Recent nonfiction briefly noted . . .; Balanced bio of a faded musical legend Paderewski, by Adam Zamoyski. New York: Atheneum. 290 pp. $19.95.
Few careers more dramatically illustrate the evanescence of fame than that of Ignace Jan Paderewski (1860-1941). During much of his lifetime, the Polish-born pianist was unrivaled in acclaim for his music. Newspapers coined the term ''Paddymania'' to describe the atmosphere at his overflowing concerts, where women fainted in the aisles and vied for locks of their idol's hair. Music critics called him ''the greatest of them all . . . a giant . . . a master.'' Yet today Paderewski is remembered - if at all - with condescension. One pundit has gone so far as to assert that in a modern concert hall anyone playing like Paderewski ''would be laughed off the stage.''
Adam Zamoyski portrays Paderewski as neither a genius nor a hack, but as a ''good and noble man'' with a ''uniquely cathartic and spiritual quality to his playing.'' He discusses how shifting fashions in concert performance have led to an unfair evaluation of the pianist's abilities.He stresses Paderewski's lifetime of effort not just as a musician, but as a patriot who worked selflessly (though unsuccessfully) to help establish a free Poland. By the end of this sensitive biography, one can appreciate why, while Paderewski's body lay in state in New York City, over 7,000 mourners came to pay their last respects, a tribute few of us will ever earn.