The most astonishing, most alive and most infectious
dramatic performance given in our town one Autumn
week was not that of Miss Eagels in "Rain." No; nor
that of Mrs. Fiske in "Mary, Mary Quite Contrary"
at the Belasco.
It was the astoundingly expressive and
utterly enthralling performance which a happy, little, old
man named Vladimir de Pachmann gave on a Thursday
evening at Carnegie Hall, when, in the almost accidental
presence of several thousand passersby, he sat down at
a piano and, for two crowded, exultant hours, dwelt
with Beethoven, Chopin and Franz Liszt.
Not without cajolery, we had obtained seats so close
that it was possible to hear every groan and every
chuckle, possible to see every gesture of hand and
shoulder, every recorded emotion, however fleet, of one who
plays the piano with every last atom of his devoted
self. Thus we went home from Carnegie Hall the richer
for a stirring and unprecedented experience. It was,
therefore, something of a blow to find that in all the
newspapers which passed our way the next day,
contumely, or at best an amused and patronizing tolerance,
was De Pachmann's portion. The single exception we
chanced to note was the altogether human and spirited
account of the adventure which Gilbert Gabriel wrote for
The Sun and The Globe. But from such usually humane
and perceptive fellows as Deems Taylor of the World
and Lawrence Gilman of the Tribune came mostly
bricks—projectiles which from their speed and direction
suggested to us that the critics had heard De Pachmann play
and missed the point.
It is hardly necessary for your correspondent to
explain that in such company he would hardly venture an
opinion as to whether or not the old man played well.
But Mr. Gilman called it "a one man vaudeville show,"
and we do consider vaudeville within our province.
After all, this was a dramatic performance, too. 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 "L'Enfant
Prodigue." There was Deburau himself. Nay, there
was Pierrot grown old and free and given to talking to
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 monologue, 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, and so on, and so on. 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. It you are nearer you see how the
moods of the melody--fear, hope, anger, love, gayety,
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 in 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
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 he made by a grim
management to keep his behavior orderly, his face
straight, his mouth shut. But probably he would burst.
It was possible for the late Ned Harrigan to take his
aspiring young son, William, into his troupe and command
him for the first six weeks to play every scene with his
hands limp at his sides, in order to force the lad to a
greater reliance on the expression of the face and the
tone of the voice. But one who compelled Duse or Mrs.
Fiske to keep her hands at her sides throughout a
performance would be inviting an earthquake.
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 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.
Yet 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.
Deems 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, though Mr. Taylor's implication
was 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.
It was in the hubbub of discussion following De Pachmann's
first concert in New York after his long absence
that Brother Taylor sat him down and tartly wrote for
The New York World his notion of how "A Doll's
House" would sound if Mrs. Fiske were to play Nora
in the De Pachmann manner. Just listen to this:
NORA—I have waited so patiently for eight years;
for goodness knows I knew very well that wonderful
things don't happen every day. That's a tricky speech.
Then this horrible misfortune came upon me; and then
I felt quite certain—I don't know what's come over that
electrician; the lights are awful to-night—that the wonderful
thing was going to happen at last. My throat's bad
again. I must remember that aspirin! When Krogstad's
letter was lying out there—did you notice that the
property man forgot it to-night?—never for a moment
did I imagine that you would consent to accept this
man's conditions. Watch my change of voice in this next
speech: I was so absolutely certain that you would say
to him: Publish the thing to the whole world. And
when that was done—how's that for technique?
HELMER—Yes, what then?—when I had exposed my
wife to shame and disgrace? Can't I say anything but
the lines, Minnie?
NORA--I should say not! Who's the heroine of this
play, anyhow? When that was done, I was so
absolutely certain, you would come forward and take everything
upon yourself—awfully good house to-night—and
say: I am the guilty one.
NORA—It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women
HELMER—Oh, you think and talk like a heedless
child! You jumped a long speech just there.
NORA--Maybe. Oh, Lord, so I did. But you
neither think nor talk like the man I could bind myself
to. My throat certainly is sore to-night. As soon as
your fear was over—and it was not fear for what
threatened me, but for what might happen to me—there
aren't many women could get over a parenthesis like
that—when the whole thing was past—I pray Gott I can
remember the rest of this darned speech—as far as you
were concerned it was exactly—Ibsen showed me how
this should be played—as if nothing at all had happened.
Exactly as before I was your little skylark, your doll—Alex
Woollcott thinks I'm the best actress in the world; dear
man!—which you would in future treat with doubly
gentle care, because it was so brittle and fragile. Mon
Gott, what a beautiful speech!—Torvald, it was then it
dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living—I
saw Janet Achurch play this scene once; Mon Gott, she was
terrible!—here with a strange man, and had borne him
three children—now watch how I take this climax—Oh, I
can't bear to think of it! I could tear myself into little
bits. Ah, bravo, Fiske! Bravo!