A photo by Claude Harris is not reproduced here; its caption is: "Vladimir de Pachmann the veteran pianist,
world famous as an exponent of Chopin's music, tells in the accompanying article some interesting memories
of his long life as a musician".
p. 57 Par 1
There is no wireless listener who is
not familiar, to some extent, with
Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Liszt,
Chopin, and Godovsky . The spirit of their
work lives, but to the majority of people
their names are merely names. To me these
great men are living personalities, friends.
Shall I be accused of egotism if I say that
I am the only living link with these
super-musicians of the past? Those who read on
will see that this is true. In the little spare
time that he had as a University professor,
my father taught me to play the piano,
which he thought was the best instrument.
He would not allow me to practise for more
than one hour a day, but he was greatly
astonished by my progress. In less than
two years I frequently played trios with a
violin and 'cello.* * * *
When I first went to the Conservatoire of
Vienna to apply for admission, I was asked
by Professor Dachs to open my roll and
choose the piece I preferred to play. I
promptly told the professor that if he would
name any musical composition I would
endeavour to play it from memory. Turning
a stern and almost reproving glance upon
me, the professor said that the Conservatoire
was no place for joking. So I sat down and
played Liszt's Selection from Verdi's
When I had finished the wonder-struck
professor, bereft of words, ran to call the
Principal of the Conservatoire, the famous
Professor Helmesberger. He requested me
to return the following day and to prepare
two studies of Chopin. I came back, punctually,
and played the pieces, turning over
the pages of the music myself. Afterwards,
I showed the astonished professors that the
music book had been upside down all the
time! Then I told them that I was prepared
to play the whole forty-eight preludes and
fugues of Bach in any key they might desire.
I then played Chopin's Sonata in B Minor.
The divine strains being hushed, Professor
Dachs, sensibly affected, embraced me and
said, 'My boy, I have heard those things played
by Chopin himself. Your playing is perhaps
better, and he could not but be flattered by
your perfect rendering.'
I met Brahms at Vienna, too, but my
most intimate friend was Liszt. He was a
great man. And in spite of his enormous,
powerful hands, he was really full of tenderness.
I can recollect clearly the day when
Liszt received the news that Wagner was
dead. He was teaching some pupils at the
time, when somebody came in with the
news. Papa Liszt merely looked
unconcernedly at his informant, and said:
'Enough, I have nothing to do with the
dead!' But when the class was over I
found him in his room weeping like a little
child.* * * *
This wonderful man gave me much
encouragement, although I was only a youngster.
A year before he died Liszt gratified
my ambition and took me to lunch with
Wagner. I found Mme. Cosima Wagner
charming, and at table Liszt poured out the
wine and Wagner lighted our cigars.
Afterwards, I played for them. Papa Liszt asked
me to play a Ballade of Chopin for the great
man. I played with all my soul, and when
I had finished, the great Wagner took my
hand and kissed it. 'One day', Liszt
prophesied, 'you will be a great pianist.'
Amazed that so great a musician should
kiss my hand, I fell on my knees and sobbed.
'Master,' I cried, 'it is I who should kneel
at your feet and kiss your hand.' But
Wagner would not listen. He told me that
he usually hated the piano, and that he
was born for an orchestra. This was at
Bayreuth in 1882. Later, he told me that
if I would come to play for him again, he
could listen to me all day.
p. 58 Par 9
Liszt's prophecy has since come true. But
I have become well known as a pianist only
in the last few years, and I am now nearly
seventy-eight years of age.
tell me that I play with the fire of genius,
and with a technique as effortless as a flowing
stream, they do not perhaps realize that I have
spent thousands of hours at the piano, and
that I must have perfection before I allow
the public to hear any piece that I propose
to play. I have practised one passage of
Godovsky's no less than 13,000 times, and I
must yet play it many more times before I
feel justified in playing before an audience.
Some years ago, to practise for two hours
would fatigue me. Now, in my old age, I
could play for twenty-four hours at a
stretch if I had not to stop for food and sleep.
My system of playing, which does away with
the fatigue ordinarily associated with the
piano, enables me, whilst playing, to have
my hands always in a perfectly straight line
with my wrists. There is no lateral movement
of the wrists whatever and, in consequence,
there is no strain. At all times the
arm is perfectly relaxed, and all side to side
movements proceed from the elbow, not
from the wrist.
In my method of fingering, the thumb is
never allowed to touch a black key, because doing
so necessitates an unnatural movement of
the wrist, which causes fatigue. I strike
with the last joints of the fingers, not with
the high wrist and the hammer stroke from
the knuckles taught today.
Always when I play have a second
audience, an invisible audience gathered
about my piano. As I close my eyes I see
them, nodding, smiling, bowing grave
approval, advising, praising, encouraging me.
Beethoven, that gentle soul of soaring
inspiration; Schumann, the spinner of
exquisite melodies; Chopin, the fiery spirit
who loved life and loved death; Papa Liszt,
so quick to give young genius its due;
Brahms, with his mastery and his companionship.
These invisible spirits are my real
audience. For their approval I live and
work. And how can a man do less than his
best with such presences as these to spur