Striking a Chord with a Photograph of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Los Angeles, 1900

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The stunning music room in the Temple family’s 1920s mansion, La Casa Nueva, here at the Homestead, features five sets of French doors leading to a patio and out to the west lawn in which are ten etched glass portraits of famed classical music composers.  No doubt, Agnes Temple, the family’s lone daughter and a pianist of exceptional talent, was inspired by the assemblage of the great masters gazing out as she played in the space.

An etched glass portrait from the Music Room of La Casa Nueva of composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt (1811-1886,) who, on his concert tours as a younger man, was a rock star more than a century before the term was invented.

Among those depicted is Franz Liszt, a rock star as a concert pianist more than a century before the term was invented.  With his flowing long hair, magnetic stage presence, and phenomenal keyboard skills, Liszt wowed audiences throughout Europe, including women who went wild for the Hungarian maestro, during the 1830s and 1840s.  A term was even invented for the spectacle dubbed “Lisztomania.”

One of Liszt’s heirs in the realm of flamboyant recital performance was the Polish pianist and composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who made a big splash on the European concert scene in the late 1880s and in America in the following decade.  He, too, sported long locks, demonstrated a decidedly dramatic persona at concerts, and garnered an adoring fanbase through his long career.

Ignacy Paderewski 1900
This cabinet card photograph portrait by the studio of Theodore C. Marceau, Los Angeles, is of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, a legendary pianist and heir to the dramatic recital tradition of Liszt.  It was taken in spring 1900 when the Polish maestro was performing in the city.

A major figure in giving the young virtuoso exposure early in his development was famed stage actress Helena Modjeska, who later had a country home in the Santa Ana Mountains of Orange County.  He was recognized as a keen interpreter of Liszt and fellow Pole, Frederic Chopin, and known for his highly individualized renditions of the work of Bach and Beethoven.  Americans was particularly enthralled with Paderewski, who toured the nation some thirty times, often in his own Pullman railroad car supplied with a piano.

In February 1896, Paderewski made his performing debut in Gilded Age Los Angeles.  It was a particularly notable time for the emergence of so-called “high culture” in a city that was emerging as a major metropolitan center on the American west coast.  A decade before, the Boom of the Eighties, spurred on by the completion of a direct transcontinental railroad line to the region from the east, brought a major period of immigration and development to greater Los Angeles.

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Los Angeles Herald, 8 February 1896.

In succeeding years, cultural organizations and their events and activities included a greater emphasis on art, literature, and music.  With the latter, clubs emerged featuring local amateur enthusiasts long before the Los Angeles Philharmonic arose in 1919, but visiting orchestras, singers, and soloists frequently toured the burgeoning city.  This included Paderewski, who gave two concerts at the Los Angeles Theater before what was, apparently, a sparser audience than anticipated.

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Herald, 8 February 1896.

Still, the Los Angeles Herald was highly favorable in its review of the recital.  One account exclaimed,

The vocabulary of compliment has long ago been exhausted in the vain endeavor to do justice to the marvelous genius of Paderewski.  The great Pole is as peerless among pianists as the great Paganini among the masters of the violin . . . his precision is unerring, and his accuracy is almost infallible.  But crowning all the virtues of his interpretations is the glorious embodiment of his own individuality in the expression of the works of the great masters.

One of its reporters, who happened to be Polish, met with the maestro and was warmly received, noting that Paderewski was “a young man who, conscious of his power, is trying to outdo all the great masters of the past and leave his footfalls ‘echoing  down the corridors of Time.'”


Herald, 8 February 1896.

Reader Edward L. Hutchinson rhapsodized at substantial length about the great pianist, writing that he’d give Paderewski $5,000 a day for a month and have play in Central Park (later renamed Pershing Square) so Angelenos and visitors could “drink their fill of such melody as made the ancients picture heaven as a grand musical conservatory.”

All in all, the short visit to the City of Angels seemed to have gone quite well and it was just a few years before the pianist’s return.

Los Angeles Times, 17 March 1900.

This was in 1900 and the reception for Paderewski’s performances was even stronger, as judged by coverage in the Los Angeles Times.  The paper’s review observed that “the pianist has acquired a decidedly more forceful tone, one, in fact, that seems dangerously near the straining point, yet there is no loss of exquisite delicacy and poetic tenderness in his playing of passages requiring such a touch.”  It was noted that “the recital was keenly enjoyed by the large audience, and its appreciation was made manifest in marked applause and ‘bravos.'”

