De Pachmann, Now Seventy-five Years Young, Expounds Newly-Discovered Piano Technique
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
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.
"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?
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.
"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 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
"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
"What are these advantages? I
enumerate five . 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"
"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!
"Liszt thought I could play in the old
days, and he said so. I remember when
I was thirty-five, playing at Wahnfried .
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.
"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.
"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 . 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.
"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