DE PACHMANN HAS PROVEN better material for the dramatic
than for the musical critics.
At his first recital this season he was his old self, only more so.
He not only played divinely, we have the music critics' word for that;
but he performed "de Pachmann" as even the old-timers scarcely
recall his doing.
What followed was that half the music critics left the hall,
one veteran exclaiming, "It's disgraceful!"
They said something similar when Isadora Duncan began to dance
to classical music.
The masters were violated!
But all higher forms of dancing are now married to classical music.
Mr. Deems Taylor
of The World was another who forsook his seat.
Mr. Taylor's salutatory article at the beginning of the season was headed
"With reluctant feet," and he went on to bemoan the prospect of a season
with numberless repetitions of the same things.
Then with the first novelty his "reluctant feet" hurried him out
of Carnegie Hall.
Fortunately the dramatic critics scented the best show in town
as staged that night at that very spot,
and Mr. Broun and Mr. Woollcott went there for copy.
Their words are all in praise of de Pachmann.
He played Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Chopin and Liszt,
and most of the old magic was in the playing,
as critics, musical and otherwise, all agree.
But "he gestured elaborately between phrases, grimaced,
scowled melodramatically and indulged in various other monkey-shines,"
says Mr. Gilman, who succeeds Mr. Krehbiel as music critic on The Tribune.
Mr. Taylor of The World writes:
"He is the greatest Chopin player in the world, they say.
He certainly has marvelous dexterity.
His hands ripple and flash along the keyboard with uncanny accuracy,
and they produce a beautiful sound.
He began the nocturne in B Major, No. 1 of the thirty-second opus.
It is lovely, gentle, wistful Chopin.
And after a particularly lovely phrase, Mr. de Pachmann said,
'Listen!' and played another, lovelier one,
and wagged his head comically and waved his hands and grinned at the audience.
And everybody laughed heartily.
And he did the same with the second impromptu, and with the B minor prelude,
and with the Allegro de Concert in A major.
"And then there was more applause, and another funny little speech,
and a final group of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt.
But one didn't hear that.
For one had gone out, feeling a little ashamed of caring so much about music
in a world where so many excellent people didn't mind a bit
what happened to it."
The music critics—some of the younger ones—think it is time
a stop is put to his antics.
And he is over seventy-five and has been doing these things all his life,
yet fills the house whenever he announces a concert.
Mr. Broun of The World tells us he has a feeling
Deems Taylor disliked de Pachmann
"because he was a little strange."
Broun himself confesses that
"no art form of any kind amounts to much
unless it has in it aspects surprizing
"Perhaps we will express ourself more clearly by saying
that we think art ought to be exciting.
And to us de Pachmann is essentially that.
Sometimes he is irritating and distracting, but he is not dull.
"Nor is he to us in any sense comic.
It is true, of course, that he seems to be instinctively rebellious
against conventional manners of the concert hall.
He is not reverent in the usual fashion.
'Beethoven died and went to hell,'
was among the comments of Deems Taylor about de Pachmann,
but we are not at all sure that the phrase carries
the full weight of condemnation which Deems Taylor intended.
Beethoven probably enjoyed the reversal of the usual process
of the concert hall.
There are more than enough musicians who play
as if Beethoven were in heaven and had never been elsewhere.
"'Three thousand people saw murder done last night in Carnegie Hall,'
And it seems to us that even this may be construed into a compliment,
for, after all, the musician who regards the master composers
as live enough to be worth killing pays them a far higher tribute
than other pianists who gloomily commune with wraiths of men
long dead and buried.
"The most devitalizing thing which can be done to any man, alive or dead,
is to pay him reverence.
Will you kindly suppose for a minute that you are a god?
Into your presence come two mortals.
One drops upon his face and beats his forehead upon the floor.
The other exclaims, 'Geewhiz!' 'Oh, gosh!' 'Can you beat that!'
If we were that god it would afford us no fun at all
to observe the prostrate and reverent mortal,
but we would feel distinctly pleased and smug over the obvious excitement
which we had created in the other.
Accordingly, with a gesture we should write in flaming letters across the sky,
'That's more like it.'
"Now, we defy anybody to produce a pianist more obviously and convincingly
excited about music than de Pachmann.
He doesn't think of the composers as dead men in their vaults.
He burns with hatred of rival pianists who have been dust for fifty years
to everybody in the world but de Pachmann.
He talks of and to his good friend Liszt as familiarly as he talks to God.
"And most of all do we deny that de Pachmann is comic.
