Felix Remo's sarcastic disparagement of Vladimir de Pachmann,
quoted recently in Mr. Capell's article,
convinces me that he can never have known Pachmann the man.
Speaking, as I hope I can, without bias,
I consider it only just to his memory to say how little Pachmann seems
to have been understood.
All those originalities which astonished one were the outcome
of his natural self and were not, as some thought, charlatanism.
He looked upon his public as his friends;
he talked to them and wanted to draw their attention to details
(details often not even noticed by many others).
Those who knew him intimately can testify that he was just the same
when with only two or three friends;
and I may add that he behaved in exactly the same way even when quite alone.
He was, with all his genius, a child.
Felix Remo, I suspect, may have been piqued by some outspoken remarks
passed to him by Pachmann, for the latter—to the despair of his
impresarios and of his family—often
made enemies in this way (he himself was quite unmindful of this).
He was a very severe critic of himself, and I have known him,
when dissatisfied with a passage he had played,
tap on the hand which had not behaved satisfactorily and say aloud,
"That is no better than So-and-so would do it."
The name mentioned could not have made Pachmann sympathetic to any friends
of "So-and-so" who happened to be in the hall.
Beethoven and Chopin
But he was perfectly unaware of the fact,
as he would have been indifferent to it, understanding as he did
nothing of the practical side of life.
On other occasions, when particularly satisfied with the way in which
he had played a piece, he would exclaim (unfortunately, aloud),
"Bravo, Pachmann!" or "All that played without pedal; that's an art!"
Felix Remo concedes that Pachmann played Chopin
"with a certain address," but "massacred Beethoven."
Lizst once exclaimed publicly, at a Pachmann concert at Budapest:
"He is the poet of the piano," and—to cite a living
pianist—Godowsky said once before me, "No one ever has
played like him, and no one ever will play like him."
As regards his playing of Beethoven, very few ever heard it because,
for his public performances,
the impresarios used to insist on his giving Chopin.
But some will still remember the sensation he created
when he first came over to England and played
at a New Philharmonic concert Beethoven's G major concerto.
The newspapers of that time bear witness to what I say.
His wonderful phrasing, his beautiful legato,
and his strict respect for the tempi—even in Chopin—could
not have been lost when he played Beethoven.
The Dying Artist
Pachmann, with all his originalities, which so often disconcerted his friends
and his public, was always sincere.
He lived for his piano.
Paul Landormy, the eminent French critic, related in the following terms
(in the "Figaro" in January )
how he touched it for the last time.
"He begged of his secretary and the nurse watching over him to allow him
to get up. They did not oppose this last desire.
He drags himself into the adjoining room, opens the piano,
and his trembling fingers touch the keys.
He begins Chopin's F minor nocturne, one of his triumphs of olden times.
He feels he has not the strength to play it through.
He improvises a cut—leaving out the middle part—and arrives
at the celebrated 'envolée' at the end,
which soars into the air like a bird, and he executes it with all the grace,
all the finesse, all the prodigious delicacy of the days gone by.
A supreme effort and a supreme rendering,
a supreme joy for himself—which leaves him so profoundly moved
that he regains his bed with difficulty and closes his eyes.
He has bade farewell to his piano, to Chopin, to music."
I trust my protest will not be thought out of place.
I feel it a duty towards a departed one, recognised the world over
as a great pianist, to say what—coming from me—may be taken
as the expression of the strictest verity.
Felix Remo says, "he stares at the nearest member of the audience—stares
with effrontery and insolence, thus giving the impression of a man who
would be quite capable of turning the handle of a barrel-organ.
He has studied all the tricks of the charlatan."
If Pachmann "stared at a member of the audience"
he was simply seeking to know if the person he gazed on
was appreciating with him the beauty of what he was playing.
But no one could ever have made him understand that he was allowing himself
to be misjudged!
He was happy when at his piano,
and he wanted to know that others were happy with him.