Par 1 I knew de Pachmann, who died in Rome last week, and among the artists he was rare in that he lived up to the most fantastic and fictional concept of the great musician.
Par 2 If a playwright undertook to set him down as a character in a comedy any audience would be dubious as to the authenticity of the figure. It would seem as if the dramatist strained too much after a bizarre effect.
Par 3 And yet the eccentricities of the man were not affectations. I always felt that a sound philosophy underlay his curious concert manners. I note that Leopold Godowsky has referred to him as a "miniaturist." "His field," says the composer, "was limited, but within its narrow range he was supreme and inimitable."
Par 4 Underneath Godowsky's compliment I seem to catch some hint of a point of view which has always appeared to me heretical. I refer to that state of mind which withholds something from the artist who does not choose to spread himself across vast surfaces.
Par 5 p.183 And that is a notion which leads us to such palpable absurdities as figures carved upon the sides of mountains and "the largest mural paintings in the world." Not to mention that giant motion picture theater which was but lately the world's largest music hall.
Par 6 De Pachmann may not have belonged among the great pianists but he was supreme as an interpreter of Chopin. It was some English critic [James Huneker] years ago who referred to him as the Chopinzee. And there was much in this pun to meet the eye, for de Pachmann was curiously squat in figure, with long arms and hands disproportionately large. When the mood was on him he seemed almost to swing back and forth upon a grand piano.
Par 7 I heard him play several times in his apartment here and once in a Carnegie Hall concert which infuriated many of the better critics. He had become old and his eccentricities had grown upon him, but he remained, for all that, in a state of grace.
Par 8 To him a piano was an intimate instrument, and as a miniaturist Carnegie Hall presented a canvas too large for his scope or interest. He liked to play where four or five were gathered together. "There are too many fools in any thousand," he once said.
Par 9 For reasons obscure and erroneous de Pachmann drew the impression that I was a person of musical understanding. It is true that I loved to hear him and sat as rapt as any connoisseur while he played. But when he talked to me in technical terms I managed to conceal my ignorance by offering only assent and never any comment.
Par 10 They kept most of the notices from the old man after his last Carnegie Hall appearance, but he hit upon one or p.184 two which were severe and said to three of us who were his friends, "You liked; that is enough."
Par 11 He was happily insulated against criticism, for anybody who praised him became at once a great musician and the rest were either ignorant or malicious. I think the attitude has always been a useful one to creative artists.
Par 12 As a pianist I felt that de Pachmann was always reaching out and trying to bring people in closer to himself and the keyboard upon which he perched. His style of concert was not unlike what the older vaudeville theaters call a pianologue. There was always a running fire of comment from the performer himself. "Bravo, de Pachmann!" he would say to himself in a loud voice as he played a passage and found his interpretation excellent.
Par 13 And he would throw in little bits of autobiography and reminiscence as he went along. It was in Carnegie Hall, as I remember, that he prefaced one piece by saying, "I once heard Mme. Schumann play this. Oh, my God!"
Par 14 During a waltz the old gentleman would sometimes get up from the piano stool, cavort about for a step or so and then sit down again. And always there was a muttering and a chattering from him as he swung high in the treetops intoxicated by the sounds which he brought forth from the big black box.
Par 15 Temperament is an ungainly thing unless it is part of the organic structure of an individual. I do not like to see any artist slip into a mannerism as if it were a garment. But these moods of de Pachmann were in his marrow.
Par 16 It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that the finest of all who deal with sound and shape and color must be those who look upon their own creation and cry out aloud, "Bravo!"