Par 1 p.35 A RUSSIAN Pole by birth, imbued with the dreamy romanticism of his race, conversing nevertheless with the wit and vivacity of the Parisian, looking at one with the soft, penetrating eyes of the Italian while he takes one's hand with the sturdy grasp of the Englishman, content to spend months amongst an alien people, speaking a dozen languages with equal fluency, a doctor of philosophy, a keen reader of human nature, yet as simple as a child, calling all men his brothers and all countries his home—Vladimir de Pachmann, the pianist-philosopher, is without doubt, both through his genius and his personality, one of the most interesting and picturesque figures in the musical world of to-day.
Par 2 Six years ago, when Vladimir de Pachmann came to this country almost unheralded, American audiences had already been initiated into the possibilities of the piano by such exponents as Von Bülow, Rubinstein, and Paderewski, not counting innumerable other artists of minor distinction. The verdict rendered then is the same as now, when New York has been, season after season, literally besieged by technicians and interpreters of all schools and classes—that the little Russian Pole, who confesses to a distant Turkish ancestry, has the power of drawing from the piano melodies of such sweetness long drawn out, shadings and gradations of tone color so evanescent and subtle, that under his witchery technique itself becomes a problem spiritualized, and the piano an instrument with a voice, with the singing qualities of a violin, the swell of the organ, and the vibrations of the harp.
Par 3 p.36 De Pachmann has been called the prima donna of the piano, and in the recent [27-29 September 1899] Worcester festival, when his playing followed a song by Madame Marcella Sembrich, musical critics drew interesting comparisons between the similarity of his tone color and the singing of the great prima donna; while others remarked, with fine appreciation, that De Pachmann is in music what Millais [John Everett Millais (1829-1896)] is in painting, both expressing in a milieu of demi-nuances, one with his brush, the other with his instrument, the poetical secrets of the twilight, or rather sunlight and shadow, tenderly and reverently expressed.
Par 4 Modern piano-playing through force of sheer virtuosity has lost much of its poetry. The musician of to-day shows his muscle and endeavors to perform feats of technique and tempo. De Pachmann exclaims in despair:
Par 5 "Technique ? Yes, technique is necessary—flawless technique; but tone is better, and sonority is better than sound. This beautiful piano is not an orchestra. Why torture it to perform what an orchestra can do much more effectively? Ah, the voice of the piano, it is so rare, so beautiful, so chaste; it drops like a pearl, round, glistening, and perfect; white, yet radiant with every color. Examine a pearl with understanding—it will be a revelation of hidden beauties; and now listen to this nocturne of Chopin, watch the pearls as they fall from my fingers, close your eyes and listen to the voice of the piano. Yes, now you see more than the glistening radiance of pearls. You feel the soul of the artist. I will tell you a secret: after we work and work until our fingers can produce a voice from the keys, the voice must receive a soul, then the soul interprets. And what is interpretation but experience? And experience teaches us that the greatest of all gifts gifts is wisdom.
Par 6 "Ah, if Bach could return to this p.37 earth and hear his preludes and fugues thundered on the piano, as is the fashion nowadays—ah, poor Bach, he would weep with sorrow! What shall I say concerning technique—I, who have played the Weber Sonata for an entire year? Some of the passages I have gone over thousands of times. Now I will play the andante; in it I confide to you all the sum of my experiences, my sorrows, my joys—all are there. And as one has suffered and enjoyed, so will one understand my speech; this is wisdom. Again I ask you to imagine a necklace of diamonds, glistening like water in the sunlight. I cut the golden string. See the diamonds fall—showers of them; they dazzle the eyes. That is Weber's perpetual motion. This is technique—technique; yes, and much more."
Par 7 De Pachmann has won fame as the p.38 greatest living interpreter of Chopin. And, as a matter of fact, he does not play Chopin. He is Chopin, with all his moods, his coquetry, his fits of reverie. But De Pachmann himself lays claim to no specialty. "I love Schumann," he says, "and Weber. Ah, Weber is a god, the healthiest of all musicians. One absorbs fresh life from him, as though inhaling great draughts of mountain air."
Par 8 When M. de Pachmann is asked his nationality, he replies, with a mischievous smile: "I claim none. The creation is my home; all men are my brethren, for Nature is our mother." And if he is asked to give a record of his studies and teachers, he will reply, according to his philosophy: "Each man is his own teacher." He will even repudiate the title of pianist. "No man is of so great importance or so little as he thinks," he says. "The piano, it is a sort of speech with me, a mode of expression; but it is nothing if I am not in touch with all creation, if I am not a man."
Par 9 But, as a matter of fact, Vladimir de Pachmann was born at Odessa. His father was a doctor of philosophy in the University of Odessa and a violinist of talent, a man who loved and consorted with musicians. In his youth he heard Beethoven play the Moonlight Sonata; he was one of the pall bearers of Haydn, in whose orchestra he played for seven years. Later on he was the intimate friend of Weber; for two years they lived in the same house in Vienna, and De Pachmann the elder, day after day, turned over the manuscript pages of the Weber Sonata as the great composer progressed with the work.
Par 10 From this father young De Pachmann took his first music lessons and first lessons in philosophy. After leaving the Odessa University the young boy entered the Conservatory of Vienna under Dachs; he left with the gold medal, gave a series of successful concerts in Russia, but finally decided to conquer the instrument after his own fashion. "I know it can sing; it shall sing for me!" For eight years the young pianist struggled with the problem, and when he reappeared it was as the victor; and it is safe to assert that no living pianist can approach the exquisite velvet touch and delicate gradations of his tone color on the piano. In this one respect he is incomparable. He concertized in all the important cities of Europe, and in music-loving Denmark the king bestowed upon him the Order of the Daneborg [or Danebrog].
Par 11 Hanselt [Henselt] loved the young man as his own son, and would say to him: "Put your soul in your fingers, my child, not in your arms." Liszt called him to Weimar, refused to teach him, and to the day of his death they were close friends and comrades. "After I am gone," he was wont to say, "you alone will cause my touch to be remembered."
Par 12 In giving Vladimir de Pachmann his place among musicians, he must be judged from his own point of view. He recognizes the limitations of the piano, and refuses to seek after effects that are not musical. An "instrument of melody" he calls it, "not of effect."