Ignacy Jan Paderewski was born in the village of Kuryłówka in the province of Podolia, then in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine). His father was an administrator of large estates. His mother, Poliksena (née Nowicka), died several months after Paderewski was born, and he was brought up by his distant relatives.
From his early childhood, Paderewski was interested in music. Initially he took piano lessons with a private tutor. At the age of 12, in 1872, he went to Warsaw and was admitted to the Warsaw Conservatorium. After graduating in 1878, he was asked to become a tutor of piano classes at his alma mater, which he accepted.
In 1880 Paderewski married Antonina Korsakówna, and soon afterwards, their first child was born. The following year, they discovered that the son was handicapped; soon afterward, Antonina died. Paderewski decided to devote himself to music, and in 1881 he went to Berlin to study music composition with Friedrich Kiel and Heinrich Urban. In 1884 he moved to Vienna, where he was a pupil of Teodor Leszetycki.
It was in Vienna that he made his musical debut in 1887. He soon gained great popularity and his subsequent appearances (in Paris in 1889, and in London in 1890) were major successes. His brilliant playing created a furore which reached to almost extravagant lengths of admiration; and his triumphs were repeated in the United States in 1891. He was also a substantial composer, including many pieces for piano. In 1901 his sole opera Manru received the world premiere at Dresden, then it had American premiere in 1902 at the Metropolitan Opera and to this day remains the only Polish opera by a Polish composer ever performed there.
Paderewski, his wife, entourage, parrot and Erard piano travelled to Auckland, New Zealand from Sydney aboard the steamer Zealandia on August 28, 1904.(NZ Herald, 29/08/1904, p.5). He travelled to Wellington by train and gave a concert there on September 12. (Otago Daily Times, 13/09/1904, p.2).
He was also active in pursuing various philanthropic causes. In 1910 he funded the erection of the Battle of Grunwald Monument in Kraków, in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the event. In 1913, Paderewski settled in the United States.
On the eve of World War I, and at the height of his fame, Paderewski bought
a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) property, Rancho San Ignacio, near Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, on the central coast of California.
A decade later he planted Zinfandel vines on the California property. When the vines matured, the wine was made for him at the nearby York Mountain Winery, then, as now, one of the best-known wineries between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
During World War I, Paderewski became an active member of the Polish National Committee in Paris, which was soon accepted by the Entente as the representative of Poland. He became a spokesman of that organization and soon also formed other social and political organisations, among them the Polish Relief Fund in London.
It was then that he met the English composer Edward Elgar who used a theme from Paderewski's "Fantasie Polonaise" in his work "Polonia" written for the Polish Relief Fund concert in London on July 6th 1916.
His name at once became synonymous with the highest level of piano virtuosity.
In 1919, in the newly independent Poland, Paderewski became the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs (January, 1919 - December, 1919), and he thus represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference. In the summer of that year,
he signed the Treaty of Versailles, which restored the territories of Greater Poland and Pomerania around the City of Gdańsk to Poland. Although this fell short of what the Polish delegates had demanded, these territories provided the core of the restored Polish state.
After being abandoned by many of his political supporters, Paderewski handed Pilsudski a letter of resignation on December 4, 1919, whereupon he took on the role of Polish Ambassador to the League of Nations.
Paderewski died in 1941.