Polish Music Journal
Vol. 5, No. 2, Winter 2002. ISSN 1521 - 6039

Paderewski: A Critical Study

by William Mason [1]

Paderewski is unquestionably an inspired and a phenomenal pianist. He possesses the power of interesting and arousing the enthusiasm of an audience of the highest musical culture, as at Berlin, and of giving pleasure and delight to one of less musical intelligence and simpler tastes, as in some English provincial town. This is a fact of great significance, for it shows the rare combination of the various qualities which in the aggregate make up a great and unique artist whose ardent and poetic temperament is admirably proportioned and well balanced.

Within the last few years we have been favored with the presence of many pianists of the first rank, such as Joseffy, De Pachmann, Rosenthal, D'Albert, Friedheim, Grünfeld, Rummel, Scharwenka,[2] and others, and among our own resident players Fanny Bloomfield-Zeisler, Adèle aus der Ohe, Rivé-King,[3] and others who compare favorably with the best from foreign lands. While fully recognizing the high artistic merit of all these, and acknowledging the great pleasure their performances have given, it may be said without invidious distinction that an artist of such a distinctly pronounced individuality as Paderewski is an exceedingly rare occurrence—indeed, phenomenal. The mechanical part of piano-playing has of later years been so systematized, and the methods of acquiring a high degree of skill have been so improved, that the possession of mere technical facility is a foregone conclusion, and has in a great degree lost its interest unless combined with a discriminative and poetical conception and a true musical interpretation. Of two pianists possessing an equal technical equipment, it is the one whose personality is the most intense, and at the same time lovable, who will be sure to delight and interest.

Music is in its nature emotional, and hence its genuine interpretation requires intense expression of feeling; but this must be kept within due bounds by an intelligent and intellectual conception and a discriminative touch, thus combining in proper degree both the qualities of heart and head. The most successful results will follow when a nice balance between the two is established and maintained in due proportion; but an undue preponderance of either will lead to disastrous results, even if the performer be possessed of genius.

The playing of Paderewski shows a beautiful and happy blending of these essential qualities. He mirrors his Slavonic nature in his interpretations, with its fine and exquisite appreciation of all gradations of tonal effects. His marvelously musical touch, a great, mellow, and tender voice, chameleon-like, takes on the color of his dominant mood. He is a thoroughly earnest and at the same time an affectionate player, and too much stress cannot be laid on the humanism of his style, which is intensely sympathetic, and so eclectic that it embraces all schools. His never-failing warmth of touch and his vivid appreciation of tone gradations and values result in wonderfully beautiful effects. In addition to these qualities, his magnetic individuality puts him at once in sympathy with his hearers, and this magnetism is felt and acknowledged even by those who do not entirely and uniformly approve of all of his readings and interpretations of the great composers.

Since Bach's time, and no doubt long before it, two distinct schools have wrangled over the question of subjectivity and objectivity in the interpretation of great works of art. Already the discussion as to the musical significance of the various works of Richard Wagner has begun,[4] and, this being the case, we can easily understand the difference of opinion engendered by time as to how Bach and Beethoven should be played. I remember hearing Moscheles play Beethoven's sonatas, and also the preludes and fugues of Bach, especially those from Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, and his performance of the latter was especially beautiful and satisfying. [5] Discarding all pedantic, austere, and stiff methods, his treatment was simple, graceful, and flowing in design, each voice being distinctly heard, but in due proportion, and not in too assertive a way. The angular fashion of playing Bach must have had its rise from the old German school of organ-playing, in which no variation of registration was permitted, but a fugue was played, as it is now, with full chorus stops from beginning to end. However this may be, Moscheles preferred a feeling and warmly colored interpretation of Bach's works on the pianoforte, and so expressed himself to me in private conversation; and he was much closer to the Bach tradition, as set forth in Forkel's biography, than we are today.[6] He could look backward to within a generation of the Leipzig[7] cantor, and he had listened to Beethoven's playing.

Portrait of Paderewski by Edward Burne-Jones, 1890.
Reproduced in The Century Library of Music, vol. 18, after p. 580.

