"BRAVO de Pachmann!" Thus in stentorian
tones and with a grandiose gesture did Vladimir
de Pachmann, addressing himself as well as his
audience, proclaim his supremacy as the master
technician and revealer of Chopin.
He was not only an unusual pianist but an
outstanding personality. No one who heard
him would ever forget the experience. He would
spin a phrase in a veil of gossamer, then: "This
is the way — like Caruso!" or "This is how Patti
He cavorted about the platform. He mumbled
to the front row. Once I saw him persuade a
reluctant Leopold Godowsky, who was in front,
to get up and make a bow while the invincible
de Pachmann eulogized the master composer-pianist
as the greatest musician since Beethoven.
But de Pachmann's eccentricity had become a
part of him. In his younger days he may
consciously have assumed certain mannerisms.
When he grew older they blended with his
personality, so his unusual platform behavior
did not seem out of keeping with his make-up.
Certainly not with his appearance.
He was a short man with long arms which
swung to and fro as he tripped out on the
platform. He made one think of a gnome with
his fantastic white hair and whimsical manner.
writes reminiscently that he
always felt that de Pachmann was reaching out
and trying to bring the audience
closer to himself and the keyboard.
He was like a vaudeville artist with his
incessant chatter and musical monologue. His
total lack of self consciousness bewildered
his hearers as did his unsurpassed art. He
threw dignity to the winds. In the middle of a
piece he would stop and announce that he had
been playing it as any student would have
done it. Then he would give his own
interpretation which would be matchless.
Innumerable anecdotes are told of him. He
built his colorful personality as an actor would
portray a rôle. He was a monarch of music, self
confident, intolerant, unmindful of all
perspectives save those that spelled beauty in
tone and phrase.
The Two Pachmanns
"There are for me two things in the world," he
is reported to have said, "First and ever my
music. When I sit down to play I am Pachmann,
the musician. But when I sit down to the table
to eat I am Pachmann, the gourmet, Pachmann,
the man. Gastronomy is the other part of my life
and I pay attention to the homage it deserves.
All my life I have eaten and drunk as I willed
and for the rest of my life I intend to do the
same. On my deathbed if I have the strength I
hope to be able to eat a last good hearty meal.
"I do not exhort every one to follow my
example. After all, I am Pachmann, the unique. I
laugh at your doctors."
De Pachmann's life span covered an
acquaintance with figures important in musical
history. He met Liszt. When he was a child
Wagner himself said of him, "Someday you will
be the greatest pianist in the world."
The Famous "Methode"
After he was seventy he developed what he
called his "Methode" to which he attributed his
success as a pianist. He exploited it as the
culmination of his brilliant career in which he
toured widely and was acclaimed the greatest
living interpreter of Chopin.
The "Methode" was chiefly concerned with the
position of the wrist. De Pachmann believed that the
wrist should move up and
down if necessary but never be turned out of
position. In order to prevent certain hand positions
he developed a method of fingering which was
designed to eliminate all waste motion.
His playing was characterized by exceptional
delicacy. Sometimes when he obtained a
pianissimo, he would search under the piano as
though vainly trying to locate the vanishing sound.
He was especially adept in light and lilting passages.
Indeed, pianists for many generations to come
will inherit richly through the standard he set for
tonal beauty, and for his masterful fashioning of a
phrase a memory that long will outlive the records of
his clowning mimicries.
He explained his eccentricity as being the result of
the "surging" within his soul. Critics took exception
to it, but de Pachmann argued that he could not
refrain from speaking during a recital for the strain
upon him "was terrible."
"And besides" he said, "I receive letters
expressing disappointment whenever I depart from
the usual." Anything which is not severely ordinary
is labeled eccentric.
He liked to shock the orthodox with his own
opinions on music. He said "I am the world's
greatest pianist" and placed Leopold Godowsky
above Beethoven as a composer.
Born In Odessa
De Pachmann was born in Odessa. His father was
a distinguished amateur of music and had been a
friend of Beethoven and Weber. Young Vladimir was
sent to the Conservatory of Vienna where he won a
gold medal. He gave his first concerts in Odessa, but
after meeting Tausig he decided to retire and
devote himself to arduous practice. He was a
worker. He said that he played a piece in private
some 13,000 times before he gave it a trial in
The passing of de Pachmann in Rome at the
age of 84 is mourned by the entire music world.
He made a lasting contribution to piano
virtuosity, the effect of which is far-reaching.
Regarded as a miniaturist he glorified the term
by making miniatures so beautiful that they
held their own with canvases of any size. To
him the piano had to be eloquent — but it was not
the eloquence of thunder or ranting tragedy
that interested him. He never was guilty of
forcing the instrument beyond its natural
borders of resonance; that, perhaps, was the
secret of his success — that and the intimate
relationship he bore to the highest principle in