Par 1 Pachmann is the Verlaine or Whistler of the pianoforte. He has the head of a monk who has had commerce with the Devil, and it is whispered that he has sold his soul to the diabolical instrument, which, since buying it, can speak in a human voice. The sounds torture him, as a wizard is tortured by the shapes he has invoked. He makes them dance for his pleasure, and you hear their breath come and go, in the swell and subsiding of those marvellous crescendos and diminuendos which set the strings pulsating like a sea. He listens for the sound, listens for the last echo of it after it is gone, and is caught away from us visibly into that unholy company.
Par 2 Pachmann is the greatest player of the piano now living. He cannot interpret every kind of music, though his actual power is more varied than he has led the public to suppose. I have heard him play in private a show-piece of Liszt, a thunderous thing of immense difficulty, requiring a technique quite different from the technique which alone he cares to reveal to us; he had not played it for twenty years, and he played it with exactly the right crackling splendor that it demanded. On the rare occasions when he plays Bach, something that no one of our time has ever perceived or rendered in that composer seems to be evoked, and Bach lives again, with something of that forgotten life which only the harpsichord can help us to remember under the fingers of other players. When I heard him play the Italian Concerto in F it seemed to me the greatest thing he had ever done, and I said of it at the time that his art in it was like the art of Bach himself for purity, poignancy, and clarity. Mozart and Weber are two of the composers whom he plays with the most natural instinct, for in both he finds and unweaves that dainty web of bright melody which Mozart made out of sunlight and Weber out of moonlight. There is. nothing between him and them, as there is in Beethoven, for instance, who hides himself in the depths of a cloud, in the depths of wisdom, in the depths of the heart. And to Pachmann all this is as strange as mortal firesides. to a fairy. He wanders round it, p. 375 wondering at the great walls and bars that have been set about the faint, escaping spirit of flame. There is nothing human in him, and as music turns towards humanity it slips from between his hands. What he seeks and finds in music is the inarticulate, ultimate thing in sound: the music, in fact.
Par 3 It has been complained that Pachmann's readings are not intellectual, that he does not interpret. It is true that he does not interpret between the brain and music, but he is able to disimprison sound, as no one has ever done with mortal hands, and the piano, when he touches it, becomes a joyous, disembodied thing, a voice and nothing more, but a voice which is music itself To reduce music to terms of human intelligence or even of human emotion is to lower it from its own region, where it is Ariel. There is something in music, which we can apprehend only as sound, that comes to us out of heaven or hell, mocking the human agency that gives it speech, and taking flight beyond it. When Pachmann plays a Prelude of Chopin, all that Chopin was conscious of saying in it will, no doubt, be there; it is all there, if Godowsky plays it: every note, every shade of expression, every heightening and quickening, everything that the notes actually say. But under Pachmann's miraculous hands a miracle takes place; mystery comes about it like an atmosphere, an icy thrill traverses it, the terror and ecstasy of a beauty that is not in the world envelop it; we hear sounds that are awful and exquisite, crying outside time and space. Is it through Pachmann's nerves, or through ours, that this communion takes place? Is it technique, temperament, touch, that reveals to us what we have never dreamed was hidden in sounds? Could Pachmann himself explain to us his own magic?
Par 4 He would tell us that he had practised the piano with more patience than others, that he had taken more trouble to acquire a certain touch which is really the only way to the secret of his instrument. He could tell you little more; but, if you saw his hands settle on the keys, and fly and poise there, as if they had nothing to do with the perturbed, listening face that smiles away from them, you would know how little he had told you. Now let us ask Godowsky, whom Pachmann himself sets above all other pianists, what he has to tell us about the way in which he plays.
Par 5 When Godowsky plays he sits bent and motionless, as if picking out a pattern with his fingers. He seems to keep surreptitious watch upon them, as they run swiftly on their appointed errands. There is no errand they are not nimble enough to carry without a stumble to the journey's end. They obey him as if in fear; they dare not turn aside from the straight path; their whole aim is to get to the end of the journey, having done their task faultlessly. Sometimes, but without relaxing his learned gravity, he plays a difficult game, as in the Paganini variations of Brahms, which were done with a skill as sure and as soulless as Paganini's may have been. Sometimes he forgets that the notes are living things, and tosses them about a little cruelly, as if they were a juggler's balls. They drop like stones: you are sorry for them, because they are alive. How Chopin suffers, when he plays the Preludes! He plays them without a throb; the scholar has driven out the magic; Chopin becomes a mathematician. In Brahms, in the G Minor Rhapsody, you hear much more of what Brahms meant to do; for Brahms has set strange shapes dancing, like the skeletons "in the ghosts' moonshine" in a ballad of Beddoes; and these bodiless things take shape on the music, as Godowsky plays it unflinchingly, giving it to you exactly as it is, without p. 376 comment. Here his fidelity to every outline of form becomes an interpretation. But Chopin is so much more than form that to follow every outline of it may be to leave Chopin out of the outline.
Par 6 Pachmann, of all the interpreters of Chopin, is the most subtle, the one most likely to do for the most part what Chopin wanted. The test, I think, is in the Third Scherzo. That great composition, one of the greatest among Chopin's works, for it contains all his qualities in an intense measure, might have been thought less likely to be done perfectly by Pachmann than such Coleridge in music, such murmurings out of paradise, as the Etude in F Minor (Op. 25, No. 2) or one of those Mazurkas in which Chopin is more poignantly fantastic in substance, more wild and whimsical in rhythm, than elsewhere in his music; and indeed, as Pachmann played them, they were strange and lovely gambols of unchristened elves. But in the Scherzo he mastered this great, violent, heroic thing as he had mastered the little freakish things and the trickling and whispering things. He gave meaning to every part of its decoration, yet lost none of the splendor and wave-like motion of the whole tossing and eager sea of sound.
Par 7 Pachmann's art, like Chopin's, which it perpetuates, is of that peculiarly modern kind which aims at giving the essence of things in their fine shades: "la nuance encor!" Is there, it may be asked, any essential thing left out in the process; do we have attenuation in what is certainly a way of sharpening one's steel to a very fine point? The sharpened steel gains in what is most vital in its purpose by this very paring away of its substance; and why should not a form of art strike deeper for the same reason? Our only answer to Whistler and Verlaine is the existence of Rodin and Wagner. There we have weight as well as sharpness; these giants fly. It was curious to hear, in the vast luminous music of the "Rheingold," flowing like water about the earth, bare to its roots, not only an amplitude but a delicacy of fine shades not less realized than in Chopin. Wagner, it is true, welds the lyric into drama, without losing its lyrical quality. Yet there is no perfect lyric which is made less by the greatness of even a perfect drama.
Par 8 Chopin was once thought to be a drawing-room composer; Pachmann was once thought to be no "serious artist." Both have triumphed, not because the taste of any public has improved, but because a few people who knew have whispered the truth to one another, and at last it has leaked out like a secret.