Photographs from long ago: #1 Paderewski.

We have been given access to a number of vintage photo’s from the EMI Archive Trust which we’ll run as a series. This is Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Quite a picture, quite a man….

Paderewski had a run of the mill career…..Born into a poor Polish family, he became a world famous pianist, married a Baroness, had a successful career composing a broad range of music including the only Polish composed opera at the New York Metropolitan Opera, bought a 2,000 acre farm in California and there made some of the earliest Californian wine, had a hit music hall song written about him (“When Paderewski plays” by “The Two Bobs” in 1916), formed the Polish Relief Fund to aid the Poles during WWI, gave a speech that inspired the Polish inhabitants of Poznań to begin a military uprising against Germany in 1918, became the second Prime Minister of Poland in 1919 and represented Poland at the Treaty of Versailles, became Polish Ambassador to League of Nations, was made an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, retired from politics to sell out Madison Square Gardens on his return to the concert hall, became a film star (Moonlight Sonata in 1937), returned to public life to head the Polish Government in exile in London in 1940 and following his death in 1941 was awarded a star on the Hollywood Hall Of Fame. There are many streets and buildings named after him in Poland and the USA.

Film Star

Fred Gaisberg recorded him in January 1912. I think the account of the session in Fred’s diaries gives a wonderful insight into the Great Pole and the relationship between recorder and recordee:
Paderewski…”was then at the zenith of his artistic career, with twenty brilliant, all-conquering years at the back of him. Was my awe and worship to be wondered at?
Of all the musicians I have known he was the most inaccessible and in his presence one had always to be on one’s guard…A clumsy act and he could humiliate one in the most withering way.

I remember arranging a session in our Paris studio. Without asking Paderewski’s permission, the Company’s very enterprising Paris manager had invited a journalist to be present….when the scribe, with a patronising manner, began to interview Paderewski, he sat there on the piano stool frigid and white. It slowly dawned on the company present that a most awful blunder had been committed, as Paderewski stalked majestically from the room, leaving us looking at each other in blank amazement.”

Paderewski not only cleared out of the studio but cleared out of Paris, returning to his home in Switzerland forcing Fred to follow him to recreate a recording studio in the Great Pole’s house some weeks later. It would take some of Fred’s renowned diplomacy and the absence of the French record company man to repair the relationship. But repair it he did and Paderewski and Gaisberg became great personal friends to the end of their lives. One of the lovely 1912 recordings can be heard here:

Thanks to the EMI Archive Trust for allowing us to publish the picture. You can learn more about the Trust and make contact with them to arrange a visit to their archive here.

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Nellie Melba. Born 150 years ago, buried 70 years ago.

Nellie Melba is one of those huge musical stars from the turn of the last century whose name remains very familiar today – although sadly her music is less well known. She died just over 80 years go on February 23rd 1931 and you can see how significant she was at the time from this clip of film taken at her state funeral in Melbourne. The service was mobbed by thousands of fans and the motorcade that took her from service to burial was almost a mile long. Her death made front page headlines around the globe as billboards simply announced “Melba is dead”.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Melba is this endpoint. She was an Australian girl born Helen Porter Mitchell who rose from relatively humble beginnings to be granted a state funeral.

En route to the magificent send off her life blazed. Like many stars before and since she reinvented herself (as Nellie Melba; her new surname was a shortening of her home city of Melbourne). Unlike most other stars she was made a Dame of the Order Of The British Empire. Bizarrely she is probably now best known for the pudding she had named after her called a “Peach Melba ” and also thin toasts for pate called Melba toast ” that were created in her honour by the celebrity chef of the 1890’s and and Nellie-fan Auguste Escoffier.

She could also sing a little…..