Rubinstein[8] is even more fond, tender, and caressing in his playing of Bach, bringing out all imaginable beautiful shades of tone-color in his rendering of those works. And why should this be otherwise, since Bach's compositions are so full of exquisite melody? Surely such emotional strains should receive a loving and musical rendering. As Moscheles played Bach a half-century ago, and as Rubinstein played him later on, so does Paderewski play him now—with an added grace and color which put these great contrapuntal creations in the most charming frames. It is great, deep musical playing combined with calm, quiet repose and great breadth of style. Paderewski has and advantage over Rubinstein, however, in the fact that he is always master of his resources and possesses power of complete self-control. This remarkably symmetrical balance is entirely temperamental, and may be discerned in the well-shaped contour of Paderewski's head, his steady gaze, and his supreme command of the economies of movement. In Rubinstein there is an excess of the emotional, and while at times he reaches the highest possible standard, his impulsive nature and lack of self-restraint are continually in his way, frequently causing him to rush ahead with such impetuosity as to anticipate his climax, and, having no reserve force to call into action, disaster is sure to follow. he does not economize his strength to good advantage, but uses up his power too soon. Comparisons are not always profitable, but may be permitted in mild form on account of the instruction they convey. Thus, of five prominent pianists, in Liszt we find the intellectual-emotional temperament, while Rubinstein has the emotional in such excess that he is rarely able to bridle his impetuosity. Paderewski may be classified as emotional-intellectual—a very rare and happy blending of the two temperaments—and Tausig was very much upon the same plane, while Von Bülow has but little of the emotional, and overbalances decidedly on the intellectual side.[9] There must always be two general classes of pianists — those whose interpretation changes with every mood, while the playing always remains poetic, fervent, artistic, and inspired, because it is impossible for them to do violence to the musical nature which they have received by the grace of God, and those whose playing lacks warmth and abandon, notwithstanding the fact that it is careful, conscientious, artistic, and in the highest degree finished. The performances of the latter are invariably uniform, and are exact to such a degree that one can anticipate with great accuracy each accent, emphasis, nuance, and turning of phrase from beginning to end. Of those classes Rubinstein and Bülow present good illustrations in contrast.

This leads to the consideration of Paderewski's playing of Beethoven, and on this subject I beg leave to repeat, with slight variation, what I said in a recent article in The Musical Courier. Whenever a pianist makes his first appearance in public as a Beethoven player, he is at once subjected to strictures on all sides by numerous critics who seem to have been lying in wait for this particular occasion, and there immediately arise two parties, each holding positive opinions, of which the one in the negative is usually the more numerous. This is by no means a new fad, but quite an old fashion, dating back, at least as far as the writer's experience goes, something over forty years, and probably much further. Is the idea player of Beethoven a myth, or does he really exist? If so, who is he, and where is he to be found? In short, are we not looking for something that is much in the imagination? Or, perhaps (be it said with due reverence), are not the compositions themselves responsible in part for this mystified state of things? Forty years ago my teachers, Moscheles, afterward Dreyschock, and finally Liszt, used to say that Beethoven's piano compositions were not "klaviermässig."[10] This word has no precise English equivalent, but might be translated "pianofortable." In other words, they are not written in conformity with the nature of the instrument. Musicians generally have agreed all along on this point. Beethoven's musical thoughts were symphonic, so to speak, and require the orchestra for adequate expression. Many of his piano passages lie most awkwardly under the fingers, and certainly would never have been written by a skilled virtuoso who was simply a pianist per se.

Moscheles has always been an acknowledged authority as to Beethoven, and he once told me during a lesson that he considered Liszt an ideal, or perhaps his word was a "great," Beethoven player.[11] As is generally known, Liszt had a prevailing tendency in his piano-playing to seek after orchestral effects, and thus found himself all the more at home in these compositions. But when has the world ever found another player of Liszt's magnificent caliber who could so intelligently and ably adapt himself as an interpreter of all kinds of music, who was always and ever master of his resources, and who never fell into the error of anticipating his climax? Or, if perchance he found himself in the least danger of such an event, he would readily arrange and develop a new climax, so that at the conclusion of his performance he was always sure to have worked his audience up to a state of almost crazy excitement and unbounded enthusiasm. He was at this time —1853—forty-two years old and at his best estate. But even Liszt, who possessed in such an unexampled degree all of the faculties which in the aggregate make up the equipment of a perfect and even phenomenal player, had his limitations in certain directions and details, and, notwithstanding the opinion of Moscheles, many of the critics of the day maintained that he was no Beethoven player, and that his interpretation, instead of being severe, dignified, and austere, was too sensational. His touch was not as musically emotional as it might have been, and other pianists, notably Henselt,[12] Chopin, Tausig, Rubinstein, and now Paderewski and some others, excel him in the art of producing beautiful and varied tone-colors together with sympathetic and singing quality of tone. It seems to me that in this matter of touch Paderewski is as near perfection as any pianist I have ever heard, while in other respects he stands more nearly on a plane with Liszt than any other virtuoso since Tausig. His conception of Beethoven combines the emotional with the intellectual in admirable poise and proportion.[13] Thus he plays with a big, warm heart as well as with a clear, calm, and discriminative head; hence a thoroughly satisfactory result. Those who prefer a cold, arbitrary, and rigidly rhythmical and ex-cathedra style will not be pleased.

