NEWS has been just received of the death in Rome,
on Friday, January 6, of Vladimir de Pachmann, at
the age of eighty-four.
Although this editorial will not appear for some months
after the time of writing,
we are now putting down certain fugitive facts
that come surging upon us with the receipt of this information.
It was our privilege to meet Vladimir de Pachmann many times
and to study the case of this eccentric pianist,
not merely from a musical standpoint
but from a psychological standpoint as well.
Musically his achievements were well known to the world of art.
He had cultivated a loveliness of touch, and a fluency of execution
as well as an exquisiteness of expression,
which were the natural raiment of the composer
to whom he devoted most of his platform
life—Frederick François Chopin.
We have heard occasional flights of pianistic interpretation
from de Pachmann which seemed perhaps a little finer
than anything to which we have ever listened from any other keyboard master.
His playing, however, was very irregular.
At times it was indifferent and so full of improvisations
that he appeared to roam at large with little respect
for the original text of the composer.
Here, then, was one of the queerest, drollest,
and also one of the most impressive cases of a dual musical personality.
The "Mr. Hyde" Pachmann might mischievously place a pair of socks
upon the piano and dedicate his interpretations to them;
but the "Dr. Jekyll" Pachmann was a maker of tonal dreams
so poetic and so lovely that they were unforgettable.
The ease with which de Pachmann would leap from impish revelry
to serious artistic heights was an indication of the abnormal mentality
of this queer genius who naturally gave rise to the inquiry,
"Does he resort to the various monkey-shines at his recitals
because he thinks it is good showmanship,
or is he mentally unbalanced?"
After many opportunities to observe the performer,
when he thought he was alone and did not know that he was being studied,
we feel certain that de Pachmann was in no sense a fakir
but was unbalanced in a measure few people realized.
At the time when we knew him best we had been making
studies of the phenomenon, Blind Tom, the imbecile Negro
pianist who toured America in the latter part of the last
century, astonishing audiences by his playing.
Blind Tom was so faintly in control of his mind that during the periods
when he was not playing he sat in a chair drawing circles
on the floor and mumbling,
"Poor Blind Tom; pity poor Blind Tom; please give me something to eat."
He grew so enormously fat that the chief problem of his exploiters
was to keep him as decently clean as possible,
as one would keep a baby elephant tidy for exhibition purposes.
Yet here was a human animal, with scant signs of what we term normal mentality,
who could play the A-flat Polonaise of Chopin
in a fashion which won applause.
We knew Blind Tom's teacher very well indeed.
She (Mme. Tutein) was a Danish pupil of Franz Liszt who had been knighted
by her government.
Blind Tom, it appears, was not quite so wonderful as the records
of his exploits would intimate.
Nevertheless he was a psychological miracle.
He had no knowledge of music whatever, but merely had the uncanny,
parrotlike capacity of repeating pieces that had been played to him.
His memory was defective and it was necessary for his coach, Mme. Tutein,
who traveled with him, to train him daily upon the pieces he played,
as they faded from his memory like writing in the snow.
It was very hard for the writer to reconcile the case of Blind Tom
with the philosophy that music study is beneficial for the individual.
It at once became apparent that there is such a thing
as that a musical faculty may exist entirely isolated
from virtually all other evidences of intelligence.
It became obvious immediately, however, that it is unfair to judge
the functioning of the normal mind by that of the abnormal mind.
There is such an ocean of practical evidence of the value of music study
as a means of assisting the individual in developing his general mental
capacity and effectiveness,
that volumes would be required to record its importance
in the scheme of education.
De Pachmann was no Blind Tom. He was exceedingly smart and shrewd in many ways.
Yet in the writer's opinion he did have his musical faculties developed
in a manner which made him a most interesting problem for the psychologist.
His obbligato of remarks about his playing while
on the platform, as well as his absurd behavior,
were looked upon by most people as a clever piece of circus business
designed to draw the crowd.
They were nothing of the sort.
Once we called upon him unexpectedly and, while waiting for him,
happened to glance through draperies to another room.
There stood de Pachmann dancing like a monkey before a mirror.
He patted his brow affectionately, grunted, squealed and snorted,
making incessant grimaces at himself.
Signor Pallotelli, his faithful and long suffering secretary,
will probably feel forced to write a book about the capers of de Pachmann.
They must have been myriad.
Among his other possessions he had an old wrapper which
he claimed had belonged to Chopin; and he insisted that he
could play certain pieces only when he wore this ragged garment.
He would put it on carefully,
but it was hard to discover any difference in his playing.
His habits at the table were unthinkable.
He had a comical fear of using any of the table silver
without previously washing it himself in a finger bowl.
Then he would wet his napkin and proceed to wash the plates.
The finger bowl was thus used many times during the meal
and also became the receptacle for refuse he did not need.
At the end he would calmly take up the bowl and drink the contents.
Yet he lived to the age of eighty-four.
De Pachmann's conceit was fantastic.
He would often say "Liszt and Rubinstein could never play like that.
Chopin, perhaps; but only Chopin and I understand."
Once the writer saw him unobserved playing alone in a room.
