DE PACHMANN, after thirty years of
exhaustive study, has a method of
playing Chopin that is exclusively
his own. Many have asked him the secret
of it in vain. One afternoon lately he told
me how he produced certain of his effects.
To the pianist this knowledge will prove
of decided interest, for many have tried in
one way or another to get at the secret
of his marvelously delicate performances.
De Pachmann was in the midst of a successful series of recitals in London
when I got a note saying that he would receive me one afternoon.
He stops at a little French hotel in Golden Square, a faded part of London.
His greeting was scarcely an assurance of success.
"You want met to tell you how I make my effects in playing Chopin.
I should be paid for interviews, and I should not tell you that even then.
I am sixty and I shall soon be dead, and it will be well."
This was a cheerful beginning for both.
Mark Twain once jocosely told the Vienna correspondent of the London Times
that he would willingly be interviewed, but it would cost his paper $3000.
The correspondent was uncertain as to whether or not the humorist was joking.
He was not, but the correspondent knew him only by his professional reputation.
Mr. De Pachmann left no ground for any such quandary.
"What have you there?" he asked, eying my notebook.
"The questions I wanted to ask you."
"What are they?"
"Why should I bother you with them if you have no intention of answering?"
"Tell me the first?"
"It is about Beethoven."
Beethoven and Brahms I would throw into the chimney
as far as their piano compositions are concerned.
They did not write for the piano, only Bach, Chopin and Schumann
wrote for the piano.
Brahms' piano things are in the organ style; they are not for the piano.
I have the greatest reverence for Beethoven's orchestral compositions
and string quartettes, but not his piano things.
No, I would throw them into the chimney."
If this was not Chopin it was at least interesting.
His meaning was perfectly clear.
He was judging the piano compositions of Beethoven
from the point of the purely pianistic as compared with Chopin,
the composer of all others who wrote for the piano as the piano.
"I would throw them into the chimney," he reiterated,
fixing his eve on a Japanese butterfly screen fastened insecurely in the grate.
"What other questions have you?" he asked with the naïve curiosity
that is accredited to six years oftener than to sixty.
"Read another," was the command. "Another," "another,"
and so we went through the list.
When they were exhausted he said,
"Why don't you put those questions to ——?
He is my dearest friend, my god in music. What do you think of him?"
"That he is wonderfully dexterous and marvelously empty headed."
"Do you?" said Mr. De Pachmann with animation.
Come up to my sitting-room and I will show you how I play Chopin."
A Recital for an Audience of One
DE PACHMANN took his place at the piano,
I seated myself in a chair by the window.
The big green trees in the square rustled in a fresh breeze.
Liszt once explained the meaning of the rubato in playing Chopin,
a fluttering and variation of the tempo, by just such an example:
"The tree-trunks stand firm, the leaves flutter
variably—the time is held,
but there is a hastening and slackening of the tempo."
Nocturne followed nocturne, then came the Cradle Song
and the Polonaise in C Sharp Minor.
It was a recital to the treetops and an audience of one.
Across the way the red brick houses, weather-stained and toppling,
made a sounding-board that reflected the music.
De Pachmann played on for nearly an hour without interruption,
going from one thing to another.
The soft, insinuating, liquid quality of tone,
the delicate embellishments, wonderfully soft but vibrant, kept steadily on.
De Pachmann was another man; temper, curiosity, childish naïvité
had been left for the moment below stairs.
Take the hero behind the gun away from the smell of the
powder and how often he behaves in affairs with the judgment
of a boy of ten. Music is not the only profession that
furnishes unconscious humorists to the world. Still it is
only justice to the musical artist to acknowledge that he
contributes his share. Sometimes the musical and the
unmusical join forces in this aspect of things. Take the case
of the lady in a remote city on her first meeting with
De Pachmann. "How beautifully you play," she said
effusively. "Do you sing?"
The pianist turned his back on her. "Do I sing?" he
echoed satirically. "Does she think—with that mind?"
