"Bravo!" roared the audience. And from the piano he would bow appreciatively, saying with relish: "No, that was very bad. I will now play it properly."

Par 1 The name Pachmann probably does not mean very much to anyone under the age of forty, except perhaps an entry in a gramophone record catalogue.
Par 2 It is the fate of the musical executant, as distinct from the composer, that his fame is fleeting. But to the hundreds of thousands in all parts of the world who heard—and saw—Pachmann at the piano, the centenary of his birth brings back vivid and unique memories.
Par 3 There have no doubt been greater pianists than Vladimir de Pachmann,but there have been few greater personalities. People filled the largest concert halls of the great ities of the world not only to hear him, but to see him. "I am the last pianist with a great platform personality," he used to say. "They are all wooden except Paderewski."

The Expressive Old Look

Par 4 His style and manner were in complete contrast to what seem popular today, when pianists apparently like to give the impression that they are completely businesslike and that any gesture or expression of emotion on their face would interfere with the impression of the music. That is why, perhaps, we shall cherish memories of Pachmann long after others have been forgotten. He showed frankly that the music gave him pleasure and he produced an extraordinary effect of intimacy with his audience, even in the unpromising vastness of the Albert Hall.
Par 5 My own last memory of him is playing at the Albert Hall just over twenty years ago. He was then in his eightieth year. After he had played the final Rondo of a Weber sonata, there was a burst of applause, but Pachmann himself shook his head in disapproval and pantomimed to show that loss of memory was responsible for his giving a performance of which he could not approve. He was always a severe critic of himself, and although he liked applause he was discriminating about its value.

Facing the Music

Par 6 I remember once, after being loudly applauded for his playing of one of Chopin's works, he held up his hand and said: "You should not have clapped for that. I will play it again, this time much better and then you may applaud as much as you wish!"
Par 7 Pachmann never considered the audience as something distinct, but as men and women who took part in the performance. This could be embarrassing. On one dreadful occasion he decided that a woman sitting near the front was not capable of enjoying his music. He asked her to leave the hall and nothing would persuade him to continue until she had gone!
Par 8 "I am very sorry," he said afterwards. "She was no doubt a beautiful woman, but I did not like her face."
Par 9 In speaking of himself he was as naïve as a child and I remember once discovering him playing a phrase over and over again, in an ecstasy of pleasure. "Only Chopin could have written it thus and only Pachmann could play it so!" he explained.
Par 10 Pachmann told me something of his extraordinary life. Like so many pianists he was a prodigy, but he did not play in public until he was grown-up. When he applied to the Conservatoire at Vienna for admission, the famous Professor Dachs told him to open his music and play something. The young Pachmann replied, "I have brought no music, but I will play anything you care to name from memory." Rebuked for joking, he started to play Liszt's Fantasia on 'Rigoletto,' a fiendish technical test. When he finished he found the Professor had disappeared. Not, however, because he was offended, but because he wished to fetch the Principal, who was duly impressed.

Keyboard Swooning

Par 11 As a further test he offered to play any of Chopin's studies in any key they named and the scene ended—according to Pachmann—by Dachs embracing him, saying, "I have heard this played by Chopin himself, but you play it somewhat better." Chopin remained Pachmann's idol, but Liszt was his great friend. When Pachmann related his Conservatoire experience, Liszt laughed, saying: "It was the same with me. Czerny fainted when he heard me play."
Par 12 The professors felt there was not much they could teach the young Pachmann about the piano, but he studied harmony until the time came for his public debut. It was at one of his early concerts that Liszt hailed him as a genius, and introduced him to Wagner and other musical giants of the day. Pachmann became a worshipper of Liszt. He considered him the finest pianist he had ever heard and told me that his breadth and rhythm exceeded his own. Coming from Pachmann, there was no higher praise. But as a pianist he always considered himself much ahead of Chopin.

Ten Thousand Times

Par 13 There started for Pachmann a series of world tours which were always triumphs. But he was an extraordinary man. At twenty-five he decided he was not good enough and retired for eight years to study and practise. When he played again in public he decided that two years more practice were required. He set himself astonishing standards. He told me that he never played a piece in public until he had practised it ten thousand times and that there were some pieces of Godowsky (for whom he had a great weakness) that he had played thirteen thousand times and still did not feel were fit for public performance. Allowing for the flamboyance which was part of his personality, it was still a startling proof of his sincerity as an artist.
Par 14 In the course of his tours, Pachmann collected some amusing stories of royalty. The Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, who had some pretensions to being a pianist, infuriated him by calling him a 'colleague.' Pachmann retorted, "Since when have I been made a Grand Duke?" The man who practised pieces ten thousand times had no patience with pretentious amateurs.

