Russian Pianist, About to Embark on Trans-Continental Tour, Declares His Tone Was Formerly "That of a Swine"—Considers Himself Now the Equal of Liszt—Has Had to Re-finger All His Répertoire—Much Misquoted in Daily Papers—Thinks Godowsky the Greatest Modern Composer

picture of Pachmann, head and shoulders

[Par 1] Vladimir de Pachmann is back again in the United States after twelve years of absence, a gentle old man who still wears his hair à la Liszt and tells you every five minutes that he is now seventy-five years old and that he did not really learn to play the piano until he was seventy. Those who heard him on his former visits will be inclined to discount this statement and to wonder just what difference Mr. de Pachmann's newly-discovered "method" is going to make in the silken tone that has always distinguished his playing, and whether the obviously powerful hands and wrists will sacrifice the well-remembered suavity of tone in favor of volume. It would be unthinkable, as well as unfortunate. In spite of Mr. de Pachmann's much talked-of seventy-five years, he is about to embark upon a tour which will take him to the Pacific Coast, a fatiguing experience for anybody but, in view of the artist's age, indicative of a vigor which many a young man might envy.
[Par 2] "It will be an experience for me as well as for those who listen to me," said the pianist, comfortably attired in a blue silk dressing gown and no collar, "but I hope the weather will soon be cooler. What do you think? This is terrible! I want to begin practising right away, but what can one do with the thermometer hitting the top of the tube?
[Par 3] Mr. de Pachmann is principally interested at present in his new technique. He has been widely misquoted on the subject, he says, and practically every interviewer who has talked with him since his arrival last week has said that he played with his wrist held stiff.
[Par 4] "Could anything be more absurd?" asked the pianist. "Can you imagine playing the piano or doing anything else with stiffened muscles? They simply misunderstood me, those reporters, or didn't know a lot about the piano. Now, what I did say was this: I now play without any lateral motion of the wrists, and the line from the angle of the second joint of the hand to the elbow is the diameter [NN: radius] of a circle. In other words, such lateral movement as is required has the elbow as the center of the circle and not the wrist joint. Now, of course, this hand position makes it impossible to play certain pieces because as the right hand plays down the scale and the left hand up, if the wrist is held straight, not stiff, mind, first the thumb is off the keyboard, then the first finger and so on. Why circumscribe your repertoire thus? Why not? There are millions of pieces for the piano, and who wants to play them all? Who can play them all?
[Par 5] "There is another thing: very naturally, the pieces which I can play with my new technique have all to be re-fingered. That sounds like much more of an undertaking than it really is, and the advantages are so obvious that it is well worth while.
[Par 6] "What are these advantages? I enumerate five [NN: only four are enumerated here]. First, the tranquility of the body without any of the nervous jumping around that is ugly to watch and of no advantage in any respect. Second, indefatigability—I can play an entire program, a long concert, and not feel in the least fatigued, and that's not so bad for an old man of seventy-five, is it? Third, it enables me to maintain an erect, reposeful position at the keyboard which is better in appearance, not to mention the fact that it enables the player to keep his chest up and full of air, a vigorous position however you look at it. Fourth, and perhaps the most important point, is that it gives an absolutely natural touch and hence a lovely tone.

Now "Equal of Liszt"

[Par 7] "Was not my tone lovely before? It was the tone of a swine! Not that it was not as good as that of everyone else. It was, just as good as any, except that of Liszt. Such arms and hands as he had! He did not need any individual technique. But you see, my arms are short and I could not play then as he played. But now I am the equal of Liszt. If he were alive, he would be the first to admit it!
[Par 8] "Liszt thought I could play in the old days, and he said so. I remember when I was thirty-five, playing at Wahnfried [NN: Wagner's villa in Bayreuth]. Liszt, Wagner, Cosima, they were all [page 6] there. I played, and when I had finished Wagner got up and kissed my hand. But I play better than that now, much better, and I am seventy-five years old.
[Par 9] "What led me to evolve the new technique? Who inspired me? I went back to first principles, to Muzio Clementi, who never would permit the thumb to play a black key. I studied out why he had laid down this arbitrary rule and then I realized that it was because in many cases it necessitated the unnatural lateral motion of the wrist which distends the vein in the arm and causes rapid fatigue. Thus, from an antique source comes the modern inspiration, for my method is utterly modern, so modern that I have not even written it down. But I shall do so when I have completed this tour, and give it to the world. Already I have had a most flattering offer for it from a European publisher, and also another offer to re-finger a number of standard works with my new fingering. You see, there is a lot of work for the old man to do yet.
[Par 10] "They will persist in calling me a specialist in Chopin, and I do not like that. Of course I play Chopin, a lot of him. But it is absurd for any pianist to confine his best efforts to one composer. It is very narrowing and, if you do that, pretty soon you will find you cannot even play that composer well. To be truly artistic you have to be broad in every way. I don't mean you have to play everybody. But likewise, you should not go to the other extreme and play only one composer. I play Beethoven—just wait till you hear me play the Adagio of the Appassionata with the new technique [NN: it is not Adagio but Andante con moto—presumably the author's or editor's mistake]. It sounds like the Ninth Symphony!—then Chopin, of course, and Schumann, some things of Liszt, and Brahms and Godowsky. My friend Leopold! He is the very greatest of living composers. I have just been to visit him. I said, 'Leo, you are the greatest of all!' He threw his arms around my neck and tears fell from his eyes. 'Vladdy,' he replied, 'I am quite sure you flatter me.' But I did not. That is my honest opinion.
[Par 11] "No longer do I play Bach or Mozart. They are tinkly. Anyhow, Bach and Mozart on our modern pianos are not Bach and Mozart. Arrangements are made of this music, but it is not the real thing and, as I said before, you can't play everything, and why should you want to?"     JOHN ALAN HAUGHTON