Par 1 We all know that Vladimir de Pachmann ranks among the greatest of living pianists, with an artistic make-up that, while having well-defined limitations in certain directions, is, in other ways, peculiar to himself sui generis, as it were. Pianists have tried to learn the secret of his power as a tone colorist, but generally without success. His art is difficult of description, almost impossible of adequate analysis. It impresses you, satisfies you; but the how and why,—that is the question.
Par 2 Some time ago de Pachmann gave in an interview, published in the Saturday Evening Post, some little light on the manner in which he obtained his effects in playing, not only as an unrivaled interpreter of Chopin, but in the works of other masters as well. Among other things he said that a composer should be pianistic in order to appeal to him, as, for instance:—
Par 3 "Beethoven and Brahms I would throw into the chimney, as far as their piano compositions are concerned. They did not write for the piano. Only Bach, Chopin, and Schumann wrote for the piano. Brahms' piano things are in the organ style; they are not for the piano. I have the greatest reverence for Beethoven's orchestral compositions and string quartets, but not his piano things. No, I would throw them into the chimney."
Par 4 This statement doubtless would horrify the pianists who claim to be "traditional interpreters" of Beethoven who, to them (and many others), was as great in his piano works as in those for orchestra. But from a purely pianistic standpoint there is much truth in what de Pachmann says.
Par 5 The true pianistic art is too little understood, de Pachmann's especially. Once a lady who "raved" over his playing said to him effusively, "How beautifully you play. Do you sing?"
Par 6 The pianist turned his back on her. "Do I sing?" he echoed satirically. "Does she think—with that mind?"
Par 7 De Pachmann is rather reluctant to "give away" the secrets of his art. In many ways he could not accurately describe the means by which the artistic mind accomplishes results, for such results are intuitive, unexplainable. However, the pianist, after playing for nearly an hour, said, during his performance, like a commentary, as it were,—
Par 8 "In playing Chopin all lies in the fingering. How many have cunningly watched me do these same things to find out how I did them. Did they find out? Scarcely; they would not have kept on playing with such a hard tone afterward, if they had. It has taken me thirty years to study out these things for myself. Let them do the same. Why should I give away my bread? I am sixty, and I shall soon be dead: it is well.
Par 9 "But in Chopin all lies in the fingering. In playing his music pianists get hard, brilliant effects, when they should have the singing, velvety delicacy that Chopin requires. They use the wrong fingers. The fingered editions of his works are full of errors in this direction. I very early found out that if I played Chopin as he demanded to be played, I must study out my own fingering. Hour after hour I have tried first one way then another, until I got the quality of tone and the legato that I wished.
Par 10 "I do not use the first finger in playing passages where a delicate effect is needed. The first finger is too heavy—too harsh. I use the middle finger instead. Then I get the quality of tone that I want.
Par 11 "Now the stroke on the inner side of the finger and the stroke on the outer give two distinct tone qualities. Look at this!" De Pachmann's hand was bent inward and perfectly relaxed. "This stroke on the inner side of the finger is the violin, on the outer it is the flute in tone quality.
Par 12 "The true artist can give such variety of tone to a simple five-finger exercise that he can make it beautiful. But how many play five-finger exercises over and over like machines until they have taken their daily allowance of mechanism. Listen to every tone that you play, and above all, listen if you would play Chopin."
Par 13 This is true, not only as to Chopin, but as to all other master composers as well—Schumann especially; and in all his interpretations de Pachmann follows the same idea. Then the pianist said further, as he played:—
Par 14 "Let me show you how I trill. Bend the first finger until it is the length of the thumb, that they may be even. Then trill almost on the nail. There you have a Chopin trill.
Par 15 "In playing octaves I find a much better effect gained by the use of the thumb and little finger than by alternating the third and fourth fingers on the top notes in the Liszt style of playing.
Par 16 "There you have some of my Chopin secrets—touch and tone, quality, octaves, and the trill.
Par 17 "There is yet another thing. In playing passages marked for both hands, with the top note to be struck by the left hand crossing the right, a much better effect is made by taking with the left hand the lowest note marked for the right. This makes it possible for the top note to be struck by the right, a crossing of the hands being avoided.
Par 18 There is another thing we must consider when discussing the reasons that make de Pachmann the artist he is, and that is his true conception of the genius of Bach.
Par 19 "The artist's genius is not genuine until he can comprehend Bach. To play Bach is to play the piano. His compositions are drops of pure gold. In Bach you must read between the lines; he is a little obscure here and there, but the more you understand him the more you see his infinite greatness.
Par 20 "Technically, Bach is now better played than ever, but the spirit of his work remains unchanged. It demands the same spirit in its interpretation now that it has always done. There is no new way of playing it, no matter what is said about a modern interpretation."
Par 21 Then, finally, the pianist remarked that he held three composers as writers for the piano in the perfect style of its demands: Bach, Chopin, and Schumann,—truly a great trio.