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[This excerpt appeared in The Journal of a Disappointed Man by W.N.P. Barbellion (pseudonym of Bruce Frederick Cummings, 1889-1919), London, Chatto and Windus, 1919. Reprinted London, The Hogarth Press, 1984, pages 234-235. The excerpt was also reprinted in Words About Music: a Treasury of Writings edited by John Amis (1922-) (Michael Rose, general editor), London, Faber and Faber, 1989, pages 189-190.
This web version is dated 10 September 2007.]

Pachmann Recital

by W.N.P. Barbellion

1989, p.189 [Amis provides the following introductory paragraph.] Of piano virtuosi one of the most eccentric was Vladimir de Pachmann, whose zany performing manner, and fabulous sensitivity of touch in Chopin, can still be detected in the records he made in the early 1930s when he was well over eighty years old. [NN: So far as I know, Pachmann made recordings only up to 1927, when he was seventy-nine years old.] Judging from the memories of those who heard him play, the following eye-witness account is in no way overdone. [Barbellion and Amis give the date of the following diary entry as 5 May 1916, which was a Friday. However, according to the Musical Times of 1 June 1916, page 298, Pachmann played at Queen's Hall on 6 May 1916, which was a Saturday.]

1984, p.234; 1989, p.189 Arrived at Queen's Hall in time for Pachmann's Recital at 3.15. . . . As usual he kept us waiting for 10 minutes. Then a short, fat, middle-aged man strolled casually on to the platform and everyone clapped violently—so it was Pachmann: a dirty greasy looking fellow with long hair of dirty grey colour, reaching down to his shoulders and an ugly face. He beamed on us and then shrugged his shoulders and went on shrugging them until his eye caught the music stool, which seemed to fill him with amazement. He stalked it carefully, held out one hand to it caressingly, and finding all was well, went two steps backwards, clasping his hands before him and always gazing at the little stool in mute admiration, his eyes sparkling with pleasure, like Mr. Pickwick's on the discovery of the archaeological treasure. He approached once more, bent down and ever so gently 1984, p.235 moved it about 7/8ths of an inch nearer the piano. He then gave it a final pat with his right hand and sat down.
He played Nocturne No. 2, Prelude No. 20, a Mazurka and two Études of Chopin and Schubert's Impromptu No. 4. [Amis replaced this paragraph by an ellipsis.]
1989, p.190 At the close we all crowded around the platform and gave the queer, old-world gentleman an ovation, one man thrusting up his hand which Pachmann generously shook as desired.
As an encore he gave us a Valse—'Valse, Valse', he exclaimed ecstatically, jumping up and down in his seat in time to the music. It was a truly remarkable sight: on his right the clamorous crowd around the platform; on his left the seat holders of the Orchestra Stalls, while at the piano bobbed this grubby little fat man playing divine Chopin divinely well, at the same time rising and falling in his seat, turning a beaming countenance first to the right and then to the left, and crying, 'Valse, Valse'. He is as entertaining as a tumbler at a variety hall.
As soon as he had finished, we clapped and rattled for more, Pachmann meanwhile standing surrounded by his idolaters in affected despair at ever being able to satisfy us. Presently he walked off and a scuffle was half visible behind the scenes between him and his agent who sent him in once more.
The applause was wonderful. As soon as he began again it ceased on the instant, and as soon as he left off it started again immediately—nothing boisterous or rapturous but a steady, determined thunder of applause that came regularly and evenly like the roar from some machine.

[Amis provides the following footnote.] Incidentally, not only does Pachmann talk on some of those old 78 recordings, but there is also at one point, the weary voice of a technician saying, "Try it again, sir'. And on another, 'Oh, do go on'. [NN: I am not currently aware which recordings Amis is referring to.]