Artists are a little luckier than politicians. It is taken for
granted, by the great public, that they must be immoral,
being artists, and their immoralities are not therefore
discussed with the same relish. Instead, it is merely asserted
are mad, a statement which does no harm to anybody.
I wish I could meet these mad artists. Time and again I have
been disappointed, and found, instead of straws in the hair,
brilliantine, and instead of a foaming mouth, lips pursed in
eminently sane and complacent judgment on mankind.
Even when there is some apparent foundation for the
stories, they are always grossly exaggerated. Pachmann, for
example. The most astounding tales are constantly narrated
about this great little man, how he crawls under the piano in
a gibbering search for Chopin, how he is taken from a
padded cell and led to the piano by a keeper. Nonsense — or so
I judged when, not long before leaving London, I had the
pleasure of meeting him.
I had not seen Pachmann since, as a small and evil child, I
had once untied his bootlaces under my aunt's piano, on
which he used often to perform. His behaviour on that
occasion might possibly have strengthened the mad legend,
but on our second meeting, though one realized his
behaviour was a little odd, nobody but a fool would have
thought him mad. Nobody but a fool, indeed, would have
failed to be absolutely charmed by his dainty little
mannerisms. He danced round the room like some grey-haired
Puck, waving his long white fingers on which
glittered two beautiful diamond rings. He was always talking
nineteen to the dozen, and never finished a sentence.
Words seemed too clumsy for him and he would flick his
fingers to convey the sense he wanted.
How we laughed and talked! He turned everything to music,
even his wine. He held up a glass of champagne to the light,
pointing at it and saying
— "Bubbles! Golden, sparkling bubbles! I show you." And
before one could rise to stop him, he had rushed into the
darkness of the next room, seated himself at the piano, and
played, with magical perfection, a shimmering treble
passage from Chopin's Third Scherzo. After which the
champagne tasted quite flat.
He told me, after dinner, about one of his early love-affairs,
"It was at —" (some unpronounceable place) he said. "There
was, in the same house as myself, a plump and lovely
maiden, oh so beautiful! I fell
in love with her a great deal, and one day I arrange a
rendezvous. But I forget all about the rendezvous, because
I discover a cupboard in which the lady of the house keeps
a beautiful collection of jams — I eat the jams and I forget my
Louisa. Soon Louisa, she comes into the room and says —
'For why have you jilted me? Do you not love me any
more?' I take out a plum, and I eat it, and I look at her, and I
say, 'I love you, Louisa. But I love the jams still better.'"
We went into the room which contained his
piano, and after a lot more prancing about he
suddenly turned to me and said:
"Do you know why I like you?"
I certainly had no idea.
"Because", said Pachmann, "you do not ask me to play the piano."
It would never have occurred to me to do so. But one has
to observe that the criminal habit of asking artists out to
dine and then expecting them to pay for half-cold
entrées by playing or singing, is still quite
common, even among otherwise civilized hostesses. Dame
Nellie Melba told me that when
she first went to New York it was almost unknown for any mere singer
to be asked out to dine in any other than a professional capacity.
She, of course, had become almost a royal personage in London, but
in New York she was regarded merely
as a "singing actress". And when, one night, she went
to dine with one of the Four Hundred (whatever
that absurd phrase means) all the guests
"What's she going to sing?"
"She isn't going to sing anything at all," said her host.
"Not going to sing?"
They simply could not understand that a prima
donna could have any place in society other than
that of a prima donna.
All of which is a digression from Pachmann. As
soon as he had made the remark about not being asked to play, he sat
down at the piano and said:
"As a reward I shall play you some Chopin. And
I shall play it in two ways. First my old method.
Secondly my new."
He played one of the Chopin Études — not one of
best, but still a very lovely thing. "That", he
said, when he had finished, "is the old way. Now
listen to the new."
He played it again. I confess that I did not
notice much difference. Both were exquisitely
played, both had the Pachmann magic, which no
other Chopin player has ever been able to find. But
that there actually was an astounding difference of
technique was demonstrated when, in detail, he
played over the first dozen bars. The fingering
had been entirely changed, not only in the right
hand but in the left.
"That", he cried triumphantly, "is the greatest effort of my
life. Nobody but Pachmann could have done that."
He certainly spoke the truth, for nobody but Pachmann
could, at his advanced age, have sat down and unlearnt all
they had previously learnt, and undertaken the colossal
labour of refingering the works of Chopin. It is always
more difficult to revise than to attack a thing for the first
time, and after sixty, most men would have shuddered at
the very thought of it.
Dear Pachmann! I don't think he was very happy in
London, although he adored English audiences. London
fogs and London smoke stifled him. "I look out of the
window in the morning", he said, as I bade him good-bye,
"and I weep. And the sky weeps too. And we both weep
together. And then, I go and play Chopin, and I weep no
more, and the sun shines."