.  .  .

p.4 Paderewski was lost in the magic of his compatriot's genius. He evolved a sterner, harsher Chopin than Pachmann's, but more imaginative, more poetical, because more deeply imbued with the tragedy, if not the beauty, of life.


p.6 Pachmann at a recent Albert Hall recital made a speech—in itself a thing hardly worth recording in these days when the flood of oratory, like the Yangtze in flood, threatens to overwhelm us all. He was still more in the fashion since he was imperfectly audible at the back of the hall. But happily there is only one subject on which Pachmann would make a speech—Chopin; only one error he would castigate—that of interpreting Chopin according to the robust and athletic ideals of modern piano playing. Pachmann was put to a severer test than other speechmakers, however, for he had then and there to translate promise into performance; to make good his claim—if I am not doing his modesty an injustice—that other pianists might play Chopin after their fashion, but that his was the only true way of recapturing the essential spirit enshrined, by means of an inadequate musical notation, in a few slender volumes. Much we had of the great original, the simple and mellow touch, the absence of exaggerated tone-colour, the reserve, even the austerity which contemporaries describe as characteristic of Chopin's playing. If Pachmann, therefore, did not make this claim for himself, I will make it for him and say that he alone of modern pianists is nearest in his playing to Chopin's conception of the piano, not as a slave which must be p.7 flogged now and again if anything good is to come out of it, but as a musical instrument with a soul and will sui generis, its peculiar mark of original sin being to make a noise which must consequently be watched with the greatest care.
The piano for Chopin had not too little, but too much, tone. His constant endeavour, we are told, was to sentimentalize the timbre. One who knew him well remarks that his piano was so soft that he did not need any strong forte to produce contrasts, the result being that one did not miss in Chopin the orchestral effects that the German school demanded from a pianoforte player. That accomplished artist, Miss Myra Hess, has a pianissimo soft as the beat of an angel's wings, and yet I have heard her in the B flat minor Sonata fight for the climaxes in the first movement as if dramatic passion, and not lyrical serenity, were her aim; as if she had summoned a band of unruly spirits from the vasty deep and to bring them to heel must use threats.
Without rummaging in the files of my memory I can call to mind having listened to Cortôt, Sapellnikoff, Nikisch, Moisewitsch—the list becomes tiresome—playing Chopin, but like the old Khayyàm I have evermore come out by the same door as in I went. The notes that Chopin had written were there—and sometimes more, but however vertiginous the performance, the elusive, enigmatic figure of the Pole was certainly not there. Take the famous Polonaise in A flat, for instance. Anyone can call to mind having heard this played, and never probably without wondering in the octave passages that so much sonority—as the cant word p.8 goes today—could emerge from so small an instrument as the piano, and in extreme cases without being moved to a certain sense of illogical pity for the sufferings of inorganic things.
But did not Chopin, it would be asked, clearly intend a thunderous climax in the central section? Is not the music otherwise meaningless? Listen then to what his pupil, Gutmann, writes about it: "Chopin generally played very quietly, and hardly ever ff. He could not thunder forth the A flat major Polonaise in the way we are accustomed to hear it. The famous octave passages he began pp and continued them without much increase in loudness." Yet he could produce a considerable volume of pure tone, and to suppose that physical weakness had anything to do with it is quite misleading. The truth is that he had no interest in what the piano could do in the Ercles' vein [Hercules, from Shakespeare], because show and display were alien to his conception of music as to his aristocratic and reserved nature. Yet in spite of his enormous vogue his ideals have been neglected by pianists, and unless it be Pachmann, who, sound on the tone question, is less sound on that of rubato, we have nobody who plays Chopin in the spirit of the composer.
At the same time, Chopin stands to-day exactly where he did a generation ago—the one admitted master of the piano and an immortal whose bays will never fade. No other piano music can compare with his for the fascination it exerts over the minds and hearts of us all. That of larger souled men, of Beethoven, of Brahms, of the genial and human Schumann, attracts and repels us by turns. But Chopin, the elegiac poet, "profound, chaste, and p.9 dreamy," has no such vicissitudes. No man is played more. Oher composers become hackneyed, the gaiety of the "Carnaval" becomes wan, the passion of the "Waldstein" rhetorical. Chopin remains the same. Custom cannot stale his infinite variety. He is the resource of the professional and amateur pianist—as I write these lines the Waltz in C sharp minor comes like some murdered Banquo of my own past floating through the brick wall that divides me from my neighbour; he is the gilt-edged security for the virtuoso, who need but invest in the Prelude in F major or the G flat major Study to be sure of dividends in the shape of encores. He appeals to all tastes. The musician admires him for the perfection of his forms and the exquisite art with which he shapes his ideas to the genius of the piano; the schoolgirl adores him for the gay and glittering texture in which he dresses her sentimental dreams, and the woman of thirty, indeed, men and women of every age, fall willing victims to the charm of one around whose creations floats, like an ambient fluid, as Liszt observed, a subtle vapour of love. This vapour, this aroma, Pachmann has captured. But the delicate flowers of Chopin's imagination wilt under the fracas pianistique which most pianists think essential to the life of the concert room.

.  .  .

p.90 The hardness, which made his [Busoni's] art like a lunar landscape, was inseparable from the nature of the piano, it was inherent in the instrument of which he [Busoni] was the master.

.  .  .

p.92 And Chopin.  .  .  . Who shall say what he did, or even in his presence admit the inferiority in the instrument of which he alone has laid bare the secret? He gave the piano a soul. Occasionally in the playing of the incomparable Pachmann we have gleams of the real piano, and only then do we cease to feel anything unsatisfactory in our hybrid. Chopin gave it a soul—and Liszt took it away again.