Paderewski's villa at Riond-Bosson, Switzerland.

Without going closely into detail, there are certain matters concerning Paderewski's mechanical work which deserve the attention of students and others interested in piano technic. In many passages, without altering a note from the original, he ingeniously manages to bring out the full rhythmic and metrical effect, also the emphasis necessary to discriminative phrasing, by means of a change of fingering, effected either by interlocking the hands or by dividing different portions of the runs and arpeggios between them. In this way the accents and emphasis come out distinctly and precisely where they belong, and all of the composite tones are clean-cut, while at the same time a perfect legato is preserved. His pedal effects are invariably managed with consummate skill and in a thoroughly musical way, which results in exquisite tonal effects in all grades and varieties of light and shade. In musical conception he is so objective a player as to be faithful, true, and loving to his author, but withal he has a spice of the subjective which imparts to his performance just the right amount of his own individuality. This lifts his work out of an arbitrary rut, so to speak, and distinguishes his playing from that of other artists.

The glissando octave passages near the end of the C major Sonata, Op. 53, he performs as originally designed by Beethoven and obtains the desired effect, notwithstanding Dr. Hans von Bülow's assertion that this method of execution is impossible on our modern pianos, on account of their heavy and stiff action. Paderewski, however, has the secret of a thoroughly supple and flexible touch, resulting from a perfectly elastic condition of shoulder, elbow, arm, and wrist, together with the power of keeping certain muscles, either singly or collectively as may be desired, in a state of partial contraction, while all of the others are "devitalized" to a degree which would delight the heart of a disciple of Delsarte.[14]

The hearty sincerity of the man is noticeable in all that he does, and his intensity of utterance easily accounts for the strong hold he has over his audiences. He does not give us a remote and austere interpretation of Beethoven, but one which is broad and calm, many and dignified, while it palpitates with life and is full of love combined with reverence. On this account it sometimes fails to please those who would strip music out of its outward vestments—its flesh, so to speak—and skeletonize it. Paderewski's playing presents the beautiful contour of a living, vital organism.

Naturally, being a modern pianist, he is in close sympathy with the works of the Romantic school, his poetic personality finding its supreme utterance in the compositions of Schumann and Chopin. He plays Schumann with all the noble, vivid fantasy which that master requires, though perhaps lacking a little sometimes in his reckless humor. In Chopin's music, the finest efflorescence of the Romantic school, Paderewski's original touch is full of melancholy pathos, without sentimental mawkishness, and without finical cynicism. He has his robust moods, and his heroic delivery of the A-flat Polonaise, taken in the true and stately polonaise tempo, is tremendously impressive. It possesses that subtle quality expressed in some measure by the German word "Sehnsucht," and in English as "intensity of aspiration." This quality Chopin had, and Liszt frequently spoke of it. It is the undefinably poetic haze with which Paderewski invests and surrounds all that he plays which renders him so unique and impressive among modern pianists.

Paderewski has one quality which Chopin always lacked in degree—namely, the power of contrast; and, as pertinent to this, I remember that Dreyschock told me that many years ago he, in company with Thalberg, attended one of Chopin's concerts given in Paris. After listening to the delicately exquisite touch of the great Polish artist and to his gossamer arpeggios and dainty tone-embroideries, Thalberg, on reaching the street, began to shout at the top of his lungs. Dreyschock naturally asked the reason for this, and Thalberg's reply was, "I have been listening to a piano all the evening, and now must have a forte.

There is little fear that a forte will be found lacking in Paderewski's playing, which is at times orchestral in its sonority, the most violent extremes of color being present when required. Listen to him in the Rubinstein Etude or the Liszt Rhapsodies, with their clanging rhythms and mad fury, and ask what pianist since Liszt has given us such gorgeous, glowing colors—such explosions of tone, and the unbridled freedom of the Magyar.

Paderewski is an artist by the grace of God, a phenomenal and inspired player, and, like all persons of large natural gifts, a simple, gracious, and loving character.


