The Raleigh Piano with the Paderewski Signature


Gift by Paderewski to Mary Lee McMillan of Raleigh

Piano (Steinway, Model M, 224070), signed on May 10, 1924

                Ignacy Paderewski in the course of his life gave at least two pianos as gifts to individuals.  One was a gift to Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, the Pre-Raphaelite Dutch-British artist who was close to him and painted one of the most famous portraits of him.  The second was a gift to Mrs. Mary Lee McMillan of Raleigh, North Carolina, who had been Helena Paderewska’s secretary in New York during World War I, 1915-1918.  This New York period saw the Paderewskis’ organization of relief efforts for Poland during the War. 

                On May 10, 1924, Paderewski selected a piano—probably at Steinway Hall, then located on 14th Street—and inscribed it to Mrs. McMillan.  Helena Paderewska sent along a short note when the piano was delivered to 1810 Park Drive in Raleigh, North Carolina:

                “My dear Maria,

                Nuncio has autographed the Steinway which we are sending to you.  He has selected it for its tone.  You remember that he has autographed one other piano and that was for our friend Alma Tadema, the great English artist.  This piano, my dear child, will remind you of the days we were together and my husband is sending it with happiness.”[1]

                Mary Lee McMillan was a native of South Carolina and attended Columbia University.  She and her husband, a Columbia Law graduate, moved to Raleigh and lived in Cameron Park.[2]  She was personal secretary to Madame Helena Paderewska from 1915 through 1918, when the Paderewskis returned to Poland, where, subsequently, Paderewski was named Prime Minister in a compromise between the factions led by Roman Dmowski and Jozef Pilsudski.  Paderewski was to serve as Prime Minister for almost one year, always under pressure from all sides in those turbulent times.

                I had known of this piano since 1972 when Mrs. McMillan autographed for my mother a copy of her book My Helenka.  Mrs. McMillan wrote that the piano was purchased and delivered in 1927. However, having checked closely the signature itself and concluded that the figure in the date resembles a “4” more than a “7,” I checked in Malgorzata Perkowska’s book which details, as closely as possible, all of Paderewski’s concert dates and locations. Paderewski was in Melbourne, Australia, on May 10, 1927, quite far from being able to sign a piano in New York.[3]   But, on Friday, May 9, 1924, Paderewski played a famous concert at Carnegie Hall, including the Beethoven B-Major piano trio with Efrem Zimbalist (violin) and Felix Salmond (cello).  The following day, Saturday, he would have had only a short trip to Steinway Hall. 

                In December 2002 when Adam Wibrowski, a graduate of the Wyższa Szkoła Muzyczna in Cracow and professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory, was scheduled to come to Raleigh the end of January 2003, I bestirred myself to find the piano, more than 75 years after it arrived in Raleigh.

                My wife and I purchased this piano, closing the sale on June 10, 2003.  This wonderful piano will remain in Raleigh and be available to us and to the cultural life of the city.

[1] Mary Lee McMillan and Ruth Dorval Jones, My Helenka (Durham: Moore Publishing Co., 1972), p. 174.

[2] Raleigh City Directory (1921-2), p. 351.

[3] Małgorzata Perkowska, Diariusz Koncertowy Ignacego Jana Paderewskiego (Warsaw: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1990), pp. 163, 170.