At the end of a Chopin Prelude he arose,
bowed to an audience of hotel furniture
and then applauded himself vociferously.
The writer also felt like applauding,
for rarely had he heard such Chopin playing.
Once, while visiting Arnold Somylo, then Manager of the Baldwin Piano Company,
in the pre-prohibition days, watermelon was served.
De Pachmann insisted upon having half a melon,
which he duly scooped out and filled with red wine.
Thereupon he took up the melon and proceeded to drink the contents,
which resulted in a kind of scarlet Niagara that gushed down over his shirt
front and made him look like the victim of a murder in the Rue Morgue.
That night he went down town with us in the subway
(no casual taxicab extravagance in those days).
When we came to de Pachmann's station, the pianist, who was quite sober,
protested that he had been greatly honored in meeting the writer
and backed out with deep bows the entire length of the car,
swinging his silk hat and flourishing his long Newmarket coat.
Years later, after Somylo had made a fortune in the piano business
and had retired to a beautiful home in the suburbs of Budapest,
we were visiting him there and spent a whole afternoon
in recalling de Pachmann's amusing capers.
De Pachmann was born in
Vienna , July 27, 1848.
His father was a professor at the University of Vienna and is
reported to have been a fine violinist.
Young de Pachmann studied with his father,
and with Dachs at the Vienna Conservatory.
His first concert tour was made in Russia in 1869,
four years after our Civil War.
His début in America was in 1891.
The witty Fanny Bloomfield-Zeisler once asked the writer,
after he had visited de Pachmann,
"Who did he tell you his parents were?"
To the reply, "He said his father was a rabbi and his mother was a Turk,"
Mme. Bloomfield Zeisler, who had little use for chicanery, retorted,
with a sparkle in her knowing eyes,
"Better he should say his father was a rabbit and his mother a turkey."
On de Pachmann's last tour of America he claimed to have discovered
a radical and marvelous system, "The Chopin Method," of piano technic,
which had made a new artist of him.
He took a long time to exhibit it to the writer
and succeeded in leaving the conviction that it was an absurd nothing.
Its principles were almost identical with the method advocated by Ehrlich
in his notes on Tausig's revision of Clementi's "Gradus ad Parnassum."
De Pachmann's behavior upon meeting strangers was but slightly different
from that he revealed when talking with friends or in displaying
his collection of precious stones, which were his hobby.
Once we went with our dear friend, John Luther Long, to visit
him behind the scenes of the Philadelphia Academy of Music.
We started to introduce him and Mr. Long proffered his hand.
De Pachmann ran away in evident panic.
"Oh! Oh! Dese precious hands! Dese precious hands!
No one can touch dese precious hands!"
We then explained to him that Mr. Long was the author of "Madam Butterfly."
"Oh!" he smiled, "den I shake his hands and I kiss him." And he did.
One of the last times we saw de Pachmann was in his hotel in New York City.
During the afternoon Condé Nast, the publisher, and Heywood Broun,
the critic, sauntered in.
De Pachmann, after the conventional protests, was "persuaded" to play.
As a matter of fact, wild horses could not have kept him from the keyboard
for more than a few minutes at a time.
He commenced with Chopin's Ballade in A-flat.
He centered his eyes mysteriously upon his guests and then suddenly darted
from the keyboard and whispered in my ear.
"Cet homme, il a une resemblance mysterieuse à George Sand.
Je dois l'embrasser.
(That man, he bears a mysterious resemblance to George Sand. I must kiss him.)"
Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for the two gentlemen,
de Pachmann did not carry out his threat,
and we never have been able to learn which of his guests
he thought looked like the authoress of "Consuelo."
De Pachmann's conversation was a kaleidoscope of many different tongues,
and he had little patience with anyone who could not keep up with him.
We have known him to crowd several languages into one paragraph.
A meeting with de Pachmann was certainly an international linguistic test.
His monkey-like behavior at his recitals, his squat, grotesque figure,
and his simian antics at home,
all these were emphasized now and then by peculiar guttural noises and snorts
which the writer has only heard duplicated in close hand studies
of anthropoid apes here and in the famous collection of Mme. Abreu in Havana.
James G. Huneker's witty sobriquet for de Pachmann was perhaps more inspired
than he himself realized; and "Jim" was never unappreciative of his own
He called the pianist a "Chopinzee."
Yet, read what Baker's Biographical Dictionary has to say about him:
"De Pachmann is a player of highly poetical temperament,
refined sensibilities, and extraordinary personal magnetism.
He is best in works demanding extreme delicacy of touch,
for there he can legitimately display his marvelous velvety tone
and ethereal pianissimo."
In the Encyclopedia Britannica,
de Pachmann is lexicographically embalmed in these words:
"He obtained at once universal recognition as one of the most remarkable
executants of his day."
If this extraordinary pianist was mad,
he nevertheless was truly great in his field.
There never will be another like him.
De Pachmann was buried in Rome.
A priest chanted at the graveside.
Adieu, cher maestro, impossible and incomparable.
We are grateful to you
for some of the loveliest musical moments in our experience
as well as for some of the most sidesplitting farces.