding of the pieces. . . ."" And, while the book's first half--drawing largely on The Paderewski Memoirs (1939)--often slides into strings of quotations and lists of famous acquaintances, Zamoyski does a conscientious, often shrewd job with the complex political history surrounding Paderewski's second career: spokesman for Polish independence; WW I relief fundraiser; organizer of the Polish-American lobby; non-partisan Prime Minister of the new Poland; and--above ail--tireless, doomed delegate to the Versailles Conference, where everything went wrong for Poland's future. Then: fall from grace--and long years of comeback performances. Finally, then, ""he was no genius but ultimately just a good and noble man. . . on a truly epic scale""--and, if Zamoyski fails to bring fresh facts or insights to the Paderewski story, he does present a long, varied life in a thoroughly researched, smoothly readable narrative.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum