I MET Pachmann in the drawing-room of a mansion flat far removed
from the noise and bustle of London.
The furnishings matched the tastes of the man—artistic,
yet quiet and simple in style.
In a corner was his beloved piano,
with its specially adjusted pedals to suit his short legs.
We sat on a couch, and he smoked a cigar and talked about music,
the one thing that absorbs him and fills his life.
And as his conversation flowed ceaselessly on,
one felt the enormous force of his personality.
Pachmann is not only a great musician, but looks the part.
He would attract notice in any company;
one would feel instinctively that here was something different
from the general run of men—a great power, a genius.
If anyone had the impression that musical ability is largely a matter of manual
dexterity a few minutes with Pachmann would remove the idea completely.
Certainly he has all the finger nimbleness one could imagine,
but his secret lies far deeper than that.
The divine music that sparks out of those small, delicately shaped fingers
is the expression of a remarkable personality, of great emotional power,
of tremendous vitality.
How many musicians possess these qualities?
Yet without them, music is a lifeless thing that bores the listener
Nature has given them in such full measure to Pachmann as to put him
on the pedestal of a genius.
And he has the manner, and, shall we say, the eccentricities of a genius.
He talks volubly about himself, about his powers as a pianist,
and his position in the world of music.
"Gott made me a pianist," he said, when I asked him about his early days.
"I had to be; nothing else was possible."
That is a typical Pachmannism.
Some people mistake it for sheer egotism,
but it is more probably just the expression of a simple nature.
He is conscious of the precious gifts he possesses,
and wants his fellow men to know that he, at any rate,
can thrill them through and through.
After all there is something wonderful about a man who can still,
at the age of eighty, thrill an audience of thousands of people.
For fifty years he has been touring the world,
playing at thousands of concerts, and travelling heaven knows how many miles
for the purpose.
Yet his powers at the piano are still sufficient to hold his listeners
enthralled. Musically, he is not eighty but a young man.
The force that has enabled him to retain his vitality and energy is the music
that he loves and adores.
"It is my art that keeps me young," he told me.
"How can I grow old when I have within me something that is always burning
like a fire, a deep and eternal passion for the divine art of music?
Busoni, a famous pianist in his day, understood me;
my youthfulness when I ought to have been an old man never surprised him.
'Why should there be wonder over Pachmann's defying age?' he once said.
'He has lived for his art alone;
therefore his art is to him eternally faithful.'
"Busoni was right. I have lived for music. It invigorates me.
If I feel weary an hour of Chopin puts life into me,
and I am transported into a world of ecstasy.
Everlastingly I want to go forward.
I practise and practise, and the more brilliantly I play
the more anxious I am to play still better.
Music makes me want to live, because there is so much in it to explore.
"All my life I have worked hard.
In my early years I practised ten hours a day.
The standard I set myself was very high,
and even when the experts said I was a wonderful player,
I went on studying as hard as ever. Let me tell you a little story.
HOW HE BEGAN
"For many, years I was my own pianoforte teacher,
except for the guidance of my father.
At eighteen funds were raised to enable me to go
to the Vienna Conservatoire of Music,
and on arrival there I applied for admission to the high class.
It was, however, pointed out to me that I must first give proof of my ability,
and the next day I went there for that purpose.
"One of the professors asked me to open my roll of music and play something.
I told him I had not brought any music,
but if he would name any composition I would try to play it from memory.
The professor was rather annoyed, and told me not to try to be funny
as he was very busy,
whereupon I sat down and played Liszt's selection from Verdi's 'Rigoletto.'
"After a few notes the professor began to take serious notice,
and by the time I had finished he had run off to bring
the Director of the Conservatoire.
I thought at first that I was going to get into trouble for something,
but I was asked to play again,
and then the two men heaped congratulations upon me. How relieved I was!
"Well, they ended by requesting me to prepare for the following day
two studies of Chopin.
I kept the appointment punctually—Pachmann is always punctual—and
then informed the professor that I was ready to play any of the twenty-four
studies of Chopin in any key and without music.
"He was astounded. He did not believe I could do it,
but he suggested one or two studies, and I played.
Afterwards, he was overcome with emotion and embraced me.
'I have heard this by Chopin himself; your play is perhaps better,
and he could not but be flattered by your perfect rendering,'
the professor said.
"It was very pleasing to me to hear his words,
especially as he had not thought me capable of such playing,
but I myself have always been my hardest taskmaster.
I wanted to be a greater pianist than Chopin, greater even than Liszt,
so I retired to practise for eight more years before appearing in public again.
"All day long I worked. Many young people learning to play the piano
think it is drudgery, but to me everything was a pleasure,
and so I was never tired. I just wanted to go on and on.
WHAT LISZT TOLD PACHMANN
"Liszt thought I could play in the old days, and told me so.
He, the great master, said that some day I should be one of the greatest
pianists in the world.
He paid me another fine compliment which I shall never forget,
for he took me to meet Wagner, the genius of opera—me,
a mere student of whom, up to then, the world had heard nothing.