This and all subsequent notes by Maja Trochimczyk. Article reprinted from vol. 18 of The Century Library of Music, ed. Ignacy Jan Paderewski et al. (New York: The Century Co., 1902), 577-584. It was first published in The Century Magazine in March 1892. William Mason (January 24, 1829 - July 14, 1908) was a distinguished pianist, composer and teacher. A child prodigy, he debuted with the Boston Academy of Music in 1846. During European studies in 1849-1854 his professors included Moscheles, Hauptmann and Richter (Leipzig), Dreyschock (Prague) and Liszt (in 1853 and 1854; Weimar). After returning to the U.S. he toured the country with piano recitals; he later settled in New York and founded a chamber music series, premiering works by Schumann and Brahms. Since 1868 he dedicated himself to teaching music and piano technique, publishing many textbooks, including Touch and Technic (Philadelphia, 1889). He composed about forty works for piano. [Back]

Rafael Joseffy (1852-1915), Hungarian pianist, student of Wenzel, Moscheles, Tausig, and Liszt. In the U.S. since 1879, he toured as a solo pianist with Thomas, taught at the National Conservatory in New York. Vladimir De Pachmann (1848-1933), Ukrainian pianist specializing in Chopin performances; traveled on frequent European and American tours (visiting the U.S. between 1890 and 1925). Maurycy (Moritz) Rosenthal (1862-1946), Polish pianist, student of Karol Mikuli (Chopin assistant), Rafael Joseffy, and Franz Liszt. In 1888-9 toured the U.S. for the first time (with Kreisler). in 1938 settled in New York. Eugen D'Albert (1864-1932), German composer and pianist of Italian and French descent. He studied with Liszt and specialized in German repertoire, especially Bach and Brahms (with the latter he performed in concert). Arthur Friedheim (1859-1932) studied with Liszt and became the main proponent of his music; he toured the U.S. in 1891-1895 where he settled in 1915 (moving to Canada in 1921). Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924), Polish-German pianist, moved to the U.S. in 1891 and later frequently visited the continent, teaching in his conservatory between 1891-1898. He was respected as a pedagogue and an interpreter of Chopin's music. Pianist Franz Rummel (1853-1901) was a member of a family of musicians of German origin. He toured the U.S. in 1878, 1886, 1890 and 1898. His son, composer and pianist Walter Morse Rummel (1887-1954) was an American citizen but moved back to Germany in 1944. Henrich Grünfeld was Scharwenka's contemporary and collaborator (they organized concerts together). [Back]

Fannie Zeisler [neé Bloomfield] was an American pianist of Austrian descent (1863-1927). She studied in Chicago and Vienna (with Leschetitzky); later becoming an internationally recognized virtuoso with an interest in women composers. See Diana Ruth Hallman, The Pianist Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler in American Music and Society. M.A. thesis (University of Maryland, 1983). Adèle aus der Ohe (1864-1937) was a German pianist who studied with, and promoted the music of, Franz Liszt. Richard Watson Gilder wrote a poem about her interpretations of Liszt's music, "Adele Aus Der Ohe" (The Century 33 no. 5; March 1887). Julie Rivé-King (1857-1937) was an American pianist who toured internationally and composed popular piano pieces. See Merrie Leslie Petteys, Julie Rivé-King, American Pianist. D.M.A. thesis (University of Missouri, 1987). [Back]

See Joseph Horowitz, Wagner Nights: An American History (California Studies in 19th Century Music, No 9: Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996). At the end of the 19th century the following studies of Wagner and his music dramas were available in the U.S.: Judith Gautier, Richard Wagner and his Poetical Work from Rienzi to Parsifal (Boston: A. Williams, 1883); Albert Lavignac, The Music Dramas of Richard Wagner and his Festival Theatre in Bayreuth (New York, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1898); Henry T. Finck, Wagner and his Works: The Story of his Life, with Critical Comments (New York, C. Scribner's Sons, 1893); Henry E. Krehbiel, Studies in the Wagnerian Drama (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1891); Houston S. Chamberlain, Richard Wagner (London, Philadelphia: J.M. Dent; J.B. Lippincott, 1900); Gustav Kobbé, Wagner's Life and Works (New York, G. Schirmer, 1896); Jessie Weston, The Legends of the Wagner Drama: Studies in Mythology and Romance (New York, C. Scribner's Sons, 1900); Bernard Shaw, The Perfect Wagnerite: A Commentary on the Ring of the Nibelungs (Chicago: H.S. Stone, 1899); Ernest Newman, A Study of Wagner (London: Dobell, 1899); A. R. Parsons, Parsifal: The Finding of Christ Through Art; or, Richard Wagner as Theologian (New York, London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1890); David Irvine, "Parsifal" and Wagner's Christianity (London: H. Grevel and Co., 1899); David Irvine, Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung, and the Conditions of ideal Manhood (London: H. Grevel and Co., 1897); Francis Hueffer, Richard Wagner and the Music of the Future. History and Aesthetics (London: Chapman and Hall, 1874); Adolphe Jullien, Richard Wagner, his Life and Works (Boston: Knight & Millet, 1900); Constance Maud, Wagner's Heroines (London: E. Arnold, 1896). [Back]

Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870) was a Bohemian pianist and composer of Jewish descent. Mason studied with Moscheles in 1849 in Leipzig. His later years were dedicated to teaching first in London (1825-1846) and then in Leipzig, as a close collaborator of Mendelssohn. For more information see Charlotte Moscheles, ed. Recent Music and Musicians, as Described in the Diaries and Correspondence of Ignaz Moscheles (from German original Aus Moscheles' Leben, 1873; reprinted in New York by Da Capo Press in 1970). [Back]

Johann Nikolaus Forkel (1749-1811), Über Johann Sebastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke (Leipzig, 1802). German version reprinted (Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag, 1999). English translation: Life of John Sebastian Bach; with a Critical View of his Compositions (London: Printed for T. Boosey, 1820). The word "today" is spelled "to-day" in this article and other texts from the period. [Back]

Leipzig is spelled "Leipzic" in this article and other texts from the period. [Back]

Nikolay Rubinstein (1835-1881) and his brother Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) were Russian pianists and composers. Anton was recognized as one of the most famous and influential pianists of the 19th century. He co-founded the Russian Music Society and the St. Petersburg Conservatory, performed as a pianist and conductor in Europe, and first toured the U.S. with Henryk Wieniawski in 1872-73 giving over 200 recitals. [Back]

Carl Tausig (1841-1871) was a Polish pianist and composer, the favorite student of Liszt. He was active in central Europe (Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna) as a pianist, composer and conductor. Hans von Bülow (1830-1894), German conductor and pianist, chief proponent of Wagner's music dramas. As a pianist he studied with Liszt and toured the U.S. in 1875-6; his 139 concerts included the première of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. [Back]

Alexander Dreyschock (1818-1869) was a Czech pianist and composer who often gave European tours, performing in Germany (1838), in Russia (1840-42), Paris (1843), London (1846) and other countries. Mason studied with Dreyschock in Prague in 1850-52. [Back]

He collaborated with Beethoven on many projects, performing his works and creating the piano reduction of Fidelio. Moscheles translated and edited Schindler's Life of Beethoven which was first published in English in 1841 (Boston: Oliver Diston and Co.). [Back]

Adolf Henselt (1814-1889) was a German pianist and composer; student of Hummel. He performed and taught in Russia where he became a member of the musical establishment. He toured France, Germany and England in the 1850s but disliked giving concerts due to his nervous disposition. [Back]

Paderewski regarded Beethoven as the greatest composer. His "pianistic" genealogy could be derived from Beethoven: he was a student of Leschetitzky, who was a student of Czerny, who was a student of Beethoven. Paderewski played numerous piano sonatas by Beethoven and became associated with the "Moonlight Sonata" (in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27) that he played in a British film of the same title (1937). His personal favorites were the late sonatas, especially the Hammerklavier and Op. 111. He often played the Pathetique and Waldstein Sonatas. [Back]

François Alexandre Nicolas Chéri Delsarte (1811-1871) was a teacher of language, acting, singing and declamation. His method is described in Delsarte System of Oratory edited by Delaumosne, Angélique Arnaud; and Marie Delsarte Géraldy (English versions published in New York by E.S. Werner, in 1884, 1887, 1892, 1893, 1894, and 1899). Delsarte was also the editor of a seven-volume anthology Archives du Chant (Paris: Choudens, 1880-1889). [Back]


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Copyright 2002 by the Polish Music Journal.
Editor: Maja Trochimczyk. Assistant Editor: Linda Schubert.
Publisher: Polish Music Center, Winter 2002.
Design: Maja Trochimczyk & Marcin Depinski.
Comments and inquiries by e-mail: polmusic@email.usc.edu