Par 1 The 27th of this month marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Pachmann, celebrated pianist of a bygone age and the eccentric idol of hysterical women. It is an event of importance to gramophiles, for no one can deny that the instrument has matured a stage further when for the first time in the history of the gramophone, we can treasure the electrical recordings of a pianist whose birth took place a century ago.
Par 2 For long Pachmann was without rival as a Chopin player. The expositions of other pianists were as interesting exceptions to the rule created by this specialist. In boyhood I well remember how the illustrious Paderewski was regarded as the concert pianist par excellence, but always Pachmann was the Chopin exponent, the expert whose style was unique in an epoch of master-performers.
Par 3 History will record how diligent was his pursuit of the immaculate presentation of his beloved composer who was still alive when Pachmann was born. It was a free interpretation, shapely and poetic, light-fingered and airy, and stamped with the hallmark of genius. This was just how one might well imagine Chopin played — particularly when extemporising; nothing forced or distorted, just gossamer loveliness. That is the impression I receive from the earliest Pachmann acoustic recordings in my collection for, alas, I was too young to have heard him firsthand at his best.
Par 4 Perhaps these old recordings (and what an astonishingly large number there are, too !), for all their imperfections, provide a truer guide to his methods than the later, electrically-recorded H.M.V. discs where we find some of the peculiarities of the eccentric old gentleman projected strongly into his interpretations. Beautifully clear pedalling has given way to blurred splotches as in the G flat Waltz of Opus 70, and pathetic rambling as in the one in A flat from Opus 64. These penultimate records reflect the twilight of a glorious career.
Par 5 It is a sorry but inevitable paradox that his best work went on to wax when the industry was young and its methods were very imperfect, while the later improved recordings caught nothing more imperishable in their grooves than the senile caricature of a once great artist.
Par 6 Stories of his odd behaviour and pronouncements are legion and were once told with relish by a host of unpaid publicity agents, unconscious though they were of the fact. I have a feeling that quite half of the phenomenal and ecstatic audiences which Pachmann attracted went as much out of curiosity as anything else. Usually they were not disappointed. Indeed, Hollywood itself would have had difficulty in making more of him than he himself was capable of achieving.
Par 7 With the passage of time, advancing age dimmed the subtle beauties of his art but not his reputation which had grown to legendary proportions by the time his death was announced from Rome in January, 1933. I well remember that Sunday morning when the tidings were announced in the newspapers [Pachmann died on Friday, 6th January, 1933]. In those days of copious columns there was scarcely an editor without space to record the fact together with a long biographical note generously sprinkled with a selection of those anecdotes about Pachmann which had endeared him to two generations.
Par 8 His death was the first of a series which has led to the total eclipse of a golden age of pianists; one by one the others have followed Pachmann — Leopold Godowsky, Emil Sauer, Moriz Rosenthal, Harold Samuel, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Josef Lhevinne, Paderewski, Rachmaninov, Arthur de Greef and, only recently, Frederic Lamond.
Par 9 The veteran pianist had passed over, and with him had faded in importance the ridiculous old alpaca coat, the fussing with cushions on piano stools, and the declaration that Godowsky was the second greatest pianist. The music and the quaint voice were left — on records, but gone was the personality with all its foibles and capriciousness. Posterity may well be puzzled, therefore, at the affection in which he was held, for an essential part of his musical make-up is now missing. They will surely wonder (as I do), at the doubtful taste displayed by the publication of that last, pathetic record of the Chopin Etude in G flat from Opus 10 when age had all but done its worst to him artistically.
Par 10 The Gramophone world may well, however, take pride in its past efforts to perpetuate the art and genius of Vladimir de Pachmann, wherein it can offer a comparatively faithful reflection, even though nothing earlier of his playing than full maturity is represented. To play over these discs is to experience once again an old longing — if only the evolution of recording had taken place fifty years before it did!