"In playing Chopin all lies in the fingering," said De
Pachmann presently, talking as he played. " How many
have cunningly watched me do these same things to find out
how I did them. Did they find out? Scarcely; they would
not have kept on playing with such a hard tone afterward if
they had. It has taken me thirty years to study out these
things for myself. Let them do the same. Why should I
give away my bread? I am sixty and I shall soon be dead:
it is well. In two years I hope to go to America," he added
quickly, softening the prophecy of a fading mortality.
"But in Chopin all lies in the fingering. In playing his
music pianists get hard, brilliant effects, when they should
have the singing, velvety delicacy that Chopin requires.
They use the wrong fingers. The fingered editions of his
works are full of errors in this direction. I very early found
out that if I played Chopin as he demanded to he played I
must study out my own fingering. Hour after hour I have
tried first one way then another, until I got the quality of
tone and the legato that I wished.
"I do not use the first finger in playing passages where a
delicate effect is needed. The first finger is too heavy—too
harsh. I use the middle finger instead. Then I get the
quality of tone that I want.
"Now the stroke on the inner side of the finger and the
stroke on the outer give two distinct tone qualities. Look
at this!" De Pachmann's hand was bent inward and perfectly relaxed.
"This stroke on the inner side of the finger
is the violin, on the outer it is the flute in tone quality.
"The true artist can give such variety of tone to a simple
five-finger exercise that he can make it beautiful. But how
many play five-finger exercises over and over like machines
until they have taken their daily allowance of mechanism.
Listen to every tone that you play, and above all, listen if
you would play Chopin.
"What an artist Rubinstein was
in the study of tone!
The first theme of Schumann's Fantaisie, opus 17,
is only five notes, but how he played those five notes!
"But Rubinstein is dead. I am the greatest living pianist,
Godowsky is next, Rosenthal is perhaps the third, and
Paderewski fourth. I am the greatest, but Godowsky is next.
Don't forget to print that; it would please him to know that
I said so." I promised.
The playing went on for a time without interruption.
"Let me show you how I trill," the pianist broke in presently.
Bend the first finger until it is the length of the
thumb that they may be even. Then
trill almost on the nail. There you have a Chopin trill.
"In playing octaves I find a much better effect gained by the use of the thumb
and little finger than by alternating the third and fourth fingers
on the top notes in the Liszt style of playing.
"There you have some of my Chopin secrets—touch and tone,
quality, octaves, and the trill. I have never told these to any one before.
"There is yet another thing. In playing passages marked for both hands,
with the top note to be struck by the left hand crossing the right,
a much better effect is made by taking with the left hand the lowest note
marked for the right.
This makes it possible for the top note to be struck by the right,
a crossing of the hands being avoided.
A small thing, apparently, but it is the small things in the sum
of a great total that go to make a proper performance of Chopin
and of all composers.
The Eternal Greatness of Bach
THE artist's genius is not genuine until he can comprehend Bach.
To play Bach is to play the piano.
His compositions are drops of pure gold.
In Bach you must read between the lines;
he is a little obscure here and there,
but the more you understand him the more you see his infinite greatness.
"Technically, Bach is now better played than ever,
but the spirit of his work remains unchanged.
It demands the same spirit in its interpretation now
that it has always done; there is no new way of playing it, no matter what
is said about a modern interpretation. Three composers
I hold as writers for the piano, in the perfect style of its demands:
Bach, Chopin, Schumann."
But as we said good-by Mr. De Pachmann suddenly changed his mind—he
was not willing that his Chopin ideas should be printed. Here was a situation.
We had spent two full hours in our work in the midst of a busy season
with pressing demands on every moment.
"Why should I give away my bread? I am old; I shall soon——"
he began. "Come to me when you return from Paris,
then we will talk about generalities."
We did. When we had finished I asked,
"But the things that you told me about your Chopin playing?"
"Print them all," he said promptly.