The Sound of Eden

published april 12, 2023 | written by emily cough | edited by bhhs staff

Perhaps one of Bar Harbor’s most notable buildings during the Gilded Age was the Building of Arts. There, the summer elites of the time would gather together to enjoy curated music, concerts, and shows, often pulling from the talented artist reserves from New York City and beyond.

Designed by Guy Lowell and commissioned by the names we’ve come across many times here on the island: Mrs. Robert Abbe, George Dorr, George Vanderbilt, Mrs. Henry Dimock, and Henry Lane Eno, the Building of Arts opened with a flourish on July 13, 1907. Featuring Emma Eames, America’s first dramatic soprano, the opening concert set the high-caliber tone for what was to come.

Performers like Ted Shawn, Josef Hofmann, Ernest Schelling, and Walter Damrosch all graced the stage to entertain Bar Harbor’s summer residents over the years. In addition, Vaslav Nijinsky, renowned Russian dancer, would often use the Building of Arts to practice – though it’s unclear as to whether or not he actually performed there.

Possibly one of the Building of Arts’ most notable performers was that of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Polish pianist, composer, and politician. With captivating piano solos like Miscellanea Op. 16, Chants du voyageur Op. 8, and Impromptu in F major, it’s very possible that Paderewski would’ve played those pieces from his collection to Bar Harbor’s summer residents.

And every pianist must have their instrument to practice on. For Paderewski, that instrument was a Henry F. Miller grand piano, c. 1900-1930s, where he practiced at Primrose Cottage before his performances at the Building of Arts.

Fortunately for us, that same piano sits in the living room of our very own La Rochelle! As Paderewski once tickled those ivories, we invite guests to put their best foot (or fingers) forward and play enchanting music on it once more.

As aforementioned, Paderewski’s endeavors didn’t stop at performing, as he also became a politician. Paderewski actually went on to become Poland’s prime minister during a time of great change: World War I. While PM, he signed the Treaty of Versailles, which effectively ended the war. And though he wouldn’t stay in Poland forever, having resumed his career as a musical artist, Paderewski made his home in the states.

While it’s unclear whether or not Paderewski returned to perform at the Building of Arts in Bar Harbor or to even visit the island, it’s evident that the summer residents still supported his work, where in 1938, they came together at the Building of Arts for a showing of the the 1937 British film Moonlight Sonata (the hyperlink attached to Paderewski above is a clip from said film), where Paderewski starred as himself.

Three years following this showing, Paderewski passed away in New York City at the age of 80. However, his legacy still lives on through his musical pieces and political endeavors– and it certainly lives on here at the Historical Society with the piano he once used.

If you’d like to view or play the piano Ignacy Jan Paderewski practiced on, our doors open May 26th, from 10 am – 2 pm!

Want free admission for the year? Consider becoming a member! We have lots of exciting events and happenings this coming season and you don’t want to miss out on being the first to know! Please head to this link to join!