Cigars To Spare

Par 15 King Edward the Seventh's taste in music was limited, but he knew how to compliment a musician and made a tremendous impression on Pachmann. Characteristically he gave him a box of cigars. Pachmann carried them round with him for the rest of his life, [I] believe, looking for someone worthy to smoke them. He allowed Liszt to have one and gave one to Renan, the French philosopher, but could find no one else to equal these!
Par 16 He was genuinely upset by King Edward's death, played Chopin's Funeral March movement in memory of him, and was so moved by his own playing that he swore he would never play the piece again. He never did, not even when asked to do so at a concert in memory of Queen Alexandra.
Par 17 Pachmann married Miss Margaret O'Key [Okey], a fine pianist and composer and they travelled much together over the world. But the woman who, as he put it, 'possessed' his brain and imagination for over fifty years was Madame Slepouchin. I believe that in fact Madame Slepouchin was a creation of his own imagination. He would quote her frequently, the essence of all her remarks being contrariness. If it was raining, one heard, "A fine day as Madame Slepouchin would say"; and if a piece of playing pleased him specially, out would come: "That was badly done, as Madame Slepouchin would say."
Par 18 He would quote Madame Slepouchin endlessly, and with such conviction that it was only when he recounted that she was sixty-five when he first met her and was now a hundred and ten but insisted she was twenty-nine—I realised he was joking.

A Born Clown

Par 19 Pachmann was, in fact, a born clown. Most clowns have great music in them and he found it difficult to resist clowning. Anyone who ever heard him will recall the famous scenes with the music stool. It was never correctly adjusted and the audience were disappointed if he spent less than five minutes, apparently becoming increasingly exasperated, in getting it right. On one occasion he finally asked for a penny stamp which placed under one leg made it perfectly so that he could begin.
Par 20 Then there were the famous asides, sometimes almost amounting to a running commentary on the music. (You can still hear some of them on his gramophone records.) And sometimes he would creep on to the platform and pantomime as if to say: 'What, I have been playing in England for forty years and there are still people who will come to hear me? Ah, well, I suppose I must try to satisfy them!'

Is This A Piano?

Par 21 Sometimes it was the sight of the piano that apparently amazed him, and he would pantomime to show that his fingers were getting stiff and old and that he hadn't looked at a piece of music for six years.
Par 22 Because of this he was called a jester and sometimes (by a few) a charlatan. But the plain fact remained that his playing, especially of Chopin, was divine and moving in the extreme. His technique was astounding, even in his eightieth year, a fact that he put down to inventing a new system of fingering which meant re-learning every piece in his repertoire. In his own somewhat limited field he was as near perfection as I hope to hear.
Par 23 But I never heard him play with an orchestra—his personality would have been swamped, and perhaps also that extraordinary ethereal quality which seemed so strange coming from those powerful, square hands. He was, incidentally, so short that he had a special piano so as to reach the pedals and I believe the piano notes were made a trifle smaller to enable him to cover them. But at eighty he boasted he could still play for five hours continuously without tiring.

Children's Hour

Par 24 Pachmann retired at the age of 78, but his retirement to his villa at Rome lasted only a month or two. He became ill for the first time in his life and realised it was his music he missed. He had a wonderful imitation of the doctors attending him, "holding my pulse with one hand and helping themselves to caviare, grapes and jelly with the other."
Par 25 This pantomime ability made him adored by children. Once a children's garden party was spoiled by rain and Pachmann, who was staying in the house, came to the rescue and allowed the children to tie up his flowing locks (considered essential for a musician when Pachmann began) with ribbons. Then he improvised for them, complete with gesticulations, on any tunes they picked out.
Par 26 Perhaps he was not the greatest pianist, and some would say he was not great at all. But Pachmann certainly was a most lovable man and a great character.
Par 27 We who heard him will remember him long after we find it difficult to recollect just how he played those tear-laden notes of a Chopin nocturne or combined beauty and whimsicality in a Chopin waltz.