p.26 Par 1
WHAT is Love—and what is Life? It seemed to me that de Pachmann, the old master,
now mounting toward the octogenarian, should know.
Living, as he has, in two worlds for more than three-quarters of a century, this friend of Liszt and Wagner
(who calls Paderewski a "youth") must have arrived at definite conclusions out of the wisdom of years.
In these sultry Summer days, when nearly every great artist is either sojourning in Europe—or vacationing
By-the-Sea—de Pachmann is remaining right here in America, living and loving the weeks away—sitting for
hours at his piano—appearing before enthusiastic audiences.
For de Pachmann, I venture to predict, when the hour comes for his last Great Adventure, will die at the
piano—with his fingers on the keys—playing his own requiem in one of the melodies that he loves.
My approach to him, a few days ago, was made much in the manner of a pigmy, who through the generous courtesy of Fate
was permitted to view a pyramid, and would then in the verbiage and limitations of a pigmy write of the grandeur
of the phenomenon.
But the pyramid had an eccentricity of its own, inasmuch as it was willing to send its message to others who are
striving to become like unto the pyramid in greatness in its own manner.
So in a truly fantastic method the pigmy was swept off earth altogether and taken to a Land of Memories,
mysticism and dreams—allowed at one moment to look back over the better part of a century of time that has lived
itself into history and again permitted to peer far and beyond the horizon of now and here and glimpse into a world
where is barred the mundane and where lives only the beauty and sublimity of tone-poetry.
AND too the pyramid was not without a sense of atmosphere for whenever the pigmy would dash back to earth in
an effort to record this panoramic picture of gone-by days, the pyramid would tremble and instantly the machine
of memory would stop short and one would hear the vexed but indulgent voice of age reprimanding youth with:
"Why do you spoil it so—you have no memory, maybe?
Too bad—for when you grow old like me—but never mind, child, come—leave your note-book alone
and let me tell you about my meeting with Richard Wagner.
"It was at Beyreuth that the
Grosse Meister [his term of affection and reverence for Franz Liszt]
had arranged a party that I might play for Herr Wagner.
Besides ourselves there were a few p.27 Countesses—you know a party is more gay
and witty when there are ladies to keep the thoughts light and the heart pleasant.
After I had played for them, Wagner came to me and putting his arm about me turned to Liszt and said:
'Better look out for yourself or this youngster will take take away your fame!'"
"AND just what were your feelings at that supreme moment?" I asked.
"Well," said Vladimir de Pachmann, "I was a young man, only twenty-three (today I am seventy-six), and I felt pretty
big and important—before the ladies—but Liszt was there, and I felt bashful and foolish before him."
De Pachmann has the unusual ability to talk about himself and his work as though he were a third person looking on
and is quite impersonal in both praise and criticism which eliminates even a suspicion of egotism. So when I asked:
"But if Wagner should say that today?"
"Ah, but today, it is different," he answered, "I have been playing before the public for fifty years.
The ladies, well, they would not smile—no, they would not look with pretty eyes on me now for I am an old man;
but I would feel that Wagner was not exaggerating my virtuosity—and neither would Liszt—and
I would not feel silly. No, I play the piano very well today!"
Then the pyramid pointed to another direction—to England—and before me was led the British royal family
in all their robes of velvet trimmed with regal ermine. It was the reign of Queen Victoria, when the late King Edward
was still Prince.
"But Queen Victoria didn't understand real music," said de Pachmann, as though her reign therefore had been a failure,
"she only liked the artists of the Opera—and then only the tenors and prima donnas—the ones with the high
"ONE day when I felt sad that the Queen had not come to my concert, the Prince of Wales said—confidentially of
course—'But why feel so unhappy—mother has a head on
her—but we all know she's a little
off on the ear.
She's distressing at times, but then we're not exactly perfect ourselves, you and I.'
And the Prince winked and said, 'We're a bit unusual, de Pachmann, and she doesn't understand us'—and he went off
"Very soon after that I was commanded by the Queen to play before her Majesty—of course it was the Prince who had
persuaded her to do it. After the program was over, the Prince offered to me one of his own cigars.
I could not refuse to accept it, but I told him I would not smoke it—for after smoking one of his I would never
be able to return to my own cheaper brand—and that I was too poor to encourage a desire for tobacco de luxe.
"But he insisted that I smoke the cigar. Then the very next day a Chamberlain or Chancellor—I forget his rank now,
but he was someone very important, brought me a box of cigars—of the same brand as the one I had smoked the night
before—with all the formality and dignity of British royal etiquette.
"A few of them I smoked, but I saved one for each of my dearest friends. For the Grosse Meister I saved four,
but he wouldn't take them. 'I will buy my own cigars' he said,
'I cannot be annoyed having my thoughts
interrupted with new tastes!' You see Liszt had temperament."
And de Pachmann laughed at the time-honored and much evoked term
which includes a variety of moods and offenses.
Then there was a gay little La Bohème scene which de Pachmann told me was the big artistic success of his youth.
It happened in 1870. He and another young pianist by the name of Herschec decided to give a concert in Kerson
, about five hours journey from Odessa, in which city de Pachmann at that time lived.