That curious contortion of the mouth which Deems Taylor reported as a grin
is instead an attempt of the little man to gulp down an overpowering ecstasy.
It is true that people in Carnegie Hall laughed,
but whenever people gather together in groups of more than ten or twelve
they invariably seize upon the strange as the equivalent of the comic.
"If de Pachmann's method of combining pantomime, reminiscence,
spoken thought with piano music is wholly unsuitable to
the conditions under which big concerts are held,
then the artistic flaw is less in him than in the conditions.
It is the 3,000 who are out of step.
There is something essentially gross and unwieldy
in the effort to make a piano serve 3,000 at the same time.
Music at its finest must be far more intimate.
Of course, it may be said that de Pachmann,
having accepted and even courted the conditions,
should live up to the rules.
We suppose he is in nowise horrified or displeased at the vast rewards
of great and crowded concerts.
But there is something instinctive in him which rebels
against the conditions for all that.
He makes an effort to draw the thousands closer.
Even the Pied Piper himself, the most seductive musician recorded in history,
probably gestured now and again
and cried out to some single child in the crowd."
Whether managing editors are now considering reshuffling their hands
and sending their dramatic critics off to concerts, we can not say,
but here is Mr. Woollcott of The Herald entering this alien field
with the same whoop that Broun emits:
"De Pachmann seemed to us to be caressing that piano
and to be evoking from it a voice of gold, but then, too,
there was Chaplin at that piano,
there at times was such brilliantly expressive pantomime
as that with which Paul Clerget glorified the Ames revival of
There was Déburau himself.
Nay, there was Pierrot grown old and free and given to talking to the moon.
"As every one knows, de Pachmann, with many winks, chuckles,
groans and appeals to heaven, keeps up a continuous, murmurous chatter
about the music he is invoking.
To himself, to the spirits of the dead,
to any within range of his half-whispered monolog, he talks about that music,
about how it came to be written, how Liszt played it, how he hopes to play it,
how beautiful it is, etc.
It is chatter which only a few can hear distinctly
and of which the eccentricity sets the remoter or more woolly witted auditors
into a fit of the giggles.
If you are nearer you see how the moods of the melody—fear, hope, anger,
love, gaiety, despair—write themselves on every aspect of his mobile face,
in every line of his responsive body.
If you are nearer still you can hear enough to know he is now exultant
in a free and childlike way at his own astonishing dexterity,
now mortified at his own shortcomings,
now grateful to whatever god brought the wonder of music into an ugly world.
"He is thinking aloud—or, to be more exact, feeling aloud.
A difficult impromptu of Chopin may be before him.
He wonders if he will play it well.
He prays he will.
It will tax his memory, and, after all, he is an old man now,
a shrunken old man of seventy-five, whose memory is not what it was.
But, come, come, de Pachmann!
Mere music teachers can memorize.
What counts is intelligence.
Courage, de Pachmann!
'Dear God, help me to play this beautiful music to-night
as You meant it to be played when You sent it into the world.'
Fragments of something like this escaped from the little man
as he served at that altar on Carnegie's stage.
"Such communicativeness in the world of affairs or on the concert platform
may be an infirmity, but, after all, it is a part of de Pachmann,
and one did not come away from Bernhardt's last 'Camille'
denouncing her for being a grandmother with a wooden leg.
It is barely possible that de Pachmann could be made by a grim management
to keep his behavior orderly, his face straight, his mouth shut.
But probably he would burst.
"To those sitting further from the stage it may be—nay,
it must be—maddening to have the most delicate transitions
of the Chopin nocturnes drowned in the empty laughter of giggling neighbors.
But it was the whole implication of the more ferocious reviews yesterday
that these 'antics,' these 'monkeyshines,' these 'capers'
were the tricks and manners of an old showman who was going to attract an audience
by fair means or foul.
But really weren't they rather the candors of an artless and
quite simple person who would have behaved in exactly
the same manner had the hall been empty,
and who would have had just as good a time alone with the composers?
Many of these 'monkeyshines' were prayers,
for de Pachmann was not talking to A-2, A-4, A-6, A-8.
He was talking to God.
"Mr. Taylor did not stick it out.
He went away in distress,
'feeling, a little ashamed of caring so much about music
in a world where so many excellent people didn't mind a bit
what happened to it.'
Well, that makes two of them,
for, tho the implication is rather to the contrary,
we have a suspicion that there was another person in Carnegie Hall that night
who cared as much about music as ever man cared
since the first note sounded across the void.
The other man's name was Vladimir de Pachmann."