by F. Forster Buffen
I KNOW of no pianoforte virtuoso at the present time before the public
whose performances are more uniformly perfect, thoroughly enjoyable,
and satisfactory in every respect, than those of Vladimir de Pachmann.
The enormous improvements in the manufacture of pianos,
effected during the last thirty years, has resulted in the production
of instruments, especially by the German houses of Steinway, Bechstein,
and Schiedmeyer, of which composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, or even Chopin,
little dreamed at the time when their exalted and wonderful works were written.
Among all the composers for the modern clavichord,
none seem to have estimated the capacity of this instrument so correctly
as the Polish writer, Fredéric Chopin;
and in the interpretation of those beautiful and fanciful subjects,
with their dream-like modulations and harmonies,
with which Chopin has enriched the store of pianoforte compositions,
M. de Pachmann admittedly stands unrivalled.
This indefatigable artist and accomplished musician is a Russian by birth,
and was born at Odessa on the 27th of July, 1848.
His father, Vincent de Pachmann, was an Austrian,
and a Professor of Roman Law;
but he was also a musical amateur of considerable ability.
He not only played the violin with skill,
but had acquired so much knowledge of the science of music
as to be able to write a treatise on harmony and theory in the German language.
He was on intimate terms with Beethoven and Weber,
and with the latter he lived for two years.
At the age of six, young Vladimir began to learn the violin;
and from that age until he had reached ten, his father gave him
continuous lessons on this instrument, during which he mastered
the whole of Lipinski's studies, while at the same time he supervised
his studies in harmony and thorough-bass.
Vladimir made rapid progress, and in the course of three years
acquired such proficiency, that he was able to improvise and compose
several pieces for the violin.
In November, 1858, however, feeling a predilection for the piano,
he commenced to study it, and during the following twelve months his father
regularly gave Vladimir one hour's instruction daily,
after which he practised alone until he reached eighteen.
His father then sent him to the Conservatoire at Vienna where he remained
for two years, receiving instruction on the piano from Professor J. Dachs,
and studying counterpoint and fugue with Professor Bruckner,
at the end of which period he took the first prize for pianoforte studies,
obtained the gold medal, and in 1869 returned to Russia.
At Odessa, Pachmann gave his first pianoforte recitals,
under the general support of the aristocracy of that city,
combined with the powerful influence of the Strogenhoff family.
He then became the intimate friend of Maximilien von Leuttenberg,
and about this time Pachmann met Carl Tausig,
and hearing him play the Grand Polonaise" in A flat, by Chopin,
was so astonished at the marvellous technique displayed by Tausig,
that he resolved to play no more in public until,
by continued application and study, he had mastered all pianistic difficulties.
Pachmann accordingly retired, and devoted himself many hours a day
to conquer the difficulties contained in the studies of Tausig, Von Bülow,
and Liszt, together with the whole of Bach's fugues as fingered and edited
by Carl Tausig.
This further term of study having been completed,
in 1878 Pachmann went to Leipzig, and played with considerable success
at the celebrated Gewandhaus concerts, under Carl Reneike,
and during his stay of twelve months in that city he gave a number of recitals.
Pachmann, however, felt there was still something to acquire,
and accordingly he went to Vienna and again resigned himself to further study.
At this period he met the accomplished Prince Hohenlohe,
himself an admirable pianist,
who used all his influence to persuade Pachmann to play in Vienna,
but he refused.
One day he happened to be trying an instrument in Bösendorfer's
pianoforte saloons, when M. Waltmann,
who had been travelling with Sophie Menter
, heard him play,
and this impresario ultimately persuaded him to announce a concert;
but at the last moment Pachmann, labouring under a feeling of dissatisfaction
with his own powers, postponed the concert.
Within a short time, however, he was induced to give the recital,
which took place at Bösendorfer's Saloon in January, 1882,
all the musical notabilities of Vienna being present.
The notices in the Deutsche Zeitung,
the Neue Wiener Tagblatt, the Neue Freie Presse,
and other German journals of the time contained most flattering notices
of his performances.
This success induced Pachmann to give two more recitals,
in one of which he was compelled to play eight times,
before the audience would consent to his finally leaving the platform.
From this time M. Pachmann's fame as a pianoforte virtuoso was established;
and from Vienna he went to Paris, and played at the Salle Erard on the 22nd,
and on the 29th of April, 1882, Pachmann made his first appearance in England
at one of Mr. Ganz's orchestral concerts at St. James's Hall,
of which The Times of that date remarked:
"His touch is of the utmost delicacy, the subtlest gradations of time
and strength are to him as natural
as they were to the composer when he wrote.
There is indeed about his playing that charm of dreamy poetry
of which those speak with enthusiasm who heard Chopin himself.
Nothing more perfect in its way could be imagined than the slow movement
of the concerto as rendered by M. de Pachmann."