They knew very little about the intricacies of the managerial business and gave light thought to the advance
advertising of a concert by two unknown artists. So the audience did not come
when the day came—there was but a mere handful of people to hear the program.
Although the critics praised the two youthful pianists as "geniuses of the piano-forte," de Pachmann's father had to
come to Kerson to settle unpaid bills and bring the two young artists home.
"But how we did play!—How we did
play! I still have the program of that concert!"
and his eyes snapped in memory of the thrill of the brilliant failure.
Then, with tenderness and filial respect, he introduced intimate shadows of the past—his father and mother.
His father, Vincent de Pachmann of Prague, a scholar and musician, had settled in Odessa where in the
"Institute of the Nobility" he taught the theory of music. He fell in love with one of his pupils,
the Countess Anastasia, whom he married.
"But," said de Pachmann, around whom clings always the spirit of romance and adventure,
"my mother was not Russian—she was the daughter of an ancient Turkish family, who at the age of six had been
captured and made prisoner by the Russians during their war on the Turks. She was adopted by a wealthy Russian Countess
who had sent her to the Institute of the Nobility where she met my father. He was twenty-four and she was only
fourteen when they were married."
The Thirteenth Child
"BUT," he said with true gallantry,
"it was all right because they were very happy—and anyway, Turkish young ladies marry very young."
He slipped into one of his light, gay moodsrare and short but delightful.
"People think I am eccentric—off in the head—but do you know why? I was the
thirteenth child and I have a
right to be—different. My mother always said the thirteenth child was not like others."
"You mean first your mother spoiled you—and then the whole world loved you—and so you do just as you
please,' I said, grateful for the mood that allowed me also to become light without appearing disrespectful.
And the wonderful old man of seventy-six laughed—and looked very much like a little boy who had wheedled from
someone a thin piece of bread on which was spread jam, high and thick. And I felt in tender sympathy with his
mother—for a man of seventy-six who still retains something of the little boy ought to have what he
wants—especially when the particular kind of jam he asks for from the world is only first to enjoy his music
because it is music—and then admire him, not so much because he is a great
pianist and artist, but just because he wants to be loved.
While he was back in the days of his youth, he told me how he had fooled Professor Dachs of the Conservatory of Vienna.
"You see," he said, "to be admitted one has to play—so I came to let them hear me.
The professor asked me what I had brought and I told him I had not brought anything—that
I had lost my music several years before, but if he would name a composition maybe I might be able to remember it.
Then he looked at me crossly and said: 'Young man, this Consevatory is no place for jokes!'
"So, as he didn't have any choice, I took my own and played the Liszt arrangement of Rigoletto. When I finished
he was not there—he had gone while I was playing—to bring in Professor Helmesberger, who asked me to play a
"I said to him: Which Sir, and in what key?' The old professor stamped his foot and was about to leave
the room in rage. But I quickly slid back on the stool and began playing. He didn't go—they both stayed until
I had played six of the Chopin studies."
De Pachmann looked at me—he gave funny a little twist of his nose and said maliciously: "All the time I played I
kept my mind on the music—but I kept my eye on Professor Helmesberger—his face was so funny!"
"And so," I said, venturing to be be personal now that he had dropped fifty or more years which permitted a certain
amount of facetiousness, "that is the reason keep your eyes on your audiences—and make faces at them—you
think we look funny—well!"
"No! No!" he answered impatiently, "I just want to be friendly—when audiences show they like me and take an
interest in me I play so much better.
p.118 I can give them so much more of my life and
And then, perhaps to show me that if an Emperor could be chummy with him he was justified in playing with his audiences,
he took me to the Court of Franz Joseph of Austria for a picture-visit. The Emperor was very fond of him and insisted
that he come to the Palace quite informally and frequently for luncheon, but this de Pachmann would never do without
a specific invitation.
Whereupon, to cure him of his obstinacy and establish intimate cordiality, the Emperor sent the usual invitation and
then meeting him at the gateway of the royal grounds, ordered de Pachmann to alight from his carriage.
The Emperor, sending his own carriage on ahead, walked arm in arm with de Pachmann along the walk-way to the entrance
of the Palace.
Concluding this story, de Pachmann said to me: "You are an American—this may not seem so much to you—but
on the Continent, it is extraordinary."
Then it was that I asked to see the old brown coat of
Chopin's—which de Pachmann wears when he practises Chopin's music.
It is long, very worn and in need of much repairs, but so filled with sentiment and romance that he refuses to have it
touched in any way.
I asked him for the story of its coming to him. Suddenly, I was whisked back to the day of the young, esthetic
pianist-composer of Poland. I find myself in a Paris salon surrounded by ladies famous for their beauty, haughty in the
prestige of their lineage.
Chopin is there! And so, too, is a little Duchess—a bit of royalty, who can fly with sea-gulls through dark purple
mists—who can fleet with cloudlets—through pale blue skies—whose soul is the beginning of melancholy
nocturnes—from whose heart-beats were caught the rhythms of sorrow.
The Duchess is betrothed to the son of the proudest family of France—a family so old in history, so illustrious
in glory, so a part of France, that his name is the synonym almost of the fleur de lis itself.