How I looked forward to that meeting!
"I was informed by Liszt that Wagner did not care much for pianists.
'He will listen to no other pianist but myself,' he said,
'but I have told him about your marvellous gifts and asked him to hear you.'
"Wagner was in a gorgeous big room when I at last saw him.
Liszt took me by the hand, for I was trembling with excitement, and led me in.
I went to Wagner, bowed low, and kissed his hand. Then he asked me to play.
I selected one of the works of Chopin, whom I love so much,
and played with all my heart and soul. Wagner listened attentively.
He was enraptured, and as soon as I had finished he came to me
and kissed my hand. How I wish he could hear me now!
"When I began my appearances in public I had to work harder than ever.
Engagements came to me from every country, and I was eternally on the move,
with practice necessary every day.
"I met all kinds of famous people.
In Paris, Renan
heard me play, and inscribed a book for me with all his praise.
Your late King Edward, while Prince of Wales, sent me a box of cigars,
which I prized so much that I only gave two away—one
to Renan and the other to Liszt.
"King Christian of Denmark visited me at my hotel and gave me a scolding
for waiting for an invitation to dine with him and his family.
Paderewski, when he wrote his famous Minuet, brought it to me at Cracow,
but I was on my honeymoon and not in the mood to study new pieces.
"I was also doing a little composing,
but I have burned everything I have written
because it did not satisfy my high standards.
Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, and Godowsky—they can write better.
I am not a great composer, and if I cannot write like the five greatest,
what does the world care? I am a pianist.
"I have given all my time to perfecting my art as a pianist.
I never play a piece in public until I have played it 10,000 times in private.
A friend once heard me practising a piece in my own room.
He thought it was wonderful, and asked me why I did not permit the public
to hear me playing it?
'Not until I have played it 5,000 more times,' I replied.
"Up to the age of seventy I went on using the same technique.
Then I discovered a new method which reduced the fatigue of playing
tremendously, and it is partly owing to this that to-day,
when I ought to be an old man, I can play for hours without getting tired."
Pachmann explained that he got the idea from Clementi,
and went on:
"The hand is kept in a straight line with the arm.
It does not move from side to side.
That is an unnatural position for the wrist, and brings a tired feeling.
When I have to move up over the keys, I don't turn the wrist;
I keep the straight line of the hand and move the whole arm.
I cannot get tired; I live with my hand in that position.
"Of course, this change meant a lot of trouble in some ways.
For one thing, all my pieces had to be re-fingered.
"But all the trouble has been worth while.
The new system gives tranquillity of the body without any of the nervous
jumping that is ugly to watch and is not helpful in any way.
Further, it enables me to keep an erect, reposeful position at the piano,
which looks better, beside enabling me to keep my chest up and full of air.
Finally, it makes an absolutely natural touch possible,
yielding a beautiful soft tone.
"Of course, everybody does not need my method.
Liszt did not need it because he had very long fingers and long arms.
I have small fingers and arms.
"I should say that my new method makes it impossible to play certain pieces,
for, as the right hand moves down the scale and the left hand up,
if the wrist is held straight first the thumb is off the keyboard,
then the first finger, and so on. But why bother about that?
There are millions of pieces for the piano, and who wants to play them all?
Who can play them all?
"For my daily practice period I have selected seven of Godowsky's
'Till Eulenspiegel ' suite of thirty pieces.
These I have re-fingered and studied under my new system,
and I have played them twice every day for five years, analysing, testing,
and generally working for perfection.
I believe Godowsky is the greatest living composer,
and that his works offer marvellous opportunities for study.
In addition, I play scales for about a quarter of an hour,
and perhaps a few octave studies of Joseffy for legato.
HOW TO MAINTAIN A HIGH STANDARD
"One must be constantly practising if one wishes to maintain a high standard.
It is not sufficient for my audience to applaud me;
I must feel satisfied myself with my performance.
At a recital at Cambridge I played a Chopin study and at the end was greeted
by loud applause.
"Holding up my hand, I said:
'None of you knows anything about piano-playing.
I played that very badly.
Now I shall play it again, and if I play well I shall tell you.'
I repeated the piece, and then said: 'That was magnificent,'
whereupon the audience burst into cheers."
Pachmann has interesting ideas on how to live:
"I never take exercise, for I am too busy.
If I want fresh air, I can get it by opening the window.
When I am in my home in Italy I awaken about eight o'clock
and breakfast at nine on fruit, bread and butter, two eggs,
and two cups of Russian tea, which I prepare myself.
"Then I light a huge cigar and retire to my bedroom for a smoke,
after which I read literary and philosophical works.
After lunch I have another cigar and a rest, and then practice on the piano.
After dinner I like a game of cards or dominoes,
which may be followed by more piano.
I rarely retire to bed until three or four o'clock in the morning.
"Generally speaking, I have just taken ordinary precautions to keep fit,
for fitness always makes for happiness and peace of mind.
But one also needs a driving force, a reason for living.
The driving force of my life has been music, and what could be better?"