VLADIMIR DE PACHMANN was born in 1848 —
the famous year that saw Revolution break forth in all Europe —
on the 27th day of July in Odessa, Russia.
His father, formerly professor at the University of Vienna, was a
good amateur violinist, and had in his younger days enjoyed the company of
the mighty ones, including Beethoven and Weber. For a number of years he
taught his son music, but when he realized Vladimir's talent merited further
study, he sent him to his beloved Vienna.
At eighteen, Vladimir entered the Vienna Conservatory where he studied
piano for two years under Joseph Dachs who had been a pupil of Carl Czerny.
After receiving the gold medal for piano playing, he returned to Russia, where
in 1869 he gave his first concert tour.
Despite the fact that he was cordially received wherever he appeared,
young de Pachmann was not satisfied with his own playing.
Suddenly giving up on his concert tours, he retired from public appearances
and devoted eight long years to concentrated study and practice.
At the end of that time, he played at Berlin, Leipzig, and other cities with
genuine success. But again dissatisfied, he devoted two more years to study.
Then he gave three concerts in Vienna, and three in Paris, all of which pleased
his most exacting critic — Vladimir de Pachmann.
Henceforth his path was one of glory, for combined with his peculiar,
caressing way of coaxing tones from the piano was his striking personality
which either captivated his listeners or startled them into attention.
a de Pachmann recital was always an unpredictable experience;
for the pianist, in warming up before his audience, did or said whatever
entered his head at the moment.
"I shall never make a sound in this weather," he might whisper to those
nearest to him in the audience, as he struggled and stretched in an attempt to
make himself more comfortable by throwing open his frock-coat or opening his
collar. "Who could play the piano on a bench like that?"
But all this clowning sank back into nothingness when de Pachmann once
launched into his program. Perhaps his nature required some such
make-believe to release his inner ability.
Be it as it may, once these contortions were over,
"he played like an angel" in the words of one of his listeners.
One European city after another came under his spell.
In 1882, London acclaimed his playing of Beethoven's E-flat Concerto;
and in 1885, he was made Knight of the Order of Danebrog in Denmark.
Then in 1891, having meanwhile married
Maggie Oakley ,
one of his pupils,
he took her with him on an extended tour of the United States.
Once more he dazzled his audiences wherever he appeared.
Sometimes he scolded them for making the slightest sound when he played;
at other times, he showed in no uncertain terms that he had had enough of
their applause; and on many occasions, he would glance at his watch to
determine whether there was time to grant an encore to an over-greedy audience.
During this tour his antics were not confined to the platform.
Sitting with the audience when his wife appeared as pianist in her own
recitals de Pachmann would take it upon himself to set the pace of applause
Clapping his hands with extravagant delight, he'd exclaim,
"Bravo! Charming! Magnificent!"
After many more European triumphs, de Pachmann returned to the United
States, in 1899, for an even more spectacular tour. Unfortunately, his
eccentricities had developed with his art;
but the music critics of this period —
even those who violently objected to his extravagant platform behavior —
agreed that de Pachmann could play Chopin!
Referring to a recital in 1904, Richard Aldrich,
one of the less enthusiastic admirers of de Pachmann, wrote, "Not till
he reached the last half of his program, which was devoted
to Chopin, did he seem to shake off the heavy weight that hung upon his
spirits." And then Mr. Aldrich, after taking exception to de Pachmann's playing
of Mozart's Fantasia in C minor' a rondo of Beethoven and Schumann's G
minor sonata, admitted: "How different when Mr. de Pachmann came to the
Chopin that he made so peculiarly his own! The D-flat nocturne was truly
poetic, melting in its delicious tonal quality,
and as the carving of a cameo in the exquisite clarity of its outlines
and gradations at the extreme vanishing point of pianissimo."
Then again, in 1908, in New York when the program of a Carnegie Hall
concert read, "Last New York recital", Mr. Aldrich, after lamenting de
Pachmann's stage antics which attracted the use of opera glasses, wrote,
"On the other hand, nothing could have been more beautiful than his playing
of the G-sharp minor Etude of Chopin."
Four years later this same critic regretted that de Pachmann had in no way
developed: "Mr. de Pachmann has in no way changed his artistic ideals or his
technical methods since he was last here;
nor has he greatly enlarged his repertory.
He still commands all his old marvel of 'touch', his old magic of delicate,
filmy iridescent tone, of sighing pianissimo, of purling, rippling passage,
of clear articulation, to transform the piano into a celestial instrument.
It is pretty, wonderfully pretty, ravishingly pretty, and it beguiles the
senses of the listener in a way that hardly any other piano playing can do."
Following one successful tour after another, including one to London in 1916
when he received the important Beethoven Medal from the London
Philharmonic Society, de Pachmann made his honest-to-goodness farewell tour
in the United States during the season of 1924-1925. Those who heard him
play at this period, were treated to benefit-of what he called "My New
This new method had come to him "out of the sky", according to de
Pachmann, and if a student mastered it he would evoke beautiful tones from the
piano instead of the thunder-claps so often heard when, misguided, a player
hurled his weight pell mell against his instrument! Moving his wrists up and
down with ease as he played, de Pachmann held his hand and arm at an even
level — keeping the outside of his hand and his arm in line with each
other — without turning them in or out at the wrist.
To take advantage of
this new method, he had found it necessary to change the fingering of all the
music that he included in his programs.
All this careful preparation resulted in the production of a natural tone
which sounded as easy to make as falling off a log!
His very last New York recital took place on April 13, 1925 in Carnegie
Hall. The audience included those who had heard him play time and time again,
as well as those who eagerly awaited the experience of hearing him play for the
first time. There was a hush. Vladimir de Pachmann appeared. Walking toward
the piano, he smiled, bowed and carried on a running conversation with those
nearest to him. Then to the amusement of the audience, he could not adjust the
piano stool properly. And as an attendant timidly approached to try his hand at
the offending piano stool, de Pachmann confided in his audience: "My right
hand is not in form today. My fingers and wrists have been giving me no end
of trouble." But with the help of his wonderful, heaven-sent Méthode,
he felt certain that he would survive the ordeal!
And then he played an "all Chopin" program,
many moments of which sparkled like the morning dew.
In the words of the English critic, Arthur Symons, de Pachmann presented in
his playing "not states of soul or of temperament, not interpretations, but
echoes." And though the eccentric pianist died on January 7, 1933 at Rome,
the echo of de Pachmann's "Chopin" will long live.