It was with considerable hesitation that I consented
to tell the readers of the "PORTFOLIO" of my new method of playing
the piano. Already I can see their elevated eyebrows as they
read the phrase "new method". "Can there be a new method?" they are asking,
"Or is this a Pachmann joke?"
They are wise in their scepticism, for they have been
taught that there is nothing new under the sun. Regarded from
the point of view of this generalisation, I suppose my method
is not strictly new. Yet it is new to me, and I am a
professional pianist of seventy-three years of age.
I have been playing the piano ever since I was a boy of ten
years old, and yet for sixty years I played without a knowledge
of my present method. Then, three and a-half years ago, I
happened upon it. To a man of my age it was the discovery
of real gold, of an elixir of life. During the past three and a-half
years in which I have used this new method I have
expended about one-fourth the energy that piano-playing
previously demanded of me over a similar period. Whether I
can teach this method to others I do not know; certainly I am
now too old to do more than just state in this article the general
principle. I am of the opinion that the pianist must be
somewhat of a genius to change from the accepted style to
the Pachmann method with success, but, if he is able to do so,
he can be assured of a far easier lot than heretofore.
It was when I was playing in Rome that I accidentally
alighted on the new method. I was looking through the
"Gradus ad Parnassum" of Muzio Clementi, which work, as is
well known, was written when the piano was very young. I
noticed that this composition was written for a very unusual
style of playing: that, instead of crossing the hands as is done
for many of the big compositions —
Scarlatti's "Sonata", for instance — it provided for one hand
completing the runs begun with the other. So that the hands
came together in the centre of the keyboard, and returned up
or down the keys - but never crossed!
It gave me an idea. If, by moving the arms, I could do this
and so keep my hands horizontal and always in an almost
straight line from my wrists, I might save myself considerable
physical effort and wrist-strain. I experimented and found that
this could be done. Even when my hands were at either end of
the keyboard, I found they could strike the notes without their
being at an angle with the wrists.
This new method may seem very simple, but the saving of
effort is phenomenal. After many hours of practice, I tried my
new method in public at Rome. At the end of a three hours'
recital I felt more fresh than I had done for many years past.
Until then it was usual for me to finish a recital with my
fingers tired and stiff. After using the new method my fingers
are not even moist, my wrists work perfectly, and they never
give that ominous click which they did after long hours of
playing with the old method. And all because my hands are
kept horizontal and the wrists are never forced. My doctor,
who recently examined my hands, was surprised at their
remarkably healthy and supple state. By the aid of this new
method I hope to continue my public appearances for another
twenty years at least.
Now one word to my readers on platform deportment.
Time after time have I heard it said that Pachmann is a great
showman as well as a pianist. This remark has arisen because
of my mannerisms on the public platform. My critics instance
my fidgeting with the music-stool, my dusting of the piano, my
little speeches, my insistence on the piano being absolutely
horizontal — and so on. They
say this is done to create an effect. Yet the facts are
otherwise. If these critics could be in my own private
apartment when I am practising, they would see me
behaving exactly as I behave in public. These are my
natural idiosyncrasies. Fortunately for me, the public,
instead of being annoyed by them, insist on accepting
them as part of the entertainment. My advice to young
pianists is, therefore, to be natural. For only by being
natural can you produce your best.
Though I am now an old man, I believe in plenty of
piano exercise. When I was a young man I used to spend
ten hours a day at the piano, which was a longer working
day than the eight hours of the modern labourer. I have
now cut off four, but still practise six hours every day,
part of which I spend in finger exercises, according to my
new method. My urgent counsel to young pianists is to spend
more time than they usually do in phrasing and finger-exercise
before attempting to play the great compositions.
Make your fingers automatically perfect. Then, when you
come to a public performance, you will find that the notes are
all in your finger-ends ready to be drawn forth at will.
Therefore, practise scales, combinations of chords, finger
movements, again and again. And do not forget that your best
role is not to hear praise from others, but to be your own worst
critic. Know the compositions which accord with your own
tastes and feelings. Do not expect that you can be a master of
every composer — of every composition. There is no one living
who can play everything with equal distinction.