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A Celebrity in America

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By November 1891, when the Polish virtuoso Ignacy Jan Paderewski paid his first visit to America, he had all the stuff of a world celebrity — brilliant technique, abundant energy, and the ability to charm his American hosts.

Paderewski was renowned as a composer and a performer by the time he played his first American concert in New York. He was welcomed with unusual acclaim — and he was more than up to the lifestyle it demanded. By one count, during 117-day sojourn in America, Paderewski played 107 concerts and attended 86 dinner parties.

Even before he had perfected his English, Paderewski was well-known for his wit. Conductor Walter Damrosch recalled a party at the home of the celebrated polo player John E. Cowdin. Admiring their host’s handsome silver trophies, Damrosch told Paderewski, “You see, the difference between you and Johnny is that he wins his prizes playing polo while you win yours in playinfg solo.”

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Without hesitation, Paderewski went him one better, replying “Zat is not all ze difference. I am a poor Pole playing solo, but Johnny is a dear soul playing polo.”

Paderewski obliged so many of his American friends requesting a lock of his thick hair that his valey expressed concern that he would so soon go bald. “Not I,” Padereski confided, “my dog.”

During a second tour of America, Paderewski began a fantasy on “Yankee Doodle,” which he offered to dedicate to pianist William Mason. Somewhat to his regret, Mason replied that Anton Rubinstein had already dedicated a set of “Yankee Doodle” variations to him and went on to explain that the tune was written to make fun of America. Paderewski never did finsih the fantasy. But he did play some of it for Mason, who found it the best treatment of the theme he had ever heard.

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