Musician p. 11
Modern p. 32
IF YOU were to come in touch with that
superlative pianist and unique personality,
Vladimir de Pachmann, you would not soon forget
the experience. More than this. If you were
permitted to sit beside the piano as he played for
you, now this beautiful bit or that — just as they
came into his mind — you would feel you were
getting a very near and intimate view of a many-sided
artist. If a music lover, you would enjoy the
shifting web of tone colors he wove for you
alone. A pianist — you would like to capture,
imprison and make your own the secrets of tone
and touch he illustrated for your benefit. A
teacher — the wonderful technical control would
appeal to you, which this wizard of the keyboard
possesses in such a marvelous degree.
I had the privilege of spending over an hour
with the Russian pianist, on two different
occasions, shortly after he arrived in America for
his last tours. The first afternoon several friends
Modern p. 33
were present. He was in rather a gay mood. He had
left the steamer but a few hours before, and still
felt the throb of the machinery. He was glad to be
in our country, where people were so sympathetic
to his art, and so on. After a while he brought out
one of his most treasured possessions, which he
exhibited for our admiration. This was nothing less
than a coat which had once belonged to Chopin. It
was of mohair of a chocolate brown color, with
large collar and long skirt. Some one requested
him to put it on. Then the piano was
surreptitiously opened, and he was induced, still
wearing the coat — which was much too large for
him — to seat himself at the keyboard. Almost
before he was aware of it he was improvising tiny
little stray tone-thoughts. Continually protesting
that he could not play that day, that he had not
touched a piano for two weeks, he began the D flat
Nocturne of Chopin.
It was a memorable performance, or rather it
was a poetical inspiration in tones. One felt it was
the last word in the interpretation of this exquisite
night song. He accompanied the playing with a
little by-play of remarks as he went along. "This is
Caruso", he said in one place; again, "These tones
are sung by Patti". The pairs of intervals toward
the close, given to the
Modern p. 34
right hand, he called bells. When it was over, he
explained that the beauties we admired were due
to a new method of playing which he had
discovered about five
Musician p. 12
What this method
is has been subsequently much misunderstood,
one writer going so far as to say it consists in
holding the wrist stiff and high. Nothing could be
farther from the truth. He explained his ideas to
me the following afternoon, when I spent another
hour with him. Calling me to sit beside him at the
piano, he began:
"My Méthode, ah yes, I discovered it five years
ago. It was a revelation; it came to me from
Heaven. It does not consist of high, stiff wrists;
that would be very bad — abominable! You see I
move my wrists up and down freely when I play.
But my hand and arm I hold quite level, with the
outside of the hand on a line with the arm, not
turned in or out at the wrist.
"In order to preserve this position of hand and
arm in different parts of the keyboard, the use of
the fingers, or I should say, the choice of them,
must be very carefully considered. I must use
special fingering for everything I play. Fingering,
anyway, is a very important factor in great
playing. Take von Bülow, for instance: he did
much for fingering in his editions of Beethoven
and Chopin. But I do not feel he has solved all
Modern p. 35
the problems, by any means. He always tried to
make things more difficult through constant
change of fingers, thereby turning the hand from
side to side and twisting the fingers out of shape. I
make things easy by using fingers that will not
throw the hand out of shape and that will always
preserve the correct relation of hand to the arm,
of which I have spoken. Yet Bülow was a great
man, a most excellent pianist, thinker and
philosopher. I say all this for him, though I don't
approve of his fingering. I care still less for
Klindworth's, for he tried to make things more
difficult than they need be, in order to keep all
"Look at this passage from Chopin's Third
Impromptu. Here is Bülow's fingering; you see
how it throws the hand out of shape? Here is
mine, which keeps the hand quiet and in natural
"The first benefit of my Méthode to the player
is that he can produce a natural tone, made without
effort. I can play hours and hours without fatigue.
I could play the whole twenty-four if I didn't have
to eat a little and sleep some. But the pianists of
today, especially the younger ones — see with
what effort they play, and with what a hard tone!
How can they ever make natural tones and play
from the heart, when they
Modern p. 36
are punching and beating the piano at the rate they
do? Ah, the poor piano! But my piano will yield
lovely tones because I treat it in the right way.
Why not caress it like this? Listen to these little
upward passages; how delicate and shadowy! How
ethereal they can be made if the heart speaks
through them by means of the fingers! And the
fingers, doing their part through right adjustment
and correct choice, glide up and down the
keyboard with little or no effort or exertion.
"Do you think all this is easy? Of course it
looks perfectly so — and it is easy, for me. But
each of these passages has cost me months of
study. Some of them I have played thousands of
times. And even yet they do not quite suit me; they
can still be improved with more labor, till they
become superlatively perfect.
And the artless pianist, simple as a child,
listened intently, with head on one side, to the
exquisite tones he produced.
"When I made the discovery of my Méthode, I
soon found that to play my pieces in the new way
they must all be revised and fingered anew. Many
passages written for one hand I now use both
hands for; thus keeping the hands in a more natural
position and making things easier for both."
Modern p. 37
Mr. de Pachmann illustrated his remarks with
various passages, most of them taken from the
music of Chopin.
"Some pieces do not lend themselves to such
changes as are required by my Méthode, and those
I shall not play in my recitals.
"Of Beethoven I shall not give the
Appassionata, for I know it has been done to
extinction; every student brings it out. Neither
shall the Waldstein appear on my programs. Op.
90 is nice in the First Movement; see how this
opening theme can be transfigured by beautiful
tone. Is it not heavenly? But the last movement I
don't care for, and it's too long, as you say. I shall
only put the Sonata Pathétique on my programs.
