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Paderewski: The Modern Immortal Opens at Doheny

Paderewski: The Modern Immortal Opens at Doheny
An exhibition about Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski is on display in Doheny Memorial Library through May 31, 2011.

An exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of Polish musician Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s birth opens today in Doheny Memorial Library.

Paderewski: The Modern Immortal, which features materials from the USC Libraries’ Special Collections and the Polish Music Center at the USC Thornton School of Music, is on display in Doheny Library’s Treasure Room through May 31, 2011.

Paderewski (1860-1941) was an internationally famous musician whose influence continues to be felt today in his homeland and in Southern California, where he spent much of his later life. Though he gained renown as a pianist and composer, Paderewski also distinguished himself as a humanitarian, statesman and pioneer in California’s wine and oil industries.

In his time, Paderewski had “the status of a Michael Jackson,” according to Marek Zebrowski, director of the Polish Music Center.

“He was the most recognized performer of his time,” said Zebrowski, author of Paderewski in California (2010, Tumult Foundation). “His concerts were thronged. He traveled the world and was one of the first superstars who not only toured America 20 times, but also toured South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.”

Paderewski’s legacy as a musician is nearly surpassed by his record as a statesman.

In the early 20th century, Poles were clamoring for an independent state. A series of partitions in the 1790s divided the country between Austria, Prussia and Russia and effectively erased Poland from the map of Europe.

The effects of Poland’s partition extended beyond geopolitics to culture and language, a fact illustrated by an envelope that is part of the exhibition.

Paderewski was forced to address the envelope, which contained a letter to his father, in Russian, using the Cyrillic alphabet.

“This shows you the degree of cultural annihilation that the powers that administered Poland sought to impose,” Zebrowski said.

While touring North America during World War I, Paderewski began delivering speeches in favor of Polish independence. His oratory won powerful converts, and, according to some sources, his memorandum to President Woodrow Wilson persuaded the president to include among his Fourteen Points the stipulation (point 13) that Poland be reconstituted as an independent state and guaranteed access to the sea.

By December 1918, Germany had signed an armistice with the Allied Powers and its kaiser had abdicated.

Paderewski visited the Polish town of Poznań and gave a public speech in favor of independence. The speech roused the crowd to action and sparked a successful military uprising against Germany. On Jan. 16, 1919, Paderewski became prime minister of the new Republic of Poland and concurrently represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference. The resulting Treaty of Versailles, based partly on Wilson’s Fourteen Points, confirmed Polish independence.

On Feb. 22, 1923, the University of Southern California honored Paderewski by awarding him a Doctor of Laws degree. As the Los Angeles Times reported the next day:

“This signal honor was conferred upon Paderewski by the university in recognition of his immortal art as a composer and musician and as a statesman who piloted his native country through the most perilous period in its existence.”

Paderewski’s celebrity was at its apex: “The huge [Bovard] auditorium was filled to capacity and many lined the walls in their attempt to get a glimpse of the famous musician.”

Paderewski’s distinction extended beyond music and statecraft. He also was a pioneer of California’s oil and wine industries.

In 1914, he purchased nearly 3,000 acres in the Salinas River valley near Paso Robles and began growing Zinfandel wine grapes. Today, Paso Robles and much of the central California coast is a productive wine-growing region, and Zinfandel is one of the state’s most successful varietals.

“Now, if you drink a Zinfandel from the central coast, you know who’s behind it,” Zebrowski said.

Paderewski: The Modern Immortal features cables and letters, rare photographs and personal possessions from the musician’s life.

To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, the USC Libraries will host a special reception in the Treasure Room. That reception will be followed by a lecture-recital in the Alfred Newman Recital Hall by pianist Jonathan Plowright and Paderewski scholar Małgorzata Perkowska.

On Nov. 5, Perkowska and Plowright will be joined by Professor of Public Diplomacy Nicholas Cull and University Professor Kevin Starr inside Doheny Memorial Library for a panel discussion on Paderewski’s legacy.

For more information on the exhibition, contact Tyson Gaskill at (213) 820-2070 or

Paderewski: The Modern Immortal Opens at Doheny

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