At this concert, H. R. H. the Duchess of Edinburgh was present,
and at its conclusion she sought Mr. Ganz and expressed the pleasure
she had derived from Pachmann's performance,
which caused him to receive an engagement for the following concert.
During the year, Pachmann undertook a long tour throughout England, Scotland,
and Ireland, and so great was the success which resulted
that he subsequently made a second tournée which lasted for five months.
He then went to Germany, and at a concert given at Buda - Pesth
Pachmann played one of Chopin's Sonatas, when Liszt, who was present,
stepped on to the platform and embraced him,
whereupon he played Liszt's well-known Etude in D flat,
after the performance of which the renowned composer exclaimed,
"This is what I have always required."
Pachmann spent three days with Liszt,
and remembers with considerable gratitude and pleasure the many kindnesses
and marks of appreciation he received from the illustrious Magyar.
Liszt invited Pachmann to sup with him, and on this occasion Pachmann played
for upwards of two hours to the maestro, who christened him
the "poet of the piano."
In April, 1884, Pachmann married the accomplished pianist Maggie Oakey.
After their marriage he went to Switzerland, subsequently going to Vienna,
and from thence to Russia, where he played with unbounded success.
Pachmann then visited Copenhagen, and the Queen of Denmark presented him
with a handsome scarf-pin, set with pearls, sapphires, and diamonds,
the Royal Danish Order of the Dannebrog, with star and ribbon,
being also conferred upon him.
The Empress of Russia gave him a handsome
Etruscan arabesque vase, which she bought at the Moscow Exhibition;
and among other presents which he has received is a diamond ring,
surmounted by the Crown of Austria, which the Princess Stéphanie
M. de Pachmann is said to be among the very few whose mind
is in absolute harmony with that of the Polish composer,
and his "dreamy poetry" is reproduced in Pachmann's performances.
The success which attended Pachmann when he gave three recitals
of Chopin's music at St. James's Hall two seasons ago
will be in the recollection of most musical readers.
M. de Pachmann has recently returned from an extended tour
throughout the United States, during which he has given upwards
of one hundred recitals.
His performances have been referred to in the most enthusiastic terms,
but I have only space to quote one article which appeared in
The Evening News:
"Pachmann, like Chopin, has Slavic blood in his veins,
and blood tells in art as in society.
It enables him to reproduce sympathetically the supreme elegance
of Chopin's conceptions and the poetic freedom and wilfulness
of his musical movement—the tempo rubato,
which Liszt compares to the undulating surface of a wheatfield,
or to tree-tops moved by a breeze.
This instinct for an unfettered rhythmic movement is the first condition
of being a good Chopin player.
The second is the power of evoking varied tone-colours from the keyboard,
and of producing, by a judicious use of the pedal,
a continuous stream of tone on which the melody floats.
In this respect, too, Pachmann is a supreme master.
Seldom has an artist succeeded as he does in fusing the notes
of broken chords into harmonies of delicious tone-colour.
How sonorous is his bass, how enchantingly sweet his cantabile!
Technically, Chopin presents no difficulties to him, his runs,
whether in single or double notes, being as clear and facile
as the warbling of a bird. Chopin's
music is almost always written legato—commonly
legatissimo—and in this respect, too,
Mr. Pachmann's interpretation is true to the spirit and the letter.
And, lastly, we must mention the important fact that he has the rare gift
of tempo—he does not play the slow movements too fast,
which is the greatest fault of most pianists.
This redounded to the great advantage of the Nocturne, Opus 55, No. 1,
which he played, and the Largo of the Sonate, Opus 58,
which is generally played like an Andante.
On the other hand, he certainly played the Prelude No. 22 too fast.
It is, indeed, marked molto agitato, but that does not mean
that it should sweep across the keyboard like a whirlwind,
stirring up a dust of chaotic notes.
The 'greatly agitated' refers not so much to the tempo as to the spirit.
There is a world of dramatic feeling condensed in this little Prelude
which the pianist did not bring out.
But everything else on the programme was admirably done,
and the concert seemed but half an hour long,
so entertaining is Chopin when played by Pachmann."
Pachmann is so earnest to the art which he adores that he has comparatively
little time for the cultivation of other pursuits;
but he is passionately attached to mineralogy,
and spends a considerable part of his leisure in the study of this science.
Considered in the light of a pianoforte virtuoso,
he occupies an exalted position among great players of the present time.
His wonderfully sympathetic touch and method of tone production
are peculiar to himself.
He has devoted nearly half a lifetime to the cultivation of a technique
which is absolutely perfect,
but which he regards only as a means of expression.
With him every phrase is thoroughly studied and polished to the last degree,
the meaning clearly expressed,
and so conscientious is he in the interpretation of the work performed
that he is never satisfied until able to present to his audience
a perfect musical picture.