Yet, elsewhere in the edition, a reporter, lamenting that the pianist’s one-hour performance earned him a deserved rest, sniffed that

It is unfortunate that there should be, in a large, cultured audience like that assembled at the Paderewski matinee, so many who make themselves so distressingly in evidence in the matter of perverting  an appreciative applause into an over-insistent encore . . . it exceeds the bounds of enthusiastic approbation, and smacks of selfishness . . . to satisfy their desire for more, more, more.

Paderewski was so taken with California that, in the mid-1910s, after consulting San Francisco doctors about chronic swelling and pain in his hands from constant practice and performance, he went to recover in Paso Robles, about halfway between the Bay Area and Los Angeles.  He acquired several large properties in the area, investing in an ill-fated attempt to produce oil on one of them, but also introducing the zinfandel grape to an area now famed for its viticulture.  Yet, within just a few years of settling in California, he was called back to his homeland.

Times, 18 March 1900.

In a recent post, I mentioned that I’d just finished reading Margaret MacMillan’s excellent history of the Paris peace conference of 1919 following the conclusion of the First World War.  Among the many interesting elements of that conference was the question of Poland, especially as it was caught between the recently defeated Germany and the emerging Soviet state in Russia.

Paderewski, who’d advocated for his country’s interests as an American resident and was welcomed as a liberating hero in his country at the end of the war, represented Poland at the Paris conference.  His personality and oratorical skills ensured that he very favorably impressed most of the principals from the great powers of Britain, France, Italy and the United States.  President Woodrow Wilson, in fact, made one of his famous (and generally overly idealistic) “Fourteen Points” a call for an independent, free Polish state.

Times, 30 June 1941.

Paderewski became Poland’s first prime minister, though his tenure was short-lived as he faced a daunting portfolio of issues and problems in the immediate postwar period.  He resigned in late 1919 and, though he represented his nation in the nascent, but largely ineffective, League of Nations for a couple of years, he returned full-time to music, predominantly performance and touring, by 1922.

Late in his life, the maestro saw his nation brutally conquered by Nazi Germany and he lent his support to a Polish government-in-exile in Paris.  When the Germans stormed France in 1940, however, Paderewski fled to the United States, where he died 77 years ago yesterday on 29 June 1941.

As for the photographer, or, rather, owner of the studio at which the image of Paderewski was taken, there are some interesting stories associated with Col. Theodore C. Marceau.  Born to French Canadian emigrants in New York in 1859, Marceau garnered attention due to his work as official photographer with a pioneering American military expedition sent in the early 1880s to Chile to observe the planet Venus.  This was followed by service on the staffs of the governors of Ohio and California (the latter being Edwin Markham).

Marceau LA directory 1900
The listing, about halfway down the right column, of Theodore C. Marceau in the 1900 Los Angeles City Directory.  His studio was in a theater building on Spring Street, while the proprietor resided next door at the Hollenbeck Hotel, at the corner with Second Street.

In the mid-1880s, Marceau opened a photo gallery in Cincinnati, but he was an entrepreneur of rare talent and not the technician, as became the case throughout his career.  He provided the capital, built the studio and hired the best photographers in the city.  If they wished, the partner could buy the business and Marceau took the profit to start a new parlor, always a higher-end facility.

In the late part of the decade, he opened a studio in San Francisco (there was also one in Indianapolis) and married a widow named Amanda Fiske, who had property, but also significant debts and a penchant for dabbling in affairs.  His photographer partner, taking his cue from Marceau, bolted with the firm’s negatives and formed his own successful practice.  Meanwhile, Amanda took up with a horseman and Marceau filed for what became a nasty and very public divorce.

A brief note in the 18 May 1897 edition of the Times reporting that Marceau was opening an “art gallery,” really a photo studio.

Perhaps partly because of these Bay Area crises, Marceau came to Los Angeles in spring 1897 and opened a branch of his business on Spring Street, the business thoroughfare of the growing city, while taking up residence next door in the finest hotel in town, the Hollenbeck.  He lived in the city on and off over the next few years, but relocated in 1900 (during which a dust-up occurred with his ex-wife, who tried to kidnap their only child, a boy, whose custody was awarded to Marceau) to New York where he took charge of an established photo gallery and then opened his own Marceau branch.

A squabble over the sole child of Theodore Marceau and Amanda Fiske Fennell as reported in the Times, 2 April 1900.

Over the course of the next twenty years, Marceau ran his photo studios (the Los Angeles branch appears to have closed by 1910), increasingly concentrating on clients who were celebrities, actors, musicians and other well-known personalities, such as Paderewski.  Having amassed a large fortune, including shrewd real estate investments, Marceau lived on a large estate outside New York City until his death in 1922.  His namesake son sold the Marceau studio soon afterward.

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