[This excerpt appeared in The Journal of a Disappointed Man
by W.N.P. Barbellion (pseudonym of Bruce Frederick Cummings, 1889-1919),
London, Chatto and Windus, 1919. Reprinted London, The Hogarth Press, 1984, pages 234-235.
The excerpt was also reprinted in Words About Music:
a Treasury of Writings
edited by John Amis (1922-) (Michael Rose, general editor), London, Faber and Faber, 1989, pages 189-190.
This web version is dated 10 September 2007.
by W.N.P. Barbellion
Of piano virtuosi one of the most eccentric was Vladimir de Pachmann, whose
zany performing manner, and fabulous sensitivity of touch in Chopin, can still
be detected in the records he made in the early 1930s when he was well over
eighty years old.
Judging from the memories of those who heard him play, the
following eye-witness account is in no way overdone.
1984, p.234; 1989, p.189
Arrived at Queen's Hall in time for Pachmann's Recital
at 3.15. . . . As usual he kept us waiting for 10 minutes.
Then a short, fat, middle-aged man strolled casually on to
the platform and everyone clapped violently—so it was
Pachmann: a dirty greasy looking fellow with long hair of
dirty grey colour, reaching down to his shoulders and an
ugly face. He beamed on us and then shrugged his
shoulders and went on shrugging them until his eye caught
the music stool, which seemed to fill him with amazement.
He stalked it carefully, held out one hand to it caressingly,
and finding all was well, went two steps backwards, clasping
his hands before him and always gazing at the little stool
in mute admiration, his eyes sparkling with pleasure, like
Mr. Pickwick's on the discovery of the archaeological treasure.
He approached once more, bent down and ever so gently
moved it about 7/8ths of an inch nearer the piano. He then
gave it a final pat with his right hand and sat down.
He played Nocturne No. 2, Prelude No. 20, a Mazurka
and two Études of Chopin and Schubert's Impromptu
At the close we all crowded around the platform and gave
the queer, old-world gentleman an ovation, one man
thrusting up his hand which Pachmann generously shook
As an encore he gave us a Valse—'Valse, Valse', he
exclaimed ecstatically, jumping up and down in his seat in
time to the music. It was a truly remarkable sight: on
his right the clamorous crowd around the platform; on his
left the seat holders of the Orchestra Stalls, while at the
piano bobbed this grubby little fat man playing divine
Chopin divinely well, at the same time rising and falling
in his seat, turning a beaming countenance first to the right
and then to the left, and crying, 'Valse, Valse'. He is as
entertaining as a tumbler at a variety hall.
As soon as he had finished, we clapped and rattled for
more, Pachmann meanwhile standing surrounded by his
idolaters in affected despair at ever being able to satisfy
us. Presently he walked off and a scuffle was half visible
behind the scenes between him and his agent who sent him
in once more.
The applause was wonderful. As soon as he began
again it ceased on the instant, and as soon as he left off it
started again immediately—nothing boisterous or rapturous
but a steady, determined thunder of applause that
came regularly and evenly like the roar from some machine.
Incidentally, not only does Pachmann talk on some of those old 78 recordings,
but there is also at one point, the weary voice of a technician saying, "Try it
again, sir'. And on another, 'Oh, do go on'.