Chopin wears a coat that is in need of a stitch here and there. The little Duchess offers to mend Chopin's coat.
To Chopin, it is but another feminine tribute to his genius; to the little betrothed Duchess it is more.
The next day, and for many days, the coat is surreptitiously mended by the little Duchess—a stitch now,
a stitch again when no one is looking.
The wedding day comes! But the coat is never returned to Chopin. The little Duchess has given it to her old
nurse-governess who understands and is sympathetic with the strange moods of a wedded Duchess who sheds tears
over an old coat belonging to one who doesn't even miss it.
The Duchess doesn't live very long—and the coat with trivial keepsakes becomes the sacred care of the old
nurse-governess. Then there comes a day—years later—when de Pachmann is acclaimed
the greatest Chopin interpreter of the world.
And the daughter of the old nurse-governess, with inherited loyalty and sentiment, presents to him
Chopin's coat with its romantic love story.
"It's a strange thing", mused de Pachmann, as I sat with him, "but whenever a woman
loves a man—no matter who she is or whom he may be,
she always wants to sew something for him."
He picked at one of the old brown threads—he sighed, and with reverence for what the coat represented,
he laid it gently across the back of a chair, giving it a little pat—perhaps in memory of the little Duchess
who had loved Chopin—perhaps in memory of Chopin who had worn the coat—perhaps
it was in memory of something or someone else——!
And here—at this moment—the greatest of all Chopin interpreters told me how he had earned and kept the title.
It was in London when he had played a Chopin Concerto with one of the orchestras. The conductor had pleased neither
de Pachmann nor the critics.
"He was very nervous", explained de Pachmann, "so it was for me to take the lead myself and set the tempos—and
yes I played—inspired by the spirit of Chopin that night. The next day in the papers the critics said very
unpleasant things about the conductor of the orchestra—but for me they were all praise—they called me
the greatest of all the interpreters of Chopin who had ever visited London.
"It pleased me—it touched something in here (pointing to his heart) and I said to my manager:
'Alright, I am the greatest Chopin player in the world, arrange for me concerts where I may play Chopin—from
now on I shall play his soul to the world! When I die, all mankind will recognize his beauty and love him!'"
Knowing his peculiar dislike for the early masters such as Haydn, Bach and Mozart on concert programs, I said:
"Wasn't it fortunate for you that you had not played Mozart with the orchestra—you might have felt bound to
devote your life to him and his compositions."
"And play for kindergartens! Bah! that man is too sweet—too sweet—always sweet!"
And he began humming Mozart melodies—at the same time playing in the air in pantomime chords of Mozart with
his left hand.
"No! Life is not Mozart!—sometimes, perhaps, when we are children.
Life is Chopin—always Chopin—even when we are old."
The great artist, who has been playing in public for over half a century, stood silent—twisting the heavy
bejewelled ring on his finger around and around.
His dark brown eyes that bespeak his Turkish ancestry snapped back, contracting as though he would see afar off
to where there is a solution of it all. Then he said with simple resignation:
"Yes, I am an old man now, but it is best so—Life must be Chopin!"
It was a glimpse into one of de Pachmann's supermoods—it was one of those rare moments when the spirit flutters
out to its freedom—where it longs to be—only to return and make one wonder at the marvelousness of its
existence—the beauty of its being.
"Are there no moments when Chopin makes room for others?'" I asked.
He turned to me quickly-alert, almost combatative .
"You mean you want to know which of the other composers I find in the same class with Chopin? None of them!
But I like to play Beethoven and Brahms, Schuman and Schubert—yes,
Greig too, and Liszt——"
"But why", I interrupted, "did not Liszt invent melodies of his own instead of rhapsodizing and arranging melodies
This has for years been on my mind and while listening to de Pachman ,
I felt very near to the Grosse Meister, who has broken so many student-hearts with his unconquerable cadenzas
of thirds and sixths—at last I would know the secret of his venom (?)
"One day I asked him the same thing," said de Pachmann, with that sprightliness of manner which accompanies gossip,
"and he said to me, Vlad, my boy, I'd give you all the cadenzas I've ever written—and my fingers to play
them—if I could think out a little tune like one of Verdi's!"
"But," added de Pachmann, with true love and loyalty for the old master, "he made other people's melodies famous
by touching them up with technique. It was too bad—but Liszt had not the creative gift of melody.
But then all of us have our peculiar troubles.
"Look at Godowsky—the greatest savant of them
all—ahead of his time!
"Twenty years from now and the world will be clamoring at his feet—but now, the public does not understand."
Suddenly, he disappeared, and returning, brought back a book of Godowsky's music. He turned the pages tenderly
and one by one showed me his favorites, explaining certain passages of peculiar harmonies and strange technicalities.
As he closed the book, he said:
"Long, long after the world has forgotten de
Pachmann, it will begin to know Godowsky!"
And this turned our thought to Success —what it
is—what it means to him. He thought a moment and then said with deliberation:
"Success is the memory of a useful life—a life lived to the fullest capacity of one's gifts and talents.
If the Divine Creator has given but little, and that little has been used to beautify the world and has been given out
to help another—that is Success."