"Of Chopin I shall select only the special and
least-known pieces. Not the Polonaise Op. 53 or
the Scherzo Op. 31. I can't hear these any more;
they are played ad nauseam. No, I will choose the
Fourth Scherzo and two Polonaises, the small one
in C sharp minor and the wonderful one in F sharp
minor, Op. 44, one of the greatest compositions
ever written on this little planet. It is truly
inspired. Then I shall give the little-known Allegro
de Concerto and a few other things.
"Brahms' Valses will be heard in one of my
Modern p. 38
New York recitals. How light and beautiful is
Number One; listen to it! Ah, and I will play it in
tempo, too — no hesitation, no lagging. With my
Méthode I can play it that way. Then hear Number
Six; note the lightness of the skips! They should
ripple and dance like tiny fairies. Do you
remember the run in thirty seconds in Number 14?
You will see I can play it in time. See, I beat the
time with my hands and then play. Ah, you don't
hear it played like that, with such swiftness,
lightness and precision.
"Then there is the music of Godowsky, the
greatest since Brahms. He is a great genius,
Godowsky; such a thinker, contrapuntalist,
composer and pianist all in one. I have talked with
him already about my Méthode. When he heard
what it really was he understood at once and
exclaimed, 'Ah, Pachmann, you have found out
something really fine; in this way one can make a
true, natural tone'.
"What has Godowsky written for the piano?
First, there is a wonderful Sonata in five
movements; a great work, finer than Brahms' Op.
5. It is grander, more majestic than that, and
exceedingly difficult. Then there is the
Walzer-Masken, a set of twenty-four pieces — beautiful!
I shall play seven of them in my American concerts.
They are finer than the Trikatammeron,
Modern p. 39
the set of thirty pieces of more recent date — at
least I think so. These I do not play — nor the
Sonata — in public; my Méthode is not adapted to
"Yes, I intend to write out my Méthode; it shall
be set down in an orderly manner, for the benefit
of those who come after me. But not yet — I have
no time; I must go on tour. After all that is over —
then — perhaps —— "
I rose to leave, feeling I had trespassed on his valuable time in
staying so long. Thanking him for seeing me again, he said, as he shook hands:
"Do not thank me; let us be quite simple. I should rather thank
you for coming. You could even stay three hours if you wish."
The master does not wish — in his own case — to think or speak
of practice at the piano; it is too material and dry a term. He plays,
listens, tests, evolves, creates the wonderful tone colors and his original
interpretations at the piano. There is nothing mechanical in this study. He
expresses himself in his music. The fruits of a life rich in artistic
experiences are revealed in his highly unique investiture of the compositions
he plays. He listens with the utmost keenness to every note; when they are all
of such infinite variety and color, it is not surprising that he exclaims:
"How heavenly beautiful is the way I play!"
After two very successful seasons of
concertizing in America, separated by a summer
of rest and quiet, the venerable musician decided
he must return to his European home. New York
had the opportunity to hear him once more before
he departed, in a last recital which was called "A
farewell for all time."
The last view of a renowned artist — the last
time one comes under the spell of his particular
form of art — is always memorable. The last
American recital of de Pachmann makes history.
At least once before he had seemed to take final
leave of us, notably in 1912. But the very last "for
all time" occurred April 13, 1925.
Many years lay between his early recitals here
and the very last of all. Some of us recall the days
when he used to play in old Chickering Hall, Fifth
Avenue and Eighteenth Street.
Modern p. 40
Many other artists played there in those days,
including von Bülow, Carreno and Scharwenka.
Pachmann was ever erratic and talkative during
recital, even in those days. On one occasion,
during a long composition, his thought wandered,
perhaps from too many side remarks, and he
seemed suddenly to have a lapse of memory — or
was it a cramp of the wrist, as he indicated it was;
we could not quite tell which. He sprang from the
chair, clasping his wrist, as though the next
moment the hand would drop off, all the time
talking very fast.
Pacing up and down the platform, still holding
his wrist, he slowly indicated that he was
recovering the use of his hand. He then went to
the piano, made several attempts to use his
fingers, and finally told us he would try to
continue the composition. He began the
interrupted piece at the beginning, and this time
went through it in safety.
At the really farewell recital, Carnegie Hall was
quite filled, and several hundred were seated on
the stage. We all waited as patiently as we might,
till long past the hour, remembering it was the last
time. Finally a small figure threaded its way to the
front of the stage, smiling, bowing, and talking as
it came. When the piano was reached, the piano-stool
proved to be intractable,
Modern p. 41
and an orderly was summoned to adjust it.
Meanwhile the eccentric pianist explained to the
audience that the fingers and wrist of his right
hand were troubling him; it was strenuous business
to play a whole recital, at his age, too. He might
get through all right; if he did, it would all be due
to his wonderful Methode and Heaven's blessing
on his work.
With many glances Heavenward and at the
audience, he seated himself before the instrument.
It was an "all Chopin" program, and even the
severest critics concede that de Pachmann, at his
best, can be inimitable in the smaller Chopin
pieces. For the greater Chopin he never had, even
in his prime, sufficient virility and power. And on
this final occasion the strength of former days was
lacking. But there were compensations —
unforgettable moments, when we listened almost
breathless to the fine-spun, gossamer delicacy of
the F major Étude, or to the ethereal loveliness of
the D flat Nocturne. Some of the shorter Valses
and Mazurkas were equally enthralling. Together
these blossoms of delicate memory formed a
nosegay of rarest fragrance, whose aroma is a
Let us close eyes and ears to those eccentric
grimaces and the running fire of comment; for
both these are distracting whenever we allow them
Modern p. 42
to divert our attention. But let us rather treasure
the remembrance of the few but exquisite tone
pictures which Vladimir de Pachmann has left us
as a rich legacy.