What a different personality was that other great Russian
pianist Vladimir Pachmann!
He was the superb showman, the
grand seigneur, a god in his own right, a musical paranoiac.
Engraved on my memory was this carefully intoned declamation,
made to me after I had congratulated him on his playing of one of
Liszt's works: "I thank you. . . . In the last two thousand years
there have been three great men. . . Jesus Christ . . . Liszt . . .
and Pachmann — Vladimir Pachmann."
With that profound statement he moved away, his head in the
air — and his mind, too, I've no doubt. Make no mistake, he was
deadly serious. Previously he had set me agog with his
extraordinary behaviour on the platform. As he came on to the
stage he received an ovation but, to the astonishment of the
whole audience, he turned and with hand upraised said in his
deep ponderous voice: "Why you applaud me? I have not yet
played." He then made his way to the piano, and immediately
commenced testing the stool. It was obvious that he was not
satisfied.. He sat down, stood up, and again endeavoured to
make an adjustment. Still not satisfied, he felt in his pocket and
brought out a piece of white cardboard about the size of a
visiting-card, folded it once or twice and put it under one of the legs of
the stool. Once more he sat down, but was again disappointed
with the result. Into his pocket again, and another piece of white
paper was carefully, laboriously folded and put under a leg of the
stool. This time, to the relief of the audience — and myself — he
satisfied. This was not all. He looked at the keyboard, scowled,
and peered closer, and with a grunt of disgust took a large
handkerchief from his pocket and proceeded to dust the keys
with elaborate ostentation. This done, he finally began to play.
Of course, he played superbly. But his temperamental displays
were not ended, for after a perfunctory bow he walked off the
platform and demanded in an imperious tone for a man in the
audience that was on the platform to be removed at once! "I
cannot play. His face it is always there!" he shouted. And went
on: "A white face, a terrible white face. It is always in my eyes.
I like it not. It is terrible. Please, please move the poor man."
Believe it or not, the manager had to go on the platform and
make his apologies to the fellow — a harmless-enough, pale-faced
individual — who took the contretemps in good part and took
another seat in the auditorium.
Pachmann went on to the platform again, shrugged his huge
shoulders and with the semblance of a smile sat down to play his
next work. When this was over he received tumultuous
applause. But the big fellow held his hand up, and with a
deprecatory gesture explained that, "No, it was not good," and to
the amazement of all, added, "I will play it again." And he did —
magnificently. Only a genius could get away with these
idiosyncrasies, and Pachmann's playing certainly compensated
He was a man with a violent temper, and yet he could be as
docile as a fawn. He was unpredictable, as this story will show.
He was staying at the same hotel as myself, and after his
concert he entered the dining-room. To my astonishment I learnt
that his food was prepared by his own man. He travelled with
his own dinner service of gold. Sure enough he ate off gold
plates in my presence. Presently there was a heck of a row, and
he was spitting from his mouth — all over the floor — the contents
of a glass of champagne that he obviously found distasteful.
"Bring the manager!" he cried to the waiter. When the manager
arrived, Pachmann asked him whether he had nothing better
than that champagne to drink. The manager tasted the wine and,
to his credit, was quite firm in his view that the champagne was
"Quite good. In fact, Mr. Pachmann, it is very good." "Good!"
yelled the big fellow. "I will show you what it is good for." And
he proceeded to empty the bottle into flower vases that were
around the room. "Now, sir," he said quietly, "what other wine
have you?" The manager suggested a fine old port. This was
brought. The manager waited while the maestro tried it. To the
relief of the manager — and incidentally to
all the other diners —
Pachmann smacked his lips and with a broad smile said: "Ah, this
is indeed the wine good! It is beautiful, beautiful." And silence
reigned over the room.
When the manager, commenting on the fact that Pachmann
had his own chef, carried his own dinner service and drank the
most expensive wines, remarked, "You live very well, Mr.
Pachmann," the big fellow replied: "Why should I, Pachmann, not
live well? Do not kings live well? What are kings but figureheads?"
And the other side of his remarkable character. The car in
which he was travelling between Chesterfield and Mansfield
broke down. This meant that Pachmann was held up for over an
hour and a half while repairs were made. It caused consternation
at Mansfield and the concert manager was not worried only
about the possible delay in starting the concert but what sort of
temper Pachmann would be in on his arrival.
When the car did pull up outside the hotel the concert
manager ran forward, and with anxiety stamped all over his face
asked, "What happened, sir, are you all right?" The big fellow
smiled benignly and said: "I have enjoyed myself. We had to wait,
but it was a beautiful repose and a very beautiful day." The
contented sigh of the manager could be heard all over Mansfield!
Yes, Pachmann was unpredictable. The best indication of the
man's remarkable mind and his hypersensitivity is this story:
As a young man Pachmann suffered a certain amount of
adverse criticism. Taking this to heart, he became a recluse, but
not through pique at his treatment by the critics. On the contrary,
he displayed a resolute tenacity of purpose. He studied for twenty
years — principally Chopin. The result of this astonishingly
lengthy period of study gave the world a genius of the piano. The
world's critics raved about his brilliance. So much so, it is not
surprising that Pachmann changed completely from the sensitive
neophyte to the dogmatic prodigy.