The brown cedar coffin of Ignace Jan Paderewski was wheeled from a half-century of temporary interment in Arlington National Cemetery yesterday en route to the free Poland for which the legendary pianist and composer had labored as both artist and statesman for most of his long and extraordinary life.
But even as hundreds of persons filed past the casket lying in state at Fort Myer Chapel last night, passions as fevered as Paderewski's artistry and patriotism roiled around the scheduled departure of his remains today for formal state burial July 5 in St. John's Cathedral in Warsaw.
In New York, where Paderewski died 51 years ago, Public Administrator Ethel Griffin said sketchy legal efforts have tried to "reconstitute the body" by retrieving the pianist's heart, which was removed after death and is presently encased in bronze in a Polish American shrine in Doylestown, Pa.
In Northern Virginia, a music lover named Mark Seidenberg, who wants Paderewski buried in France, lost a suit to block the removal of the remains but was still denouncing it.
And in Washington, former Washington Post music critic Paul Hume, a biographer of Paderewski whose efforts led President Kennedy to order a plaque for the musician-statesman's long-unmarked resting place in Arlington, refused his appointment as honorary pallbearer to protest a scheduled eulogy for Paderewski by Vice President Quayle.
The presence of Quayle, who "wouldn't know Paderewski's music or history if it flew up and bit him on the neck," will be "a profound insult to the memory of one of the greatest men of the 20th century," Hume fumed.
Hume had originally been asked to give the eulogy.
Meanwhile, President Bush is scheduled to attend the pomp-filled ceremony in Warsaw where Paderewski's body will be officially turned over to Polish President Lech Walesa July 5.
Edward J. Derwinski, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Bush administration's highest ranking official of Polish American origin, said all the efforts challenging the movement of Paderewski's remains are the efforts of "a few maverick crackpots" and lack any chance of success or popular support. "Both Poles and Polish Americans are extremely proud" of the planned return of Paderewski's remains, he said. "He is one of Poland's greatest heroes." Derwinski will lead the delegation accompanying the body.
Few figures in any nation's artistic or political life have achieved the towering stature of Ignace Jan Paderewski -- a charismatic artist whose strikingly dramatic bearing, romantic phrasing and aggressive, muscular playing style -- as one writer put it -- "drew farmers from their barns, schoolboys from their baseball, real estate speculators from their offices ... all manner of unlikely persons from their dens ... into a concert hall to have a look and a listen at him."
Though he started late in life as a concert pianist -- he was 24 when he began to work seriously -- Paderewski showed extraordinary powers of strength and concentration, practicing fiercely eight and 10 hours a day. From his Paris debut in 1889, he exercised a peculiar, messianic hold on audiences, and so determined was his artistic progress that when he injured one finger during a particularly exhausting American tour, he reworked the fingering of every piece in his repertoire until he could play each without the injured digit.
Yet as brilliant and popular a performer as he was -- and he earned vastly more than any non-singing musician ever had -- he was, in the words of French composer Camille Saint-Saens -- merely "a genius who happens to play the piano."
From his earliest days Paderewski had been obsessed with the captivity of his country and its hunger for independence. Poland had been partitioned by Germany, Austria and Russia in 1795, and despite sporadic revolts was still not free at the time of World War I. Incorporating adroit diplomacy into his U.S. concert tours, he gradually won the attention of President Woodrow Wilson and was key in persuading Wilson to make the creation of a free and independent Poland one of his "14 Points" for the achievement of a European peace.
After the war, with factionalism rife in the reborn but politically fragmented nation, Paderewski returned as a unifying figure to become the first prime minister of the new Poland and sign the Treaty of Versailles. He bowed out of politics after six months but was named prime minister of Poland's government in exile in 1939 after Germany had invaded the country to touch off World War II.
Paderewski returned to America at the outbreak of the Second World War to spend the rest of his life in the country he revered as Poland's savior. He was 79 but soon embarked on yet another concert tour to earn money to survive. Most of his earlier millions he had given away in war relief to Polish refugees or donated to projects in his native land.
He died in New York on June 27, 1941. There was a huge parade and a Requiem mass for him there, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered interment in Arlington National Cemetery for his body "until Poland shall be free." Because law generally prohibits burial in Arlington to any but members of the U.S. military, his casket was placed in the only secure sepulcher in the cemetery -- the memorial to the Spanish American War dead on the Battleship Maine.
There it rested, with no identifying tablet, until 1963, when several columns by Hume in The Washington Post prompted Kennedy to recognize officially Paderewski's resting place.
Moves to have the body returned to Poland began several years ago, according to former ambassador-at-large Edward L. Rowny, who said he brought the matter up with the Polish government while pursuing arms-control talks in Warsaw for the Reagan administration. The official request for the body's return was made by Poland two years ago, with the event planned for last summer, on the 50th anniversary of Paderewski's death.In April 1991, however, President Lech Walesa asked during a visit to Washington that the return be delayed a year until after the Polish parliamentary elections, Rowny said.
Following his sister's wish, Paderewski's heart was removed after his death, like that of his idol, fellow artist and countryman Frederic Chopin. It now lies in a crypt at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pa., where it will remain.