Paderewski and Piano Practice

I begin this brief post by remembering a Polish giant of the concert stage, Ignace Paderewski, not for his memorable and supremely musical performances, but for his famous epigram about diligence:

“If I don’t practice for one day, I know it; if I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it; if I don’t practice for three days, the audience knows it.”

Indeed, a telling quasi-penitential piece he wrote in The Paderewski Memoirs 1939 states unequivocally that for the pianist practice is constant torture and privation. “It prevents you from reading, from thinking, from developing your intellect – this practicing every day the indispensable hours.” He goes on to pen, “I still need four or five hours a day of practicing with the concentration of mind that does not admit any intrusion. It is a slavery from which there is no escape.”

When Paderewski entered politics in the service of his country, he stopped playing altogether. He didn’t touch the piano for over four years. Admittedly his fingers became strong again. But when he got back on to the concert circuit in Europe and America, the strain was unending and the pressure of work terrible.

On technique, he offered some words of wisdom on tempo rubato (robbed, or stolen time.) It is, he averred, the irreconcilable foe of the metronome, and one of music’s oldest friends – older than Mozart, older than Bach. Chopin made very ample use of it, and Liszt also. Paderewski goes a little further and states it is necessary, but should not be abused – it should not become a license. Yes, it is a fascinating subject for most musicians – both supporters and critics alike!

Here are three examples of early piano recordings made of his playing works of Chopin:

The nocturne was recorded on July 12, 1911 at A. Chalet Riond-Bosson, Morges, Switzerland. The first etude above was recorded on April 5, 1923, and the second etude  was an Electrola recording ca. 1930.

References: Wikipedia; The Music Lover’s Companion 1971 edited by Gervase Hughes & Herbert Van Thal.

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